A quick look at Intel’s DZ77GA-70K motherboard

Rumor has it Ivy Bridge is just around the corner. The Z77 Express motherboards designed to accept Intel’s new hotness are already selling online, and we took an in-depth look at three of ’em last week. Since then, Intel’s own enthusiast-oriented Z77 board has made its way into the Benchmarking Sweatshop. There hasn’t been time to run the DZ77GA-70K through our exhaustive motherboard test suite because it’s been busy with, ahem, other things. However, I’ve spent enough time with the board to get a reasonably good sense of what it has to offer.

DZ77GA-70K doesn’t exactly roll off one’s tongue, but its Gasper codename isn’t much better. Indeed, there is nothing about this board that would cause seasoned PC enthusiasts to gasp. Intel isn’t known for flashy surprises. It has, however, built a very nice Z77 board.

The skull on the chipset heatsink is the most obvious clue that Gasper means business—that, and the obligatory “Extreme” reference on the VRM heatsink. Then there’s the black-and-blue color scheme, which seems to be the outfit of choice for enthusiast boards these days. To be fair, Intel was the first to use that particular combo. Who could have thought it would be such a trend-setter in the realm of motherboard aesthetics?

While others have followed Intel’s palette, the chip giant has clearly been tracking recent trends in the industry. Gasper has all the features one might expect on a high-end board from one of the big Taiwanese motherboard makers, including numerous auxiliary peripheral chips, an overclocking-friendly graphical firmware interface, and wireless functionality.

Although the DIMM slots are a few millimeters closer to the socket than on most of the Z77 boards we’ve measured, the rest of the clearances are similar. The low-profile VRM heatsinks shouldn’t interfere with larger aftermarket coolers. I count ten power phases nestled under the anodized chunks of finned aluminum.

The DZ77GA-70K has a mix of PCI and PCI Express expansion slots. Both of the PCIe x16 slots are fed by the CPU and offer gen-three connectivity. There’s also an open-ended x4 slot with four lanes of PCIe 2.0 linked directly to the Z77 platform hub. Three of the Z77’s remaining PCIe lanes are dedicated to integrated peripherals: dual Intel Gigabit Ethernet controllers and a Marvell 6Gbps SATA chip. The final PCIe lane goes to a PLX switch that spreads the bandwidth between multiple devices, including the PCIe-to-PCI bridge that powers the old-school expansion slots and FireWire silicon, a second Marvell SATA controller (for the eSATA port), and the PCIe x1 slots. 

I’m not crazy about sharing bandwidth between devices, but it’s a reasonable trade-off to ensure that the x4 slot gets enough lanes for high-end SSDs, and the like. The x4 slots on most of the boards we’ve seen enjoy four lanes of bandwidth only when certain onboard x1 slots or PCIe peripherals are disabled.

Employing an auxiliary Marvell controller gives Gasper four internal 6Gbps SATA ports to go along with four 3Gbps ones. There are dual internal headers for front-panel USB 3.0 ports, as well. Intel hasn’t employed third-party USB controllers, instead opting to use a couple of hub chips from Via. The motherboard block diagram indicates that two of the Z77’s USB 3.0 connections are tied directly to physical ports (one external and one internal), while the remainder feed the Via hubs. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of which ports are shared and which ones get a direct link to the platform hub.

The rear port cluster doesn’t provide any clues, but it does highlight the high-current USB 2.0 ports in yellow. The high-current front-panel connector receives the same treatment, allowing users to connect compatible devices via rear or front-panel ports.

All of the Z77 boards we’ve seen to date offer a wide range of display outputs for the processor’s integrated graphics. The DZ77GA-70K features only a single HDMI output, which suits me just fine. This is the sort of board one would expect to be paired with a discrete graphics card. Even when running Lucid’s Virtu software, you’re going to want to be in d-Mode, which requires the monitor to be connected to the discrete GPU.

