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Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

Seven Affordable Z77 Express-Based Motherboards Get Dissected

Everyone loves a fast machine, but buying the best of the best is an expensive habit. Thank goodness for Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture then, right? You don't need to sink a ton of cash into a Sandy Bridge-E-based processor and the expensive motherboards they require. Instead, a third-gen Core chip and a Z77-based platform should do the trick nicely.

Alright, so you do lose some functionality. Sandy Bridge-E features 40 lanes of on-die PCI Express, after all. The Ivy Bridge/Z77 combination slims that number down to 16 lanes and a "modest" two-channel memory controller. But the features it does facilitate are good enough for a majority of our readers looking for a smart play that's fast, energy-efficient, and affordable.

As a bonus, in addition to more attractive pricing than LGA 2011, Ivy Bridge-based chips include Intel's second-generation Quick Sync technology. Sandy Bridge-E doesn't enjoy any form of fixed-function transcoding acceleration. Of course, Quick Sync is a component of the architecture's integrated graphics engine, and most enthusiasts won't want to bother with HD Graphics 4000. Fortunately, Lucidlogix's Virtu software makes it easy to use discrete graphics for gaming and Intel's built-in stuff for your video work.

But you've heard all of that before, we're sure. Rather than blathering on about Ivy Bridge and Intel's most modern desktop chipset, let's instead introduce the cheaper-than-$160 motherboards we'll be reviewing today. They're what make fast, inexpensive, enthusiast-oriented machines a reality. And by the time you get to the end of today's incredibly information-packed story, you'll know which of these platforms are our favorites.

Motherboard Features
ASRock Z77 Extreme4Asus P8Z77-V LXBiostar TZ77XE3
PCB Revision1.051.025.0
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage RegulatorTwelve PhasesSix PhasesTwelve Phases
BIOSP1.40 (05/14/2012)0610 (05/08/2012)Z77AF419 (04/19/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 (+0.00%)100.30 (+0.03%)100.00 (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)1 (16-lanes)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16None1 (4-lanes from PCH)1 (4-lanes from PCH)
PCIe x1/x42/02/02/0
Mini PCIeNoneNoneNone
USB 2.03 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
SATA 6Gb/s4 (1 shared w/eSATA)22
SATA 3Gb/s444
4-Pin Fan231
3-Pin Fan412
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesNoYes
Reset ButtonYesNoYes
Diagnostics PanelNumericPass/Fail LEDsNumeric
Legacy InterfacesSerial, 2 x PCISerial, 3 x PCISerial, 2 x PCI
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2111
USB 3.0422
USB 2.0224
eSATA1 (shared w/SATA)NoneNone
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNoNo
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical OnlyNone
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio536
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAASM1061 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/s 1 shared w/eSATANoneNone
USB 3.0ASM1042 PCIeIntel Z77 IntegratedIntel Z77 IntegratedZ77 Integrated Only
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC887ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectNot Specified

Motherboard Features
ECS Z77H2-A2X DeluxeGigabyte Z77X-D3HIntel DZ77SL-50KMSI Z77A-G45
PCB Revision1.01.0Initial1.1
ChipsetIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 ExpressIntel Z77 Express
Voltage RegulatorNine PhasesNine PhasesSix PhasesSix Phases
BIOS120424 (04/24/2012)F8 (05/11/2012)0066 (04/13/2012)V2.4 (05/09/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.77 (-0.23%)100.89 (+0.89%)99.78 (-0.22%)100.0 (+0.0%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)1 (16-lanes)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16None1 (4-lanes from PCH)None1 (4-lanes from PCH)
PCIe x1/x42/03/01/1 (open ended)4 (two shared)/0
Mini PCIe1NoneNoneNone
USB 2.01 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
SATA 6Gb/s4422
SATA 3Gb/s24 (1 shared w/mSATA)34
4-Pin Fan1433
3-Pin Fan2NoneNone2
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyNone
Power ButtonNoNoNoNo
Reset ButtonNoNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNoneNone
Legacy InterfacesSerial, 2 x PCISerial, 1 x PCI3 x PCISerial Port
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2None111
USB 3.04622
USB 2.04244
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNoYes
Digital Audio OutOptical OnlyOptical OnlyNoneOptical+Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio5536
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x SATA 3Gb/s 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 3 x SATA 3Gb/s 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAASM1061 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/s88SE9172 PCIe2 x eSATA 6Gb/sNoneNone
USB 3.0ASM1042 PCIeIntel Z77 IntegratedVL800-Q8 PCIeIntel Z77 IntegratedZ77 Integrated OnlyZ77 Integrated Only
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANRTL8111E PCIeAR8151 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneNone
HD Audio CodecALC892VT2021ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified

Thanks to the efforts (and unified voice) of our readers, all seven of the motherboard vendors participating in today's story are now on equal footing when it comes to the length of their warranties, each offering three years of protection. There's more to each of these boards than its specification sheet, though, so we’re diving into the features, firmware, and software package included with them all.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.