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Tweaking options
Most motherboards offer multiple ways to adjust system settings. The Z77-ITX is somewhat more limited, confining tweaking options to the firmware interface. This old-school approach has some merit, since Windows-based tweaking software can be cumbersome if it's not done well. For this approach to succeed, however, the firmware has to be first-rate.

When I first loaded the Z77-ITX's firmware interface, I saw the snazzy background image and assumed this was a modern UEFI. The firmware is indeed based on the UEFI standard, but don't expect much in the way of modern conveniences. As far as I can tell, the background image and colored text are the only upgrades over Zotac's older firmware. Navigating the interface feels like poking around in a BIOS from several years ago, and nostalgia isn't a good thing in this case.

Unlike most modern UEFIs, this firmware is completely devoid of mouse support. Also missing is a built-in flashing utility and the ability to switch between multiple configuration profiles. Another worrying sign: the storage controller defaults to IDE rather than AHCI mode. The latter mode needs to be enabled for the system to take advantage of the command queuing functionality of Serial ATA drives. Zotac's firmware engineers apparently aren't keeping up with the times.

A basic array of overclocking controls is available, at least. There are enough multiplier, clock, and voltage options to squeeze some extra performance out of a willing CPU or memory. Still, modifying these settings isn't as easy as it should be. Only a handful of variables can be keyed in directly, forcing users to scroll through lists of potential values to define things like system voltages and memory speeds.

Zotac deserves some credit for offering a handful of tuning options for the temperature-based CPU fan speed control. Users can set the temperature threshold that triggers the fan; they can also set the fan's starting and maximum speeds. However, there's no intelligence behind the system fan header. Your only option there is setting a single, static speed between 20 and 100%.

If you cut your teeth on the text-only BIOSes of old, you should be able to navigate the Z77-ITX's firmware without too much trouble. Newbies are likely to find the interface intimidating compared to the more user-friendly implementations available on competing boards, though. Since Zotac doesn't make a tweaking utility for Windows, there's really no way to get around the firmware's shortcomings.

Most enthusiast-oriented boards come with some degree of auto-overclocking support to help ease less experienced users into the process. Not the Z77-ITX WiFi, which leaves folks to their own devices. Good thing we have plenty of experience with manual overclocking. To probe the board's limits on that front, we installed a Core i7-3770K and strapped on a Corsair H80 water cooler. We also added a hot-clocked Asus Radeon HD 7970 for good measure. System stability was tested with a combined CPU and GPU load consisting of AIDA64's CPU stress test and the Unigine Heaven DirectX 11 demo.

The Z77-ITX WiFi had little trouble pushing the i7-3770K to 4.9GHz. That's the same speed we reached on Asus' P8Z77-I Deluxe, a similar Mini-ITX board. In fact, the default CPU voltage was sufficient up to 4.6GHz. After that, we had to bump up the voltage several times as approached our final, stable config. A CPU voltage setting of 1.45V was required to keep application crashes and bluescreen errors at bay at 4.9GHz. Surprisingly, though, the firmware reported a CPU voltage of only 1.376V with this setting.

4.9GHz represents the highest stable clock speed we've achieved with this CPU, but that didn't stop us from attempting 5GHz. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. Even though were able to get into Windows at that speed, thermal throttling reared its ugly head and our stability tests crashed. Increasing voltages and fiddling with power limits didn't help, so we called it a day.