ECS Z77H2-AX—Visual Inspection

If all you ever wanted in life was something colored gold, I think ECS have you covered. As part of their Golden Board branding, the ECS Z77H2-AX has been plated with a layer of gold paint. Well, their heatsinks, heatpipes, socket, capacitors, VRMs and IO panel have all had a layer of gold paint added in order to improve aesthetics. When I first took this board out of the wrapper, I was figuratively blinded by just how much of the gold color was in my face.

Initially ECS will be releasing two high-end Z77 boards, with this one being the most expensive we have in for review, at an MSRP of $319. As such, I would expect it to perform near the top in almost every aspect—features, extras, performance and usability. As more than twice the price of the ASRock Z77 Extreme4, it had better be at least twice the board.

For a start, we can see that the socket is closed in, with the heatsinks and the memory slots being right up against Intel's minimum required socket spacing. This means big air coolers may not get a chance to fit, and only stock or water-cooling need apply. If that is the case, then I hope ECS have a robust overclock system in place.

One thing to feel disappointed by the ECS board though is the lack of fan headers. Around the socket you are lucky to have two—one 4-pin between the top VRM heatsink and the memory slots, and a 3-pin just above the 24-pin ATX power connector. A solitary third is on the bottom of the board. In the past ECS fan OS controls have had some of the better software support; however, it does not make sense to have only three headers on this.

Down the right hand side of the board, below the ATX power connector, are a pair of power/reset buttons, the standard six SATA ports from the PCH, and a two-digit debug display. Note we do not have any other SATA controllers for internal ports on the board. Below the two-digit debug display is an mSATA connector, which doubles up as a mini-PCIe if a user want to use a WiFi module (note, there is one on board already) or a TV Tuner.

On the south side of the board we are not given a vast amount of headers to say it is cramped—aside from standard front panel headers, there is a USB 3.0 header, a COM header, and a solitary USB 2.0 header.

This big selling point of this board over the other boards in this preview however is its multi-GPU capabilities. ECS have decided to invest in a PLX PXE 8747 chip, which is akin to the NF200 chips we saw on X58. This chip will expand the 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes on the board to 32, meaning that on the PCIe slots, we can have x16/x16 in dual card mode, or x16/x8/x8 in tri-card mode.

Thus in order we have an x1, an x16, x1, PCI, x16/x8, PCI, x8. So if all three full length PCIe slots are filled, there is still access to an x1 and a PCI, but we lose a lot of the functionality on the south part of the board.

The back panel has a mix and match of capabilities and functionality. From the left, we have a Bluetooth dongle, two USB 2.0 (red), an eSATA, a clear CMOS button, D-Sub, HDMI, a WiFi dongle, two USB 2.0, an eSATA, two USB 3.0, gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0, optical SPDIF and audio jacks. The big selling point for me is the WiFi, which ECS have cunningly added to their top range boards for a few chipsets now.

Board Features

ECS Z77H2-AX
Size ATX
CPU Interface LGA-1155
Chipset Intel Z77
Power Delivery 12 + 2
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1066-2800 MHz
Video Outputs HDMI, D-Sub
Onboard LAN Realtek 8111E
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC892
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe x16 Gen3 (x16, x8/8)
1 x PCIe x16 Gen2 (x4)
2 x PCIe x1 Gen2
2 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 2 x SATA 6 Gbps (PCH), Support for RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
4 x SATA 3 Gbps (PCH), Support for RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 2 x eSATA 3 Gbps
USB 6 USB 3.0 ports (4 back panel, 2 from headers)
6 USB 2.0 ports (4 back panel, 2 from headers)
Onboard 2 x SATA 6 Gbps
4 x SATA 3 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
1 x USB 2.0 Header
3 x Fan Headers
1 x COM Header
1 x SPDIF Output Header
1 x Front Panel Audio Header
Power/Reset Buttons
Debug LED
1 x mSATA
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX connector
1 x 8-pin 12V connector
Fan Headers 1 x CPU Fan Header (4-pin)
1 x SYS Fan Header (3-pin)
1 x PWR Fan Header (3-pin)
IO Panel 4 x USB 3.0 Ports
4 x USB 2.0 Ports
1 x HDMI
1 x D-Sub
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
1 x Optical SPDIF Output
1 x Clear CMOS Button
1 x Wifi Connector
1 x Bluetooth
2 x eSATA 3 Gbps
Audio Ports
Warranty Period 3 Years from date of Purchase (3yr parts, 2yr labor)
Product Page Link

Despite having WiFi, mSATA and extended PCIe 3.0 lanes, the ECS board is down on audio (Realtek ALC892 rather than ALC898 of others), lacking fan headers and also lacking video outputs, with a lot of people requiring DVI to D-Sub or DVI to HDMI connectors.

MSI Z77A-GD65 Biostar TZ77XE4
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  • Iketh - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I'm curious how Skyrim behaves with this Lucid technology, since physics and framerate are linked for whatever reason... (if you disable Skyrim's 60 fps cap and point the camera in a direction that gives you 150+ FPS for example, everything that is moveable nearby starts to rattle and fall off shelves...) Reply
  • Xale - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Games with their own framerate limits should not be affected, as long as that limit is preserved. They already simply 'pause' internally if the machine is too fast. It might go absolutely crazy though if you do forcefully disable that mechanism. Reply
  • Concillian - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Am I reading that right? Z75 offers most of what even enthusiasts would want?

    So... why are there a crapton of Z77 boards in here and no Z75s?

    Z75 supports 2 way crossfire / SLI, overclocking, 6Gbps SATA, native USB3.0... these are the features all but a tiny handful of users should be interested in.

    By all rights Z75 should be the definitive chipset for the average enthusiast. Unless I'm missing something major, I hope there is significant attention paid to the Z75 chipset in reviews, because I'm failing to see why any but the most extreme users and those with money to burn would choose the Z77.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Actually the ones with less money to burn might choose Z77 over Z75 to avoid investing in a huge SSD. The difference between chipset prices are usually small (what the motherboard manufacturer makes out of this is another question entirely). Reply
  • GreenEnergy - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I find SSD caching to be some desperate dinosaur attempt. Mainly fueled by HD makers. Hybrid HDs are in the same basket. And yes, pick one, Z77 or Z75. The other one makes no sense.

    Z77, Z75 and H77 chipsets are priced at US$48, US$40 and US$43.

    If SRT basicly cost 8$. Then its time for it to go away as the stillborn tech it is.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - link

    The difference is mainly software and development, and should go away. SSD caching is a great idea that, imo, should optimally be on the filesystem level, not on the block level.

    *Looks at OS / filesys developers* (ZFS has some of it)

    And oh, I expect lower end derivatives to come out eventually.
    Reply
  • Nje - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I was really excited about this motherboard - was kind of disappointed to see it is not part of this roundup. But I guess there will be other tests. Thanks for the preview - I look forward to the benchmarks, particularly if asus' memory technology works well, and if memory bandwidth plays more of a role on Ivy Bridge. Reply
  • Articuno - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Things like overclocking being restricted to specific chipsets is really disappointing. AM3+ boards are generally cheaper than equivalent Intel boards and they don't lock features like this. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I suppose it's being done to make power delivery cheaper on these boards. Personally I don't like it either. Reply
  • GreenEnergy - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I think you should visit Newegg. LGA1155 and AM3+ boards are just as cheap. And CPU wise...its just a disaster for AMD. Reply

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