Six $160-220 Z77 Motherboards, Benchmarked And Reviewed

MSI Z77A-GD65

The board that most review sites used for their Z77 Express previews, MSI’s Z77A-GD65 sports a number of similar design attributes as its competition. MSI has its own hybrid digital voltage regulator however, which could give the board a small boost in overclocking stability.

This editor contends that as long as a chipset has USB 2.0 ports, they should probably be used for low-bandwidth peripherals. That includes USB keyboards and/or mice. And since one or two of these is always present, there should still be a pair of the outdated ports on an I/O panel. MSI has four, while one of its competitors has zero.

Priced around $170, we’d have preferred to see two fewer USB 2.0 and two more USB 3.0 ports on the back. A value bump may have also been found from the inclusion of eSATA. But MSI decided instead to use the Z77A-GD65’s sole add-in controller for internal SATA 6Gb/s ports.

Overclockers will immediately notice the power, reset, O/C Genie base clock control, and I/O panel CLR_CMOS buttons. The Z77A-GD65 also includes a two-digit diagnostics display, line voltage detection points, and a dual-ROM firmware switch.

With FireWire on its I/O panel, we were a little surprised to find an IEEE-1394 port internally. MSI may have included this as a concession to older case designs with front-panel FireWire connectors, since many people hate/fear/distrust unconnected ports. Newer cases will make use of the front-panel USB 3.0 header, which faces forward to avoid conflict with graphics cards.

The Z77A-GD65's most surprising feature, perhaps, is a pair of tiny two-lane PCIe 3.0 switches between its second x16-length slot and its clock battery. While all of today’s boards automatically switch from single-slot x16 to dual-slot x8/x8 modes for CrossFire and SLI, the Z77A-GD65 can further switch to x8/x4/x4 transfers for three-way graphics arrays. This causes quite a bit of commotion amongst some of MSI’s competitors, but keep in mind that third-gen PCIe x4 slots offers the same bandwidth as second-gen PCIe x8 slots. That should be enough for three-way CrossFire, so long as your hardware (CPU and GPUs) are PCIe 3.0-compliant.

PCIe 3.0 x4 is mathematically superior to PCIe 2.0 x4, so we can safely conclude that MSI provides the best motherboard in this story for three-way graphics arrangements. That's why we haven't recommended the PCIe 2.0-based implementations of competing platforms for anyone looking to use a trio of graphics cards. Those boards would be better for hosting other devices without impacting graphics bandwidth.

Beyond the complexity of deciding how the third 16-lane PCIe slot might be used, the only minor problems we find with the Z77A-GD65’s layout are that the eight-pin CPU power connector has an upward-facing latch, and the front-panel audio connector is located in the extreme rear corner along the motherboard’s bottom edge. The first issue affects cable removal in some cases that have bottom-mounted power supplies, while the second makes cable reach problematic for some cases with short audio cables.

We doubt that MSI could ever get an official thumbs-up from Nvidia for its x8/x4/x4 design, so the inclusion of a two-way SLI bridge is acceptable. Three-way CrossFireX is possible using the bridges included with two of the cards, and MSI’s inclusion of four SATA cables is adequate, if not generous.

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    Top Comments
  • Crashman
    TekN9NeGreat review! At the end of day, it comes down to brand loyalty.
    I don't think the article stated anything like that. It comes down to the features you want and the cards you plan to use. In the MSI vs ASRock debate, it's x8-x4-x4 with all three slots in PCIe 3.0 mode, or x8-x8-x4 with x4 in PCIe 2.0 mode, and you're definitely wiser to pick between them based on WHAT you plan to use in the third slot.
    simone saysdo you mean nvidia and intel gets news during weekends not only news but featured articles?
    It's Monday here, and editorial has very little contact with news.
    HMSvictoryI am surprised that you guys did not include the Asus z77-Vhttp://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6813131820
    Tom's Hardware didn't "include" anything in the review. A couple boards were excluded based on price, and everything else was let in. The P8Z77-V Pro was the cheapest board Asus sent.
    rickrentswhy not with Pci-e 3.0?
    Editor had no PCIe 3.0 cards. And the reason he didn't get one yet is because it didn't matter. The only thing that really mattered in a single-GPU MOTHERBOARD comparison was to use the same card on all platforms.
    confish21One thing i was looking for was the part about asrock not having true "digital" PWM and going with an analog PWM. Does this really matter?
    Some digital voltage regulators have been garbage, take a look at a few of the older reviews to see this. Very few have been very good. And many more analog voltage regulators have been garbage, while many more analog voltage regulators have been very good. Quality of execution is more important than the underlying technology.
    10
  • HMSvictory
    I am surprised that you guys did not include the Asus z77-V

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131820
    10
  • Other Comments
  • TekN9Ne
    Great review! At the end of day, it comes down to brand loyalty.
    8
  • Anonymous
    do you mean nvidia and intel gets news during weekends not only news but featured articles?
    -8
  • yougotjaked
    There's a typo on the last page. It says X77H2-A2X instead of Z77H2-A2X :P It's on the second to last paragraph...
    2
  • HMSvictory
    I am surprised that you guys did not include the Asus z77-V

