Intel Z77 Chipset Launch Roundup

4. ECS Z77H2-AX Golden6. MSI Z77A-GD55


Intel Z77 Chipset Launch Article, featuring ASRock, ASUS, ECS, Intel and MSI Motherboards

Intel DZ77GA-70K Motherboard

As is always the case with new Intel chipsets consumers get a new Extreme Series board at launch and this time round it is the DZ77GA-70K which retains the same skull branded box as previous models. Inside we find a good bundle which includes product documentation, IO shield, SLI bridge, Wi-FI/Bluetooth block and USB 3.0 front panel bracket. Also included is a soft mousepad and retail models will have UV reactive SATA cables.

Bundled with the press kit we also received an early sample of Intel’s new Wi-Fi card. The antenna will go through a redesign before consumer launch however the card design, including the use of PCIe 1x connector should be final. This is a dual band, dual stream Wireless-N card with support for Intel Wireless Display which allows us to stream PC video and sound wirelessly to projectors and monitors. All of this is backed by Intel’s solid, feature packed Wi-Fi dashboard software and Centrino technology.

There are no surprises in terms of the colour scheme used for this ATX board, it shares the same black and blue design as previous Extreme Series models. Also present here are solid capacitors for enhanced stability and reliability with status LEDs along the bottom edge of the board.

Intel go for a mix of add-in card slots which starts with 1x PCIe 2.0 continuing on through 16x PCIe 3.0, PCI to 4x PCIe 2.0. 2×8 SLI and CrossFire modes are supported. Beneath these we find dual USB 3.0 front panel connectors (Intel).

At the bottom right of the board we find a debug LED and beside this eight SATA ports. Two use a Marvell controller for SATA 3.0 connectivity and the others run off the Intel chipset with RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 as well as AHCI support. The split on our Intel ports is 4x SATA 2, 2x SATA 3.

Intel provide four DDR3 slots on this board which are split into two channels and speeds in excess of DDR3-2100 are supported. Beside the slots are our 24-pin connector and on-board power/reset buttons. Behind the slots is our 1155 socket which supports current and future CPUs.

Our back panel connectivity is decent and includes PS/2, 2x USB 2.0, Firewire, 2x USB 2.0, eSATA (Marvell), dual GB LAN (Intel), 4x USB 3.0 (Intel), HDMI and optical/3.5mm audio (Realtek). A back to BIOS button is also present here which lets us access a safe mode to recover from any unstable overclock.

BIOS and Software

When Intel launched their X79 board the BIOS was a little behind other manufacturers, still being based on an older interface. With the Z77 they have moved to a GUI design "Visual BIOS" with keyboard and mouse support. The layout is intuitive and options plentiful with some very nice features such as easy overclocking and detailed monitoring. There are a few issues still to be ironed out (such as limited support for arrow keys) and BIOS flashing requires us to have either SATA or USB connected (not both) but otherwise it is a strong addition to the product.

In terms of software Intel provide McAfee Anti-Virus but our main tool is XTU which allows us to monitor and control the board settings from within Windows. Of course this being an Intel board it also supports Smart Response Technology (combines SSD with mechanical drive for enhanced performance), Rapid Start Technology (quicker boots), Smart Connect (updates to applications while powered down) and Lucid VirtuMVP (GPU enhancements).

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