Intel Z77 Chipset motherboard Review

ccokeman - 2012-04-04 22:19:52 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: April 9, 2012
Price: Gigabyte $169, MSI $189


Back in November, Intel delivered a refresh for the Extreme lineup with the move to socket 2011 and their Sandy Bridge Extreme Second Generation Core i7 processors. The X79 PCH chipset was used and gave us a glimpse of where the mainstream offerings would go. The socket 1155 Z68/P67/H67 chipset motherboards for the mainstream when coupled with the Second Generation Core i7, Core i5 and Core i3 processors such as the 2600K, 2500K and 3120 are still pretty potent performers. In the guise of moving forward Intel is releasing their 7 Series chipset board for the mainstream user well ahead of their upcoming 3rd generation Core series processors due later this year. Along with the Z77 Panther Point 7 Series chipset, Intel is releasing a total of 10 different chipsets for both the mobile and desktop user. For the desktop you get the H77 for the mainstream consumer, Z75 for the mainstream performance user and Z77 is the full enthusiast package that supports a wealth of new features. I will be looking at a couple new offerings from Gigabyte and MSI to see which feature sets have been implemented in anticipation of the next processor launch from Intel.









Closer Look:

Motherboards that use the Z77 and 7 Series chipset are designed for use with Intel's 2nd and 3rd generation Core i7/i5/i3 processors using the LGA 1155 socket for the mainstream segment. The Z77 chipset is what I will focus on for this quick look as it is the chipset that is labeled as being the one that supports "Ultimate Performance Tuning." The block diagram shows 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes broken down into 1x 16x, 2x 8x, 1x 8x+1x 4x+1 x 4x with Intel Thunderbolt supported. Three independent displays are supported with one as VGA with the other using DP or HDMI 1.4. Up to 14 USB ports are available with a maximum of four being USB 3.0. Intel integrated Gigabit LAN connectivity is used and has been a prominent feature on many of the latest Intel-based motherboards released lately. A new management engine firmware is used with the 7 series chipsets with Intel Extreme Tuning as a supplementary feature. DDR3 speeds of up to 1600MHz are officially supported while motherboard manufacturers are listing speeds of up to 2666MHz (OC). Connectivity to and through the Z77 PCH is through a DMI (Direct Media Interface) 2.0 and FDI (Flexible Display Interface) pathways that carry both data and the integrated graphics information. Intel's Rapid Storage and Responsiveness technologies are supported to improve the user experience. Six SATA ports are supported from the Z77 PCH with a maximum of two being SATA 6Gb/s with RAID support. An additional eight PCIe 2.0 lanes are dedicated through the Z77 PCH.


There are already motherboards on sale through e-tailers and offer a way to upgrade the feature set with an existing processor SKU or move up to the next generation when it becomes available. I will be looking at a few examples from several manufacturers showing what is available currently. From MSI there is the Z77A-GD65, and from Gigabyte the Z77X-UD3H. Each with an expansive feature set that takes advantage of the tools available on the Z77 PCH for use with Intel's 2nd and 3rd Generation Core series processors.



Let's see what each of these boards have to offer in terms of feature set and performance.

Closer Look:

MSI's high end enthusiast offering for the Z77 Platform is the Z77A-GD65 that supports Intel 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors using the LGA 1155 socket. The front of the packaging shows a few of the features of the board that are Intel-based as well as MSI-specific. MSI-specifics include the Military Class III build philosophy where the components used meet or exceed Military spec MIL-STD-810G. MSI's Z77A-GD65 comes with a three year warranty that should cover the user until the next upgrade cycle in case something fails. OC Genie II one step overclocking features a new implementation that moves the overclocking to the entire system not just the CPU. Click BIOS II is MSI's latest UEFI BIOS strategy that is full of new features including customizable OC Genie II BIOS profiles. SLI and CrossfireX Multi GPU solutions are supported along with switchable graphics technology from Virtu for both low power 2D and full power 3D performance. The back side of the packaging goes into detail on some of the features including Military Class III where DrMOS II is explained along with Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes and solid capacitors that all combine to increase the longevity of the parts as well as improving on the thermals and power efficiency. A new OC Genie implementation that overclocks not only the CPU but the integrated graphics, memory and storage devices. Other mentions include Super Charger for charging iPads and iPhones at a higher rate, Winki 3 - a low overhead Linux distribution that enables a much faster boot time to get online without waiting through the entire post and windows load cycle and THX TruStudio Pro audio support. Inside the package the accessory bundle is stored on top of the MSI Z77A-GD65.