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131820
    10
  • rickrents
    why not with Pci-e 3.0?
    4
  • confish21
    Nice article thank you!
    0
  • confish21
    One thing i was looking for was the part about asrock not having true "digital" PWM and going with an analog PWM. Does this really matter?
    1
  • Crashman
    TekN9NeGreat review! At the end of day, it comes down to brand loyalty.
    I don't think the article stated anything like that. It comes down to the features you want and the cards you plan to use. In the MSI vs ASRock debate, it's x8-x4-x4 with all three slots in PCIe 3.0 mode, or x8-x8-x4 with x4 in PCIe 2.0 mode, and you're definitely wiser to pick between them based on WHAT you plan to use in the third slot.
    simone saysdo you mean nvidia and intel gets news during weekends not only news but featured articles?
    It's Monday here, and editorial has very little contact with news.
    HMSvictoryI am surprised that you guys did not include the Asus z77-Vhttp://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6813131820
    Tom's Hardware didn't "include" anything in the review. A couple boards were excluded based on price, and everything else was let in. The P8Z77-V Pro was the cheapest board Asus sent.
    rickrentswhy not with Pci-e 3.0?
    Editor had no PCIe 3.0 cards. And the reason he didn't get one yet is because it didn't matter. The only thing that really mattered in a single-GPU MOTHERBOARD comparison was to use the same card on all platforms.
    confish21One thing i was looking for was the part about asrock not having true "digital" PWM and going with an analog PWM. Does this really matter?
    Some digital voltage regulators have been garbage, take a look at a few of the older reviews to see this. Very few have been very good. And many more analog voltage regulators have been garbage, while many more analog voltage regulators have been very good. Quality of execution is more important than the underlying technology.
    10
  • hellfire24
    UD3H seems to be an excellent value board.
    2
  • HMSvictory
    would it be possible to review the asus z77 and gigabyte ud5h in a future review.
    3
  • tacoslave
    this review needs crossfire/sli results
    5
  • AlexIsAlex
    Still no boot/post time comparison? With all performance scores being almost identical, I would have thought this could be a useful differentiator.
    9
  • sosofm
    Is good a test with PCIE 3.0 video card to see if is a real benefit compare to PCIE 2.0.
    1
  • valuial
    z77 sabertooth wanted !
    2
  • jaquith
    Thanks Thomas another Great Article! Don't like what I see, but I digress.

    Something's gotta be pooched with the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro BIOS (UEFI) -- hopefully. In the past the ASUS Pro line has been the meat & potatoes for my recommendations, and this is not the only review with similar performance numbers.

    Voltages, I am going to have a hard time recommending a vCore >1.2Xv, VCCSA and CPU VTT of 1.20v on the IB. I still need to see otherwise. From what I've seen the IB is more 'girlish' with voltages than the SB or SB-E, and there's little point having the fans spinning 'through' the case and creating high dBA with a high vCore. RAM (voltage), it goes back to my feelings that 1.50v DIMM was a bunch of Urban Myths especially since the SB-E and seemingly the IB can handle 1.65v DIMM RAM.

    Yeah, I noticed the XMP tried to set 1.25v VCCSA, or at least the set is encoded that way. Further, I don't wan to debate the OC until I get my hands on an IB, it should be any day now.

    Further, either the Engineers were dead wrong on the SB (1.50) or IB (1.65) they're wrong in both instances. I 'get' ultra fast kits (today) >DDR3-2133 e.g. DDR-2400 or faster are 1.65v kits, but only a few months ago IF 'I' recommended SB + 1.65v I'd have 20+ negative comments in the Forum. Seems counter intuitive step in DRAM voltage.

    Also, I am assuming you're testing the IB ES and I wonder how much of an impact that has in that the CPUID are geared towards the Retail. I remember all of the E5 (ES) problems and drops in performance compared to the Retail sisters.

    OC observation only, you seemed 'wimpish' with the SB-E compared to the IB - interesting?!
    -1
  • notsleep
    i don't understand why the mobo don't have all sata6 and usb 3.0? i mean they're backwards compatible. why even include the old stuff? why not have 8 sata 6 and 8 usb 3.0 with 0 sata 3 and 0 usb 3.0? :?
    0
  • spyfish
    Good review, I read a similar review before i decided for MSI Z77A-GD65.

    A chose this board as it has a better Audio Chipset then the Competitors. This board comes with ALC898, while the other ones come with ALC892. Apparently ALC898 is far better than ALC892.

    So far i am quite happy with the board.

    Just 1 note, if overclocking do not disable "Power technologies", it will prevent overclocking. If i disabled the power saving features 1 by 1 i had no problems.
    0
  • xtreme5
    like it good review!
    0
  • Pezcore27
    Just curious as to what made you pick the GA-Z77X-UD3H for $160 over the GA-Z77X-UD5H for $189? Is there not that much difference between the 2 boards?
    1
  • CaedenV
    Fun mobo review as always!
    I have always loved ECS for cheap 'value' builds (in fact I am using a 6 year old ECS board in a little htpc I am throwing together, it doesn't do much, but it has never let me down either), it is wierd seeing them in the 'high end' market like this, and (unlike previous boards they have produced) it looks stunning!
    The first time I saw the gold on black look was with my ex3 gen3 board, which looked odd in pictures, but great in real life, and this new ECS board looks absolutely gorgeous in pics, so I am sure it looks great in real life as well.

    Still, at the end of the day I am not sure that I would go for ECS on a high end build, but it is good to see that they are getting somewhere.

    Also, it is good to see that ASRock is still doing OK now that they are no longer under the ASUS umbrella.

    As for the review: Why even do the program benchmarks? We all know that the mobo is merely for the feature set, parts cooling, and power management quality for OCing (and truth be told aesthetics as well), and has next to no bearing on how fast things get processed at any specific frequency. All that I personally care about is the feature set, OC ability, and subjective ease of use for the UEFI and keeping it updated, vs the overall cost of the board.
    0