ECS Z77H2-AX Golden Edition Review

ccokeman - 2012-04-08 18:34:02 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 13, 2012
Price: $319.99

Introduction:

The ECS Golden Board Black Extreme Z77H2-AX is one of the latest motherboards based on the Z77 chipset, which supports both the new and upcoming 3rd generation Core series processors, as well as the current 2nd generation LGA 1155 processors. ECS has chosen this board as a showcase for its NonStop build philosophy, which puts the boards through a rigorous 72 hour military-grade test environment called the Super Marathon. ECS uses the Sahara Burn-in test in an environment set to 50°C for long-term temperature stability testing, along with Apache Long-Life capacitors and Thor Ultra ESD protection. As we all know, gold is an excellent conductor of current and does not oxidize, so ECS has chosen this medium to coat the CPU socket pins and PCIe connections on the Golden Edition motherboard and hopefully improve its overall stability and life span. The Gold 4ever concept, which consists of Golden Quality, Golden Stability, Golden Cooling and Golden Royalty, are the hallmarks of this philosophy and shows the commitment that ECS has put behind its Black Extreme series motherboards. Let’s take a look at the rest of the feature set and see how this offering from ECS compares to others on the market.

Closer Look:

Taking the Gold 4ever concept even further, the packaging for Golden Edition is, as you might guess, almost entirely gold-colored, with minimal branding on the outside of the packaging. There are flaps that open on the front and back sides, which go through the feature set of this motherboard in detail. Opening the front panel, we can see the board and information on its golden components. It looks like old King Midas touched just about every part of the Z77H2-AX, from the 15μ gold contacts in the CPU socket, to the Bluetooth dongle, USB 3.0 ports, Wi-fi dongle, and the audio ports. The Gold 4ever concept is detailed as well, with gold coloring all over the board peripherals. On the back of box, there is information on SLI and CrossfireX support, switchable graphics using Lucids Virtu software, PCIe Gen3 support, and Qooltech board cooling, which is advertised to be 20% faster in dissipating thermal load on the board components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the package are two boxes that contain the Z77H2-AX and the accessory bundle. The bundle includes the user manual, installation guides, and a driver disk. In terms of the hardware portion of the bundle, it is pretty sizable. Included is the gold-colored I/O panel, 3 SLI bridge connections, a USB 3.0 dongle with 3.5 inch bay and expansion slot bracket adapters, SATA 3 and 6 Gb/s cables, a wireless antenna, a certificate of quality, and plugs for the unused ports on the back of the IO panel. The I/O panel has a covering on the back side to reduce EFI emissions.

 

 

 

 

ECS has several videos on their YouTube channel, but this one deals directly with what it takes to have one of the Z77H2-AX motherboards reach "Golden Board" status. Taking a look through the video, we see just how much work is done on the back-end in terms of testing, torture testing, and tweaking for the best performance.

 

So without further ado, let's dig into what the ECS Z77H2-AX Golden Board has to offer the consumer besides an incredibly flash box.

Closer Look:

The first thing I thought when pulling the Z77H2-AX out into daylight was how I walked into the penthouse of a Trump hotel – everything on the board is colored or plated gold. This theme goes well with the black PCB and sets it off nicely. The front side of the PCB features a large cooling solution, though the layout of the board looks standard for the platform. The back side of the PCB shows the CPU retention mechanism that has even gotten the gold treatment as well. The large cooling solution is held in place by screws in lieu of push pins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I/O panel has a ton of connectivity options starting with a Bluetooth module, four USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA ports, a Clear CMOS button, HDMI and VGA video outputs, a Wi-Fi dongle,  four USB 3.0 ports, RJ-45 Gigabit LAN, and the audio outputs that include an optical S/PDIF port for the HD sound. Expansion capabilities include much the same options as the MSI and Gigabyte offerings, with three 16x PCIe 3.0-ready slots, a single PCIe 1x slot, and a pair of PCI 2.0 slots. With this configuration and a supporting processor, Tri-SLI and CrossfireX are supported, as well as using the Lucid software for switchable graphics to get the best power-to-performance ratios.

