Adding Thunderbolt support to a desktop PC isn't as easy as dropping in an expansion card. Current Thunderbolt chipsets need to see a motherboard's display outputs, and they can't do that over PCI Express. A number of Asus' current Z77 motherboards provide a special header to make that connection possible. Now, the company has introduced a couple of new models with native Thunderbolt support: the P8Z77-V Premium and P8Z77-V Pro/Thunderbolt. The latter adds Thunderbolt to the existing Pro model, while the Premium is a little more upscale.
In addition to supporting the next-gen interface standard, the P8Z77-V Premium serves up Bluetooth 4.0 and a second Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller. It has four PCI Express x16 slots and a full 20 power phases dedicated to the CPU. There's also an onboard mSATA slot with a 32GB SSD.
The mSATA drive is linked to one of the Z77's 3Gbps SATA ports, so it can participate in Intel's Smart Response caching scheme. The press release doesn't provide any details on the flash controller, though. It should be quick enough for the task, and there are plenty of 6Gbps SATA ports for cutting-edge SSDs. Along with the two 6Gbps Serial ATA ports provided by the Z77 platform hub, the Premium offers six more via auxiliary controllers.
We don't have pricing information on the boards just yet, but the Premium is unlikely to be cheap. It's a definite step up from the P8Z77-V Deluxe, which currently costs $275. The P8Z77-V Pro is considerably more affordable at $210 online. Let's hope Thunderbolt doesn't add too much to its bottom line.
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