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Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

Benchmark Settings And Peripheral Compatibility Testing

Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-3770K (Ivy Bridge): 3.50 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache, LGA 1155
CPU CoolerThermalright MUX-120 w/Zalman ZM-STG1 Paste
RAMG.Skill F3-17600CL9Q-16GBXLD (16 GB) DDR3-2200 at DDR3-1600 CAS 9, 1.60 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
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 296.10 WHQL
Virtu MVPVersion 2.1.114, GPU Virtualization, HyperFormance, No Virtual Vsync, where applicable
ChipsetIntel INF 9.3.0.1019

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.

We’re shifting focus towards features in this month’s comparison, and one of the features we noticed lacking was the ability of some manufacturers to support certain peripherals in firmware (or DOS mode). We purchased keyboards and mice from Microsoft and Logitech, plus a Saitek keyboard and Razer mouse, to verify this problem.

The good news is that ASRock, Asus, and MSI supported all combinations of hardware through both Windows and UEFI, which is important when certain UEFI features are accessible only via mouse.

This version of Gigabyte’s Z77X-D3H firmware didn’t fare as well, with the Razer mouse moving very slowly and clicking inconsistently. It was possible to use it for UEFI configuration, but doing so took much patience.

Biostar’s TZ77XE3 had trouble with the Logitech mouse; the cursor would move vertically, but not horizontally.

ECS and Intel exhibited both problems, with the Razer mouse movement becoming so unpredictable that sometimes the cursor moved backwards. The issue was somewhat amusing on the Intel platform, since this problem occurred only after we updated its UEFI.

The reason for the DZ77SL-50K’s regressive compatibility is that we were forced to go backwards with its firmware. Our rules for participation specifically stated that all firmware must be available for public download, and the version Intel delivered on its sample was not. This rule was intended to prevent cheating, as some of its manufacturing partners have accused each other of optimizing firmware for specific review configurations.

Benchmark Configuration
3DMark 11Version 1.0.1.0, Benchmark Test Only, Virtu MVP Enabled Entry, Performance, and Extreme Presets
PCMark 7Version 1.0.4, PCMark, Productivity, Storage Suites Intel SATA Driver, Intel RST Monitor Installed
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2011.10.17.80 CPU Arithmetic, Multi-Media, Memory Bandwidth benchmarks

When testing products of different technology, a real-world benchmark set helps us determine real-world performance differences. Yet, today’s boards use the same technology, and synthetics are more useful for finding the cause of performance deficits. Performance parity between all properly-design Z77 motherboards has forced us to look for problems rather than solutions.

  • SpadeM
    LAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    SpadeMLAN performance .. ISC performance ... USB 3 .. well that's it then.Tom's Hardware has several controller comparisons, and publishes new ones frequently. So unless you think one of the boards has a broken controller, wysiwyg.

    The things that actually get screwed-up are typically related to the clock generator, multiplier control, memory timings and power options.
    Reply
  • nikorr
    I would place the ASRock and Gigabyte on the top as well : )

    Nice review.
    Reply
  • jaquith
    I always appreciate your Articles! :) I know how much work you do to get them done.

    You're kidding - Biostar. I guess this article is not about the 'Best Sub-$160 Z77' MOBO's but about the best manufacturers sent you. The cheapest MOBO I recommend for the SB/IB (K) is the ASUS P8Z77-V which pops your 'unique' budget cap depending where you shop; found it here for $159.99 - http://www.gadgetneeds.net/asus-p8z77-v-atx-intel-motherboard/
    Interesting you didn't get an ASUS P8Z77-V LK ~$120 which offers SLI. The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 and Gigabyte Z77X-D3H for the price aren't bad.

    There's NO WAY I'm recommending Biostar in the forum, folks and myself would thing I've lost my mind.
    Reply
  • jimishtar
    It would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    jimishtarIt would be nice to see the CPU voltage for every board when overclocking.1.25V
    Reply
  • gorillagarrett
    No peripherals performance tests? Those are the only tests that differentiate those motherboards from each other.

    Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    gorillagarrettNo peripherals performance tests? Those are the only tests that differentiate those motherboards from each other. Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared :)
    Reply
  • gorillagarrett
    I'll let the integrated controller guy know you'd like to see those parts compared

    Thank you!
    Reply
  • rolli59
    I would have liked to see the Asus P8Z77V-LK version instead of the LX since it is better equipped.
    Reply