ASRock, ECS, Gigabyte, Intel, Sapphire Z77 Motherboard Roundup

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, June 25th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/Intel_Z77_Motherboards/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The Intel Z77 Express chipset hit the market not too long ago, but it has already made a huge impact as consumers are quickly switching from the previous LGA-1155 chipsets to the latest Panther Point design. While the difference between the new and old chipsets is not dramatic, what Panther Point does offer is native support for both Intel Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge microprocessors, as well as integrated USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 support.

The integrated PCIe bus in the Ivy Bridge CPU has also been updated to support three devices with 16 PCIe lanes. The previous generation Sandy Bridge processors could only support 2 devices, but adding support for a third device also required the chipset to be updated. The same is true for supported memory. The integrated memory controller inside the Ivy Bridge processor can support much higher memory speeds. This allows the motherboard manufacturers to increase the DDR3 support, and most of the boards in this review can support memory all the way up to DDR3-2400 OC.

In this roundup we are going to be examining a wide range of motherboards based on the Intel Z77 design from manufacturers such as ASRock, ECS, Gigabyte and Intel. Each board comes with its own unique feature set, but since they all support the latest Ivy Bridge processors they should all have around the same level of performance, and memory support. So, it is really going to be up to the features and bundle to set the boards apart from each other.

Starting alphabetically we have the ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional. This board is designed for gamers and the packaging is a clear indication of this with the Falal1ty branding along with an image of the professional gamer Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel himself. The rest of the front panel lists the supported graphics cards and microprocessors.

The reverse side of the packaging goes more into detail about what the motherboard offers in terms of features and support including their 555 XFast technology, along with Lucid's Virtu MVP design. Just below the MVP info is six boxes that each list key components of the motherboard including use of gold caps, a Digi Power design, a 16+8 power phase layout, support for memory up to DDR3 2800+, a Fatal1ty mouse port, and UEFI BIOS.

Inside the box ASRock has bundled six SATA cables, a Molex to SATA power connector, the I/O cover, SLI bridge, drivers/utilities disc, manuals and a USB 3.0 bracket that can either be used at the front of the case in a 5.25" drive bay, or at the rear panel via single slot adapter.

The ASRock Fatal1ty has a very slick and well laid out design, along with the Fatal1ty red and black color scheme. The motherboard also uses all high quality components such as Premium Gold Capacitors, a large heatsink on the vital components and a massive phase design. The back also top-notch, as all the heatsinks are secured to the PCB via screws and there are even additional power circuitry connected to the board. Since the neither Ivy Bridge nor Sandy Bridge support dual graphics cards at a full x16/x16, the board has sufficient connectors.

This model also utilizes ASRock's XFast 555 technology. Essentially this feature improves the performance of the memory, internet access time and USB speed fivefold. A software utility boosts the memory usage by creating a virtual disk for increased system memory performance in applications such as Photoshop. ASRock XFast LAN is a smart productivity tool to helps you manage your priorities of internet applications, simplify your digital life and accomplish more. XFast USB technology boosts the USB transfer to a new level enabling more data to be transferred in less time.

The ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Pro is built on the Z77 platform which supports all of Intel's LGA-1155 Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge processors. To properly power the CPU and ensure the board has maximum overclocking potential, ASRock uses a Digi Power design with 16+8 phase units. Additionally, the large heatsink attached to the VRM will also improve the overall efficiency of the voltage regulation unit, increasing stability and improving the overclocking headroom.

Next to the CPU socket are four memory DIMMs that run in a dual-channel configuration. In total the board can support up to 32GB of DDR3 memory with speeds of up to 2800+ (Ivy Bridge only). This model also includes support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules. By default the voltage to the memory is set at 1.5V, so if your memory requires more power the voltage level will have to be adjusted manually in the BIOS. Interestingly, there is a IDE connector next to the memory slots. This is interesting as IDE is no longer supported by the chipset, and few high-end consumers are stuck to using any Legacy devices.

The Z77 Fatal1ty Pro has a wide array of expansion options. The I/O panel features a single PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 6 USB 3.0 ports, 5 USB 2.0 ports, Optical P/DIF out connector, six USB 2.0 ports, 1 Fatal1ty Mouse Port (USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, 1 IEEE 1394a port, 1 eSATA3 connector, dual RJ-45 LAN Ports with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED) and HD Audio Jacks for the Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone.

In total the Z77 Fatal1ty Pro has three PCIe x16 slots, two of which use the PCIe 3.0 standard, while the third is PCIe 2.0. Between the three slots the board can support both CrossFireX and SLI in either a x8/x8, or x8/x4/x4 configuration. Additionally, the Fatal1ty Pro includes dual PCIe x1 slots and 2 PCIe slots.