Squeezed between the eSATA and USB 3.0 ports is Intel’s Back to BIOS button. Rather than resetting the CMOS, the button allows users to modify firmware settings after an unsuccessful boot attempt. The board will also detected a failed boot attempt and invoke the feature automatically.

Our DZ77GA-70K came with a nice bundle of extras, including a mouse pad, a 3.5″ drive bay insert with two USB 3.0 ports, a Bluetooth dongle, and an 802.11n Wi-Fi card that fits into one of the PCIe x1 slots. The Centrino-branded wireless card supports Intel’s Wireless Display tech, but it appears to be an optional extra rather than something that comes with the board by default. The online listings we’ve seen for the DZ77GA-70K don’t include the Wi-Fi card.

We were curious to see what Intel would do with its next-generation firmware, and Gasper doesn’t disappoint. I’ve had to censor the interface shots to keep a few details under wraps, though.

The firmware greets users with an “easy” interface equipped with basic overclocking and monitoring tools. The mouse cursor moves smoothly, and the interface is very snappy. Intel makes liberal use of sliders and pull-down menus, although I wish more values could be keyed in directly, especially for the system voltages.

Voltage control is available in the advanced mode, which has a similar look but provides more tweaking options. Everything is neatly organized into tabs, and there’s even a search function if you’re having a hard time finding a specific setting. The only thing missing is a screenshot feature that allows reviewers to show a pristine shot of the GUI. Such a feature has admittedly limited utility for end users.

Everyone should benefit from Gasper’s extensive fan speed controls, which offer independent settings for all four onboard headers. Users can set target temperatures in addition to minimum and maximum fan speeds. It’s also possible to adjust how aggressively the speed control responds to changes in temperature. This is the most extensive array of firmware-based fan controls we’ve seen on a motherboard. Bravo, Intel.

I could go on, but there’s still much testing to be done between now and Ivy’s official arrival. We’ll have more to say about the DZ77GA-70K then. Perhaps its price will have dropped, as well. Intel tells us the board’s estimated street price is $220-240, and it’s already selling at the high end of that range.

Comments closed
    • LoneWolf15
    • 7 years ago

    I wish I could find some of those wireless cards aftermarket. I’m not happy with the current selection, and I’d love to have a desktop version of the Intel 6205 or 6300 for people that need it.

    I’ve seen aftermarket PCIe x1 adapters that can take the mini cards, but every one I’ve seen has been reviewed as being shoddily made by cheap vendors from China, with mounting issues or limited card compatibility. I’d love to see something with the Intel label.

      • Washer
      • 7 years ago

      I couldn’t agree more. The selection of PCIe WiFi cards is terrible. I’ve tried several (and several USB ones too) and they’ve never been as solid as the Intel WiFi solutions I’ve had in my laptops. I’ve thought about trying an adapter but like you mentioned the reviews out there haven’t been real positive.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    For some reason I’m not sure the skull on the southbridge looks right on an Intel product. Maybe on an AMD product, but Intel?

      • LoneWolf15
      • 7 years ago

      Intel’s been going with that theme for awhile…look up Bonetrail and Skulltrail.

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]The board will also detected a failed...[/quote<] My last Abit motherboard and my current DFI motherboard both have preferences for min/max/off temperature and ramp up speed for each header. Not exactly the same, but accomplishes the same thing. I miss Abit. 🙁 Surprised you didn't mention that all the fan headers are four pin.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      Do you miss DFI too? They only make industrial boards now.

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        Not more so DFI. I only hopped on DFI for my last board after Abit stopped making them. Mainly because I heard great things about DFI, sadly I got one of their last models, if not the last model of consumer grade motherboards they produced. Sadly it was rushed and some of the features on it feel sorta half baked. For instance when I power on my computer from a hard power off the ethernet isn’t detected, I have to reboot in order for the device to be detected. Latest BIOS didn’t do anything to fix that.

