Intel Z77 Chipset Launch Roundup
We started with the ASRock board earlier in the review so let’s do the same again for the conclusion, after a quick word on Lucid’s VirtuMVP. All of the boards tested today support this technology. For anyone using a modern, discrete GPU from AMD or NVIDIA we suggest you do no install the software. AMD and NVIDIA’s latest cards, on their own, provide GPU compute, HD acceleration and gaming performance which has gone through rigorous testing with performance fitting the price band. Additionally they offer minimal power draw in idle and desktop tasks. Intel too provide good, stable drivers for the built in GPU and can assist with video tasks such as playback and conversion. Enabling Virtu adds an extra level of software which offers little benefit to both groups of consumers and, in our opinion, is nothing more than a marketing gimmick which has no place on enthusiast products. Stick with AMD, Intel and NVIDIA only.
So, on with the boards…
ASRock’s Z77 Extreme 4 offers a good level of build quality and a design which is focused on getting all the key Z77 features to the user with minimal cost. The board provides support for current and upcoming 1155 CPUs, high speed (and capacity DDR3) and the latest Z77 features including Smart Connect and Rapid Boot. ASRock add to this software tweaks which enhance the speed of our USB ports and continue to offer an easy to use BIOS. Overall a solid mainstream Z77 board.
Moving on to ASUS Maximus V Gene we have a board which evolves the previous Gene design, bringing it up to date with the Z77 chipset. ASUS have packed a wide range of features into the PCB and through some great design even managed to get a mini-PCIe/MSATA card added. This means that despite a compact PCB we can still run multi-GPU setups, have internal Wi-Fi and that’s before we consider the advanced audio functionality or plentiful connectors on the back panel. For a compact system the Maximus V Gene is hard to beat.
We have seen ECS evolve over the past few years and with each launch they get closer and closer to the features and quality offered by other manufacturers. With the Z77H2-AX we have a board which is competing with the likes of MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte at the top of the market and in some ways they exceed them. Added to this generation we get military/NASA quality components and stability mixed with an attractive board design which really stands out. ECS add an additional PCIe switch for more lanes and ensure other enthusiast features such as measurement points and debug LED’s are present. We also liked the addition of a mini-PCIe location, another first for a Z77 enthusiast ATX board from the models we have seen. That said the BIOS still needs work to make it more consumer friendly, ECS must add decimal and real values to upcoming boards as they are far more useful to users than +100mv or memory speed 1.33x. A BIOS flashing tool utilising USB devices would be a bonus also but overall another great evolution in ECS’s motherboard design.
Intel are another manufacturer who like ECS were known for their no-frills boards a few years back but with each new range they are also enhancing their enthusiast model. The DZ77GA-70K gets all of the key features right, including status and Debug LEDs, adding USB charging ports just like the other boards tested here and there are more USB 3.0 ports available here than on any of the other products tested. Key Z77 items such as Smart Response, Rapid Boot and Smart Connect are present too. Also worthy of note is the new Visual BIOS which is our new favourite GUI based BIOS. It offers great features and is organised well. Another solid mainstream-enthusiast board from Intel.
So that brings us to the MSI Z77A-GD55 which, even at the introduction of a new architecture, sits at the top end of the market. The use of high quality components and proven design aspects from their other enthusiast boards gives us peace of mind and the great features like Click BIOS, M-Flash, status LEDs and voltage read points add to the feel of quality. Performance is in line with the other boards in this test and overclocking is just a case of pushing a single button to enhance performance making this the ideal Z77 board for those looking to maximise performance on a budget.
ASRock Z77 Extreme4 Motherboard
ASUS Maximus V Gene Motherboard
ECS Z77H2-AX Motherboard
Intel DZ77GA-70K Motherboard
MSI Z77A-GD55 Motherboard