ECS Z77H2-AX Golden Edition Reviewccokeman - May 13, 2012
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ECS has delivered a high-end board with the Z77H2-AX Golden Edition that has everything the end user could want in a feature set, alongside the excellent overclocking potential. Not to mention the fact that this limited edition board appears to have been touched by good old King Midas, using gold on many of the Z77H2-AX Golden Edition’s components to really deliver on the bling factor. Bling has its place in the world, but the main reason for the gold coloring and plating is that the material is highly conductive and resistant to corrosion. ECS Gold 4ever features ensure that the motherboard is reliable and offers long term stability through the use of gold plating on specific components on the PCB including the CPU socket, memory slots, PCIe slot contacts, chokes, and capacitors. Gold is also a status symbol of sorts, showing you have the best product around – this is the message the board is designed to convey. To reach "Golden Board" status, each board is put through a battery of tests including a 72 hour torture test, a 50°C burn-in test, and ESD protection on the requirement level of NASA's space program. Each board is further refined and tweaked for high level performance, so that it can take the step from just a Black Extreme Series to the pinnacle of the ECS Z77 line up. When you look at the cost of a new motherboard, the extensive feature set ECS has empowered the Z77H2-AX. Packaged with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, Multi-GPU support, ESD Protection, 15μ gold contacts in the PCIe slots, memory slots, and CPU socket pins, Lucid MVP switchable graphics, and a host of others Intel-specific features, this board carries a price premium at $319 – currently the highest priced Z77 board at Newegg, which is about $45 more expensive than the next closest offering.
Where ECS had been lagging in the competition was in the lack of a UEFI Graphical BIOS. They finally came through on the Z77 platform with an easy-to-use implementation of their M.I.B.X. overclocking-ready BIOS. It was easy to navigate through, using both the Easy and Advanced section. The BIOS has a good mix of features, yet not as granular as other UEFI implementations I have worked with. Although it is slimmer in features, it still offers enough functionality to get a good stable overclock. Overclocking on the ECS Z77H2-AX with a Sandy Bridge processor was a little bit of a challenge, but when an IB 3770K was installed, it perked right up and delivered a level of performance that was comparable to what Intel’s DZ77GA-70K has to offer. Where it was better was that I could actually do some bclock tuning on this ECS board, though it was ultimately limited by my chip’s abilities. If you do not want to make the move to Ivy Bridge, the Z77H2-AX is a fully-featured motherboard that can be used with Socket 1155 Second Generation Core series processors like the Core i7 2600K, Core i5 2500K, or Core i3 2100. Graphics capabilities of the Golden Board include switchable graphics using LucidLogix Virtu MVP virtualization software to allow the user to save power by using the integrated HD 4000 graphics when in non-demanding 2D applications and switch to the discrete video card for full power gaming, all while using just a single connection from the I/O panel. It’s a technology that works and has been shown to not have a serious impact on gaming performance. For the ultimate gaming performance, the ECS Z77H2-AX Golden Edition supports both CrossfireX and SLI multi-GPU solutions through the PCIe 3.0 expansion slots. Additional PCIe lanes are supported by the use of a PLX bridge chip to allow the slots to work at 2 x 16X instead of 2 x 8x – an improvement that should pay dividends with multi-GPU solutions for gamers.
In terms of the software suite, I found it to be functional with tools that can make life easier such as eDLU and eBLU to pick up driver and BIOS updates, eSF to set up fan profiles to maximize cooling through the chassis, and Winki to gain quick access to the internet and files without fully loading into the Windows environment, although the standard start up time is shrinking due to Smart Response and Rapid Start technology from Intel. The only thing I did not like was that the overclocking utility was not as in-depth as I would have liked, though it did prove functional in the end, allowing voltages and bclock tuning from within the OS.
In the end, you get a board that ECS has put their heart and soul into, in terms of design, pre-testing, tweaking, and certification work done before it even hits the hands of the consumer. While it may cost a little more, it’s got the tools to last for the long term. Plus, what other motherboard is truly pimped out in gold?
- Touched by Midas
- Feature Set
- Lucid MVP
- Backwards compatible
- UEFI BIOS
- Tri-SLI and CrossfireX ready
- Weak Overclocking utility