        The first couple BIOS’s also locked up upon flashing them and I had to flash the motherboard through a special USB header with their special recovery tool in order to get it working. Apparently this was a glitch with the software flash program not being made right for x64.

        Probably would’ve had better luck with them before they decided they were leaving the motherboard business.

    • Visigoth
    • 7 years ago

    Awesome board (LOVE the skulls)! It’s going to be in my next build for sure. Should be stable as hell too. 🙂

    • Forge
    • 7 years ago

    I see you’re spending time with Ivy. Probably didn’t need to censor the clock speed readout, unless it was particularly exciting.

    • Cuhulin
    • 7 years ago

    The good thing is that this proves Ivy is close!

    I am beginning to plan my own Ivy build — skipped Sandy so it’s about time.

      • integer
      • 7 years ago

      Same here. Am currently on Penryn, and getting ready to start a new thread on the SBA forum. Let the ‘ahem’ review come out first.

      • jower
      • 7 years ago

      up

    • flip-mode
    • 7 years ago

    For what it’s worth:

    I was recently looking at Newegg reviews on one of Intel’s previous high-end motherboards – I think it was an X58 model – and there were numerous complaints about incompatibilities with certain processors and that the board shipped with a quite out of date BIOS and such. The general feeling that I got was that buying an Intel-brand high end motherboard offered no guarantee of a good experience and that it was a much more certain bet to stick with Asus.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      Intel high-end boards are somewhat pointless, although they have made improvements. I would say they aren’t for hard-core enthusiasts but do sometimes have unique features that make them ok for ‘every day’ enthusiasts just looking to run things at an easy overclock. Their standard motherboards are fine for running at stock but are often stripped down versus similarly priced competition.

      X-bit labs does reviews of them on a regular basis and it’s most often BIOS quirks that they complain about. One area where Intel boards always stand out is power consumption though.

      • cheddarlump
      • 7 years ago

      As an owner of the DP55KG (P55, skull board), you are 100% correct. It took them 1 year to release a BIOS for it that kept it from hanging for 45 seconds on POST when using Intel SSD’s, The OC options are weird to say the least (enabling XMP for the memory timing option forces all the other settings to certain values), and it took another BIOS flash to be able to use ANY nVidia card from the 4 series up in it without a hard lock and beeps at power on.

      This is not at all my experience with Intel desktop boards that I use at work, but I got the board for free at a LAN party, so I’m not complaining too loudly. I would be pretty upset if I’d shelled out $200 for it though.

      One good thing: It is very stable for OC’s. I’m running my i5 760 at 4.3GHz on air, undervolting to control heat, and it will churn out Prime95 all day long.

        • flip-mode
        • 7 years ago

        Yikes. Good to know straight from an owner rather than just Newegg reviews.

          • cheddarlump
          • 7 years ago

          It’s such a shame, too, as I’ve had nothing but success with their “boring” boards. Good driver support, things just work. Use ’em by the truckload at work.

            • pepys
            • 7 years ago

            I’d say so, I have one that’s almost five yrs old with a core 2 duo. Never had any problems. But with a T560 its showing it’s age now.

    • Dposcorp
    • 7 years ago

    I like how CPU info is “censored” in the Visual Bios interface. 🙂

    All i can make out is “Ghz” where the CPU info should be.

    Otherwise, the board looks pretty good……I appreciate the open ended x4 PCI-E slot.
    You dont see that a lot.

      • Bensam123
      • 7 years ago

      Yeah, wish more motherboard makers would notch all their PCI-E slots. I don’t know why they don’t.

    • DancinJack
    • 7 years ago

    That skull is atrocious.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a HDMI port orientated like that.

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      That’s a smart idea for it, though…puts it in the same orientation as the graphics card ports, one would expect.

      • UberGerbil
      • 7 years ago

      All it needs is a lightning bolt in it and Intel would be facing a lawsuit from the Grateful Dead.

      Dirty Hippie EarthMotherboards

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