With their Z77 board ECS have gone with a design theme and that is gold. This starts with the box and continues on in components and it offers the product a unique look. Inside the box we find a decent selection of extras which include plenty of drive cables, SLI bridge, software disc and product documentation along with a front panel USB bracket and Wi-Fi antenna. ECS have also gone to the trouble of making the IO Shield gold to match the board, a nice touch.
ECS use a black ATX PCB for their Z77H2-AX and add gold heatsinks, CPU socket, capacitors and back panel components to enhance the look. The board isn’t all about style though and ECS are looking to appeal to enthusiasts with Nonstop certification. Nonstop means that the board has gone through a 72 hour stability test in a military environment. Added to this it has had 50°C burn in test to ensure high performance reliability and the board is kitted out with Apache solid capacitors along with Wave multi-layer filter technology for stable current. Finally we have Thor Ultra Protection (ESD protection) which ECS state is a NASA level anti-static technology which contains dozens of protective diodes and capacitors, minimising static.
ECS pack a wide range of connectors into the bottom right of the board starting with a 1x PCIe 2.0 connector which sits above the main 16x PCIe 3.0 slot. Beneath that is another 1x PCIe 2.0, PCI, second PCIe 16x 3.0, PCI and finally we finish with 16x PCIe 3.0 with the CrossFire and SLI configuration using 2×16, 1×8 setup thanks to the inclusion of a PLX8747 PCIe switch.
At the bottom right we find further connectivity with front panel USB 3.0 and a mini-PCIe slot that supports Wi-Fi, mSATA and TV cards. This sits beside a debug LED display and to the right of that are our SATA ports and on-board power/reset buttons. The six SATA ports are all running on the Intel chipset with four 3.0 ports and RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 supported.
As an added feature ECS have also added a chromic surface to the heatsink in this area which changes colour depending on the temperature.
Further up the board is a standard 24-pin power socket and then at the top right corner we find a set of measuring points for a multimeter. The memory slots are also located here, split into dual channels with ECS stating DDR3 2800MHz as supported and this can be combined with current or next gen Intel CPUs which use the 1155 socket.
ECS continue to pack plenty of features onto the board at the back panel. Firstly we have a CMOS reset button and then there are Bluetooth and Wireless-N components. The board also has 4x USB 2.0, 2x eSATA (ASMedia), HDMI, VGA, GB LAN (Realtek 8111E), optical/3.5mm 7.1 audio (Realtek ALC892) and 4x USB 3.0 (Intel/Texas Instruments).
BIOS and Software
ECS also provide a GUI BIOS which starts with a set of quick options and then moves into an advanced mode. All of the key settings are here although some work needs to be done to add voltages in decimals (e.g. 1.6v rather than the current +100mv etc) and speeds rather than multipliers (1600MHz rather than 1.33x) to assist consumers. A USB flash update utility would also be appreciated although ECS do offer a Windows flashing tool.
Elsewhere on the software front we have a tool which allows fast charging of USB powered devices and our main software is eOC. Through this we can monitor and tune the board to meet our needs. Finally the Z77H2-AX supports Rapid Start Technology (quicker boots), Smart Connect (updates to applications while powered down) and Lucid VirtuMVP (GPU enhancements).
Last month Intel launched their Z97 chipset, essentially an evolution of Z87, which in many cases brought new features such as SATA Express and M.2 compatibility to the mainstream desktop market. There was of course no new CPU at that time with the existing socket 1150 processors working without issue in the new boards. Since then though Intel launched (along with some lower spec models) the Core i7-4790K, a model which sits at the top of their mainstream platform. Today we see how it compares to various other models when installed on Gigabytes Z97X Gaming 5 and paired with PowerColors new dual core 290X Devil 13.
Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK vs. MSI Z97 Gaming 5 vs Asus Maximus VII Hero
It is probably fair to say that Intel don't stealth launch their products... sure they have NDAs but by the time those expire we know pretty much everything about a new product. Part of this is of their own...