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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||ASRock Z77 Extreme4||Asus P8Z77-V LX||Biostar TZ77XE3|
|Chipset||Intel Z77 Express||Intel Z77 Express||Intel Z77 Express|
|Voltage Regulator||Twelve Phases||Six Phases||Twelve Phases|
|BIOS||P1.40 (05/14/2012)||0610 (05/08/2012)||Z77AF419 (04/19/2012)|
|100.0 MHz BCLK||100.0 (+0.00%)||100.30 (+0.03%)||100.00 (+0.00%)|
|PCIe 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (16-lanes)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)|
|PCIe 2.0 x16||None||1 (4-lanes from PCH)||1 (4-lanes from PCH)|
|USB 2.0||3 (6-ports)||3 (6-ports)||2 (4-ports)|
|USB 3.0||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)|
|SATA 6Gb/s||4 (1 shared w/eSATA)||2||2|
|S/PDIF I/O||Output Only||Output Only||Output Only|
|Diagnostics Panel||Numeric||Pass/Fail LEDs||Numeric|
|Legacy Interfaces||Serial, 2 x PCI||Serial, 3 x PCI||Serial, 2 x PCI|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|eSATA||1 (shared w/SATA)||None||None|
|Digital Audio Out||Optical Only||Optical Only||None|
|Digital Audio In||None||None||None|
|Video Out||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||HDMI, VGA, DVI-D||HDMI, VGA, DVI-D|
|Mass Storage Controllers|
|Chipset SATA||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s|
|Chipset RAID Modes||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10|
|Add-In SATA||ASM1061 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/s 1 shared w/eSATA||None||None|
|USB 3.0||ASM1042 PCIeIntel Z77 Integrated||Intel Z77 Integrated||Z77 Integrated Only|
|Primary LAN||BCM57781 PCIe||RTL8111E PCIe||RTL8111E PCIe|
|HD Audio Codec||ALC898||ALC887||ALC892|
|DDL/DTS Connect||Not Specified||DTS Connect||Not Specified|
|Row 0 - Cell 0||ECS Z77H2-A2X Deluxe||Gigabyte Z77X-D3H||Intel DZ77SL-50K||MSI Z77A-G45|
|Chipset||Intel Z77 Express||Intel Z77 Express||Intel Z77 Express||Intel Z77 Express|
|Voltage Regulator||Nine Phases||Nine Phases||Six Phases||Six Phases|
|BIOS||120424 (04/24/2012)||F8 (05/11/2012)||0066 (04/13/2012)||V2.4 (05/09/2012)|
|100.0 MHz BCLK||99.77 (-0.23%)||100.89 (+0.89%)||99.78 (-0.22%)||100.0 (+0.0%)|
|PCIe 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (16-lanes)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)|
|PCIe 2.0 x16||None||1 (4-lanes from PCH)||None||1 (4-lanes from PCH)|
|PCIe x1/x4||2/0||3/0||1/1 (open ended)||4 (two shared)/0|
|USB 2.0||1 (2-ports)||2 (4-ports)||2 (4-ports)||3 (6-ports)|
|USB 3.0||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)|
|SATA 3Gb/s||2||4 (1 shared w/mSATA)||3||4|
|S/PDIF I/O||Output Only||Output Only||Output Only||None|
|Legacy Interfaces||Serial, 2 x PCI||Serial, 1 x PCI||3 x PCI||Serial Port|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|Digital Audio Out||Optical Only||Optical Only||None||Optical+Coaxial|
|Digital Audio In||None||None||None||None|
|Video Out||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||HDMI||HDMI, VGA, DVI-D|
|Mass Storage Controllers|
|Chipset SATA||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x SATA 3Gb/s 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 3 x SATA 3Gb/s 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s||2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s|
|Chipset RAID Modes||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10|
|Add-In SATA||ASM1061 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/s||88SE9172 PCIe2 x eSATA 6Gb/s||None||None|
|USB 3.0||ASM1042 PCIeIntel Z77 Integrated||VL800-Q8 PCIeIntel Z77 Integrated||Z77 Integrated Only||Z77 Integrated Only|
|Primary LAN||RTL8111E PCIe||AR8151 PCIe||WG82579V PHY||RTL8111E PCIe|
|HD Audio Codec||ALC892||VT2021||ALC892||ALC892|
|DDL/DTS Connect||Not Specified||Not Specified||Not Specified||Not 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.
The things that actually get screwed-up are typically related to the clock generator, multiplier control, memory timings and power options.
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.
Would really like to see how the UD3X Atheros Ethernet controller fares against the Intel and broadcom ones.