To the right of and below the PCIe slots are n-board headers for additional connectivity. From left to right, the board features a COM port, Floppy drive connector, 3-pin fan header, front audio header, dual USB 2.0 ports the font panel connection points and two more power connectors. The lower portion of the board  also has an on-board diagnostics LED along with reset and power buttons that each sport the Fatal1ty logo.

Along with the Legacy connectors, the Fatal1ty Z77 Pro also a total of 10 SATA ports. Of these, the 4 bottom ports utilize the SATA 3Gbps specification while the top six SATA ports are all 6Gbps ports. Not all are supported via the chipset though, as four are connected by ASMedia ASM1061 controllers, while only two are directly controlled by the Panther Point chipset. To power the controllers ASRock has included a PLX chip, which expands the PCIe 2 lanes.

The next product in our roundup is the ECS Golden Z77H2-AX. ECS first started increasing the amount of gold used in their motherboards a few years ago, but this model takes it to the next level. ECS is not kidding around even before the box is opened, as even the packaging is gold colored and on the front all ECS has listed is the Gold Edition logo along with the model number.

 

While the outer panels don't include much details pertaining to the motherboard, the inner panels are chock full of info. Both the panels on the box can be opened. One side has a clear window that shows off the motherboard inside and lists the key features of the new Golden board design. The other side meanwhile highlights the main features of the board such as support for memory up to DDR3 2800, the user of Gen 3.0 PCIe slots, support for 3-way GPU scaling and the QoolTech IV thermal solution.

The included accessories are packaged in a thin box separate from the motherboard and in all ECS has included an operations manual, a gold I/O shield, three SLI bridges, five SATA cables and an external USB 3.0 bracket. Honestly I expected more, but it is still a decent bundle for a high-end motherboard.

The ECS Golden Z77H2-AX is by far the best looking motherboard released by the manufacturer thus far. It has an all-black design throughout the expansion slots and PCB, while the gold capacitors, CPU socket and heatsink draw a nice contrast from the black. Additionally, it is nice to see ECS has used such a massive thermal solution on the board which is part of their QoolTech IV design comprised of heatpipes, a massive metal array and ECS Thermochromic Technology.

Like the ASRock Fatal1ty motherboard, the ECS Gold Edition board uses screws though the PCB to secure the heatsink in place. This method ensures the base of the heatsinks make proper contact with the components below, in turn increasing the efficiency of the heatsink. Another aspect of the back that we really liked is the fact that three of the PCIe x16 slots have all the available lanes instead of having only the top slot privy to the full x16 bandwidth.

While the ECS Golden Z77H2-AX comes with the same processor support as the other boards in the roundup, it has a very unique design. This is of course due to the fact that ECS has expanded their gold plating technology into new territories. Unlike their previous motherboards where the CPU socket was the main focus for the 15u gold plating, it has now been expanded into the power circuitry, thermal solution as well as the CPU socket. All this gold serves to increase the stability by 1.5x, improve the current by over 30%, lower EMI and prolong the life of the board. 

The board also has four memory slots that are all black. Like other models the DIMMS are separated into channels with DIMM 1 and 3 being one channel while 2 and 4 are another. In total there are four 1.5V slots running in a Dual-channel architecture and support Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) modules. The board has a memory capacity rating of up to 32GB DDR3 memory and it can handle high performance modules of up to DDR3 2800+. Just above the memory slots are voltage level meters that can deliver real-time voltage level readings through use of a multimeter.

When it comes to rear expansion expansion options, ECS has really gone all out with this model. The expansion options consist of four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, one VGA connector, one HDMI port, a Wi-Fi connector, a Bluetooth connector, dual eSATA 6Gbps ports, a single RJ45 LAN connector and a clear CMOS button. Most of these ports can be found in any high-end motherboard, but it is nice to see ECS has added both integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The ECS Golden Z77H2-AX has ample connectivity options including a single PCIe x1 slot, dual PCI slots and three full Gen 3.0 PCIe x16 slots. Additionally, the board comes with an on-board PLX8747 chip that increase the PCie 3.0 lanes, meaning this model will support 3-way GPU scaling from either AMD or NVIDIA and can run at either x16/x16, or x16/x16/x8. Interestingly though there is no power connector near the PCIe lanes, which is usually a given when a board can support 3-way GPU configurations.

