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Roundup: Z77 Express motherboards from AsRock, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI
by Guillaume Louel
Published on July 2, 2012

Asus P8Z77-V Pro

Asus also has a very extensive Z77 range with no fewer than eleven motherboard models, which includes three micro ATX models and a mini ITX model!


Click to enlarge

The Pro is positioned under the two very high end Workstation and Deluxe models. Asus is highlighting certain particularly interesting components such as the Intel network controllers and a generous distribution of Serial ATA and USB 3.0 controllers that generally come in pairs here!


On the P8Z77-V Pro, Asus has gone for a 12+4+2 phase power supply circuit. Two passive radiators are used for cooling. Note that there are two plates at the back of the board to improve cooling.


There are also MOSFETs on the back of the board as we’ll see later on in this article.

There are three PCI Express x16 ports on the motherboard. The first two are linked to the processor at x16/x0 or x8/x8 managed with ASM1480 switches.


Some features are limited by the lack of PCIe lanes on the chipset.

The third slot is connected directly to the Z77 chipset (by PCIe 2.0) and will run at x1 by default. Unlike ASRock, Asus hasn’t gone for an additional PCI Express switch to multiply the lanes. Therefore if a x4 mode is available, it will automatically turn the Serial ATA controller and one of the additional USBs off as well as the two PCI Express x1 ports!

One of the two PCI Express x1 ports (the one under the main graphics card and rarely used) shares the bandwidth of the additional Serial ATA controller and you therefore have to choose between the two. Finally there are two standard PCI ports.

Rather than settle for the Intel chipset for USB 3.0, Asus has added two Asmedia 1042 controllers to the board (two ports run off each). There’s also an additional Serial ATA 6 Gb/s controller (the ASM 1061, two ports) and the network runs off the Intel 82579V controller, a good trend initiated by Asus with the Z68 and which is imitated by other manufacturers in this price range, as we’ll see later.

I/O panel

After abandoning the PS/2 port on the P8Z68-V Pro, it is has been reintroduced on the extreme left of this board. Underneath there are two USB 3.0 ports, which, as on the ASRock board, are not Intel ports but run off one of the Asmedia controllers. This is surprising to see, as is the fact that there are just two Intel USB 3.0 ports on the back panel, on the right under the network connector.


There are just two USB 2.0 ports (in black) which we would have preferred to see placed on the far left, though they are slightly better situated than on the ASRock board. Asus has placed a sticker here to show that the USB mouse and keyboard should be plugged into these ports. The four standard video outs are all here (DVI Single link, DP, HDMI and VGA) and two can be used at the same time. There are six audio jacks and an optical S/PDIF out. The audio runs of a Realtek ALC892 controller. Note that Asus hasn’t included an independent Firewire, though as we’ll see below eSATA has been included.

Headers, particularities

The Power and Reset switches used on the equivalent Z68 model are no longer there, but there are still several other switches. Firstly the MemOK that resolves certain memory conflicts with uncooperative memory bars (incorrect SPD table or bars no longer maintaining timings). Pressing on this button launches a specific mode that generally allows you to correct the issue. There are two useless switches for the energy economy (‘EPU’) and tuning (‘TPU’) features – all this can of course be set in the BIOS. The Bios FLBK does however come more in handy. The idea here, introduced with X79 motherboards, is to allow you to flash the BIOS from a USB key without having to insert a processor or any memory in the system. This feature probably won’t be used every day but may serve as a fallback solution in some cases (processor too new for the current BIOS on the motherboard, which would then refuse to start-up, or a corrupted BIOS that doesn’t allow you to boot or initiate restore mechanisms). We like and would encourage other manufacturers to include such a feature.


The diagnostics leds are limited but do the job, with one led lighting up on start-up beside each component that is being initialised. While this method isn’t as precise as using start-up codes, it has the merit of being easy to follow. Note finally that Asus is still using its very practical memory slots, with the catches on one side.


For the internal connectivity, we have the headers required to pilot eight USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports (2 Intel and 2 Asmedia). There’s a final USB header for the wi-fi module that comes with the motherboard. Note that Asus has planned for as many as six 4-pin fan connectors that can be controlled from the BIOS and via software.

Bundle

In additiona to a high quality manual, the bundle includes a USB wi-fi module that is plugged in between the USB 2.0 ports and the HDMI connector. This module is 802.11 b/g/n compatible and comes with an external aerial. Asus also supplies four SATA cables and an SLI bridge. There’s a USB 3.0 bracket (2 ports) in PCI format, as well as an eSATA bracket also in PCI format. At the extremity of the bracket is a single SATA cable that can be connected to the port of your choice. This is a low cost solution but it is at least nice to see that Asus has replaced the very slow JMicron controller it used on its previous generation and is moving in the right direction.


Note finally that as usual Asus has padded the panel plate that is inserted inside the casing – this is supposed to limit electromagnetic interference and stops you from cutting your fingers when inserting it into the casing. The small extensions that allow you to fix the power/reset and speaker cables and buttons more easily are also there. Minimal cost but practical!

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