 

 

Along the bottom of the PCB lay several connectivity options including the front panel audio header, the S/PDIF output header, COM header, chassis fan header, SPi Debug header, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 headers, and the front panel connection point. Just above the front panel header is the mini-PCIe slot and mounting point for an mSATA solid state drive that supports Intel's Smart Response and Rapid Start technologies.

 

 

Moving along the right hand side of the board are the SATA ports; two are SATA 3 Gb/s and two are SATA 6 Gb/s that both support RAID. Next to the SATA headers are the onboard power and reset buttons. Further up, we find the 24-pin ATX power connection and a pair of fan headers.

 

 

Across the top of the PCB, there are easy voltage measure points, which allow enthusiasts to measure and verify applied voltages outside of any software tools. Between the DIMM slots and Qooltech heat sinks, the CPU fan header can be found. On the other end, the EATX 8-pin auxiliary power connector is found between the VRM heat sink and the I/O panel connections.

 

 

The CPU socket is trimmed in gold, much like the rest of the components on this Gold Edition board. Most notably, the CPU pins themselves are coated in gold; a unique feature of the ECS Black Extreme lineup. Using the LGA 1155 socket, the board supports 2nd and 3rd generation Core i3/i5/i7 series processors from Intel. Memory support is up to 32 GB of DDR3 2667 MHz (OC) memory in dual channel mode with 8 GB DIMMs.

 

 

In addition, ECS uses their Qooltech cooling solution on its Golden Edition Black Extreme series boards. This one is gold in color and surrounds the CPU socket. The solution uses heat pipes to interconnect the individual heat sinks and transfer heat more efficiently to the sinks that see the most airflow. The large sink over the Z77 PCH sends the thermal load up to the heat sink just below the CPU socket.

 

 

With all the gold plating, this thing is pimped out to the max. If looks equate to performance and overclocking ability, then the Z77H2-AX ought to really fly when it comes to ratcheting up the clock speeds.

Closer Look:

This board from ECS is the first I have looked at that is equipped with a UEFI BIOS. This is a huge step forward in how the BIOS can be navigated and comes a little bit later in the game compared to other manufacturers that have adopted the technology earlier. Much like on other offerings, ECS has implemented an Easy mode and an Advanced mode to accommodate both the novice and experienced user. Let’s start out with a look at the Easy mode and move on to the Advanced mode.

The Easy mode has four different radio buttons: Language is self-explanatory, Default sets the pre-defined parameters to allow a successful post, Boot allows the user to choose the primary boot drive, and Advanced leads to the Advanced section of the BIOS, where you get a granular look at the settings that make the board tick. The Advanced section has seven tabs: Main, Advanced, Chipset, M.I.B.X., Boot, Security, and Exit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Advanced menu gives the user the ability to set the disk drive parameters, employ CPU technologies like C1E and Turbo Boost, enable or disable Rapid Start technology, and monitor or configure voltages and fan speed profiles.

 

 

Under the Chipset Menu is where you choose the order in which the primary graphics adapters are polled. You can choose between a discrete GPU in the PCIe slot or to use the integrated HD 4000 or 3000 graphics adapter, depending on the processor used. The process to set up multiple displays is accomplished under this tab.

 

M.I.B.X is the tab where all of the CPU and memory-specific settings are accessed. The top choice in the menu is CPU Overclocking Configuration. Under this tab, you set the bclock, clock multiplier, Intel Speedstep technology, and internal PLL overvoltage and current override limits. Chipset overclocking is where the memory-specific settings are adjusted, including the X.M.P profiles, memory multiplier, and the primary/secondary timings. Back in the main section of the M.I.B.X menu are the voltage adjustments for the CPU, memory, system agent, and memory controller. Additional voltage can be tweaked, but these will be the most used.

 

 

 

The Boot tab gives the user a granular look at the boot order and how the attached drives are polled by type. The Security tab is where an administrator and user passwords are set. The Exit tab is where you set up your overclocking profiles and return the board to the factory default or optimized settings.

 

 

 

It's refreshing to see how each manufacturer has implemented a UEFI BIOS and how easy it is to interact with the menu.