The ECS Golden Z77H2-AX has four SATA 6Gbps ports with two being supported by the Intel Z77 chipset and the other two supported by an on-board ASMEDIA ASM1061 chip. There are also two SATA 3Gbps ports, and all the ports connected to the Z77 chipset support RAID 0/1/5/10. It may seem odd at first glance that a high-end motherboard only has six SATA ports, but just below the SATA ports is a Mini PCI Express x1 slot that can support Mini PCIe SSDs.

The power portion of the board has the power and reset buttons which allow the board to be powered on before being connected to a case, and there is also a diagnostics LED that can be used to troubleshoot errors if the board doesn't post

Gigabyte sent us two motherboards, both of which use their Ultra Durable design. Like previous motherboards from the company, the surrounding panels of the packaging are full of information. Gigabyte lists the new features of the Ultra Durable 4 design along their new 3D power and BIOS technologies on the front of the box, and all the main supported features are listed at the bottom.

 

The back panel is essentially a deep dive into the features of the motherboard and it would be surprising if Gigabyte left anything unmentioned. This panel has details regarding their 3D Power all Digital engine, 3D dual UEFI BIOS and their Ultra Durable 4 design along with a ton of other features included with the motherboard.

Since this model fits more into the mid-range market, it does not come with massive bundle. Instead it comes only with two SATA 3G cables, two SATA 6G cables, an SLI bridge, the rear I/O panel and the installation guides.

The Z77X-UD3H is an ATX motherboard featuring a solid black PCB with black expansion slots. The heatsinks are blue in color, which adds a nice contrast to the black and makes the heatsinks really standout. The board also has an incredibly spacious layout with all the PCIe lanes having ample spacing between them and the CPU area, and there is also enough space between the memory DIMMs and the socket. This will ensure even large heatsinks can be used without limiting the memory and graphics card support.

The Gigabyte board uses their latest Ultra Durable 4 design which increases the lifespan of the motherboard as well as improves efficiency by using components such as Ferrite core chokes, Low RDS MOSFET, Japanese solid capacitors, and two layers of 2x copper in the inner layers. The design also utilizes a dual BIOS design with backup BIOS recovery.

The Z77X-UD3H supports all Intel LGA 1155 based processors in the i7, i5 and i3 family and has the necessary outputs to support the built-in IGP. To ensure the installed CPU has an adequate amount of power, the Gigabyte UD3H uses a 9 phase unit design in a 9+2 configuration and there is mid-sized heatsink on the VRM. Additionally, the Ultra Durable 4 design includes an all Digital PWM controller array to deliver power to the board's microprocessor.This will ensure more precise power delivery to the motherboard's most power hungry components, thus improving the power efficiently. The on-board heatsink is also an important piece of the puzzle as it lowers the overall temperature of the voltage regulation modules and increase the stability and overclocking potential.

In total the Z77X-UD3H can support up to 32GB of memory rated up to 2666MHz OC.  The memory slots on the Z77X-UD3H use an all-black color scheme, so like the ECS board there is no specific color coding per memory channel. To run in dual channel mode, the two memory modules must be placed in the proper DIMMs.

One feature that Gigabyte has started integrating into all their motherboards is a mini-PCIe slot. These slots are designed for mini-PCIe SSDs and can be used in conjunction with Intel Smart Response and Rapid Start technology. This allows the system to use the SSD as a cache device, so there is no need for a large capacity SSD. Smaller capacity drives are also cheaper than the larger storage models, so it can be a cost-effective means to boosting performance.

The rear expansion options on the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H consist of a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, D-Sub port, DVI-D port, a DVI port, optical S/PDIF out connector, HDMI port, DisplayPort, two eSATA 6Gb/s connectors, six USB 3.0/2.0 ports, a RJ-45 LAN connector and six audio jacks. Not too shabby for a mid-range product, especially for anyone planning to use the IGP functionality of either the Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge processors.

At the top right side of the board Gigabyte has included some interesting options for a mid-range motherboard. First off there is a large power button that is located just below two smaller buttons that reset the board and clear the CMOS. Gigabyte has also included multiple real-time voltage checkpoints on the board that can be read with a multi-meter. The checkpoints can be used to gauge the voltage levels of the PCH, DDR VTT, VDIMM, CPU PLL, VSA, CPU VTT and VCore.

The Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H has three PCIe expansion slots that run at x16, x8 and x4 respectively. Additionally, the board also has three PCI x1 slots and a single PCI slot. Both SLI and CrossFire are supported, but this model can only run two graphics cards simultaneously at x16/x8. However, like all the other models in the roundup, Lucid Virtu GPU virtualization technologies are supported. For anyone unfamiliar with the technology, it uses virtualization software to improve your PC's visuals with faster response times, improved video processing and smoother media playback, all within a low power environment. Lucid Universal MVP also features Hyperformance, which eliminates redundant rendering tasks and predicts potential synchronization issues in the graphics delivery pipeline, producing faster frame rates.