The accessory bundle that comes with the Z77A-GD65 includes the documentation, software and hardware. Included are the users manual, driver disk, software guide, quick install guide and certificate of quality and stability. This certificate verified that the components used including DrMos II, Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite chokes and solid capacitors have passed Military Spec MIK-STD-810G for low pressure, temperature, humidity, shock high temperature, temperature shock and vibration. The hardware side of the bundle includes SATA cables, an IO plate, MSI branded SLI cable, M-Connectors and V-Check cables that come in handy when checking voltages at the V Check points.



The MSI Z77A-GD65 is a full size ATX form factor motherboard designed to use Intel 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors. It features an LGA 1155 socket and four DIMM that slots support up to 32GB of DDR3 2667Mhz(OC). The blue and black theme is used throughout with the layout set up to allow up to three graphics cards in an SLI or CrossfireX configuration. The back side of the PCB is bare with the exception of the CPU retention mechanism back plate. The heat pipe based cooling solution employed is held in place by screws instead of push pins.



The IO panel connectivity includes a PS/2 port for use with a keyboard or mouse, four USB 2.0 ports, Clear CMOS button, Optical and Coaxial S/PDIF outputs, HDMI port, Intel 82579V Gigabit LAN, 2x Intel controlled USB 3.0 ports, VGA and DVI-D ports that support resolutions up to 1920x1200 that can be used with Lucid's Virtu switchable graphics technology and the Realtek ALC 898 controlled eight channel audio connectivity that supports THX TruStudio Pro. Expansion possibilities include three 16x PCIe slots that can be used in a 1x 16x or 2x 8x configuration with 2nd generation Intel Core series processors. Additionally there are a total of four PCIe 1x slots for use with sound cards or PCIe based solid state drives.



Connectivity along the bottom of the board is for the peripherals and front panel. Starting from the left is the front panel audio header, system fan header, trusted platform module, Voice Genie connector, front panel connection headers, IEE1394 header and three USB headers, one of which (red) supports the SuperCharge feature. Above the SuperCharge ready USB 2.0 header is the diagnostic LED and dual BIOS switch.



Additional connectivity can be found with the SATA ports. From the left are two Asmedia controlled SATA 6Gb/s ports, the four SATA 3Gb/s ports in black that are controlled by the Z77 chipset and to the right the SATA 6Gb/s ports again controlled by the Z77 PCH. RAID is supported across the Z77 controlled ports. Next to the SATA ports is the USB 3.0 header used for additional USB 3.0 connectivity. Memory support comes in the form of four slots capable of holding up to 32GB of DDR3 2667Mhz (OC) in a dual channel configuration. Moving up is a 4 pin PWNM controlled fan header, the 24 pin ATX power connector, V Check points, Power, Reset and OC Genie switches. As a board designed for the enthusiast the V Check points are a valuable tool for verifying the voltage applied are correct. From left to right you have CPU vcore, CPU VTT, Graphics core voltage, Memory, PCH and two ground points.




Across the top of the PCB are the Power Phase indicator lights for the CPU power phases. There are multiple fan headers (both 3 pin and 4 pin), the heat sink over the VRM and the EATX 8 pin auxiliary CPU power connector.



The LGA 1155 socket supports 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors from Intel. Covered in a black chrome finish makes it easy to see the retention mechanism is from Lotes. Surrounding the socket are the components that make up the power circuit and include Hi-c Capacitors, Super Ferrite chokes, a DrMOS package and solid capacitors that create a stable, cooler running platform with excellent power modulation. While overclocking I used the V Check points to verify the voltage and measure droop, and was surprised to see the load line calibration tools in the Click BIOS II mitigated any droop whereas trusting the software that showed a huge droop.