Closer Look:

ECS has a full suite of utilities to provide the user with added functionality. Some of the more functional ones include eBLU or ECS BIOS Live Update and eDLU Driver Live Update. Both of these allow automatic updating of the drivers and BIOS while in the operating system. These utilities automatically check for updates on the ECS database, depending on the board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ECS’s EOC tool is a low overhead overclocking utility with four tabs: Monitor, Easy Tuning, Advanced Tuning, and Options. The Monitor section is slim and gives only the system and CPU temperature. The CPU temperature seems to show the delta between actual and TJMax temperature. The Easy Tuning menu allows changes to the bclock only, with the applied voltages shown for a variety of systems. The Advanced Tuning menu allows voltage tuning in addition to bclock tuning. Finally, the Options menu sets how, why, and where changes are applied.

 

 

 

eSF is again a small utility that allows the user to set up or enable pre-defined fan profiles based on noise or speed characteristics. There are a total of four presets and a custom configuration option.

 

Let’s see how this board performs and overclocks with Intel's recent flagship release, the Third Generation Core i7 3770K.

Specifications:

ECS:

CPU
º LGA1155 socket for new 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7 series processor/Intel® Core™ i5 series processor/Intel® Core™ i3 series processor/Intel® Pentium® processors/Intel® Celeron® Processors
º DMI 5.0GT/s
º TDP: 125W
º Note: Please go to ECS website for the latest CPU support list.
CHIPSET
 Intel® Z77 Express Chipset
MEMORY
º Dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture
º 4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 32 GB
º Support DDR3 up to 2800(OC)/2600(OC)/2400(OC)/2133(OC)/1800(OC)/1600 DDR3 SDRAM
º Note 1: Please go to ECS website for the latest Memory support list.
º Note 2: DDR3_1 with DDR3_3 are the same channel, DDR3_2 with DDR3_4 are the same channel by Intel Specifications
 
Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS.
For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation
EXPANSION SLOT               
º 2 x PCI Express Gen 3.0 x16 slots
º 2 x PCI Express x1 slots
º 2 x PCI slots
º 1 x Mini PCI Express x1 slot
    • Supports Mini SATA
    • Supports Mini PCI Express
º (When using two VGA cards, the bandwidth is x8 badnwidth; when using one VGA card, the bandwidth is x16.)
STORAGE             º Support by Intel® Z77
    • 2 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s devices (SATA2 3/ 4)
    • 2 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices (SATA3 1/ 2)
    • RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
º Support by ASMEDIA ASM1061
    • 2 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices (SATA3 5/ 6)
AUDIO
º Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC
º Compliant with HD audio specification
LAN
º Realtek RTL 8111E Gigabit LAN
REAR PANEL I/O
º 4 x USB 3.0 ports
º 4 x USB 2.0 Ports
º 1 x D-sub(VGA)
º 1 x HDMI Port
º 1 x RJ45 LAN connector
º 1 x Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, SPDIF out)
º 1 x Clear_CMOS button
º 1 x Wireless LAN Dongle
º 1 x Bluetooth Dongle
º 2 x eSATA 6 Gb/s port
INTERNAL I/O CONNECTORS & HEADERS
º 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
º 1 x 8-pin ATX Power Supply Connector
º 1 x 4pin CPU_FAN connectors
º 1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
º 1 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
º 1 x USB 2.0 header support additional 2 USB ports with EZ charger technology
º 1 x USB 3.0 header supports additional 2 USB 3.0 Ports (support by TI TUSB7320)
º 2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
º 4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
º 1 x COM header
º 1 x Case Open header
º 1 x SPDIF out header
º 1 x Front panel switch/LED header
º 1 x Front panel audio header
º 1 x debug post LED
º 1 x Power on button
º 1 x Reset button
º 1 x mSATA
SYSTEM BIOS
º AMI BIOS with 64Mb SPI Flash ROM
º Support ECS M.I.B X Utility
º Supports Plug and Play
º Supports ACPI & DMI
º Supports Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor
º Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
º F7 hot key for boot up devices option
º Support over-clocking
º Supports Dual Display (Intel has Three Display)
º Support GUI UEFI BIOS
º Support Milti-language BIOS Utility
º Support eBLU
º Support eOC
º Support eDLU
º Support eSF
º Support EZ Charger
FORM FACTOR
º ATX Size 305mm*244mm

 

Features:

 

 


All information Courtesy of ECS @ http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1311&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=103&LanID=9

Testing:

Testing the latest Z77 board from ECS will involve running it and its comparison products through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which include both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 7970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages, and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled to make a fair comparison without skewing results.