The SATA options on the board consist of four SATA 3Gbps and two SATA 6Gbps ports. All of the ports are natively supported by the Z77 chipset which also support RAID 0 through 10 configurations. The two eSATA ports on the board panel though are connected by a Marvell 88SE9172 controller and support RAID 0 and 1 functions.

The Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H Wi-Fi is a high-end motherboard, so unlike the Z77X-UD3H it comes with more features and accessories. The packaging however is nearly identical. This means the front of the box lists support for the 3D power engine, 3D Bios and Ultra Durable 4 technology.

 

The back of the packaging is also the same so instead of running down the listed features we are going to jump right into the accessories. Since this board is more of an enthusiast model it comes with more accessories than the UD3H. The bundle consists of an external USB 3.0 adapter, six SATA cables, the rear I/O shield, an SLI bridge all the installation goodies including the drivers, manuals and installation guides.

As its name suggests, this model comes with a PCIe expansion card that offers support for the latest Bluetooth 4.0 and IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity. The Bluetooth 4.0 standard includes Smart Ready technology already available on mobile devices including the Apple iPhone 4s. This means that transferring important content from your smartphone or tablet is easier and faster than ever.

Right off we can see the UD5H has the same color scheme and general layout as the UD3H, but is much richer in features. This is clearly evident as there are more SATA ports on the board, a larger heatsink with built-in heatpipes and a massive VRM. The board however is also built around the Gigabyte Ultra Durable 4 design, so like the previous board it has 2x copper layers in the PCB and only uses all high-quality components. The VRM on this model is such that it should offer better overclocking potential than the UD3H, as it will have greater power delivery for unmatched stability.

Flipping the board over we can see that Gigabyte decided not to expand the PCIe lanes going to the PCIe slots. This is a bit disappointing for such as high-end model and so far the ECS board is the only model in the roundup to offer more PCIe lanes via PLX chip. All of the heatsinks are secured to the board with screws, which is obviously becoming the standard for all motherboards with an MSRP above $100 USD.

The Z77X-UD5H also supports all Intel LGA 1155 based processors, but instead of having a simple VRM design it has a massive power regulation area with 15 power phase units to the left of the PCU . As with the UD3H, the Ultra Durable 4 design includes an all Digital PWM controller array to deliver power to the board's microprocessor. This ensures more precise power delivery to the motherboard's most power hungry components, thus improving the power efficiently. The on-board heatsink is also an important piece of the puzzle as it lowers the overall temperature of the voltage regulation modules, and increases the stability and overclocking potential.

The memory slots on the Z77X-UD3H use the same all-black color scheme and run in dual channel mode. In total, the 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets can support up to 32 GB of DDR3-2400(OC)/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules. The DIMM slots also work with Extreme Memory Profile memory, which manually sets the memory timings and voltage when enabled. Next to the memory are the board's power, reset and clear CMOS buttons as well as a diagnostics LED and voltage check points.

The expansion slots on the  Z77X-UD5H WiFI are the same as those on the UD3H. This gives the board 3 PCIe x1 slots, a single PCI slot and three Gen 3.0 PCIe x16 slots. SLI and CrossFireX are supported by the board at speeds of x16/x8, which is disappointing considering this is a high-end model. It would have been nice to see Gigabyte use a PLX chip to increase the PCIe lanes, similar to what ECS did with their Golden Z77 board.

To the right of the expansion slots are nine SATA ports, one of which is found below the rest down by the add-on headers. The top two gray ports (and lower gray port) are powered by an on-board Marvell 88SE9172 chip, and all utilize the SATA 6Gbps standard and support RAID 0 and 1 functions. The two lower ports are also SATA 6Gbps, but these ports are connected directly through the Panther Point chipset and support RAID 0/1/5/10. The four black ports are previous generation SATA 3Gbps ports which support the same RAID functions as the 6Gbps ports, but run at half the speed.

Directly above the uppermost gray SATA port is a 6Gbps eSATA port that is also controlled via the Marvell 88SE9172 chip. Additionally, like the other Gigabyte model the UD5H comes with an mSATA connector at the center of the PCB. This feature is becoming standard in all Gigabyte motherboards and is the perfect feature for installing a small capacity SSD to improve boot times and increase productivity.

