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Intel DZ77GA-70K Z77 Motherboard: Waiting for Ivy Bridge

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The DZ77GA-70K is a high-end motherboard from Intel designed to fulfill the potential of the new Ivy Bridge processors. We take a look at its huge array of features and its performance with Sandy Bridge while awaiting the Ivy Bridge news embargo to lift.

Intel DZ77GA-70K: Waiting for Ivy Bridge

April 17, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Intel DZ77GA-70K
LGA1155 ATX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Intel
Street Price
US$240

Like many CPU architecture releases in the past, Intel’s LGA2011 platform instantly relegated its predecessor, LGA1155, to mainstream status. While many PC enthusiasts yearn for the unparalleled speed of Sandy Bridge Extreme, the limited increase in performance and heavy price premium over good old vanilla Sandy Bridge isn’t particularly appealing. Per dollar and per watt, the current lineup of Sandy Bridge chips deliver a relatively high level of performance.

Our guess is most LGA1155 users are satisfied with what they have, not that there are many upgrade options. The current Sandy Bridge headliner, the Core i7-2700K, is only 100 MHz faster than the i7-2600K that debuted with the first crop of LGA1155 CPUs in January 2011. That will change later this month with the official launch of Ivy Bridge, but in the meantime, a new series of motherboards to accompany the new processor has been released.


Z77 chipset block diagram.

Z77 is the new flagship chipset for LGA1155, designed to take full advantage of Ivy Bridge’s capabilities, and it is thankfully backwards compatible with current Sandy Bridge processors. Many series 6 (H67/P67/Z68/etc.) motherboards are also forward-compatible with Ivy Bridge chips but require a BIOS/UEFI update (see your motherboard manufacturer’s website for details).

Compared to Z68, Z77 delivers four main changes. The PCI Express lanes provided by the CPU have been upgraded to the version 3.0 specification, doubling the per-lane bandwidth to 1 GB/s (this sounds impressive but keep in mind the fastest current graphics cards don’t utilize all the bandwidth provided by PCI-E 2.0). USB 3.0 has been pretty much standard in mid-to-high end Sandy Bridge boards but Intel has finally added a native controller. Z77 allows users to use three simultaneous displays, but only with an Ivy Bridge CPU. Finally, PCI support has been left behind, though manufacturers have the option of adding it back using a separate controller chip.


Chipset comparison.

Similar to series 6, there are a total of three series 7 consumer chipsets. H77 is the most basic and like H67, lacks the lax multiplier overclocking options of its two big brothers and is limited to a single PCI-E 16x slot. Z75 is the middle child with overclocking capability but without Intel’s Smart Response (SSD caching) ability. Z77 has it all and the unique option to divvy up the PCI-E 3.0 lanes in a 8x/4x/4x configuration (presumably if the manufacturer wants to add a Thunderbolt controller).

Intel DZ77GA-70K : Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Form factor

ATX

AA# (Altered Assembly) G30742-XXX
Processor At product launch, this
Intel® Desktop Board DZ77GA-70K supports the following LGA1155 socket
processors:
• Intel® Core™ i7 -K series
• 2nd and 3rd Generation Core™ i7 series
• 2nd and 3rd Generation Core™ i5 series
• 2nd and 3rd Generation Core™ i3 series
Memory Four 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) sockets
Support for DDR3 1600+ /1333 /1066 MHz DIMMs
Support for up to 32 GB of system memory
Chipset Intel® Z77 Express Chipset
Intel® Rapid Storage Technology (Intel® RST) for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10
Graphics Intel® HD Graphics, HDMI*
Two PCI Express* 3.0 x16 connectors (one x8 electrical)
Supports ATI CrossFireX* and NVIDIA SLI*
Audio Intel® High Definition Audio (Intel® HD Audio) subsystem in the following configuration:
10-channel (7.1 + 2 independent multi-streaming) audio subsystem with six analog audio outputs w/optical S/PDIF out port
Supports Dolby* Home Theatre V4
LAN support Dual Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mb/s) LAN subsystems using the Intel® 82579V Gigabit Ethernet Controller
Peripheral interfaces Eight SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports (4 external/4 header)
Ten USB 2.0 ports (4 external (2 Hi-Current/Fast Charging) / 6 internal)
Four Serial ATA 6.0 Gb/s ports, one eSATA 6.0 Gb/s
Four Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
Two IEEE 1394a ports/headers (1 external/1 header)
Consumer infrared receiver and emitter
Expansion capabilities Two PCI Express* 3.0 x16 connectors (one x8 electrical)
Two PCI Express 2.0 x 1 connectors
One PCI Express 2.0 x 4 connector
Two PCI Conventional* bus connectors

