Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

Gigabyte GA-Z77X-D3H

The Z77X-D3H is meant to thrill budget-oriented buyers and appease enthusiasts with its combination of design, mid-market features, and a moderate $145 price. Six I/O panel-based USB 3.0 ports, two added-on SATA 6Gb/s ports, and three x16-length PCIe slots are prominent among those features.

While we’re happy to see a board with such a robust combination of features sell for $15 less than this article’s price limit, there aren’t any magic bullets for its triple graphics slot configuration. We still get the same single x16 to twin x8 slot conversion from the processor’s sixteen PCIe 3.0 lanes, and the third slot is still a four-lane PCIe 2.0 product of the Z77 Express PCH. Gigabyte further warns that all three of the board’s x1 slots are disabled whenever a PCIe x4 (or larger) card is installed in the bottom slot, since only four of the chipset’s eight lanes are available for expansion. The aforementioned drive controllers, plus a network controller and PCIe-to-PCI switch, consume the chipset’s other four lanes.

Designed to support Intel’s SSD caching technology, an mSATA card slot centered beneath the CPU socket could potentially host a system drive now that 120 GB and 240 GB models are available in this format. Yet, because it borrows a SATA 3Gb/s port from the chipset, we wouldn’t count on it to deliver record-breaking performance. Nevertheless, the idea of building a gaming system without the messy drive cables intrigues us.

The Z77X-D3H’s layout is good overall, with forward-facing SATA ports preventing conflict with graphics cards and a front-panel USB 3.0 header mounted above the highest graphics slot to more-easily connect its ports. Gigabyte even puts an extra space between its two PCIe 3.0 slots to help cool double-slot graphics cards or allow for a pair of triple-slot boards.

That doesn’t make the layout perfect for everyone, however. For example, we’ve noted for years that some case companies use front-panel audio cables that are approximately 1” too short to reach a bottom-rear-corner header, and Gigabyte only helps that condition by moving its header forward about half of the necessary distance. Also, several older/cheaper cases block access to the front edge of full-ATX motherboards, blocking access to forward-facing SATA ports. Both of those problems can be solved easily by simply choosing a better case. We at least need to warn anyone looking to purchase this board to upgrade an older system, though.

The Z77X-D3H is also one of the few enthusiast-oriented motherboards to include a four-pin ATX12V, rather than an eight-pin EPS12V, CPU power connector. Mainstream power regulators live well within the confines of a four-pin connector, but we find it odd that Gigabyte admits this in its design decision. A larger 8-pin connector gives competitors the appearance of greater power capacity.

The Z77X-D3H includes four SATA cables, which is two times more than some of its competitors. We also find an SLI bridge in the box. Most buyers who need a CrossFire bridge should look for one bundled with their graphics card.

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67 comments
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  • SpadeM
    LAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.
    -3
  • Crashman
    SpadeMLAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.
    Tom's Hardware has several controller comparisons, and publishes new ones frequently. So unless you think one of the boards has a broken controller, wysiwyg.

    The things that actually get screwed-up are typically related to the clock generator, multiplier control, memory timings and power options.
    1
  • nikorr
    I would place the ASRock and Gigabyte on the top as well : )

    Nice review.
    0
  • jaquith
    I always appreciate your Articles! :) I know how much work you do to get them done.

    You're kidding - Biostar. I guess this article is not about the 'Best Sub-$160 Z77' MOBO's but about the best manufacturers sent you. The cheapest MOBO I recommend for the SB/IB (K) is the ASUS P8Z77-V which pops your 'unique' budget cap depending where you shop; found it here for $159.99 - http://www.gadgetneeds.net/asus-p8z77-v-atx-intel-motherboard/

    Interesting you didn't get an ASUS P8Z77-V LK ~$120 which offers SLI. The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 and Gigabyte Z77X-D3H for the price aren't bad.

    There's NO WAY I'm recommending Biostar in the forum, folks and myself would thing I've lost my mind.
    0
  • jimishtar
    It would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
    1
  • Crashman
    jimishtarIt would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
    1.25V
    4
  • gorillagarrett
    No peripherals performance tests? Those are the only tests that differentiate those motherboards from each other.

    Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.
    0
  • Crashman
    gorillagarrettNo peripherals performance tests? Those are the only tests that differentiate those motherboards from each other. Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.
    I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared :)
    3
  • gorillagarrett
    Quote:
    I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared


    Thank you!
    0
  • rolli59
    I would have liked to see the Asus P8Z77V-LK version instead of the LX since it is better equipped.
    -1
  • Crashman
    rolli59I would have liked to see the Asus P8Z77V-LK version instead of the LX since it is better equipped.
    It's also mentioned in the article. It was over $160 (at $165) when the comparison was set up.
    0
  • nevertell
    Why are there no DCP latency tests ? These differentiate the motherboards
    This is what differentiates them performance wise.
    0
  • pacioli
    Wow, Biostar...? I wonder what the longevity of that board is...
    0
  • Crashman
    pacioliWow, Biostar...? I wonder what the longevity of that board is...
    It's hard to tell, but the last Biostar board I had in a system lasted 12 years before it got dismantled for its entire processor selection being too slow.
    0
  • CaedenV
    Nice to see a Mobo review where the charts are not all identical bars lol. It has been a long time sense the stock performance has had much of any variance between brands, and we are getting much more feature variety as well. I thought as more and more parts became integrated into the CPU that the bars would become more and more similar, and mainstream features would become more and more homogeneous.

    Also, I love the True Studio Pro software, if you are running digital audio it really makes any idea of a dedicated sound card a thing of the past. Every computer I build now either has True Studio Pro with the mobo, or I purchase the MB2 software suite, it makes such a difference if using headphones or quality speakers, and much less buggy that Creative's sound cards and driver issues that we all know and love.
    0
  • jamie_1318
    On-motherboard start buttons are a useless feature. Anyone who could actually use it should know they can just short across the power switch header using any piece of metal.
    -5
  • delaro
    At this point SATA 6GB, USB 3 and PCI-e 3.o should be a standered and not a side option.
    0
  • g-unit1111
    As good as Asus motherboards are - why do they include such poorly made I/O brackets? Even Biostar and ECS include ones that are better made than Asus does.
    0
  • goinginstyle
    Another comment about why the P8Z77V-LK board was not reviewed. I own this board now after a total disaster with one of the boards you awarded so why is it missing? The ASUS P8Z77V-LK was priced at $149.99 when I purchased it and is now $139.99 with a rebate down to $119.99 after a quick check this morning. Based on your comments about the Biostar and ASRock boards having additional features like SLI/CF or additional USB 3 ports it is hard to understand why this board was not reviewed. The P8Z77V-LE is priced at $165 not the LK board. As to the 4-dimm testing, did you try the DDR3-2666 ratio or is the test overclocking the 2400 ratio?
    -2
  • Crashman
    goinginstyleAnother comment about why the P8Z77V-LK board was not reviewed.
    Because it was priced at $165 two months ago when the invitations went out. End of story.
    0