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Intel DQ77KB: A Low Power LGA1155 Motherboard

The Intel DQ77KB is the first of its kind to hit retail channels, an energy efficient mini-ITX motherboard powered externally and supporting a selection of Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge based CPUs.

January 10, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Intel DQ77KB
LGA1155 Mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$140

The mini-ITX motherboards we usually come across fall in to one of two groups. First there are the energy efficient models with embedded processors e.g. Intel Atom, used to power basic nettop and compact media PCs. Then there are those that are simply mini-ITX versions of regular desktop motherboards, offering the same potential horsepower in a much smaller package. The Intel DQ77KB is a very different animal, an unusual board that has a foot in each camp.

Intel DQ77KB: Specifications (from the product
web page
)
Form factor Thin Mini ITX
AA# (Altered Assembly) G40294-401
BIOS ID string KBQ7710H.86A
Processor At product launch, this Intel® Desktop Board DQ77KB supports:
> Intel® Core™ i7, Intel® Core™ i5, and Intel® Core™ i3 vPro™ processor series in the LGA1155 package
Memory > Two 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) sockets
> Support for up to DDR3 1600/1333 MHz
> Support for up to 16 GB of system memory
Chipset > Intel® Q77 Express Chipset
Audio Intel® High Definition Audio (Intel® HD Audio) subsystem in the following configuration:
> Four-channel (2+2)
LAN support Dual Gigabit Intel® (10/100/1000 Mbits/sec) LAN subsystem using two Intel® Gigabit Ethernet Controllers
Peripheral interfaces > Four USB 3.0 ports (4 external ports with 2 supporting high power charging)
> Five USB 2.0 ports (5 via internal headers)
> Four Serial ATA ports: 2 internal connectors (6.0 Gb/s), 2 internal connectors (3.0 Gb/s)
Expansion capabilities > One PCI Express* 2.0 x4 connector (from CPU)
> One PCI Express* full length mini connector (support mSATA)
> One PCI Express* half-length mini connector
Warranty > 3-year warranty (BOX/BLK)
> Standard Warranty Replacement (SWR)

If we told you that the DQ77KB was an LGA1155 model with support for Intel’s Sandy and Ivy Bridge processors, you might assume it’s yet another board with all the trimmings for users building SFF gaming PCs and the like but this couldn’t be further from the truth. For one thing, CPU support is restricted to parts with TDPs of 65W or lower, limiting processor selection to premium quad core “S” and “T” series chips and of course dual core models. It’s also driven by external DC power rather than an internal ATX unit so monster power supplies are out of the question, and with it the prospect of a high-end graphics card, not that it has a PCI-E 16x slot to support this in the first place. A PCI-E 4x slot is offered instead as well as the option for a pair of mini PCI-E devices.

Like many of Intel’s products, the DQ77KB is designed for businesses, more specifically those who require very small and energy efficient PCs but also a decent level of performance. The Q77 chipset sports various management, security, and virtualization features and the board has been outfitted with a pair of Intel gigabit ethernet adapters and additional display output options including LVDS and eDP (embedded DisplayPort). It’s not targeted at consumers or enthusiasts but as it breaks down the high and low power paradigms that we’ve gotten accustomed to, it undoubtedly has some crossover appeal.


The DQ77KB with processor and memory installed.

The board has an unusual layout with the socket rotated 90 degrees from its usual orientation on larger boards and is shifted in position toward the right side. It’s a low profile model as well so it uses slimmer DDR3 SO-DIMMs, though heatsink height can be an issue depending on the case.


Power cable.

A single SATA connector directly on the board provides all the power for any peripherals. A daisy chain cable with multiple SATA plugs is provided which can be problematic if you require molex power (molex to SATA adapters are not very common). The board also ships with a pair of SATA data cables, an HDMI to DVI adapter, and both a full-sized and low profile I/O shield.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

Given all the features, the surface of the Intel DQ77KB is jam-packed with components and nothing is where one would expect it to be, aside from the PCI-E 4x slot. Additional connectivity is provided by two mini PCI-E
slots (one half-height, one full-sized), four SATA ports (two 3 Gbps, two 6 Gbps), and a pair of 4-pin PWM fan headers.