Keeping the power circuits and the Z77 PCH cool is the job of the large heat pipe-connected series of heat sinks attached to the Z77A-GD65. A large passive sink covers the Z77 PCH while the power circuits are interconnected by means of a heat pipe allowing the airflow from the CPU cooling solution to exhaust air out the back of the chassis.



As a full featured board the MSI Z77A-GD65 is a good start for this look at the latest boards employing this PCH solution. Will its Military Class III build philosophy make a difference in the short term?

Closer Look:

Much like the MSI offering the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H is prepped and ready to run the latest processors from Intel including both 2nd and 3rd generation offerings when they become available. Gigabyte's Z77X-UD3H features a long list of features to take advantage of Intel's latest technologies. There is a new 3D Power all-digital power system, a new 3D Dual UEFI BIOS, Ultra Durable 4 technology that includes protection against power failure, ESD discharges, humidity effects and high operating temperatures. The font panel of the packaging highlights these items as a point of difference along with the support for Lucid Logix Virtu MVP technology, PCIe 3.0 readiness, onboard mSATA connection, SLI support and the use of a glass fabric PCB base with dual 2oz copper layers. The back side of the package goes into detail on the 3D Power implementation the 3D BIOS UEFI feature and the Ultra Durable 4 feature set. Also highlighted is the onboard mSATA connection used with Intel's Smart Response Technology for an up to 4x performance boost compared to just a standard HDD. Inside the package you get what traditionally is offered with the accessory bundle atop a cardboard divider to prevent shipping damage to the PCB.














The accessory bundle consists of the documentation and the hardware. Included are a manual, quick start guide, driver disk, SLI bridge connection, SATA 6Gb/s and 3Gb/s drive cables and an I/O shield designed to minimize EFI interference to the devices connected to the I/O panel including the graphics outputs.



Gigabyte's Z77X-UD3H is a full-sized ATX form factor motherboard designed to be used with Intel's 2nd and 3rd generation processors using the LGA 1155 socket. Gigabyte uses their new Ultra Durable 4 build philosophy with the board that improves reliability and durability. Gigabyte starts at the base with a new glass fiber weave design that minimizes the gaps in the weave preventing moisture transmission. Then it tops this substrate with dual copper layers on each side of the PCB for a cooler running board along with lower signal impedance. On top of the substrate are the solid Japanese capacitors, Low RDS on MOSFETs and ferrite core chokes. Chips used on Ultra Durable 4 boards are chosen for higher ESD resistance than on non-Ultra Durable 4 boards and are finally equipped with anti surge ICs that prevent surges from taking out the motherboard. Each USB port is equipped with its own fuse block to prevent unwanted USB port failure. Just another cool part of the Ultra Durable 4 design. The back side of the PCB contains little other than the socket retention mechanism back plate. One thing to notice is that there is no heat sink across the top part of the power circuit.


I/O connectivity consists of a Combo PS/2 port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, VGA and DVI-D connectors that supoport Lucid Logix Virtu software and switchable graphics, an HDMI 1.4 port that supports Dolby TruHD and Dolby DTS HDMaster audio, a DisplayPort, Optical S/PDIF output, four more USB 3.0 that are Via VL 800 controlled for a total of 6 on the I/O panel, dual eSATA ports, a single Atheros based Gigiabit RJ-45 LAN and the VIA based 7.1 HD sound. Expansion capabilities include three 16x PCIe 3.0-capable slots that run at 16x with one slot populated and 8x with two populated. Three PCIe 1x slots share bandwidth with the bottom 16x slot that runs at 4x. A single legacy PCI slot is available. The PCIe slots run in PCIe 2.0 mode when a 2nd generation Intel Core series processor is installed. Just behind the top 1x PCIe slot is an mSATA header that will allow an mSATA-based storage device to be mounted on board to take advantage of Intel's Smart Response and Rapid Start technology.



Connectivity along the bottom of the PCB flows from left to right including the front panel audio, S/PDIF out, TPM header, three USB 2.0 headers, a PWM controlled system fan header, Dual BIOS switch, front panel connectivity and a debug LED. By flipping the BIOS switch you gain access to the second BIOS rom in case of a corrupted BIOS or bad flash you can recover.



