Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe
Although it doesn't hail from the company's "Republic of Gamers" product line, Asus' P8Z77-I Deluxe still comes with a surprisingly-large and overclocking-friendly voltage regulator. Space on a mini-ITX motherboard is very valuable, so 10 high-capacity power phases that look like they were lifted from one of the vendor's LGA 2011 motherboards are moved onto an upright daughterboard.
Asus doesn’t waste any of the Z77 Express chipset's integrated SATA ports, placing four of these internally and two on the I/O panel as eSATA. Space that might have been used by a Bluetooth transceiver is saved by combining that function on Asus' dual-band mini-PCIe Wi-Fi controller from Broadcom. This is the only solution in our round-up with a 2x2 antenna array, which should improve transmit performance versus the 2x1-capable Realtek controller on ASRock's board.
We have the same concern about Asus only including two fan headers as we did with ASRock. However, at least Asus includes the ability to tweak fan ramp-up in a granular way through its Fan Xpert feature. It's also worth noting that there's more room to install a wider cooler on the P8Z77-I Deluxe. Because the board's PCH is mounted south of the CPU, the CPU interface doesn't have to be so close to the PCI Express slot.
Room on the back of the board is recovered by ridding the I/O panel of some of the 1/8" analog jacks you might otherwise expect to find. After all, in an HTPC environment, you'd like get sound from HDMI, while a desktop gamer interested in mini-ITX will probably be using a headset rather than a surround sound speaker system. Asus replaces those connectors with CLR_CMOS and USB BIOS Flashback buttons. The Flashback feature includes an IC that allows you to flash the board's BIOS from a USB flash drive without a CPU or memory installed.
That's not to say you can't achieve multi-channel surround sound, though. The trio of 1/8" jacks Asus does expose is fully configurable, making it possible to connect a 5.1-channel setup to the rear I/O panel (so long as you're willing to give up the mic input). You can even do simulated eight-channel output by using the front-panel audio jack. Or, use the optical out to get real-time encoded DTS. Asus is the only company in our round-up that licenses the DTS Connect technology supported by Realtek's ALC898 codec, making the feature unique to its P8Z77-I Deluxe.
Other Asus-only features include the company's TPU auto-overclocking switch (which we covered in some depth in Man Vs. Machine: Four Automatic Overclocking Techs, Compared) and its MemOK memory-underclocking button. MemOK is particularly useful for smoothing over compatibility issues with improperly-programmed RAM, though the company most notorious for that issue is no longer in the memory business. The TPU is going to be more practical for inexperienced overclockers; we simply prefer setting our own parameters. The ability to charge non-Apple tablets and smartphones even when the board is powered down is unique, too (Update: Both MSI and ASRock support this functionality only on Apple devices).
Two of the P8Z77-I Deluxe’s mounting holes are filled with screws, which secure its voltage regulator sink to the main circuit board during shipping. These must be removed prior to motherboard installation.
Asus' classic Wi-Fi antennas now support the Broadcom controller's 2x2 array, though the only visible change is in the color of its connector cables. Asus also changed its front-panel quick connector from a simple block design to a short extension cable, and packs this deluxe motherboard with twice as many SATA cables compared to lower-cost rivals. Bundled software also enables UASP mode for USB 3.0 in Windows 7 through an add-on ASM1042 controller.