Intel Z77 Motherboard Review with Ivy Bridge - ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSIby Ian Cutress on May 7, 2012 7:40 PM EST
With initial releases of a big platform, there are caveats a reviewer must avoid or issues that require attention. With Ivy Bridge and Z77, the immediate comparison comes against Z68 and Sandy Bridge. However, it would be foolish to assume that the testing methodology is the same - with a jump in processor performance (and overclocked results), a reviewer has to attempt to learn the chipset from the ground up in order to provide a valid comparison.
Given that the Z77 and Z68 chipsets have the same die size package, it could be conjectured that they are the same silicon, just that USB 3.0 was not finished in time for Z68, along with various Z77 tweaks. We still have for the most part the same set of options as Z68, so this is entirely plausible.
When it comes to products, P67 and Z68 produced a wide range of prices and levels for the user to look at. Observing release prices for the new chipset, this is also true of Z77 - a user could either pick up a board for just under $100, or go the whole way and spend north of $300. The trade off, as it was with Sandy Bridge, comes in the feature set, support, and the allegiance of the user purchasing the product.
Today we have looked at four boards ranging in price from $135 to $225, which should be a price range that encapsulates a large proportion of Z77 sales over the next 12 months ($190 was the initial sweet spot for P67 launch if you remember). Features such as mSATA (Gigabyte), included WiFi (ASUS), Intel NIC (ASUS, MSI), price ($135, ASRock), auto-overclocking (ASUS, Gigabyte), and performance are all up for grabs. None of the boards today stands out as the ultimate choice for everyone - if you want control, go for ASUS; if you want mSATA, go for Gigabyte; if you want a full Z77 on a budget, go for ASRock; and if you want a very easy to use board, go with MSI. It all seems to be a price/feature set battle that a system builder will have to consider.
Over the next few months we should be looking at a series of more expensive boards with esoteric features (ECS Z77H2-AX with 32 PCIe 3.0 lanes) along with some of the mini-ITX boards (ASRock, Zotac, ASUS) and gaming oriented products. The battlefield for motherboards is huge - will one develop a killer feature, or undercut the competition? It is going to be an interesting time if you are planning an Ivy Bridge build.