Up the right side of the PCB are the SATA connection points featuring ports controlled by the Z77 PCH. There are four SATA 3Gb/s ports and two SATA 6Gb/s ports on board that support RAID. Above the SATA ports is a SATA power connection used to provide additional power to the PCIe bus when multiple graphics cards are installed. Next up is the 24 pin ATX main power connection the voltage measurement points, power, reset and CMOS clear switches. The large Power switch lights up so it is visible in the chassis. Memory support for the Z77X-UD3H is up to 32GB 1600MHz in dual channel configurations. The voltage measurement points are just soldered pads on the board but are better than nothing for a quick verification of the voltage being applied. There are a total of seven voltages that can be checked including PCH, Vcore, Vdimm and CPU VTT.



Across the top of the PCB there is not much outside of the CPU fan header, power circuit and 8 pin EATX auxiliary power connection. The LGA 1155 socket supports both 2nd and 3rd generation Core series processors. The socket retention mechanism is done in black chrome and fits the look of the board. The area around the socket is full on the left side next to the power circuit with ferrite chokes and Solid Japanese capacitors. Not so much so that it is a challenge to mount a cooling solution but more so than many current boards.



PCB cooling on the GA-Z77X-UD3H is minimal by comparison to the other boards in this comparison with a single heatsink over the VRM circuit and a passive heat sink over the Z77 PCH much like just about every Intel based board over the past year. The only concern is the MOSFETs over the top of the CPU socket not having any cooling. Nothing blew in my overclocking testing so It must be able to handle some thermal load without reaching critical mass.



So far it looks like each of these manufacturers has a little something extra to bring to the table in terms of feature set. MSI has Military Class III and Gigabyte with Ultra Durable 4 and their new 3D Power all digital power supply system to supply digitally controlled current to the CPU, Memory, Intel HD Graphics engine and the CPU memory controller. Again how will this point of difference play out when it comes to overclocking?

Closer Look:

Each manufacturer has its own suite of utilities to maximize the usability of their platform and package.With the Z77A-GD65 you get the latest revision of MSI's Control Center software. This application will allow you to overclock the system from within the operating system environment and instantly apply the settings for a real time check of the settings you have made. This in itself can save some time in finding those settings that work. Once found they can be applied in the Click BIOS II. The Overclocking section presents a total of four different areas that have either information or the capability of managing the clock speeds, voltages and/or memory timings. The Mainboard section gives top line information about the motherboard with more detail found under the "More" button to the right of the window. The CPU monitor section again gives top line info about the installed CPU, in this case an Intel second generation Core i7 2600K. The CPU monitor tab to the right of the window opens up a new window that shows the current CPU clock speed, clock multiplier, temperature, and maximum Turbo Boost ratio by cores. The "More" button shows information displayed that is similar to what you see displayed in CPU-Z. The OC Genie tab gives an illustrated tutorial on how to use the OC Genie II button.

















LucidLogix Virtu Software is included to take advantage of the Z77 chipset's ability to use dynamic switching between the Intel HD 3000 and an installed discrete GPU. The software comes with a preset list of supported games and applications, although I found 3DMark Vantage to not switch between the IGP and discrete card, while several games did show the jump in performance (indicating the sofware switched from IGP to the discrete graphics card).



MSI has made the Click BIOS II available in the OS environment to change settings and work through the BIOS. Not all the information and utilities are shown, but you can get a good feel for walking your way through the BIOS. Some settings can be applied in the OS while others will need to have a reboot before the application of the setting.



Gigabyte has their own suite of utilities to maximize the usability of the GA-Z77X-UD3H including 3D power that allows you to manage the power and voltage frequencies to get the maximum clock speed from the platform. There are three separate ares that can be modified: Voltage, Frequency and Phase. Under each tab or side of the cube as it appears is a sub menu where parameters for each main tab are adjusted. Under the voltage tab you can adjust a set number of voltages and apply them in the GUI. For frequency the PWM frequency can be adjusted for the CPU, VTT, DRAM and on board graphics. Under phase the load line calibration for the CPU can be set as well as the over current protection levels.






