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.
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.
MSI shaved costs by jettisoning extra USB 3.0 ports on the Z77A-GD65.
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.
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.
We hit our highest auto-overclock with the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H.
Watch out, Atom CPUs and AMD APUs, there's a new contender vying for the attention of small box HTPC enthusiasts: Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 processor. Wait, what? Isn't that a mobile processor? Theoretically, but that hasn't stopped Kontron from creating the world's first mini-ITX Tegra 3 processor, complete with an itty bitty footprint and an equally itty bitty 7W power requirement.
FINDING A GOOD motherboard is easy. Finding a good microATX motherboard, however, can be more of a chore. That’s because motherboard vendors have almost always associated microATX with budget needs. In addition to losing a couple of expansion slots and some PCB board space, you almost always lose features such as SLI, CrossFire, RAID , premium audio, and other add-ons to help push the price down.
That’s not the case with Asus’s new Rampage IV Gene. Made for premium LGA2011 chips, the Rampage IV Gene caters to builders who want performance but in a microATX form factor. As a Republic of Gamers board, it’s no surprise that the Rampage IV Gene emphasizes features and functionality. RoG boards are Asus’s cream of the crop.
That’s not to say the Rampage IV Gene has all the features of the company’s Rampage IV Extreme board. While the Extreme is truly tweaked for, well, extreme overclockers, the Rampage IV Gene seems better suited to building a compact gaming rig with the intent of normal overclocking, not setting records using liquid-helium.
When you're talking the Z77 chipset, one thing springs to mind first and foremost: Ivy Bridge. Intel's upcoming CPU isn't the only newcomer to the game, though, as Z77 is the first Intel desktop chipset to support the company's high-speed Thunderbolt interface -- assuming a Thunderbolt controller is on the mobo, of course. Most of Asus' Z77/H77 'boards have lacked an integrated controller, but it looks like Thunderbolt compatibility is coming thanks to an upcoming expansion card.
"Finally, now the meat of the systems are starting to come out," Maximum PC reader I Jedi exhaled in the comments of our earlier article about the new Biostar TZ77XE4 Motherboard. If he only knew how right he was: since the Biostar news went live, a bevy of companies have announced new 7-series-supporting mobos of their own, including ASRock, MSI and Gigabyte.