The Intel DZ77GA-70K comes pacakged in a black box with the updated Skulltrail logo on the front. The box lists support for LGA-1155 processors to the left of the skull logo, as well as the fact it is optimized for Intel K series procesors, uses a visual BIOS interface, and features support for Smart Response adn Rapid Start technologies, PCIe 3.0 and USB 3.0.

 

Intel lists all the main features of the board at the back of the box, along with having a diagram pointing out where and how the features are used. The main features listed on the panel include Lucid Virtu support, the included WiFi adapter, SLI support and listing the type of processors that can be used in conjucntion with this board. All of the accessries are located inside the box and in total Intel has bundled an external USB 3.0 adapter. a Skulltrail mousepad, installtion guide, an SLI bridge and rear I/O shiled.

The Intel DZ77GA-70K has a sleek black PCB along with blue slots and heatsinks throughout the board. Overall, the aesthtics of this model are good, but they aren't at the same level as those from the other manufacturers. However, this still offers plenty of features such as SLI and CrossFireX support, eight on-board SATA porst, an LED diagnotic and WiFi support.

The board also uses all high quality components; all the capactiors are high-quality solid caps, there is a nice phase desing to power the processor and all the components on the board that will get the hottest have a dedicated heatsink. However, the heatsinks are connected via push-pins, which while effective just don't offer the same contact level as screws.

The CPU socket is powered by an 8+2 phase design and all the capacitors on the baord are high quality Japanese capacitors. Intel has also included a decent heatsink on the VRM, so even while the power reguation unit isn't as robust as some of the other models with an MSRP above $200, it still has the neccessary componets to properlly power any Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge processor.

Next to socket are four 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM DIMM sockets that support DDR3 1600+ /1333 /1066 MHz DIMMs. The slots are color coded per channel. The board supports up to 32GB of DDR3 memory and also has native support for Intel XMP memory.

The rear expansion options are quite extensive and include four USB 2.0 ports, two of which are Hi-Current/Fast Charging ports. The rear panel also includes four USB 3.0 ports, a clear CMOS button, a single PS/2 mosue/keyboard port and a IEEE 1394a port. Additionally, there are also Dual Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mb/s) LAN subsystems using the Intel 82579V Gigabit Ethernet Controller.

The on-board audio on the DZ77GA-70K is an Intel High Definition Audio (Intel HD Audio) configured as a 10-channel (7.1 + 2 independent multi-streaming) audio subsystem with six analog audio outputs with optical S/PDIF out port. The audio also supports Dolby Home Theater V4.

The expansion slots on the Intel motherboard consist of two PCIe x16 (one x16 electrical, one x8 electiracl) 3.0 slots, two PCIe x1 slots, and a PCIe x4 slot. This is actually a good amount of expansion and should give users plenty of options. Additionally, the two PCIe x16 slots support SLI and CrossFireX, and like the other boards in the Panther Point family, can be used in conjunction with Lucid Virtu and Intel Quick Sync for improved gaming and computing power.

In total there eight SATA ports on the Intel motherboard, with the four middle ports using the SATA 3Gbps standard and the remaining four (two grey, two blue) using the 6Gbps standard. Of the four SATA 6Gbps ports, two are controlled directly through the Intel Z77 chipset while the other two are connected by an add-on chip. This gives them different RAID support., but they all support the same transfer speeds.

The Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77 came in a plain black box, and not the retail box. The board comes with six SATA cables, the rear I/O shield, an external USB 3.0 bracket, a drivers disc and installation guide.

 

The board itself  looks similar to other models we have seen from Sapphire, as it uses a predominately blue and black color scheme. However, the PCB is actually brown, which doesn't look bad, but we would have preferred it solid black. The board has a nice layout with all the PCIe x16 slots being able to accommodate dual slot graphics cards, and the top slot is located far enough away from the CPU socket to prevent any spacing issues with larger heatsinks.

The back of the PCB is also top notch, as we can see that all the heatsinks are secured via screws. The PCIe x16 lanes however only have one x16 electrical lane and there is no PLX chip, so any CrossFire setup will have to divide the lanes per the Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge specifications.

Like all the other boards we have been examining in this roundup, the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77 is based on the Panther Point chipset and supports all Intel Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge processors. Both Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge are not power hungry chips, but Sapphire still included a robust VRM design with plenty of phase units, all solid capacitors and a hefty heatsink that sports a stacked design with an integrated heatpipes. These features should ensure the board is able to overclock with the best of them and sufficiently power any Intel LGA-1155 microprocessor.