Easy Tune 6 has long been a staple of Gigabyte's software suite for the enthusiast and is included in this series of boards. There are three modes, Quick Boost, Easy and Advanced, to allow you to go as shallow or as deep as the software will allow. Across the top of the GUI are six sub menus that target a specific area including the CPU, Memory, Graphics, Smart Fan, Hardware monitoring and Tuner where all the adjustments to voltages and frequencies are made. The interface is reminiscent of CPU-Z in its layout but not how it functions. Under the tuner section the Easy mode and Advanced mode differ slightly with a more granular approach being taken under the advanced tab.







Both sets of utilities proved functional and will allow the user to maximize performance in the OS then go into the UEFI BIOS on both of these board to finalize the settings.

Closer Look:


After having been beaten up over the early attempts at a new UEFI BIOS implementation MSI stepped up with Click BIOS II. This implementation is much more pleasing to the eye as well as functionally worlds ahead of the early implementations seen on the P67 boards. There are three main tabs at the top that set up the parameters for the lower six tabs by shading out information that should not be adjusted to facilitate the end goal of the mode. ECO is for energy management, Standard is all options available and OC Genie II sets up the system to use the OC Genie II button for one stop shop overclocking of the CPU, DRAM, IGP and Storage solution.















Under the Settings tab you can access the Boot menu where you can choose the boot sequence and drives in that sequence, and System Status tab that shows the date and time as well as basic information about the installed components. The Advanced section is where a majority of the system specific settings are made such as enabling the onboard devices, USB configuration, Intel Rapid Start technology and the Integrated graphics setup menu where the IGP and switchable graphics modes are implemented.



All of the performance magic happens under the OC section of the BIOS. When you go into the Overclocking settings menu, you are going to get a list of all your overclocking settings that you can tweak. You have a whole bunch of settings like your Internal PLL OverVoltage, CPU Base Clock, CPU Base Clock Ratio, CPU Ratio, EIST, Intel Turbo Boost 2.0, OC Genie Button, Direct OC Button, DRAM Frequency, CPU Voltages, as well as all your other voltages you are used to adjusting. When you select into the CPU Features sub-menu at the bottom of the screen you will be taken to a new screen that allows you to adjust all of the CPU specific features such as Hyper-Threading, C1E Support, OverSpeed Protection, number of Active Processor Cores, and a Core Ratio Limit for each individual core. Even user configurable overclocking profiles can be set up now with this latest offering.




When you go under the ECO menu you will find all of your settings for changing the power savings features for your system like EuP 2013, CPU Phase Control, CPU I/O Phase Control, Motherboard LED Control, C1E Support, Intel C-State. You will also find a list of all the current voltages at the bottom section of the screen like your CPU Core Voltage, System Agent Voltage, CPU I/O Voltage, CPU PLL Voltage, along with others.


When you click into the Utilities menu you have three different options: HDD Backup, Live Update, and M-Flash. When you go into the M-Flash you are going to get MSI's version of a flashing utility, which will allow you to save the currently installed BIOS to a file on your hard drive or USB Flash drive. You are also going to be able to select a file that you want to install on your BIOS chip. When you go into the Security section you will find the abilty to set an Administrator Password or a User Password. You can also set up a Udisk-Key and set up your Chassis Intrusion Configuration.



Now let's see if Gigabyte has made the move out of the stone age with the launch of their Z77 lineup.

Closer Look:

Gigabyte has not really stepped forward into the now with the release of this Z77 launch. Having to work in an old school BIOS has its allure but with so many boards now equipped with UEFI BIOS that going back to the old blue screen is akin to stepping out of the jet age into that first plane flown by the Wright brothers. This new implementation is called 3D Dual UEFI BIOS and has two distinct modes. An easy-to-use mode that is just a point and click with the picture of a motherboard and an advanced section that is a more text based interface. In the Easy mode you can adjust the Boot sequence, change the language, adjust fan profiles, set the time, load setup defaults and exit to either the boot sequence or to the advanced menu.


















