Asus P8Z77 WS Reviewccokeman -
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ASUS' P8Z77 WS Work Station board is built for use with Intel's Z77 Panther Point Chipset for use with socket 1155 Second (32nm) and Third Generation (22nm) Core series processors. As far as layout goes the P8Z77 WS does not disappoint. The four full length 16x PCIe ports will allow up to four dual slot graphics cards. The CPU area is clean enough to allow for large air cooled as well as just about any liquid cooled configuration. The blue, silver, and black theme used is a way to differentiate the product stack with the ROG boards' traditional red/black theme and the consumer products a blue and black theme with some grey mixed in. The black PCB sets off the look and uses 2oz copper layers as well as a special fiber weave design to minimize interference and current leakage. On the back side of the PCB you can see part of the Digi+ II circuitry is mounted to the right of the socket in this view. Much like the rest of the product stack ASUS is using screws to mount the thermal solutions for the VRM and Panther Point chipset.
Starting with the I/O panel we have a good deal of connectivity options to look at with this server-class board. Starting from the left is the P/S2 port that can be used with either a keyboard or mouse, two of the four USB 2.0 ports on the back I/O, two ASMedia controlled USB 3.0 ports that support USB 3.0 boost, two ASMedia controlled eSATA 6Gb/s ports, followed by the second pair of USB 2.0 ports, and one of the two Intel 8257 4L GB LAN ports that support teaming and reductions in CPU usage. Next is the SL-DVI port, optical SPDI/F port, USB BIOS Flashback button that is used to flash the BIOS even when the CPU or DIMM sockets are not populated. This offers a significant recovery option by inserting a flash drive with the BIOS on it into the USB 3.0 port next to the button and pressing the BIOS Flashback button for three seconds. The button flashes to show that the feature is enabled and working. Last are the six Realtek® ALC898 controlled ports that support Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking, DTS Ultra PC II and DTS Connect.
The four 16x PCIe 3.0/2.0 ports support up to four GPUs in either Crossfire or SLI configurations as long as the cards will fit due to the spacing of the ports. When run in multiple GPU configurations the ports will run at 16x/16x/0/0, 16x/8/8/0 or 8x/8x/8x/8x. What makes this possible is the use of the Gen 3 PLX bridge chip that adds PCIe lanes to handle the additional bandwidth. In between the four 16x slots are a pair of PCIe 2.0 1x slots that can be used to add in RAID cards or PCIE SSDs in lieu of a ton of graphics horsepower. Between slots two and three is the WS OC Status check LED that tells the user in a visual format the condition of the board. Red is for overclocked, Blue is normal and Green means that the system is running in energy savings mode.
The bottom of the PCB contains a large percentage of the connectivity and functionality options. From the left is the SPDIF_out, IEEE 1394 port, Serial port, onboard power and reset switches, two USB 2.0 headers that support a total of four ports, Trusted Platform Module connection, a Q-Fan Fan Xpert 2 controller PWM fan header, a USB 2.0 port that can be used to insert a standalone low overhead OS such as Linux, Q-Code Debug LED for troubleshooting boot related issues, and the front panel connection that is used with the Q-Connectors. Just above the front panel connection point is the TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) that enables much of the functionality used in ASUS' own AI Suite II utility including real time overclocking and fan controls.
Drive connectivity consists of four pairs of SATA ports. In light blue are the four SATA 3Gb/s ports and in white are the 6Gb/s ports; both controlled by the Z77 chipset supporting Raid 0, 1, 5, 10 and Intel® Smart Response, Intel® Rapid Start, and Intel® Smart Connect Technologies. The dark blue ports are Marvell® PCIe 9128 controlled and support RAID 0,1. When utilizing ASUS SSD caching function the Marvel port is used without limits to the size of the caching drive or having to set up a RAID array as you do when using Intel Smart Response technology. By using the ASUS solution you simply connect the solid state drive to the Marvell controlled ports and the spindle drive to the Intel ports and click the enable button in the AI Suite II utility.
Further up the PCB is another one of the six PWM controlled fan headers, the USB 3.0 header, 24-pin ATX power connection, and 4-pin Molex EZ Power connection for added current to the board. The TPU switch is used as a one stop shop for boosting the performance of the system without having to boot into the BIOS. Just make sure your cooling is up to par when using this feature. The Mem OK button is used to eliminate memory incompatibility as a barrier to booting the system. By pressing this button the board will run through a series of checks and adjustments including timings and voltages to allow the system to post. A feature that works as advertised.
Four DIMM slots can be populated with up to 32GB of DDR3 2600(O.C.)*/2400(O.C.)/2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/1866(O.C.)/1600/1333MHz memory running in a dual channel configuration. Intel XMP profiles are supported. The memory slots are a unique feature with the use of ASUS Q-Dimm slot package that eliminates the traditional locking mechanism on the end of the socket closest to the first 16x PCIe slot to allow the modules to be swapped out even when the top PCIe slot is populated. Simply insert the module and press down to lock, then use the lock on the other end of the DIMM slot to lock the module fully into place.
Across the top of the PCB you can see the locking mechanism for the Q-Dimm slots, three more of the PWM Controlled fan headers on the P8Z77 WS including the CPU and CPU Optional header, the top section of the VRM heat sink, 8-pin EATX auxiliary power plug and the Digi+ EPU controller that works when the TPU switch is enabled to intelligently manage power consumption of the board and VRM circuit. The TPU and EPU controller form the basis of ASUS' Dual Intelligent Processors 3 design.
Designed to use Intel's Second and Third Generation Core series processors, ASUS P8Z77 WS uses an LGA 1155 socket with retention hardware from LOTES. Around the socket are the components of the Dual Intelligent Processors 3 - SMART DIGI+ fully digital, 16+4 Phase power circuit that feeds the CPU, integrated graphics processor, and DRAM. Around the LGA 1155 socket there are a total of twenty alloy chokes, one for each phase, sixteen of which are dedicated to the CPU and four to the IGPU. ASUS power designs have been proven to offer tremendous flexibility and excellent power tuning for both the novice or enthusiast.
The cooling package used by ASUS is fairly large. Around the socket is a three part, heat pipe-interconnected series of aluminum heat sinks to pull heat away from the SMART DIGI+ power circuit. The large fins on the heat sinks allow great airflow through the design. Covering the Z77 PCH is a low profile passive heat sink that has fins that flow in the direction of the air flow from the front of the chassis. Silver in color, the heat sinks accent the color theme of the board.
ASUS' P8Z77 WS offers an expansive business oriented feature set for the professional yet offers that same feature set for the home user or gamer looking for upper crust graphics capabilities.