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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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Articles of Related Interest
Sandy Bridge Extreme: Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Processor
FX-8150 8-Core Bulldozer Processor
A75M-UD2H Mainstream FM1 Motherboard
A8-3850 Quad Core Desktop APU (updated July 10)
Core i3-2100T & Core i5-2400S Low Power CPUs
P8H67-I Deluxe Mini-ITX Motherboard
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this article in the SPCR forums.
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