If you've been following our motherboard coverage for the past few years, you'll have noticed a lot of graphs with bars all about the same size. The truth is that mobos have little impact on PC performance. A system's processor and graphics card are the real bottlenecks, and whether the storage is mechanical or solid-state plays a large role in overall responsiveness. With most motherboard I/O handled by common platform hubs and few choices for auxiliary controllers, even peripheral performance tends to be fairly consistent within a given class of products.
Occasionally, motherboards don't measure up due to bugs or poor implementation choices. The only way to catch these problems is to test boards thoroughly, which we've done with the Z77E-ITX. We have loads of benchmark data that shows the board to be just as fast as the competition in most cases, but there's no need for you to scroll through all the graphs. We've picked out the most interesting results for our performance highlights.
We've started with some application and gaming tests to illustrate the narrow performance gaps between modern motherboards. Whether you're encrypting data, compressing files, encoding video, or even playing games, the Z77E-ITX is about as fast as the other Z77-based Mini-ITX mobos we've tested.
For the most part, the same is true on the peripheral front. Our USB testing did reveal some interesting info, though. The Z77E-ITX has USB 3.0 ports that stem from the Z77 platform hub and from an auxiliary ASMedia controller. On top of that, ASRrock includes an XFast USB software application similar to Asus' USB Boost. This app is supposed to accelerate performance with certain controller and device combinations. We tested the ASMedia controller with and without the utility doing its thing.
Well, we tried to, anyway. The current version of the XFast app has issues with the ASMedia USB drivers posted on ASRock's site. CrystalDiskMark runs just fine, and so does a normal file copy operation. However, changing the drive letter associated with connected devices produces blue-screen errors on our system. So does RoboBench, our multithreaded file copy test. We've been in touch with ASRock about the issues, and they're working with ASMedia to address them. As it turns out, the XFast utility does work with Windows 8's built-in drivers for the ASMedia controller, so that's how we've tested the app's Turbo mode.
The Turbo mode definitely speeds up the Z77E-ITX's ASMedia controller, and the difference is especially apparent when writing large movie files. However, the Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe's USAP Boost mode delivers faster transfer speeds in each test. The Asus software has no issues with the latest ASMedia drivers, which may account for the delta.
Interestingly, the ASRock Turbo config is really no faster than the standard Intel USB controller in these real-world tests. You can certainly get by without the app installed, and we definitely wouldn't use it in conjunction with the latest ASMedia drivers until the blue-screen issues are sorted out. We hope that happens soon, because it's nice to see ASRock working to deliver a meaningful performance improvement for external storage.
System boot time is another area where we see the field spread out a little, even if only by a few seconds. Here, we've tested the boards with and without their fast-boot options enabled.
The Z77E-ITX boots faster than its rivals in the default configuration. Enabling the basic fast boot option shaves about a second off the boot time and still lets you get into the firmware interface on POST. There's also an ultra-fast option with some additional baggage. This mode requires Windows 8 and needs a special application to get into the firmware interface; keyboard initialization is skipped on POST, which means input doesn't register until you get into the OS.
As with performance, differences in motherboard power consumption tend to be pretty minor. The Z77E-ITX is no exception.
When idling and playing 1080p YouTube video, the Zotac-based system draws about 3-4W less than the others. That reduction won't save you much on your power bill, though. A little more heat will need to be dissipated, of course, but it doesn't amount to much considering system power draw peaks at close to 100W—and that's without a discrete graphics card.
So concludes our look at the Z77E-ITX's vital performance characteristics. If you're curious about our testing methods or other benchmark results, click next and keep reading. Pages of graphs await. That said, we won't be offended if you skip ahead to the conclusion for our final thoughts on the board.
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