Sitting just to the right of the CPU socket are four 240-pin memory DIMMs. The memory controller is built into the processor and utilizes dual-channel architecture. All the DIMMs are also color coordinated per channel and in total support up to 32GB of dual-channel DDR3 memory rated at 800/1066/1333/1600+ with a voltage rating at or below 1.65V, but by default each DIMM is set at 1.5V. While it is slightly hard to see in the image, there is a Voltage measure PAD that can provide real-time voltage readings of the CPU, DIMMs, CPU PLL, CPU VSA, CPU VTT,  PCH, and Ground via Multi-Meter.

The rear I/O panel includes 4 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 HDMI port, 1 DisplayPort 1.1a, 1 SPDIF Optical Out, 1 Single Link DVI PS/2 KB/MS combo port, 1 VGA (DB-15) and Dual RJ- 45 Gigabit LAN with ESD. Between the LAN ports, one is a standard Realtek RTL8111F port while the second is a Killer E2200 port. The Killer NIC is designed to reduce online latencies and ping times, which reduces lag in games.

The expansion slots consists of three Gen 3.0 PCIe x16 slots (blue), dual PCIe x1 slots (black) and one PCIe x4 slot (grey). Since Sapphire is AMD's largest partner, the motherboards they produce do not support SLI. However, CrossFireX is supported and with the three PCI-Express Gen 3.0 X16 slots and 1 PCI-Express Gen 2.0 X 16 slot, the board can accommodate up to four graphics cards to be used in CrossFireX. Sapphire has also included a 4-pin power connector for multiple graphics cards, which will ensure the PCIe x16 lanes have sufficient power to run up to four graphics cards.

Along the bottom of the board you can see there are plenty of on-board headers including a power and reset button, and a BIOS toggle switch and a buzzer. The Pure Platinum Z77 also has USB 3.0 headers and an on-board diagnostics LED, which are both found to the right of the dual-BIOS toggle switch.

All of the SATA ports on the Pure Platinum Z77 are controlled directly through the Panther Point chipset. This means the board has dual SATA 6Gbps ports that can support RAID 0/1/5/10 functionality, and four SATA 3Gbps ports that support the same RAID configurations.

The ASRock Fatal1ty Pro uses a 64Mb AMI UEFI Legal BIOS with GUI support. The BIOS is laid out with categories at the top that break the options down into "Main", "OC Tweaker", "Advanced", "H/W Monitor", "Boot", "Security" and "Exit". Each category has a list of options that can be adjusted on the left, while the right lists information regarding the setting and the level it is currently set at.

One of the more interesting features of the ASRock model is an interactive display of the board that lists the installed components and their information. You simply hover the cursor over an area such as the CPU socket, DIMM or PCIe slots, and the information is then generated in a box below the image of the motherboard.

  

  

  

The images below show the layout, options and settings found within the different categories listed at the top of the BIOS, starting with the "OC Tweaker" option and moving right to "Exit".

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

The ECS Golden Z77 motherboard features an easy-to-use GUI UEFI BIOS that sports a graphical interface along with icons, mouse control and support for 3TB hard drives with GPT partition format.

When entering the BIOS, the first screen consists of four separate icons that allow the user to adjust the language, reset the board to the default options, change the boot options, or go into the advanced menu.

The advanced menu is similar to that of the ASRock board; all the options are listed at the top of the page, while the lower portion is where all the changes are made. The ECS BIOS includes options to change the settings for advanced motherboard options, the chipset, boot options and security. Of course the board also has overclocking features, which are found in the "M.I.B X" menu.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

ECS O.C profile offers 3 sets of O.C values for CPU and DRAM to reach higher performances in a quick, simple and safe way. It stores users’ preferred BIOS settings like your last successful O.C configuration, allowing for a convenient overclocking experience.

  

  

  

  

The Gigabyte motherboards use a Dual UEFI BIOS technolgy, and is available to consumers in two modes of interaction, providing enthusiast and mainstream users with a choice of unique and powerful graphical interfaces.

Advanced mode provides a more comprehensive UEFI BIOS environment that is designed specifically for overclockers and power users who want maximum control over their PC's hardware. GIGABTYE's signature M.I.T. tuning technology can be found alongside fully configurable parameters for GIGABTE's all new digital 3D Power engine. In short, advanced mode combines the signature GIGABYTE BIOS expertise you've come to expect, wrapped a slick, new and optimized graphical UEFI interface.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Designed to provide an extremely streamlined and user-friendly BIOS environment, GIGABYTE's exclusive 3D mode offers a fully interactive and illustrative GUI that allows users to easily and intuitively make key adjustments to the UEFI BIOS settings for optimum performance. 3D Mode allows novice or casual users to more clearly understand the areas of the motherboard that are being affected through the BIOS settings, giving them a clearer understanding of the BIOS functionality.

