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Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed
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Intel’s LGA 1155 interface is designed for mainstream buyers, yet the firm’s Ivy Bridge-based processors put it in the performance spotlight. We compare seven Z77 Express motherboards that deliver enthusiast-class performance at mainstream prices.

Everyone loves a fast machine, but buying the best of the best is an expensive habit. Thank goodness for Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture then, right? You don't need to sink a ton of cash into a Sandy Bridge-E-based processor and the expensive motherboards they require. Instead, a third-gen Core chip and a Z77-based platform should do the trick nicely.

Alright, so you do lose some functionality. Sandy Bridge-E features 40 lanes of on-die PCI Express, after all. The Ivy Bridge/Z77 combination slims that number down to 16 lanes and a "modest" two-channel memory controller. But the features it does facilitate are good enough for a majority of our readers looking for a smart play that's fast, energy-efficient, and affordable.

As a bonus, in addition to more attractive pricing than LGA 2011, Ivy Bridge-based chips include Intel's second-generation Quick Sync technology. Sandy Bridge-E doesn't enjoy any form of fixed-function transcoding acceleration. Of course, Quick Sync is a component of the architecture's integrated graphics engine, and most enthusiasts won't want to bother with HD Graphics 4000. Fortunately, Lucidlogix's Virtu software makes it easy to use discrete graphics for gaming and Intel's built-in stuff for your video work.

But you've heard all of that before, we're sure. Rather than blathering on about Ivy Bridge and Intel's most modern desktop chipset, let's instead introduce the cheaper-than-$160 motherboards we'll be reviewing today. They're what make fast, inexpensive, enthusiast-oriented machines a reality. And by the time you get to the end of today's incredibly information-packed story, you'll know which of these platforms are our favorites.

Motherboard Features
 ASRock
Z77 Extreme4
Asus
P8Z77-V LX
Biostar
TZ77XE3
PCB Revision1.051.025.0
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage RegulatorTwelve PhasesSix PhasesTwelve Phases
BIOSP1.40 (05/14/2012)0610 (05/08/2012)Z77AF419 (04/19/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 (+0.00%)100.30 (+0.03%)100.00 (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)1 (16-lanes)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16None1 (4-lanes from PCH)1 (4-lanes from PCH)
PCIe x1/x42/02/02/0
Mini PCIeNoneNoneNone
USB 2.03 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNone
SATA 6Gb/s4 (1 shared w/eSATA)22
SATA 3Gb/s444
4-Pin Fan231
3-Pin Fan412
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesNoYes
Reset ButtonYesNoYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNumericPass/Fail LEDsNumeric
Legacy InterfacesSerial, 2 x PCISerial, 3 x PCISerial, 2 x PCI
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2111
USB 3.0422
USB 2.0224
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNone
NetworkSingleSingleSingle
eSATA1 (shared w/SATA)NoneNone
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNoNo
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical OnlyNone
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio536
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, HDMIHDMI, VGA, DVI-DHDMI, VGA, DVI-D
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 shared w/eSATA
NoneNone
USB 3.0ASM1042 PCIe
Intel Z77 Integrated
Intel Z77 IntegratedZ77 Integrated Only
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC887ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectNot Specified


Motherboard Features
 ECS
Z77H2-A2X Deluxe
Gigabyte
Z77X-D3H
Intel
DZ77SL-50K
MSI
Z77A-G45
PCB Revision1.01.0Initial1.1
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage RegulatorNine PhasesNine PhasesSix PhasesSix Phases
BIOS120424 (04/24/2012)F8 (05/11/2012)0066 (04/13/2012)V2.4 (05/09/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.77 (-0.23%)100.89 (+0.89%)99.78 (-0.22%)100.0 (+0.0%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)1 (16-lanes)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16None1 (4-lanes from PCH)None1 (4-lanes from PCH)
PCIe x1/x42/03/01/1 (open ended)4 (two shared)/0
Mini PCIe1NoneNoneNone
USB 2.01 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNoneNone
SATA 6Gb/s4422
SATA 3Gb/s24 (1 shared w/mSATA)34
4-Pin Fan1433
3-Pin Fan2NoneNone2
FP-Audio1111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyNone
Power ButtonNoNoNoNo
Reset ButtonNoNoNoNo
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNoneNone
Legacy InterfacesSerial, 2 x PCISerial, 1 x PCI3 x PCISerial Port
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2None111
USB 3.04622
USB 2.04244
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNoneNone
NetworkSingleSingleSingleSingle
eSATA1None1None
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNoYes
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical OnlyNoneOptical+Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio5536
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, HDMIVGA, DVI-D, HDMIHDMIHDMI, VGA, DVI-D
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
3 x SATA 3Gb/s
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
88SE9172 PCIe
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
NoneNone
USB 3.0ASM1042 PCIe
Intel Z77 Integrated
VL800-Q8 PCIe
Intel Z77 Integrated
Z77 Integrated OnlyZ77 Integrated Only
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNoneNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANRTL8111E PCIeAR8151 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC892VT2021ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified


Thanks to the efforts (and unified voice) of our readers, all seven of the motherboard vendors participating in today's story are now on equal footing when it comes to the length of their warranties, each offering three years of protection. There's more to each of these boards than its specification sheet, though, so we’re diving into the features, firmware, and software package included with them all.

Display 66 Comments.
  • -3 Hide
    SpadeM , July 23, 2012 6:16 AM
    LAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , July 23, 2012 8:48 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    nikorr , July 23, 2012 9:54 AM
    I would place the ASRock and Gigabyte on the top as well : )

    Nice review.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , July 23, 2012 11:45 AM
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    jimishtar , July 23, 2012 11:47 AM
    It would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , July 23, 2012 12:21 PM
    jimishtarIt would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
    1.25V
  • 0 Hide
    gorillagarrett , July 23, 2012 12:33 PM
    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.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , July 23, 2012 12:38 PM
    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 :) 
  • 0 Hide
    gorillagarrett , July 23, 2012 12:42 PM
    Quote:
    I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared


    Thank you!
  • -1 Hide
    rolli59 , July 23, 2012 1:34 PM
    I would have liked to see the Asus P8Z77V-LK version instead of the LX since it is better equipped.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , July 23, 2012 1:37 PM
    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 Hide
    nevertell , July 23, 2012 1:44 PM
    Why are there no DCP latency tests ? These differentiate the motherboards
    This is what differentiates them performance wise.
  • 0 Hide
    pacioli , July 23, 2012 3:33 PM
    Wow, Biostar...? I wonder what the longevity of that board is...
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , July 23, 2012 3:36 PM
    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 Hide
    CaedenV , July 23, 2012 4:17 PM
    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.
  • -5 Hide
    jamie_1318 , July 23, 2012 4:18 PM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    delaro , July 23, 2012 4:28 PM
    At this point SATA 6GB, USB 3 and PCI-e 3.o should be a standered and not a side option.
  • 0 Hide
    g-unit1111 , July 23, 2012 4:34 PM
    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.
  • -2 Hide
    goinginstyle , July 23, 2012 5:06 PM
    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?
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , July 23, 2012 5:19 PM
    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.
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