Skip to main content

Four Z77-Based Mini-ITX Motherboards, Reviewed

Test Settings And Benchmarks

We retained most of the hardware from our previous Z77 motherboard round-ups, but were not able to reach the same CPU clock speeds. A shift over to Windows 8 was our biggest change, and services crashing under that operating system appeared to limit what we could achieve compared to Windows 7.

Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-3770K (Ivy Bridge): 3.50 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache, LGA 1155
CPU CoolerXigmatek Loki w/Zalman ZM-STG1 Paste
RAMG.Skill F3-17600CL9Q-16GBXLD (16 GB), DDR3-2200 at DDR3-1600 CAS 9, 1.50 V
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 580 1.5 GB 772 MHz GPU, GDDR5-4008
Hard DriveSamsung 470 Series 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerSeasonic X760 SS-760KM, ATX12V v2.3, EPS12V, 80 PLUS Gold
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Professional RTM x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 310.70 WHQL
Virtu MVPVersion 2.1.114, GPU Virtualization Only, No HyperFormance, No Virtual Vsync
ChipsetIntel INF

Graphics card crowding on the ASRock and MSI boards forced us to track down a 92 mm cooler. It might be natural to blame the smaller heat sink and fan for our reduced overclocking success, but lower ambient temperatures during the winter actually helped ensure that our CPU never got close to its thermal threshold. That is, at least after we modified the Xigmatek Loki installation kit.

Threaded spacers visible in the image above prevented the Loki’s base from applying enough pressure against our CPU’s heat spreader. Removing those spacers fixed that issue. The spacers were likely designed for a thicker LGA package, such as the long-outdated LGA 775 or the less-archaic LGA 1366.

While G.Skill’s F3-17600CL9Q-16GBXLD provides the default DDR3-1600 CAS 9 settings we want for benchmarks, it’s no longer fast enough to push the limits of today’s best memory controllers. The firm provided a set of its F3-2666C11Q-16GTXD Trident X DDR3-2666 specifically to extend our overclocking capabilities.

I updated this round-up’s benchmark suite to match that of our most recent System Builder Marathon for several reasons. Chief among these was a split in the high-end mini-ITX motherboard market. The suite leans heavily on the gaming and transcoding apps typical of LAN event and media center usage.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Battlefield 3Campaign Mode, "Going Hunting" 90 Seconds Fraps Test Set 1: Medium Quality Defaults (No AA, 4x AF) Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Defaults (4x AA, 16x AF)
F1 2012Steam version, in-game benchmark Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimUpdate 1.5.26, Celedon Aethirborn Level 6, 25 Seconds Fraps Test Set 1: DX11, High Details No AA, 8x AF, FXAA enabled Test Set 2: DX11, Ultra Details, 8x AA, 16x AF, FXAA enabled
StarCraft IIV1.5.1, "Tom's Hardware Guide V2" custom map, 60 Seconds Fraps Test Set 1: High Details, High Quality Test Set 2: Ultra Details, Extreme Quality
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CS6Version x64: Create Video that includes three streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CS6Version 13 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premeire Pro CS6Version, 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
Handbrake CLIVersion: 0.98: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCodeStudio 2.5Version: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
ABBYY FineReaderVersion Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat XVersion Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2012Version 14.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.64a, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
File Compression
WinZipVersion 17.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 4.2: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.28: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version:, Benchmark Only
PCMark 7Version: 1.0.4 x64, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2011Version Version 2013.01.19.11, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Cryptography, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark