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Seven Sub-$160 Z77 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

ECS Z77H2-A2X Deluxe

The Z77H2-A2X Deluxe continues ECS’ struggle to prove to the overclocking market that its mid-priced motherboards are stable and feature-packed. Having tested a few of the firm’s recent products, we find that its claims of overclocking stability are believable. What’s incredible to us is how unstable the company's prices are. We watched the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe drop from around $165 to around $145, and then shoot back up to $165 before we could publish our review. After hearing our concern, ECS reached an agreement with some of its channel partners to stabilize prices on new shipments at $160.

Now that the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe is once again able to compete with other boards in our sub-$160 story, we want to know how well it sizes up. An added pair of rear-panel USB 3.0 ports and eSATA are good steps towards securing the company's value goals.

Flipping to the top view, we discover four two-lane PCIe 3.0 pathway switches that allow a pair of x16 slots to go from x16-x0 to x8-x8 mode whenever a second graphics card is installed. Add to that a pair of voltage regulator heat sinks and a mini-PCIe slot that could be used for a notebook-style wireless card, and we’ve covered the full set of features that ECS uses to justify the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe’s price premium over less expensive competition, such as Asus' P8Z77-V LX.

ECS understands that some buyers make their purchase decision based on looks alone, so it applies the number 88 over the empty spot where a Port 80 diagnostics display is found on its higher-end models. Review readers aren’t so easily fooled.

The Z77H2-A2X Deluxe’s layout is good overall, with few concerns for users of certain older or low-cost cases. Those concerns include forward-facing SATA ports that almost butt up against the lower drive cage of many older cases, and a front-panel audio header that’s slightly out-of-reach for the short cables on a few poorly-designed cases. The easy solution to those worries is to choose a better chassis.

ECS includes six SATA cables and an SLI bridge in the Z77H2-A2X Deluxe installation kit. Those two extra cables likely cost pennies, but could save some builders a few dollars.

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