Asus P8Z77-V LX
For about $5 less than ASRock’s competing model, the P8Z77-V LX gives users access to Asus' legendary support structure, including frequent firmware updates long after a product has left production. You'll need to give up a few luxuries to get that lower price, however. You can start with the board's rear panel, which hosts only two USB 3.0 ports and three 1/8" analog audio jacks.
Budget builds are often stuck with old analog speaker system, and three jacks are still enough for 5.1-channel surround sound. While Asus relies on its front-panel header to support an eight-channel output claim, most users use those two additional channels to plug in a headset.
Also missing are any PCIe 3.0 pathway switches, which would have made x8/x8 mode possible for the P8Z77-V LX’s two x16-length slots. Instead, users get one slot locked into 16-lane transfers and a second locked into four-lane PCIe 2.0 transfers through the Z77 PCH. That limitation still allows for CrossFire configurations, but crosses SLI off the feature list, unless you get your hands on a single-card, dual GPU solution. Fans of Nvidia's multi-card rendering technology might want to consider the better-equipped P8Z77-V LK, though that model was priced above our $160 cut-off when review invitations went out.
Asus also omits on-board power and reset buttons, which other vendors use to woo bench testers without adding any real value to the average enthusiast. After all, those buttons become redundant once a motherboard is mounted into a case with its own externally-accessible buttons. This reviewer does miss the Port 80 diagnostics display that Asus fails to include, however. Asus believes its less informative pass/fail LEDs are easier to read.
Asus' MemOK and GPU Boost features are engaged using two switches along the P8Z77-V LX’s front edge that some builders will find useful. MemOK temporarily underclocks poorly-programmed memory to get you into the UEFI, where problematic modules can be configured manually. GPU Boost goes the other direction, overclocking the HD Graphics engines built into Intel’s LGA 1155-based processors.
We always look for layout problems that could hinder a build, and the worst thing we could find on Asus' P8Z77-V LX was that none of the fan connectors were located within easy reach of a case’s front panel. This complaint is trivial, since so many cases come with four-pin Molex power connectors. Asus even moves the P8Z77-V LX’s front-panel audio connector forward about an inch from the corner in which we usually find it, heading off any complaints we might have lodged about short cables. Bravo!
Two SATA cables are enough to complete the simplest builds. The P8Z77-V LX doesn’t include an SLI bridge because the board doesn’t have the hardware required to support two cards rendering cooperatively in SLI.