The two mini PCI Express slots straddle the PCH heatsink near the back panel and would probably be best served housing an mSATA drive and WiFi adapter. The PCI-E 4x slot is of course, backwards compatible with 1x devices but cases that lack a PCI-E riser option will render it unusable.


The port arrangement at the back is low profile with at most two ports paired together. There are four USB 3.0 connectors, dual gigabit ethernet jacks, and both a DisplayPort and HDMI connector for outputting video. The board is powered using a DC input at the top.


Unlike most motherboards, many of the ICs have are located on the underside. Typically this side is primarily empty aside from the socket mounting frame, signal traces, and solder points of the topside components.


The DQ77KB has a few unusual connectors along the top edge of the board, including ports for LVDS, eDP and headers for other functionality pertaining to front panel displays.

BIOS/UEFI

Given the focus on low power operation, the DQ77KB doesn’t sport the usual set of enthusiast BIOS/UEFI options found on larger, mainstream models. The only performance settings of note are memory frequency (1066, 1333, and 1600 MHz), memory voltage (1.20 to 1.80 V), and basic memory timing control. The fan control and monitoring options are more comprehensive, using a similar interface to those from Intel’s more mainstream motherboards.


Sensor monitoring.

The monitoring section of the BIOS/UEFI has a leg up on most, with temperature readings for both the memory and voltage regulators. While this is useful to know, these extra sensors can also be used as variables for the fan control system.


Fan control options.

The board has two 4-pin PWM fan headers each with its own customizable settings. Interestingly users can designate a primary and temperature input sensor for the fan to react to, so for example, the CPU fan can be set to spin up when the CPU heats up, while the speed of a case fan can be tied to the PCH temperature. However, you can’t define your own temperature targets — you tell it what to respond to and the BIOS/UEFI takes care of it automatically. Adjusting the minimum and maximum fan speeds is permitted but there’s noting to adjust its aggressiveness.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:


Testbed device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly. If a WiFi adapter is present, it is disabled unless the system lacks wired ethernet.

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress the CPU, we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Finally, storage subsystems are tested briefly using CrystalDiskMark (1000 MB of 0x00 fill test data) and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive. For USB and eSATA we use an external eSATA/USB 3.0 dock to connect the drive.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

As the DQ77KB uses an external DC power source we compared its power consumption to a group of mini PCs with varying levels of CPU power. The processors used in this comparison group range from the relatively slow Atom N2600 to the formidable quad core Core i5-2500S. The CPU we paired with the DQ77KB is an Ivy Bridge part, the 55W dual core Pentium G2120 which runs at 3.1 GHz.


*Figures for the M91 were adjusted downward from our original test run to account for its less efficient desktop hard drive (notebook hard drives and SSDs were used with the other systems compared).

Note: that all the systems above were tested with different power supplies of varying efficiency, so consider these numbers a rough comparison.

In light load situations (idle and playing H.264 video), our system used less than 20W which is higher than most of the nettops we’ve recently reviewed. However, considering it was equipped with an off-the-shelf desktop processor running at more than 3 GHz, it’s an impressive result, though not unprecedented. The Lenovo ThinkCentre M91p SFF PC we examined last year came very close in idle draw. The M91p had similar hardware including a a laptop-style motherboard with SO-DIMM memory, and a hefty DC power brick, though it was armed with the much more capable Core i5-2500S, a 65W part. It’s also important to note that while these figure are promising, they still don’t hold a candle to real mobile hardware like the internals of the Intel NUC DC3217BY. The NUC idles at just 10W or 40% less than the DQ77KB/G2120.

Its efficiency on heavy load was more of an eye-opener, just 41W with the CPU stressed to its theoretical limit, and 56W total with the GPU thrown into the mix as well. It’s especially surprising considering the Pentium G2120’s rated TDP is 55W and that our numbers are in AC, not accounting for the inefficiency of the power supply. For an entire system to draw that much for the wall is simply amazing. This is probably more of a compliment to the CPU rather than the board however.


On load, the Pentium G2120 was pulling under 1.000 V according to CPU-Z. This undoubtedly contributed to the DQ77KB’s excellent power draw figures.

