Not all midrange motherboards are created the same. Sure, these Z77motherboards all have a black-and-blue color scheme, and they all carry similar street prices, but differences emerge when it comes to features, specs, and performance. Which one should you pair with your new 22nm Ivy Bridge CPU? Glad you asked.
Of all the boards here, we’re most intimately familiar with Gigabyte’s GA-Z77X-UD5H. It’s the board we used for the bulk of our Core i7-3770K testing, and one thing we can say, it’s stable. We’ve literally run more than 50 hours of benchmarks on this board without any issue.
For a sub-$200 board, there are plenty of features, with the most eye-catching being a ton of USB support, including four USB 3.0 ports plus three USB 3.0 headers. This is done using VIA’s USB 3.0 controllers plus the new native support from the Intel Z77 chipset. Unfortunately, features didn’t trump performance. The Gigabyte was smoked by Asus’s super-secret Turbo modes in the benchmarks.
We hit our highest auto-overclock with the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H.
The Gigabyte gets payback by surpassing the two others here in auto-overclocking, hitting 4.5GHz and even offering an unstable 4.68GHz setting. The others topped out on auto at 4.2GHz. The mSATA slot may be the board’s most noticeable feature, though, but we’re not sure it makes sense on a full-size board. Perhaps if it came with the SSD module; but we don’t see any actual advantage to it, particularly since using it disables one SATA port.
Overall, the GA-Z77X-UD5H is a feature-rich mobo for its midrange price. The slot configuration is also a better balance with just one PCI slot instead of two. You get far more I/O and higher auto-overclocks than with the other two boards. Hell, it even comes with probe ports for those of you into the overclocking sports.
Apparently budget board means legacy support. That’s what we inferred from Asus’s P8Z77-V board, which has a quaint PS/2 port and not one, but two PCI slots. Don’t think that means Asus cheaped out on more modern amenities, though. Although there’s no eSATA or FireWire, Asus includes some truly compelling features such as onboard Wi-Fi, an Intel LAN controller, incredibly fast USB 3.0, and a revamped Fan Xpert 2.
What’s so exciting about Fan Xpert 2? Plug fans of different makes and speeds into any of the four auxillary fan headers and the board will automatically measure the minimum and maximum speed of each fan and tune them for you with the most advanced fan-tuning applet we’ve ever seen from a board maker. If fans don’t get you hot, consider the board’s Turbo mode speeds, which trounce all others by hefty margins.
The Asus P8Z77-V excels with bundled Wi-Fi and impressive USB 3.0 speed.
Like Gigabyte, Asus pushes the Ivy Bridge chip harder than MSI. On Turbo with single- and multi-threaded loads, the Asus hit 3.9GHz. The MSI board was more conservative at 3.7GHz on most workloads.
Overall, we give the nod to the P8Z77-V in this roundup for its performance and useful features, but we can see why someone would go for the Gigabyte for sheer port madness and eSATA and FireWire needs.
Deep Fried Oreo
Fan fans will love Fan Xpert 2; stellar performance.
Click on page 2 to read the MSI's Z77A-GD65 review.
Midrange boards typically have to sacrifice features to get under $200 and MSI’s Z77A-GD65 shows evidence of this philosophy. It’s the only board here without a discrete USB 3.0 controller, instead relying on the native Intel chipset for all USB 3.0. It’s also the only board without DisplayPort.
Folks still rolling PCI components will also have to look elsewhere, as MSI ditches the legacy expansion slot for another PCIe slot.
MSI shaved costs by jettisoning extra USB 3.0 ports on the Z77A-GD65.
Don’t take this to mean MSI cut out all the frills. The board has onboard power and reset switches, overclocking voltage contacts, an LED POST readout, and, like the two others here, offers both CrossFireX and SLI as well as LucidLogix Virtu support.
In performance, MSI takes the safe road by keeping the clocks lower than the other two boards. At stock speeds, the board topped out at 3.7GHz on multithreaded loads and generally bounced around 3.8GHz with single-threaded loads. The two others here ran full tilt at 3.9GHz on all workloads. Overall, the performance among the trio is generally close.
Like the Gigabyte, MSI’s board is obviously intended for Ivy Bridge chips. Why? The last x16 PCIe 3.0 slot only works with an Ivy Bridge. If you intend to run an older Sandy Bridge chip, the slot is deactivated, as SNB doesn’t have enough PCIe bandwidth to run it. By sticking with PCIe 2.0 from the peripheral controller hub, the Asus’s third x16 is hot no matter which chip you run.
The Z77A-GD65 is a fine board at its price, but yuan for yuan, the Asus and Gigabyte simply outclass it in extra features and specsmanship.
Best scores are bolded. We used a Core i7-3770K, 8GB of DDR3/1866 set at DDR3/1600, a WD Raptor 150, a GeForce GTX 580, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional in all of our motherboards. SATA 6Gb/s speeds were measured with CrystalDiskMark 3.01 and an OWC Mercury Extreme SSD. USB 3.0 speeds were measured with CrystalDiskMark and a Patriot Wildfire SSD in a USB 3.0 enclosure using an Asmedia controller. 32GB compliance was measured with four 8GB DDR3 modules.
NOTE: This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of the magazine.