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Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed

Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed
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Expanded graphics card support, enhanced on-board features that include Thunderbolt on some models, and more-robust voltage control are all good reasons to consider paying a little extra for a higher-end motherboard. Today we examine five top choices.

Expanded graphics card support, enhanced on-board features that include Thunderbolt on some models, and more-robust voltage control are all good reasons to consider paying a little extra for a higher-end motherboard. Today we examine five top choices.

The divide between Intel's mainstream and high-end platforms continues to confound enthusiasts. If you go with Intel's latest and greatest architecture, you're limited to four cores and 16 lanes of PCI Express 3.0 connectivity. Those specs seem pretty meager compared to Sandy Bridge-E's six cores and 40 lanes of 8 GT/s PCI Express. But, of course, Sandy Bridge-E centers on an older core design. So, in some apps, the Ivy Bridge-based Core chips are faster. In others, Sandy Bridge-E comes out ahead. How's that for a conundrum?

Gamers simply want their favorite titles to run better. And the Ivy Bridge architecture's better per-clock performance helps make that happen (not to mention dramatically lower prices). The 22 nm process Intel uses to manufacture those chips also helps cut power consumption. And while on-die HD Graphics engine is all but useless for 3D, its Quick Sync functionality facilitates great video transcoding acceleration. Ivy Bridge-based chips seem to hit similar overclocks, but with far more conservative cooling requirements. And the architecture's biggest limitation, a scarcity of PCI Express connectivity, is hardly a problem for power users building systems with one or two graphics cards.

The PCI Express on one of the boards we're reviewing today even has a repeater function that helps overcome the tiniest of Z77 Express' weaknesses in SLI or CrossFire configurations.

This platform's battle for enthusiast market share doesn’t end with basic specifications, however. Motherboard vendors must also convince their customers that Z77 Express-equipped platforms have the features and stability to match high-end X79 Express-based offerings. We received six motherboards that attempt to prove this point (though one of the products no longer qualifies for our final analysis).

Motherboard Features
 ASRock
Z77 OC Formula
Asus
Sabertooth Z77
ECS
Z77H2-AX
PCB Revision1.031.021.0
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage Regulator14 PhasesTwelve Phases15 Phases
BIOSP1.00 (07/30/2012)1504 (08/03/2012)120424 (04/24/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 (+0.00%)100.30 (+0.03%)99.78 (-0.22%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21NoneNone
USB 3.0644
USB 2.0444
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNone
NetworkSingleSingleSingle
eSATANone22
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNo (flash button only)Yes
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical OnlyOptical Only
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio565
Video OutHDMIHDMI, DisplayPortVGA, HDMI
Other DevicesNoneNoneBluetooth, WiFi
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)3 (x16/x16/x0, x16/x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x161 (4-lanes from PCH)1 (4-lanes from PCH)None
PCIe x1/x42/03/02/0
Mini PCIeNoneNone1
USB 2.03 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s644
SATA 3.0 Gb/s443 (includes 1x mSATA)
4-Pin Fan261
3-Pin Fan512
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesNoYes
Reset ButtonYesNoYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNumericPass/Fail LEDsNumeric
Legacy InterfacesSerial PortNoneSerial, 2x PCI
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
2 x SATA 3Gb/s
1 x mSATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2 x 88SE9172 PCIe
4 x SATA 6Gb/s
RAID 0/1
2 x ASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
2 x ASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0EJ188H PCIe
Intel Z77 Integrated
ASM1042 PCIe
Intel Z77 Integrated
TUSB7320 PCIe
Intel Z77 Integrated
IEEE-1394NoneNoneNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified
Warranty
Three Years
Five Years
3-yr Parts, 2-yr Labor


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.

The only other $220-280 board with PLX's 48-lane PCIe swtich is also out of contention because its manufacturer chose to focus on a different high-end feature. But what other $40 feature could be worth its cost to the end user? Here's a hint: Zeus.

Motherboard Features
 Gigabyte
Z77X-UP5 TH
Intel
DZ77RE-75K
MSI
Z77A-GD80
PCB Revision1.0011.0
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage RegulatorTwelve PhasesTen Phases14 Phases
BIOSF9 (08/23/2012)0049 (07/13/2012)V1.1 (06/12/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.10 (+0.10%)99.78 (-0.22%)100.0 (+0.0%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2None11
USB 3.0442
USB 2.0224
IEEE-1394None1None
NetworkSingleDualSingle
eSATA11None
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoBack To BIOSYes
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical OnlyOptical+Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio556
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, HDMIHDMIHDMI, VGA
Other DevicesDual ThunderboltThunderboltThunderbolt
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x163 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNoneNone
PCIe x1/x43/03/04 (two shared)/0
Mini PCIeNoneNoneNone
USB 2.02 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)
USB 3.03 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394111
SATA 6.0 Gb/s244
SATA 3.0 Gb/s4 (1 shared w/mSATA)44
4-Pin Fan543
3-Pin FanNoneNone2
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OInput and OutputOutput OnlyNone
Power ButtonYesYesYes
Reset ButtonYesYesYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNumeric
Legacy Interfaces1 x PCI2 x PCISerial Port
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 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, 10
Add-In SATA88SE9172 PCIe
1 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
2 x 88SE9172 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe (Shared w/FireWire)
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0Intel Z77 Integrated
2x VL-810 4-port Hub
Intel Z77 Integrated
2x GL3520M 4-port Hub
Z77 Integrated Only
IEEE-1394NoneTSB43AB22A PCIVT6315N PCIe (Shared w/SATA)
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANWG82579V PHYWG82579V PHYWG82579V PHY
Secondary LANNoneWG82574L PCIeNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC898ALC898
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified
Warranty
Three Years
Three Years
Three Years


Three of the motherboards in today’s line-up include Thunderbolt technology, and one even has Intel’s $40 DSL3510 dual-channel controller. Choosing between its three-way SLI-capable and dual-port Thunderbolt-equipped products must have been difficult for Gigabyte, but we’re sure storage geeks like our own Andrew Ku will applaud its decision.

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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