Intel DZ77GA-70K Z77 Motherboard: Waiting for Ivy Bridge

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The Z77 chipset brings a few new features to Intel's lineup and while it all seems impressive on paper, in reality it's an incremental upgrade. The update to PCI Express 3.0 is the most substantial change, but even gamers with the latest top-of-the-line GPUs won't see any benefit from the extra bandwidth. The long awaited native USB 3.0 controller performs as well as third party solutions, so there's no difference aside from the shedding of an extra chip on the PCB. Coincidentally, the dropping of native PCI support has prompted manufacturers to add a PCI controller chip. Triple display support may be the most useful addition, but you'll need an Ivy Bridge processor to take advantage of it.

Given its street price of US$240, the DZ77GA-70K is a premium model with all the advanced features you would expect and more. Along with the two 16x PCI-E slots for CrossFire/SLI, there are four SATA 6 Gbps ports, eSATA, FireWire, and two Intel gigabit ethernet controllers. Connectivity is boosted by WiFi and Bluetooth but they take the form of a USB-connected module rather than being an integrated feature on the I/O panel. Its range is subpar as it oddly attaches to the inside of the case with adhesive and lacks an external antennae. The DZ77GA-70K is also the first board we've encountered with dual internal USB 3.0 headers and dedicated USB charging ports for high power devices like the iPad. Enthusiast features are well represented, in the form of an easy to navigate Visual BIOS with plenty of overclocking options, integrated power/reset buttons, an error code indicator, and Intel's Back-to-BIOS toggle switch.

For SPCR audiences, the board's greatest asset is its extremely flexible fan control system, probably the best we've seen in any BIOS. Full control is available on all four fan headers and each header can be set to react to a different temperature sensor. Temperature range and fan aggressiveness settings can be customized to fit your personal preferences. You can for example, set front, side, and top fans to react to the PCH, VRM, and Memory temperature respectively.

The energy efficiency of the board was somewhat disappointing, particularly when idle. Running on the i5-2500K's HD 3000 integrated graphics, it used 5~6W more all previously tested H67 motherboards. This doesn't sound like a lot, but it's actually an increase of 24~30%. On load the results were middling, beating out a few H67/P67 boards while losing to others. The only other issue is the lack of additional video outputs. The board only offers a single HDMI connector, ruling out dual or triple displays when running integrated graphics.

We generally advise against upgrading motherboards alone and it's true here as well. If you're currently running a Sandy Bridge system, there's little benefit to a Z77 board upgrade. The only plausible exception is if you're on a basic H61/H67 model and regret not choosing a P67/Z68 variant for the additional features and overclocking abilities. Of course, there are also those with money to burn who always want the latest and greatest, but they will almost certainly upgrade the processor as well. Prospective Ivy Bridge users may consider a compatible series 6 board due to budget constraints but keep in mind the usual growing pains. It may not ship with an Ivy Bridge-ready version of the BIOS/UEFI and updating it might require an older, officially supported CPU.

Our thanks to Intel for the DZ77GA-70K motherboard sample.

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