In this review, you will see how the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe packs just about every feature one would want when building a HTPC (or general purpose PC for that matter) into a very small mini ITX form factor. I will say this, ever since I received this board and opened it, my jaw dropped. ASUS fit every single feature I had wanted into one (or two depending on how you count it) small pieces of PCB. As a spoiler, the retail price on this board is around $200, which means this is not a budget board and we are used to the mini ITX premium where smaller motherboards cost more. On the other hand, it is packed so full of features that it is a board that can be used to replace a traditional desktop computer or HTPC with a very small machine. Let’s take a look.
The trend with Z68 and Z77 chipsets are that the integrated GPUs are more than adequate for basic 2D output. If you are looking for a workstation with a lot of CPU need but where 3D GPU performance was not needed, then Intel’s on-die graphics are going to be “good-enough” for many users one one can use the third-gen PCIe slots for more I/O performance. In the mini ITX scenario, on-die GPUs these days are preferred and PCIe slots are generally used for expansion.
- CPU(s): Intel Core i7-3770K and Intel Core i7-2600K
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe
- Memory: 8GB (2x 4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3 1600
- Drives: Corsair Force3 120GB, OCZ Vertex 3 120GB
- Chassis: Antec ISK110 VESA and Apex MI-100
- Power Supply: Corsair AX850 850w 80 Plus Gold, PicoPSU 150XT
- Monitor system information from fan speeds, temperatures, voltages, clock speeds and etc. and set alerts. This is often an overlooked feature but ASUS puts a lot of functionality into their Probe tool.
- Automatically overclock the CPU if desired either manually or using a CPU auto tuning feature. The base clock can be increased too by a small amount as 100MHz to 103MHz base clocks are generally obtainable from a 100MHz base. One can also change the CPU multipliers. A view of the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe’s TurboV EVO overclock can be found above.
- Set the EPU power saving profiles and features. The EPU is a feature of ASUS motherboards meant to intelligently reduce power consumption.
- Set and test fan speeds using Fan Xpert+. This can be useful if one wants to set thresholds and test them for quieter idle fan speeds ramping up as the workload increases.
- Use Network iControl to prioritize network traffic (great feature when multitasking.)
- ASUS also provides a quick piece of software to control the WiFi card to allow the system to either join an existing wireless network or to act as an AP. If one has a wired Ethernet connection to the system, this provides a really useful way to add an access point for tablets and phones.
- In addition, ASUS has a WiFi Go suite that allows a user, especially with an Android device, to have things like remote control capabilities. Essentially, this allows one to control the system from a mobile device which helps consolidate remote sprawl.
USB 3.0 and UASP
ASUS has been touting the benefits of an optimized USB interface called USB Attached SCSI Protocol or UASP for some time now and I think it is mature to the point that it is worth a serious look. I did a piece entitled USB 3.0 UASP Mode – Performance Benefit or Marketing Gimmick? recently and figured I would share the benchmark results there, as well as how one would turn the UASP mode on. Here is a quick example using AS SSD of the difference between standard USB 3.0 mode and UASP mode.
One can see that there is clearly a determinable difference in performance using UASP and I recommend it if one can purchase the necessary hardware for it.
As long time readers might see, the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe received the highest overall rating of any product reviewed thus far. This was not given lightly, and was not solely based on the hardware portion as ASUS is bundling relevant, useful software utilities with the motherboard. From an ease of use perspective, this board has virtually everything one could want with a mini ITX Ivy Bridge Z77 platform built-in. I have actually proposed to ASUS the idea that WiFi and Bluetooth should be standard on desktop motherboards today because of the fact that so many folks have mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Overclocking with the innovative Digi+ VRM for ITX plus the ASUS AI tuner is an excellent experience instead of a struggle for achieving both high and stable overclocks. ASUS delivers the hardware and software combination that meets market needs. With all of this being said, the street price is around $200 which is fairly reasonable. Overall, this board surprised me a bit as it exceeded my expectations for what the mini ITX platform would deliver earning it a Recommended Buy.