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Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed

Asus Sabertooth Z77

Asus gives its Sabertooth Z77 the stealth treatment with a plastic cover that hides most of its on-board components. Users who don’t even want their empty slots to show will find even more covers inside the box.

The Sabertooth Z77’s I/O-panel looks surprisingly sparse in light of its specifications list, but that’s simply because Asus gets rid of large and often-unused connectors like PS/2 and DVI. We still find two eSATA connectors back there, in addition to four USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort, HDMI, and Asus' support-simplifying USB BIOS Flashback button.

Anyone worried about heat getting trapped under those covers can remove two sections and install a pair of bundled 40 mm fans. The coolers operate almost silently in automatic mode, though manually configuring them to spin at full speed generate moderate noise.

All eight internal SATA ports face forward, along with the internal USB 3.0 header, making room for up to three graphics card of any length. Though forward-facing ports were occasionally blocked by the lower drive cage of older cases, that problem rarely affects new builds. Asus addresses the more recent deficiency of some case designs unable to reach front-panel audio headers by moving the Sabertooth Z77’s own connector forward from its traditional bottom-rear-corner by about an inch.

The large cover blanketing Asus' board probably limited fan header placement to the motherboard’s edges. We see four connectors up top, one on the front, and two at the bottom. Two additional headers under the cover connect the optional 40 mm intake and exhaust fans.

Asus’ Sabertooth boards are designed to be shown off, but that doesn’t necessarily make them part of the company's gamer/enthusiast marketing push. None of its Sabertooth products show up on the Republic of Gamers site, and the board doesn’t have the expensive PLX switch that would have enabled three-way SLI. Instead, the top two slots share sixteen PCIe 3.0 lanes, with auto-switching setting x16/x0 and x8/x8 modes. The third slot gets a maximum of four PCIe 2.0 lanes from the PCH. Three of those lanes must be taken from the x1 slots manually, as Asus' firmware defaults the third graphics slot to x1 mode.

Because it's a two-way SLI design, Asus’ Sabertooth Z77 includes a single SLI bridge, along with four SATA cables, two optional cooling fans, and several slot covers.

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