  

  

  

The DZ77GA-70K utilizes the new Intel Visual BIOS that provides performance and flexibility. The new Intel Visual BIOS offers graphical interface and animated controls, which allow you to configure settings faster and take full advantage of your Intel -K processors. The BIOS also allows for quick adjustments to the CPU, memory and graphics card, providing an easy means to overclock for anyone without a deep understanding of all the BIOS options.

The Intel BIOS also has more advanced options that allow the user to customize virtually every aspect of the system. Overclocking also has plenty of features, as the Intel motherboard provides options to adjust the parameters of the CPU speed and voltage levels, and the same is true for the chipset, memory and graphics card.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

The Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77K features the SAPPHIRE QBIOS, an easy to use UEFI BIOS with many overclocking features, and the Dual BIOS allows for experimentation and updates.

The BIOS is setup with multiple tabs at the top that break the options down into categories. This makes the BIOS interface easier to understand. Additionally, the BIOS has plenty of options for overclocking and changing the system parameters. One of the features we liked the most is that Sapphire has included all the real-time voltage and temperature readings for the board at the bottom and right side of the screen. This makes it easy to understand what the current levels are and indicates how much farther they can be pushed.

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Test Setup:

Benchmarks:

Overclocking:

7-Zip:

7-Zip is a compression program, much like WinRAR. It features a built-in test, which gives a score for compression and decompression.

The results for the boards are consistent in both the 7-zip compression and decompression benchmarks. The Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H however was slightly slower in the decompression portion of the test.

Handbrake:

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. It makes use the many available threads so it can exploit the processor to its full potential.

Just as we saw in 7-Zip, the results in Handbrake were extremely consistent. The majority of the boards tested finished converting our file in just 75 seconds, but the ECS board managed to compress the file one second faster, while the Intel board was one second slower.

POV Ray:

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photorealistic capabilities.

In POV Ray, all the boards performed within a few percentage points of each other, but the Gigabyte UD5H was the only motherboard to achieve a rating above 1400.

Cinebench:

Cinebench 10 is another rendering program, also optimized for many-core processors. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.

At the stock level we see very little difference between the motherboards, certainly not enough to be noticeable in real-world apps.

Sisoft Sandra 2010:

Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. The processor arithmetic and multi-core efficiency will be ran as well as the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks.

Sandra 2010 was another test that demonstrated very close performance between the boards when running at the default settings. Overclocking yielded decent improvements and since all the boards were capable of overclocking our Intel 3770K CPU beyond 4.5GHz, they should all be able to achieve similar overclocked results.

PCMark Vantage:

PCMark resembles a lot to the 3DMark suite from FutureMark, except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

PCMark Vantage again demonstrated that there is going to be no difference in real-world performance when using the boards at the defaults settings.

FarCry 2:

Far Cry 2 is another first person shooter that has been developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to assassinate an arms dealer.

All of the motherboards had exceptional in-game performance, and overclocking demonstrated decent scaling at the lower resolutions.

Motherboards utilizing the LGA 1155 socket interface are versatile and this roundup showed that when running the boards with the default settings, they are all capable of squeezing every last ounce of performance out of the Ivy Bridge micro-architecture. However, each board has its own flavor, giving them each their own unique appeal. All of the motherboards also leverage the new features of the Panther Point design such as native support for SATA 6Gbps and USB 3.0, and come with support for Lucid GPU virtualization for improved gaming performance and Intel Quick Sync, improving both encoding and decoding performance.

ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional:

The Z77 Pro was an interesting motherboard to review. Starting with the good aspects, it had excellent performance and could leverage blistering fast memory speeds. The ASRock motherboard also has ample expansion support including 10 SATA connectors as well as support for 3-way SLI and CrossFireX. However, some of the features of the board seemed strange when considering its target audience. Its Legacy connections were out of place on a high-end motherboard. Additionally, it lacked features that some of the other boards had such as integrated Bluetooth and WiFi support, as well as an on-board PLX chip that would have increased the lanes available to multiple graphics cards.

So, while this board has excellent features, solid performance and can push an Intel 3770k to its overclocking limits, we felt it was missing some features that would have really made it stand out. Still, it is an excellent motherboard especially for gamers and fans of Fatal1ty. Currently the ASRock Fatal1ty has an MSRP of $229, which is good for a board of this caliber.

ECS Z77H2-AX:

The ECS Golden Z77H2-AX really was the stand out model for us. At first I thought the golden design was going to be gimmicky, but seeing as it was spread nicely thoughout the motherboard's vital components and thermal solution, it added a nice touch to the board both in terms of quality and aesthetics. This model also came with more features than virtually any motherboard we have examined in the Z77 family, like an on-board m-SATA connector, 3-way graphics card support backup with a PLX chip for x16/x8/x8 support, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. Of course the golden design isn't going to appeal to all users, but in our opinion ECS has created their best motherboard to date.