By entering into the Advanced section of the BIOS you get a more detailed look at the settings that make the board tick. There are five sections plus the Exit tab to explore and manipulate for the best performance and system experience. MIT is the first section and is where the overclocking tools are located. In this section you are able to check the currently applied values under current status. Advanced Frequency settings is where the bclock and multiplier are adjusted as well as the memory XMP profiles are activated. Advanced memory settings allow for the adjustment of the memory multiplier, timings and displays the applied voltage for the DIMMs. Advanced voltage settings is where the voltages to be applied are set and adjusted to the values that best suite the clock speeds used on the memory and CPU.






The System tab gives basic system information, allows the system language, time and date to be set as well as looking at the ATA port info.



BIOS Features is where the boot sequence is set up, the boot logo is turned on and off and the boot priority of the attached drives is setup. The Peripherals tab is where the on-board devices can be enabled or disabled. Power Management is where the resume sequence is applied along with the resume mode for the IGP. Last but not least is the Exit tab that allows the user to save and exit or apply the standard default settings for a starting baseline. Here you can also save and load BIOS profiles.




Let's move on to see whether the Z77 chipset platform is a step up in performance or just a way to add feature set to an already successful processor platform.



Supports 3rd Gen Intel® Core™ i7 / Core™ i5 / Core™ i3 / Pentium® / Celeron® processors for LGA 1155 socket
Please refer to CPU Support for compatible CPU; the above description is for reference only.
Intel® Z77 Chipset
Main Memory
• Support four DDR3 DIMMs 2667*(OC)/ 2400*(OC)/ 2133*(OC)/ 1866*(OC)/1600/ 1333/ 1066 DRAM (32GB Max)
- Supports Dual-Channel mode
3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
• 4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
On-Board SATA
• SATAIII controller integrated in Intel® Z77 chipset
- Up to 6Gb/s transfer speed.
- Supports two SATA ports (SATA1~2) by Z77
 • SATAIII controller integrated in ASMedia® ASM 1061 chipset
- Up to 6Gb/s transfer speed.
- Supports two SATA ports (SATA7~8) by ASM 1061
(If you set external SATA 6Gb/s ports to AHCI mode, we highly recommend that you install Windows 7.)
 • SATAII controller integrated in Intel® Z77 chipset
- Up to 3Gb/s transfer speed.
- Supports four SATA ports (SATA3~6)
- SATA1~6 ports support Intel Rapid Storage Technology enterprise (AHCI / RAID 0/1/5/10) by Intel Z77 
USB 3.0
• 2 USB 3.0 rear I/O ports by Intel® Z77
• 2 USB 3.0 onboard connector by Intel® Z77
• Chipset integrated by Realtek® ALC898
- Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
- Compliant with Azalia 1.0 Spec
• Supports one PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Intel® 82579V
• Supports ATI® CrossFire™ Technology
• Supports NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
• Supports Lucid® Virtu Universal MVP
Internal I/O Connectors
- 3 x USB 2.0 connectors
- 1 x USB 3.0 connector
- 1 x IEEE 1394 connector
- 1 x Multi BIOS Switch
- 1 x TPM Module connector
- 1 x Front Panel connector
- 1 x Front Panel Audio connector
- 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
- 1 x Voice Genie connector (optional)
- 1 x MultiConnect Panel connector (optional)
- 1 x V-Check Points Set
- 1 x Power button
- 1 x OC Genie button
- 1 x Reset button
- 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
- CPU x 1 / System x 4 FAN connectors
Back Panel I/O Ports
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
- 1 x Clear CMOS button
- 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF-out port
- 1 x Optical S/PDIF-out port
- 4 x USB 2.0 ports
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports
- 1 x RJ45 LAN jack
- 1 x 6 in 1 audio jack
- 1 x HDMI® port with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @60Hz
- 1 x DVI-D port with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @60Hz
- 1 x VGA port with max. resolution up to 2048x1536 @75Hz
MSI Reminds You...
• HDMI, DVI-D & Graphics Card support dual-display function by any two output ports (HDMI+DVI, DVI+VGA or VGA+HDMI).
• The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
• The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
• 30.5cm(L) x 24.5cm(W) ATX Form Factor
• 9 mounting holes.







