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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  • tyger11 - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    The article says only 2 USB 3.0 ports, but the table indicates 4. Which is correct? Reply
  • repoman27 - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I didn't see your comment and posed a similar question, but I'm fairly certain the answer is that there are actually 4 SuperSpeed ports provided by the 7-series chipsets. If you look at the block diagram shown for the Intel DZ77GA-70K motherboard it looks like they clearly used two 3-port USB 3.0 hub chips to arrive at a total of 8 USB 3 ports. Which also brings up the point that by leveraging the integrated USB 3.0 capabilities, motherboard manufacturers can add as many USB 3.0 ports as they like by using far less expensive hub chips instead of full blown controllers which also require a PCIe lane apiece.

    And speaking of PCIe, I also wonder about where Ian says, "These are known as PCIe 3.0 PLX PXE chips..." I'm guessing that he's referring to PLX's PEX 874x Gen 3 PCIe switches, but it's stated a bit oddly.
    Reply
  • landerf - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Is the wifi card on the deluxe going to be accessible? Be nice to get a killer 1102 in there. Reply
  • johnpombrio - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Yeah, the WiFi connection(s) on the ASUS Pro and Deluxe depends on a small WiFi module that plugs into a particular slot. These will be interchangeable AND I have seen ASUS showing off a WiFi/ 60GB SSD drive going into that slot. The Pro looks like just a receiver while the Deluxe has a WiFi router built in but I am REALLY guessing on this. I think I will go with the Deluxe just because it has a couple of features I like and the WiFi router combo will be just gravy. Reply
  • ASUSTechMKT - Monday, April 09, 2012 - link

    Our MCombo Card ( which is on the Maximus V Gene and upcoming Formula should not be confused with the solution on our channel boards ( Standard -V, Pro or Deluxe ). The MCombo will allow you to install any MiniPCI-E or MSATA cards into their corresponding slots. Reply
  • ASUSTechMKT - Monday, April 09, 2012 - link

    The module which connects to the back I/O panel can be opened. While not promoted as being DIY there is nothing stopping you from installing your own mini PCI-E wireless controller. Reply
  • AlexIsAlex - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I know I've asked for this before, but if you're going to do a big roundup of all these motherboards (which I'm looking forward to, as I plan to upgrade to Ivy Bridge on release), then please please test the boot / POST times to compare between the boards!

    Just the time it takes from hitting the power switch to when it starts to actually run the bootloader off disk. Or until it displays the "please insert boot media" - the actual time the bios contributes to the total boot time. This is something that can really differentiate between different bios implementations and would be really useful to know when choosing.

    I know having RAID and on board devices turned on make a big difference, so a baseline of everything non-essential turned off, or just those devices that are present on all boards would make sense.
    Reply
  • Nihility - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Seriously, please test POST times!

    Especially with the 6 Gbps Marvel controllers. Those damn controllers can take over 10 seconds to boot. That can easily be as much as the entire system.
    Reply
  • risa2000 - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I would be quite interested in this one. Reply
  • eXces - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    would be very pleased for an ITX review! Especially Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe
    Thx
    Reply

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