Our first Z77 sample board is the Intel DZ77GA-70K, a high-end model currently selling for approximately US$240. The board is flush with features including a 10-channel integrated audio chip, two Intel gigabit ethernet controllers, eight USB 3.0 ports (four external, four internal), two USB 2.0 fast charging ports, four SATA and one eSATA 6 Gbps connectors, FireWire, an IR receiver/emitter, and two PCI-E 16x slots (WiFi and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) connectivity are also included though it’s not currently listed in the official specifications for some reason).


The box.


Accessories.

Like previous members of Intel’s "Extreme" motherboard lineup, the
skull logo is featured prominently on the box art. This time it also makes an
appearance on a thin, oversized mousepad, part of the accessory package. Also
included is a USB 3.0 bracket, a CrossFire/SLI bridge, and an internal USB WiFi/Bluetooth
module with adhesive on the back to stick it somewhere inside the case. Retail
versions of the motherboard should also ship with four UV-reactive SATA cables
and a driver disc.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The DZ77GA-70K is laid out like previous LGA1155 ATX motherboards. Most of
the connectors are at the edges of the board where they are easily accessed,
though the 8-pin EPS12V connector is in the top left corner, making it a pain
to connect in towers with top-mounted power supplies.


The board provides excellent connectivity options. There are eight SATA
ports (four 6 Gbps and four 3 Gbps), two PCI-E 3.0 16x slots (the bottom
slot runs 8x electrically) for running either CrossFire or SLI, four PWM
fan headers, and a pair of internal USB 3.0 headers.


The DZ77GA-70K is also enthusiast-friendly, denoted by the skull on the
PCH heatsink. Tweakers will appreciate the error code indicator in the
bottom right hand corner and the power and reset buttons on the center
right edge.


The voltage regulation circuitry is cooled with a pair of substantial blue aluminum heatsinks measuring 28 mm high at their apex above the PCB surface.


The PCH heatsink is diminutive and saddled with a needless plastic cover
that must interfere with heat dissipation.


On the I/O panel, standard high-end features like eSATA, FireWire, and
S/PDIF connectors are accounted for along with dual gigabit ethernet ports,
four USB 3.0 ports, and a pair of USB 2.0 ports (orange) with a higher
power output for charging devices such as tablets. Also making an appearance
is Intel’s Back-to-BIOS button for easy BIOS/UEFI recovery.

BIOS/UEFI

The DZ77GA-70K features Intel’s new Visual BIOS, a UEFI with a graphical interface similar to what Asus started doing with their series 6 chipset motherboards. Gone is plain white text on black background UEFI, replaced with a cool blue mouse-enabled system.


The default screen is a basic setup menu. A simple slider allows users to tweak the CPU, GPU, and memory speeds. Voltage and other settings are changed automatically to ensure a safe overclocking experience. A few shortcuts are provided to various advanced sections of the menu.


The Processor section of the Advanced Setup menu is more complicated obviously, allowing users to more expertly control the experience. Values can can be typed in manual or selected from a drop box list.

BIOS Summary: Intel DZ77GA-70K
Setting
Options
Host Clock 100 to 120 MHz
CPU Voltage 1.000 to 1.920 V
CPU Voltage Offset 20 to 1000 mV
Core Ratio Limit 5 to 65
Burst Mode Power Limit
0 to 1000 W (120 W default)
Sustained Mode Power Limit 0 to 500 W (95 W default)
Sustained Mode Time 1 to 32 secs (1 sec default)
CPU TDC Current Limit Override 0 to 200 A (112 A default)
Processor PLL Voltage 1.50 to 2.40 V (1.85 V default)
Processor I/O Voltage 1.00 to 1.80 V (1.05 V default)
Processor System Agent
0.850 to 1.750 V (0.925 V default)
Memory Multiplier DDR3-1067, 1333, 1600, 1867, 2133, 2400, 2667
Memory Voltage 1.2 to 2.0 V

The voltage options offered are extreme, allowing the CPU to be pumped up to
1.92 V and the memory to 2.0 V, so discretion is advised. The clock frequency
however, has a hard limit of just 120 MHz: Series 7 motherboards have the same
integrated clock generator as series 6, tying the base CPU frequency with other
peripherals like the SATA and PCI-E bus. Slight adjustments can cause data corruption
and general instability.


Fan control settings.


Temperature control settings.

The fan control options are impressive. Each fan header can be assigned a minimum/maximum
speed and a function, linking its speed to a particular temperature sensor;
Most fan control systems react to CPU temperature only. Fan speed behavior can
be further tweaked by setting temperature ranges, and fine-tuned by changing
the responsiveness/damping options to dictate how quickly it reacts and how
smoothly it should do so.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:


Test configuration device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Clip


1080p | 24fps | ~22mbps

H.264: Crash is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Blu-ray version of an science fiction film. It features the aftermath
of a helicopter crash. It has an unusually high bitrate for video of this type.

Estimating DC Power

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:

Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
21.2
41.6
60.2
81.9
104.7
124.1
145.2
AC Input (W)
32.0
58.0
78.0
102.0
128.0
150.0
175.0
Efficiency
66.3%
71.7%
77.1%
80.3%
81.8%
82.8%
83.0%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our test
system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.

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 CPUs 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. Power consumption during playback of high definition video is also recorded.

Operating Voltage

Before we start, we present the operating voltages of our Core i5-2500K provided by some of the motherboards compared today. Higher voltages don’t necessarily equate to higher power consumption, but in many cases there is a correlation.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

During light load activities (idle and playing H.264 video), the DZ77GA-70K
was noticeably energy inefficient compared to its H67 compatriots; there was
a difference of up to 6W. There isn’t enough information to hypothesize the
reason for the discrepancy, whether the Z77 chipset inherently uses more power,
the DZ77GA-70K’s extensive feature-set saps more juice, or if it’s simply a
matter of differences in voltage regulation between the various motherboard
models. We’ll need a bigger sample of Z77 boards to make any generalizations.

Adding P67 boards paired with a Radeon HD 5450 into the mix gave us more favorable
results with the DZ77GA-70K in the middle of the pack. Integrated graphics are
undoubtedly more efficient.

Note: Our initial testing had the DZ77GA-70K exhibiting unusually high load power consumption. After investigating the issue we found that the UEFI was using a 39x multiplier on load across the board regardless of how many cores were active. We re-tested the board with standard Core i5-2500K Turbo Boost multipliers (34~37x) and updated the charts accordingly.

On CPU load, the DZ77GA-70K’s power consumption is moderate, using a bit less than some P67/H67 models and a bit more than others.

Unfortunately it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much of the energy draw
is generated by the processor alone, as the amount of power pulled from the
AUX12V connector depends on how board power regulation has been implemented.
In this board, Intel has gone with an 8 power phase design which pulls quite
a bit of juice from the 8-pin connector, between 11% and 22% more on load compared
to most of H67/P67 boards.

Cooling

To test the board’s cooling, we stressed the CPU for ~15 minutes with Prime95/CPU Burn. Temperatures of the boards’ chipset and VRM heatsinks (if applicable) were recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures were taken for comparison.

Despite the high system power draw, the DZ77GA-70K’s heatsink temperatures
were amongst the lowest we’ve recorded, just 20°C and 25°C above ambient
for the VRM and PCH/chipset heatsinks respectively.

Speed Fan Support

The UEFI BIOS has an excellent range of fan and temperature control settings,
so additional software isn’t really necessary. That being said, Intel didn’t
include any software on the board’s download page or with our sample to adjust
these options on the fly once booted into the operating system.


SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

Typically SpeedFan doesn’t have a great track record with new motherboard models, but to our surprise, all the official temperature sensors reported in the UEFI are detected by the program. Full control is available for all four fan headers, with two caveats: the fan headers labeled "REAR" and "AUX" are tied together and the "CPU" header cannot adjust the speed of non-PWM fans. To enable fan control, locate the "Winbond W83677HG-I" chip in the advanced menu and set the PWM modes to "Manual."

