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ECS Golden Z77H2-A2X

Six $160-220 Z77 Motherboards, Benchmarked And Reviewed
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A universal sign of prosperity, ECS uses gold to highlight a wealth of features on its $220 Golden Z77H2-A2X. Packed with USB-based Bluetooth and Wi-Fi transceivers, an extra pair of USB 3.0 ports, and eSATA on the I/O panel, ECS hope to overwhelm all similarly-priced competitors.

With a mini PCIe slot along the front edge for hosting even more miniature (notebook sized) devices, the only thing really missing from the Z77H2-A2X is a third graphics card slot. The fact that most performance PC builders would not use a four-lane PCIe 2.0 slot for graphics should prevent this “missing” part from being missed, and the two slots present are still able to configure the CPU’s sixteen PCIe 3.0 lanes into x16/x0 or x8/x8 modes, depending on the number of cards present.

An extra SATA 6Gb/s controller ads two ports internally, but the Z77H2-A2X still has only six ports. The reason for this is that one of the chipset’s SATA 3Gb/s ports is used for eSATA, and another was designated for an mSATA slot that exists only in firmware.

The Z77H2-A2X has the internal power and reset buttons found on its ASRock and Biostar competitors, but bench testers who need to reset everything must rely on a jumper for CLR_CMOS. ECS also solders its firmware IC directly to the PCB, but at least the module has enough space to store user-specified configuration profiles in this model.

A row of Easy Measure points above the four DIMM slots allows aggressive or extremely cautious tuners to easily check core, DIMM, memory controller, and integrated graphics voltage with a meter.

We’re not sure why ECS chose to put one of its x1 slots directly beneath the top graphics slot while leaving the next slot empty, since most graphics coolers cover the second slot position, but rarely intrude upon the third. This appears to be a limitation of its PCIe switch placement, but that doesn’t explain why the current layout couldn’t have been transposed.

Limiting the Z77H2-A2X to only two PCIe x16 graphics cards allows ECS to put its USB 3.0 front-panel header on the bottom edge without the slot placement conflict that many of its competitors still face. On the other hand, the front-panel audio connector is still just a little too far back into the bottom-rear corner to allow easy cable reach for some cases.

Six SATA cables are enough to make this builder happy, along with the Z77H2-A2X’s front-panel USB 3.0 bay adapter, flexible SLI bridge, and internal Wi-Fi antenna.

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