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Picking The Right High-End Z77 Board

Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed
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Today’s motherboard comparison has two distinct groups of platforms: those with and those without Thunderbolt technology. Of the boards without Thunderbolt, ECS had the best features.

Unfortunately, ECS' Z77H2-AX falls completely outside of today’s budget range. The company simply wasn’t able to maintain its temporarily-deflated price until after our review got published. Asus and ASRock are our remaining non-Thunderbolt choices, and both are fairly well matched for features and stability, yet Asus's five year warranty trumps the three years of ASRock.

All of the Thundebolt boards are heavily compromised due to the scarcity of PCIe lanes inherent to Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture. The worst-compromised board lacks the PCIe switch needed to activate all of its interfaces at once, but comes in cheaper than even the non-Thunderbolt-equipped boards. If your needs are almost completely addressed by Intel's Ivy Bridge processor design, third-gen PCIe x16 graphics, and a single Thunderbolt port, MSI’s Z77A-GD80 looks like a good value.

Gigabyte beats Intel in Thunderbolt support by offering two connectors, but lacks Intel’s secondary gigabit Ethernet controller. The Z77X-UP5 TH is also $30 cheaper than the DZ77RE-75K, and few of use would pay $30 for the extra network controller. Both boards also include Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo modules. From a pure value perspective that doesn’t account for any specific user’s specific needs, Gigabyte’s dual-Thunderbolt-equipped Z77X-UP5 TH appears to offer more features per dollar.

In fact, the difference in price between Gigabyte and MSI solutions is only $5, and Gigabyte’s solution also includes the PCIe switch needed to activate all of its features simultaneously. That switch is worth more than the $5 price difference. MSI also lacks any Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities, which we think are worth about four times the price difference. Add in the fact that the Z77X-UP5 TH has twice as many Thunderbolt connectors, and Gigabyte takes the value lead away from MSI in spite of the $5 price difference.

While Asus relied on an extended warranty to put its Sabertooth Z77's ahead of ASRock's Z77 OC Formula in value, hardware differences made it easier to pick a leader between various Thunderbolt solutions. Gigabyte leads that features-per-price battle without making any serious concessions in performance or overclocking, so the Z77X-UP5 TH earns its value award.

Our attempt to work out the value award mathematically assumes that Thunderbolt technology is worth as much as it costs, something that should be a safe assumption for anyone who thinks they might use this new technology within the next few years. But anyone who doesn't use that technology during the life of their next build will find no value in it, and anyone who's prone to motherboard failure will find exceptional value in Asus' extended warranty. Because both of these exceptions will likely apply to a large number of buyers, the Sabertooth Z77 also gets our stamp of approval.

Display all 35 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    roberta , October 10, 2012 4:59 AM
    As u have reviewed SIX (6) motherboards, the article's title should be:
    "Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed"
  • 2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 10, 2012 5:10 AM
    No SATA and USB tests ? data transfer speed differences will typically be noticable in everyday usage.
    Also, the time taken to show the windows loading screen/ BIOS page..
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 10, 2012 5:57 AM
    admit it.
    you really liked the black/grey dimms and PCI slots of the gigabyte better than the blue/black of the MSI!
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , October 10, 2012 6:28 AM
    robertaAs u have reviewed SIX (6) motherboards, the article's title should be:"Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed"
    Let's see what the article says:
    Quote:
    The one motherboard in today’s line-up with a 48-lane PCIe 3.0 bridge is ECS’ Golden Z77H2-AX. Unfortunately, this platform climbed $40 beyond the budget limit of today’s round-up in the time we've been reviewing it. We're tired of seeing board vendors playing pricing games based on our review schedule (this isn't the first time we're seeing a curiously-timed price move). So, since we put the work in to review ECS' submission, we're including our already-gathered data and simply withholding the board from any award candidacy.
    mayankleoboy1No SATA and USB tests ? data transfer speed differences will typically be noticable in everyday usage.Also, the time taken to show the windows loading screen/ BIOS page..
    Would have covered windows load time except that it wasn't markedly different. That is, after disabling empty SATA controllers. If you count the time that it takes to get the "No Device Found" error on boards that have extra SATA controllers, you're penalizing a board for having more features.