 

Testing Setup: Intel Core i7 Socket 1155

 

Comparison Boards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking the ECS Z77H2-AX Golden Edition follows standard Sandy bridge architecture guidelines. In this respect, the Golden Edition Z77 board delivers the maximum stable clock speed for my test station Core i7 3770K, adjusting only voltages for the memory, CPU, and memory controller. The CPU required 1.285 V with vdroop control disabled for a final voltage of just over 1.3125 V. The memory voltage was set to its specified 1.65 V and the memory controller was set to 1.05 V. Then the bclock multiplier was set to 46 and the bclock was adjusted to 102 MHz for a final clock speed of 4.68 GHz – a nice healthy 1.2 GHz over the baseline 3.5 GHz.

 

Maximum Overclock:

Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will show the performance increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.

 

Benchmarks:

Scientific & Data:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench 2.1
  4. Office 2007 Excel Number Crunch
  5. POV-Ray 3.7
  6. Bibble 5
  7. Sandra 2011
  8. AIDA64 1.85
  9. HandBrake .9.5
  10. ScienceMark 2.02
  11. Cinebench 10 & 11.5
  12. HD Tune 4.60

Video:

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Civilization V
  3. Battlefield 3
  4. 3DMark11



 

Testing:

The first part of our testing will involve system-specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. Here, we will test the time needed to compress files of 100 MB and 500 MB. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

  

  

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

  

  

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench:

Geekbench 2.1 is a benchmark that tests CPU and memory performance in an easy-to-use tool. The measure used for comparison is the total suite average score.

  

Higher is Better

 

Bibble 5:

This test consists of converting one hundred 8.2 MP RAW images to jpeg format. The file size is 837 MB. The measure used for comparison is time needed to convert the file in seconds.

  

Lower is Better

 

Across all of the tests here, the ECS and Intel boards were very close in performance – pretty much the expectation.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2 MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is the amount of time it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Lower Is Better

 

POV-Ray 3.7: This program features a built-in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric Multi-Processing), enabling the workload to be spread across several cores for quicker completion.

  

Higher Is Better

 

ProShow Gold: This program is used to take a collection of images and stitch them together in a slide show, using a variety of transitions and effects, to make a compelling show you can share with friends and family. The workload consists of 29 high-resolution images that are stitched into a 3 minute video file.

  

Lower Is Better

 

HandBrake 9.5: is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is 128 MB in size and 43 seconds in length.

  

Lower Is Better

 

Running through these tests, we see that the ECS and Intel boards deliver similar performance once again. However, the ECS sees a slightly lower render score in POV Ray at stock speeds.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

  

  

Multi-Core Efficiency

  

  

 

Memory Bandwidth

  

  

 

Cache and Memory

  

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

  

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch-prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.

  

  

Higher is Better

 

The measurable performance deltas are small enough that, in real world scenarios, there would not be a noticeable performance impact. However, the ECS does seem to perform at a lower level in some of the benchmarks.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real-world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we run the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

Higher is Better!

 

 

 

Cinebench 10 is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program, CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

  

 

  

Higher is Better

Cinebench 11.5

 

  

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

  

 

  

Higher is Better

 

  

 

  

Lower is Better

 

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

  

  

Higher is Better

 

Once again, we see parity in the benchmark results, with the ECS at the lower side of the performance spectrum in many of these tests.

Testing:

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based on the two popular sci-fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species: the Alien, the Predator, or the Human Colonial Marine. The game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine, which supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and Physics. For testing, I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Higher = Better

 

Performance between both boards is almost identical, with performance deltas of less than half a frame per second.

Testing:

Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and undergoes massive changes to the way the AI is employed throughout the game. Released for Windows in September of 2010, Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K games. Testing will be done using actual gameplay, with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns, 150 turns into the game.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Civ 5 with a discrete GPU offers excellent performance in both tested resolutions.

Testing:

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overclocking on either board does not provide a lift in performance, even at a resolution of 1680 x 1050.

Testing:

3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.

The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins, with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even when you get down to 3DMark11, the performance parity between motherboards is uncanny when run with the same hardware. But then again, it should be, with all things being equal.

Conclusion:

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?

 

Pros:

 

Cons: