Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor is on its way. One of the challenges users are going to face when deciding whether or not to upgrade to this new type of processor is which motherboard to go for. See also: Intel Ivy Bridge review.
The lab boffins from Hardware.Info have tested 20 of those 7-series Z77 motherboards.
Compared to Intel’s current Sandy Bridge processors the technology used for the new architecture should lead to faster and more energy efficient processors.
Whether that is actually the case will not be clear until after Ivy Bridge launches. However, if you are thinking of upgrading your PC using one of the putative Ivy Bridge processors, you should also realise that you also need a new motherboard.
The new motherboards have been dubbed Z77, as that is the name Intel gave the chipset.
This chip does not only facilitate the use of a new Ivy Bridge processor, but also supports USB 3.0 for fast transfer speeds and PCI-Express 3.0, making it possible for you to use the latest graphics cards.
Every manufacturer of motherboards obviously is keen to out its take (or takes) on a Z77 motherboard, which means that the choice for buyers is not always as straightforward as they would like it to be. The round-up of test results Hardware.Info published of the 20 Z77 motherboards shows up the best performers.
The conclusions were that the boards performed very similarly in performance tests but varied more widely in terms of energy usage.
When it comes to micro-ATX motherboards (which are ideally suited for Home Theatre PCs or other small systems), the Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H is one you should seriously consider, even though it does not have any extras.
If you want the most affordable Z77 system possible, this is an excellent choice, as it will only set you back about £80.
For around £110 you can buy a luxury micro-ATX board. The ASUS P8Z77-M Pro, Gigabyte GA-Z77MX-D3H and MSI Z77MA-G45 resemble each other closely in terms of features and options.
ASUS has three extra USB 3.0 ports, whereas the one from Gigabyte is the only one with software you can use to accelerate your graphics cards. It also has the best sound quality, while MSI is the most energy efficient.
Turning to full ATX motherboards (the type you find in the average PC, where you need the extra expansion slots they provide over micro-ATX) Hardware.Info noted some rough edges.
For example, the energy consumption of the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 and the ECS Z77H2-AX was pretty high.
Hardware.Info also states that the USB 3.0 implementation on the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H and the Intel DZ77GA-70K is far from ideal.
As with micro-ATX, Gigabyte also stands out in the ATX category because of the very attractive pricing.
The GA-Z77-D3H might be an entry-level board without significant extra features, at around £90 it is significantly more affordable than entry-level ATX boards by competitors.
If you're looking to spend some more money (£120), the motherboards obviously get fancier.
One that stands out in this price range is the ASUS P8Z77-V LE, which has than the similarly priced MSI Z77A-G45, but comes with features such as DisplayPort, extra USB 3.0 ports, eSATA and Virtu MVP software.
The P8Z77-V LE has a nice balance of being affordable but still includes some nice luxury features.
Those wanting to spend around £140-£150 on a motherboard can choose between the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro, MSI Z77A-GD65 and Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H.
ASUS has eight USB 3.0 ports and WiFi, but lacks any type of audio implementation. Gigabyte has less SATA ports and the USB 3.0 implementation isn't great, but it's a hair cheaper than its competition.
MSI is by far the most energy efficient, the only one with FireWire and it has the best audio, but it comes with fewer USB 3.0 ports.
Two of the motherboards reviewed could be seen as falling in the category of luxury motherboards of around £180-£190, and both come from ASUS.
The Sabertooth Z77 is a great board for the enthusiast who cares about looks and the ability to monitor all temperatures. Disregarding those qualities, the price/performance ratio doesn't quite hold up, according to Hardware.Info.
The other board in this price range, the P8Z77-V Deluxe, makes a great impression and has tons of useful extra features.
You can read the entire review on Hardware.info.
See also: Intel Ivy Bridge review.