Boot Time

To test boot time we optimize the BIOS menu by setting the hard drive and other delays set to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality like USB support, POST messages, etc. and measure the time it takes to reach the Windows loading screen (we stop here because this is the point where the O/S drive speed becomes a factor).

The DZ77GA-70K is the fastest booting LGA1155 board we’ve tested, getting to
the Windows loading screen in just over 10 seconds.

USB 3.0 Performance

Intel took a lot of flak for not incorporating a native USB 3.0 controller
in their series 6 chipsets. Having finally succumbed to pressure with series
7, the resulting performance isn’t revolutionary. A large file transfer from
a USB 3.0-connected WD VelociRaptor
600GB
to an internal drive took basically the same amount of time as
AMD’s native USB 3.0 controller.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Z77 chipset brings a few new features to Intel’s lineup and while it all
seems impressive on paper, in reality it’s an incremental upgrade. The update
to PCI Express 3.0 is the most substantial change, but even gamers with the
latest top-of-the-line GPUs won’t see any benefit from the extra bandwidth.
The long awaited native USB 3.0 controller performs as well as third party solutions,
so there’s no difference aside from the shedding of an extra chip on the PCB.
Coincidentally, the dropping of native PCI support has prompted manufacturers
to add a PCI controller chip. Triple display support may be the most useful
addition, but you’ll need an Ivy Bridge processor to take advantage of it.

Given its street price of US$240, the DZ77GA-70K is a premium model
with all the advanced features you would expect and more. Along with the two
16x PCI-E slots for CrossFire/SLI, there are four SATA 6 Gbps ports, eSATA,
FireWire, and two Intel gigabit ethernet controllers. Connectivity is boosted
by WiFi and Bluetooth but they take the form of a USB-connected module rather
than being an integrated feature on the I/O panel. Its range is subpar as it
oddly attaches to the inside of the case with adhesive and lacks an external
antennae. The DZ77GA-70K is also the first board we’ve encountered with dual
internal USB 3.0 headers and dedicated USB charging ports for high power devices
like the iPad. Enthusiast features are well represented, in the form of an easy
to navigate Visual BIOS with plenty of overclocking options, integrated power/reset
buttons, an error code indicator, and Intel’s Back-to-BIOS toggle switch.

For SPCR audiences, the board’s greatest asset is its extremely flexible fan
control system, probably the best we’ve seen in any BIOS. Full control is available
on all four fan headers and each header can be set to react to a different temperature
sensor. Temperature range and fan aggressiveness settings can be customized
to fit your personal preferences. You can for example, set front, side, and
top fans to react to the PCH, VRM, and Memory temperature respectively.

The energy efficiency of the board was somewhat disappointing, particularly when idle. Running on the i5-2500K’s HD 3000 integrated graphics, it used 5~6W more all previously tested H67 motherboards. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s actually an increase of 24~30%. On load the results were middling, beating out a few H67/P67 boards while losing to others. The only other issue is the lack of additional video outputs. The board only offers a single HDMI connector, ruling out
dual or triple displays when running integrated graphics.

We generally advise against upgrading motherboards alone and it’s true here
as well. If you’re currently running a Sandy Bridge system, there’s little benefit
to a Z77 board upgrade. The only plausible exception is if you’re on a basic
H61/H67 model and regret not choosing a P67/Z68 variant for the additional features
and overclocking abilities. Of course, there are also those with money to burn
who always want the latest and greatest, but they will almost certainly upgrade
the processor as well. Prospective Ivy Bridge users may consider a compatible
series 6 board due to budget constraints but keep in mind the usual growing
pains. It may not ship with an Ivy Bridge-ready version of the BIOS/UEFI and
updating it might require an older, officially supported CPU.

Our thanks to Intel
for the DZ77GA-70K motherboard sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Intel
Sandy Bridge Extreme: Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Processor

AMD
FX-8150 8-Core Bulldozer Processor

Gigabyte
A75M-UD2H Mainstream FM1 Motherboard

AMD
A8-3850 Quad Core Desktop APU (updated July 10)

Intel
Core i3-2100T & Core i5-2400S Low Power CPUs

Asus
P8H67-I Deluxe Mini-ITX Motherboard

* * *

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