    Andrew Ku tests drive controllers. I'm trying to get him to "write the book" on controller performance, since dozens of boards use only a few different controllers. As for testing things like Z77 controller performance on board A vs Z77 controller performance on board B, it's a waste of time unless something is broken. So the article looked for "broken stuff". See the red bar on the first chart:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/z77x-up5-th-z77a-gd80-z77-oc-formula,3305-22.html
    With nothing broken, there's no excuse to test the Z77 controller six times. Back to me begging Andrew Ku for a comprehensive comparison of every SATA controller currently available on mainstream-brand enthusiast boards.
  • -8 Hide
    JeanLuc , October 10, 2012 12:36 PM
    Arghh! Why the hell are you overclocking the base clock on Z77!! That will most likely cause permanent damage to your CPU.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 10, 2012 5:17 PM
    You left out a key aspect for overclockers which is vcore offset.
    This allows ocer's to achieve higher overclocks while still retaining the power saving functions, instead of being forced to either reduce the overclock, or be forced to run high voltage 24/7.
    MSI doesn't have this key feature.
  • 5 Hide
    Onus , October 10, 2012 5:44 PM
    I would think that the Sabertooth's five year warranty merits at least a mention in any value conclusion.
  • 0 Hide
    ttg_Avenged , October 10, 2012 7:33 PM
    I'll just stick with sandy bridge. Doesn't seem like I'm losing much at all.
  • 1 Hide
    luciferano , October 10, 2012 7:48 PM
    JeanLucArghh! Why the hell are you overclocking the base clock on Z77!! That will most likely cause permanent damage to your CPU.


    Overclocking the BLCK is very unlikely to cause any damage, it's just likely to not give much of a stable overclock.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , October 10, 2012 8:02 PM
    jtt283I would think that the Sabertooth's five year warranty merits at least a mention in any value conclusion.
    I actually missed that, having checked the lesser brands just to make sure those still had their three year warranty. Will add it.
  • 3 Hide
    RedJaron , October 10, 2012 11:08 PM
    Five year warranty is definitely nice. I really don't understand the point of their "thermal armor" though. Anyone care to explain that to me?

    And as much as I like ASRock, I realy wish they'd put more PWM headers on their boards.
  • 6 Hide
    slicedtoad , October 10, 2012 11:56 PM
    ^thermal armor = marketing (and looks)
  • 0 Hide
    Why_Me , October 11, 2012 12:10 AM
    The Asus Sabertooth got it's arse handed to it in the over clocking results, it runs hot and is a power hog, it's expensive...yet I see a photo of it on the last page along with the Gigabyte board that didn't do much better than the Sabertooth. What did I miss?
  • 3 Hide
    eddieroolz , October 11, 2012 12:49 AM
    Proud owner of a Sabertooth Z77 board for 4 months. This thing has been like an immovable rock. For me the price was $220, and easily justifiable in a high-end build.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , October 11, 2012 1:43 AM
    Quote:
    The Asus Sabertooth got it's arse handed to it in the over clocking results, it runs hot and is a power hog, it's expensive...yet I see a photo of it on the last page along with the Gigabyte board that didn't do much better than the Sabertooth. What did I miss?
    Features for the money, overclocking for the money, warranty? Maybe you missed that the HORRIBLE heat wasn't hot? Or that the HORRIBLE inefficiency wasn't very inefficient?
  • 2 Hide
    GabZDK , October 11, 2012 1:43 AM
    Really good review Toms, and yes the results are a little more towards Thunderblot usage, but hey thats trend with this new line of mobos right??

    On a side note, in a future I would love to see a comparison including boards like the Z77X-UP7 from Gigabyte, haven't got a chance to see that one in action
  • 3 Hide
    sherlockwing , October 11, 2012 2:46 AM
    While you should reward ASUS for the 5 year warranty on the Sabertooth, you should also note that ASUS RMA department in US is horrible, multitude of horror RMA stories can be found on OCN and other forums. So while that warranty is nice in other markets, but maybe not for US.
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 11, 2012 11:04 AM
    Why didn't you compare Asus ROG MAXIMUS V FORMULA instead of Asus SABERTOOTH
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , October 11, 2012 7:54 PM
    rayhands0meWhy didn't you compare Asus ROG MAXIMUS V FORMULA instead of Asus SABERTOOTH
    Because Asus send the Sabertooth.
    windguessthis is not a Benchmark competition, this is stupid warranty fight and thunderbolt award.Why not I send you a mobo with 50yrs warranty and 10 thunderbolt ports? tom's hardware sucks!
    No, it's just you. Really, the boards perform almost identically, because all properly designed boards perform identically, and the only two ways to get non-identical performance is to cheat (force people to overclock by default) or screw up (and get lower performance).

    The problem isn't the review, the problem is that only two people didn't realize that the performance is supposed to be identical. Those two people are you, and the person who gave you the "thumbs up".
  • 0 Hide
    Onihikage , October 13, 2012 9:28 AM
    It was a few months ago that I picked the winner (ASUS Z77) for the build I'm using now. Nice to see I chose well.
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