ECS' new UEFI BIOS has come a long way. It is still a far cry from what companies such as Intel, Gigabyte and ASUS offer though, so it still needs some work. The general layout of the BIOS could be improved to make it more streamlined for users, and we feel that there should be more options for tweaking the voltage to all areas of the VRM. There also should have been an option to increase the base clock frequency.

This model is also more expensive than the others in the roundup, but even at $299 it will not disappoint. However, since the BIOS is still not up to par with other companies in terms of options available, we are going to give it a Recommended award as opposed to Editors Choice.

Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H & Z77X-UD5H-WB WiFi:

One thing Gigabyte does well is offer their consumers plenty of options in terms of features and pricing. This is clearly evident when it comes to the two boards they sent us as both have a similar design, perform roughly at the same level and even have many similar features including the 3D UEFI BIOS, Digital power design and muti-GPU support. However, for an additional $50 the UD5H offers a more robust set of features like support for Bluetooth and WiFi, as well as having more expansion options and a more capable VRM design.

When it came to performance though there is going to be no real-world difference between the two, so even while one is more expensive they both offer top notch performance. Both boards also overclocked our 3770K to roughly the same level. Of course this is actually a limitation of our processor, as it will simply not go any higher no matter how much voltage we push into it. Essentially, the Gigabyte boards were able to push the chip to its threshold easily, so this is an instance where the processor is holding back the overclocking of the motherboard (and not the other way around). There would be a difference though if the boards were being tested using a binned processor with higher overclocking potential. In this scenario, the UD5H would have the upper hand because it sports more robust power circuitry..

The street price of the Gigabyte UD3H is $159 while the UD5H WiFi is $209. Both are worth the price tag, but to us the UD5H WiFi is the better value considering it comes with both Bluetooth and WiFi support out of the box.

Intel DZ77GA-70K:

The Intel motherboard we examined is yet another great motherboard, and while it is not as visually stunning as the motherboards it still comes packed with features.  The board comes equipped with SLI/CrossFireX support. eight on-board SATA ports, up to 10 USB 3.0 ports and dual Gigabit LAN connectors, just to name a few. Another aspect we really liked was the bundled Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 Wi-Fi card. The Centrino 6205 is a Dual-stream (2x2), dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz), 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi adapter that delivers speeds of up to 300 Mbps and has support for a host of Intel innovative features and business solutions, including Intel Wireless Display and Intel vPro Technology. The feature alone really makes this board standout.

The new UEFI visual BIOS was also a huge improvement over previous generation Intel motherboards. Out of all the boards tested, Intel's had the easiest BIOS to navigate, and virtually every option was available, though more voltage control would have been great. Additionally, the BIOS didn't work well with laser mice, so in order for us to navigate the BIOS without a keyboard we had to use an old-school mouse with a tracking ball.

The Intel DZ77GA-70K takes a less over the top approach to the Z77 design, but it comes with everything that makes the chipset successful and adds features such as a WiFi card and up to eight SATA ports. The price for this model is set a $229, which is good, but unfortunately there are other boards available that offer more for less.

Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77:

Sapphire is newer to the motherboard game than the other manufactures we looked at in this review, but they haven't suffered from any teething problems so far. This is due to the excellent design of their motherboards, which include robust features like a Killer E2200 PCIe Gigabit LAN port to reduce online game lag, support for 4-way CrossFireX and dual BIOS. All of these features really make the Pure Platinum Z77 a great Panther Point product. The Pure Platinum Z77 also sports a nice UEFI BIOS interface that is easy to use and, unlike the Intel board, had no issues with high speed laser mice.

The only issue we really have with Sapphire's motherboard lineup is that they are sort of a ghost product. Currently there are very few retailers or e-tailers that sell their motherboards so even while Sapphire is creating a good product, finding them at the retail level is difficult, and in the case of some of their motherboards almost impossible. Additionally, we would love to see Sapphire break the fetters of AMD. The issue here is that as the largest AMD graphics card manufacturer, Sapphire only supports CrossFireX and not SLI. Adding SLI support would increase the demand for their boards, but we know this is a tricky subject for Sapphire.

Overall, the Sapphire Pure Platinum Z77 is a great board, but we would still like to see Sapphire push the envelope by adding higher-end features such as SLI support, integrated Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a better on-board audio processor. 

»Neoseeker.com

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