SATA Performance

As the DQ77KB uses the same native SATA controller as the rest of Intel’s 7 series, it’s a known quantity. It scores very well in CrystalDiskMark, eclipsing AMD’s latest controllers in almost every test and is especially dominant in big block writes with large deep queues, an operation frequently used on servers with multi-user access.

USB 3.0 Performance

Our experience with Intel’s native USB 3.0 controller is less reliable, with the odd board sometimes mysteriously producing poor results despite using the same hardware. In the DQ77KB’s case, USB 3.0 performance was on target aside from a slight slow down in large block writes.

Software & Fan Control


Intel Desktop Utility’s Hardware Monitor.

For utilities, ASUS has AI Suite, Gigabyte has EasyTune, and Intel has IDU (Intel Desktop Utility) but it’s not nearly as powerful or easy to use. The layout itself is rather ugly, littered with small text, and lacking the polish ASUS has implemented over the years. Gigabyte’s software is unattractive as well but at least it’s functional. IDU depicts sensor information and allows you to dictate warning types and levels but like the UEFI/BIOS, there are no options for overriding the board’s fan control.

Furthermore, despite enabling the board’s fan controls in the UEFI/BIOS, we weren’t able to observe it in action. We put the CPU and GPU and full load and the fans we had connected would not speed up from their minimum settings. We even removed the fan from the CPU heatsink, allowing the CPU to heat up to almost 80°C before it stabilized. Either the controls were malfunctioning or it takes an even higher temperature before they will respond.


SpeedFan screen with correlations noted.

If you’re working in a Windows environment, SpeedFan comes to the rescue once again. It has access to the same sensors as IDU, though they are mislabeled, but also includes two working fan controls. To activate
fan control, locate the “Nuvoton NCT6776F” chip in the Advanced tab of the
configuration menu and change PWM modes 1-2 from “Smart Fan IV” to “Manual.” This will unlock complete speed control for both headers though it should be noted that the CPU_FAN header does not support 3-pin fans, running them at full speeds at all times.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Outfitted specifically for business users, the Intel DQ77KB comes with the usual management and security features, plus size and energy efficiency, and the potential for a heavier performance punch than the typically weak mini PC fare, namely machines using Intel Atom chips and AMD’s low-end APUs. The dream of a very compact, low power system with real desktop speed is one that is shared by many DIY PC users and the DQ77KB makes that dream a real possibility. It has the distinction of delivering the best performance experience we’ve had on a sub-60W draw desktop configuration.

The only issue we encountered was with the limited automated fan control system which lacks the ability customize the temperature at which the fans ramp up from their minimum speeds. In fact, we were unable to get them to do so, even under severe thermal duress. This is surprising as the issue it can result in instability, something that is not synonymous with the Intel brand. The software included doesn’t do anything to address this either. As for the physical hardware there’s not a whole lot to complain about.

If for whatever reason, you prefer discrete graphics, the PCI-E 4x slot is an obstacle to be overcome as the vast majority of video cards use a 16x interface. The bandwidth of PCI-E 4x and the capacity of DC power adapters also limits the class of card that can be used, so any notion of serious gaming should be tossed out the window. The DQ77KB also has many features that will never be taken advantage of by most home users. The various extras provided by the Q77 chipset, the second gigabit ethernet controller, and the onboard display headers are all likely to sit unutilized by the average PC enthusiast.

While you might not get as much value out of it as a mainstream board, it’s par for the course when it comes to SFF PCs. Most of the components needed to fill out these types of systems also carry price premiums: low TDP processors, notebook memory, slim optical drives, mSATA drives, mini PCI-E accessories, low profile coolers, etc. The thing is, the DQ77KB isn’t just small, it fits a very narrow niche for which many users will be happy to open their wallets.

Our thanks to Intel
for the DQ77KB CPU/motherboard sample.

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Articles of Related Interest
Intel Next Unit of Computing Kit DC3217BY
Giada A51 Mini PC

Jetway AMD G-T40E Fanless Barebones Nettop


Lenovo ThinkCentre M91p Ultra-small Desktop PC
Logic Supply LGX AG150 Fanless Mini PC
Jetway NF9C-2600 Atom N2600 Mini-ITX Motherboard

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