All information COurtesy of MSI @



CPU Support
Intel 22nm and 2nd Gen Core CPUs
CPU Socket
Intel Z77 Chipset
Graphics Interface
1*PCIE 3.0 X16+ 1*PCIE 3.0 X8
Memory Type
Dual-Channel DDR3 2600(O.C.) MHz
Memory DIMM
4*DDR3 (Max 32 GB)
Expansion Slots
1*PCIEx4+3*PCIEx1+ 1*PCI
SATA Connector
4*SATA 6Gb/s+4*SATA 3Gb/s
RAID 0,1,5,10
8* USB3.0+6*USB2.0
Video Output
HDMI,DVI,RGB,Display port
8-channel HD
Features & Software
3D Power, 3D BIOS,
Gen. 3 support, Ultra Durable 4,
EZ Smart Response,
mSATA, CrossFireX, SLI,
On/off charge,
All Japanese Solid capacitors,
Lucid MVP,
Form Factor (mm)
ATX (305x244)



All information COurtesy of Gigabyte @


Testing the latest Z77 boards 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 game play, 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 6970. 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 on all processors to make a fair comparison without skewing the results.


Testing Setup: Intel Core i7 Socket 2011


Comparison Boards:




Overclocking the MSI Z77A-GD65 was more of the same type of Sandy Bridge overclocking we have seen in the past on the Z68 as well as the P67 platform with simple bclock and bclock multiplier adjustments to creep up on the highest possible clock speed. This of course continues to be a limiting factor in how far your chip will overclock. The MSI Z77A-GD65 proved to be fully capable of delivering an overclock similar to what I have reached on Z68 and P67 boards in the past with the test CPU. This means a clock speed just north of 4.9GHz with a maximum bclock multiplier of 47 and a bclock that ranges from 104MHz to 105MHz using an applied 1.495V with LLC set to high. Memory overclocking is limited on my CPU but still it managed to pull off a 2133MHz+ clock speed. Bumping the performance up from a still potent 3.4GHz to 4.9GHz + clock speeds comes with some serious performance improvements across the board. MSI's one sec OC Genie 2 still will not pump my CPU above 4.2GHz due to the PLL over voltage that is applied manually but not in the overclocking algorithm. Even so a good boost was had all around.




Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H



Overclocking the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H was not what I thought it would be with the lack of VRM heat sinks over part of the Power circuits around the CPU. I was pleasantly surprised to see it deliver a good, solid almost 4.9GHz overclock using a bclock of 104.2 with a CPU multiplier of 47. Again much like most of the Z68 boards I have looked at over the past year. Getting to 4.9GHz required a boost in the CPU Vcore to 1.495v, DRAM controller voltage to 1.13v applied voltage. Really overclocking on this board came down to little or no drama due to how well it works with the settings I use for my trusty 2600K workhorse. A good solid clock speed of 4.9 with little VRM cooling seemed like a recipe for disaster but the UD3H held on and did not pop a gasket even with some Prime 95 loading.


Maximum Clock Speed:

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 provide the performance difference increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.



  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
  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Civilization V
  3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  4. 3DMark 11


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 100MB and 500MB. Time will be measured in seconds.




Lower is Better





Lower is Better



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 100 8.2MP RAW images to jpeg format. The file size is 837MB. The measure used for comparison is time needed to convert the file in seconds.


Lower is Better


Starting with the Apopyhysis testing, that the Z77 boards are a lateral move for someone with a baseline Z68 system not using the added features such as Smart response technology with the addition of a solid state drive for SSD Caching. The good news is even performance is good.


Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB 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 MultiProcessing), enabling the workload to be spread across the 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 128MB in size and 43 seconds in length.


Lower Is Better


Once again the results show that the platforms are almost identical performance wise with the same installed components. Utilizing some of Intel's targeted technologies could help boost performance in these applications.


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



Memory Latency



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

Again the performance deltas between the Z77 and Z68 boards are minimal with very few exceptions in both Sandra and AIDA 64 where the Z77 boards delivered more performance in the FPU Mandel 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 latest 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


As expected the Z77 and Z68 boards offer similar performance across the entire test suite of programs with very few exceptions to this rule.

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.















Higher = Better


Even when overclocked the performance margins are very slim in this game showing it needs a better graphics card to improve against the baseline number.


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.
















BF3 was supposed to be a game that used a lot of CPU speed. Even a boost up of 1.5Ghz over stock was not enough to impact the results.


3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies the benchmark's focus on Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence matches the current year in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 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.














When you come to the end of the testing the 3D11 scoring is again within an envelope that is tough to step outside of.


MSI: Z77A-GD65

Looking at the MSI Z77A-GD65 you have a motherboard that comes with a full feature set that is forward compatible with Intel's upcoming 3rd Generation Core series processors that will most definitely use the feature set on this chipset and motherboard. Equipped with a Second Generation Core i7 2600K there is no real performance advantage to upgrading as the Z68 chipset equipped Z68A-GD80 G3 can do what this board the Z77A-GD65 can in terms of overclocking and performance enhancements using Intel's Smart Response Technology and switchable graphics via Lucid Logix Virtu software. That being said the real performance potential will come with PCIe 3.0 graphics cards and Intel's next generation CPUs.

As an overclocking motherboard the MSI Z77A-GD65 was just as solid as the Z68 boards I have tested that incorporate MSI's Military Class II and Now III build philosophy. I had not a single issue running my trusty workhorse of a CPU up and over 4.9GHz using the same tools and voltages used on earlier MSI Z68 boards. A real testament to the continued refinement of the brand and consistency of the build quality. OC Genie II is a new step in the right direction and still delivers solid repeatable results with my Multiplier and PLL overvoltage challenged CPU. OC Genie II one touch overclocking netted a nice stable 4.2GHz overclock on the CPU with the memory pumped right up to 2133MHz - something this new implementation has the ability to do. OC Genie II now will overclock the CPU , Memory, IGP and storage solutions for an ultimate boost in performance.

Price is comparable with the current crop of Z68 motherboards at $189, so there is no reason to start off with an earlier chipset board with the feature set on the Z77 PCH equipped MSI Z77A-GD65. With Tri-SLI and CrossfireX on a PCIe 3.0 bus as options with future products the performance only looks to scale upwards. Utilize Intel Smart Response and Rapid Start technologies and we could be looking at a new level of performance. Add in MSI's reliability standards using Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite chokes, Active Phase switching and a solid BIOS, the MSI Z77A-GD65 has potential.








Gigabyte: GA-Z77X-UD3H

After running the GA-Z77X-UD3H through its paces and seeing just what it had to offer I was impressed with the fact that Gigabyte has finally moved into the now with their Dual UEFI BIOS implementation called 3D BIOS. After playing with the old school blue screen BIOS on boards as recent as the G2 Sniper this is a welcome change. With it comes an all-new 3D Power design that incorporates an all-digital power supply to the CPU, DRAM, Integrated graphics core and CPU Memory controller. Ultra Durable 3 construction has been around for some time now and has been replaced by Ultra Durable 4. What does this do for us? Well to start a new fiber weave in the PCB closes up the gaps reducing the chance of moisture intrusion, dual 2oz copper layers for improved signal response and lower impedance, improved chip selection for more ESD resistant chips to reduce the frequency of failures, all Japanese solid capacitors, and ICs designed to eliminate surge damage.

So how does this impact overclocking? Well by manually tweaking the new BIOS I was able to reach within 30MHz of the MSI Z77A-GD65 at 4889MHz all with a less robust cooling solution on the board than many of the Z68 boards I have used. Overclocking followed standard for Sandy Bridge overclocking by increasing the bclock multiplier, CPU voltage and finally the bclock to reach the highest speeds on both the memory and CPU. If manually tweaking the BIOS is not your cup of tea you can use Gigabytes Easy Tune 6 Quick Boost feature for a simple one click overclock from mild to fairly robust levels. The utility features plenty of tuning options to further the experience to test and tune within the operating system.

Equipped with an onboard mSATA slot the GA-Z77X-UD3H is prepared to take advantage of Intel's next generation CPUs for the mainstream by having the ability to use Smart Response and Rapid Start technology and leverage the design aspects of the board. The 3D BIOS implementation is a great new addition to the board and hopefully it carries to other boards in Gigabyte's arsenal. Priced at $169, the Z77X-UD3H comes in a little less expensive than the MSI Z77A-GD65 but has some unique features that help justify the drop in price along with some pretty robust overclocking.