Today we are looking at the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro which is a Z77 chipset motherboard for the Intel Ivy Bridge CPU lineup. I have quite a few boards to review for Ivy Bridge but as the ASUS P8P67 Pro review was very popular with Sandy Bridge I decided to follow that with the P8Z77-V Pro review at the Ivy Bridge launch. The Z77 chipset is the LGA 1155 successor to the Z68 companion to Sandy Bridge. Unlike the original P67 and H67 chipsets, the Z68 and Z77 chipsets allow for both video output via on-die GPU and also overclocking with K series unlocked CPUs such as the new 22nm Core i7-3770K. Generally ASUS builds an extensive lineup of motherboards for a flagship chipset that have slightly higher-end features at slightly higher price points. The Z77 launch was no exception and ASUS targets its Pro boards as solid mainstream offering.
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. With that being said, most Z77 buyers will still use discrete GPUs.
Let’s see what the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro has under the hood.
The ASUS P8Z77-V Pro is a standard size ATX motherboard which will work in many consumer level cases. It should be noted that this motherboard should be used in standard workstation configuration cases where there is ventilation on top of the chassis.
Looking around the board one will notice that all of the fan headers are 4-pin connectors for PWM controlled fans. ASUS’ FAN Expert 2 is included and takes what we see on many systems, including high-end servers, and does one better. Aside from the board having UEFI control of the fan speeds, ASUS allows one to do a few interesting things such as have the software independently run each fan through its RPM range and determine optimal speeds. Here is a quick link to a video with some more on this feature, but needless to say it is a big improvement over even what we are accustomed to seeing in the new Sandy Bridge-EP boards that cost $750 or more.
I did notice that around the CPU socket, the heatsinks did get a bit larger than I remember on previous ASUS boards in the Sandy Bridge generation. For the majority of users the heatsinks around the CPU socket are still going to be low enough to clear typical tower coolers and do not obstruct the Intel reference CPU cooler in any way. For those with new Ivy Bridge CPUs they are going to find no real issues cooling the already cool running CPUs on this board. Also, ASUS did move the 8-pin power connector a positive evolution in their mainstream board builds.
ASUS also equips the board with three PCIe 3.0 x16 physical slots, two PCIe x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots. Frankly, I think anything more than one PCI slot is overkill anyway but odds are with two AMD or NVIDIA GPUs installed in Crossfire or SLI the PCI slots will not be usable anyway. There is a PCIe x1 slot between the PCIe x16 slot and the LGA 1155 CPU socket so users will have room for large heatsinks or a PCIe x1 slot even if using large GPU coolers. This configuration has become a leading practice in the industry.
As we are accustomed to seeing on this class of boards, ASUS uses the same port configuration as they did even with the Sandy Bridge launch board, the P8P67 Pro and other boards and are offering the Intel PCH 2x SATA III (6.0gbps) and 4x SATA II (3.0gbps) ports along with two auxiliary ports. Intel needs to step up and make all of their PCH controllers 6.0gbps across six ports so one can RAID 0, RAID 1 or RAID 10 across all six ports. As of now, Intel’s PCH design means that users with large arrays will want an add-in RAID controller. One plus side to Intel’s Z77 and RSTe is that users can have a desktop version of storage tiering using SSD caching algorithms from Intel. The SATA ports are all placed in-line with the PCB plane making it very simple to add new boards. One can see in the bottom right of the picture above and to the left of the SATA ports in the picture below that ASUS is including the Thunderbolt expansion header for a soon-to-be-announced Thunderbolt expansion option.
The ASUS P8Z77-V Pro has a fairly interesting rear I/O panel. First there is a legacy PS/2 combo keyboard/mouse port. Video from the integrated Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge GPU can exit through a DVI-D, VGA D-Sub, DisplayPort, and/ or HDMI port. Ethernet duties are handled using an Intel 82579V controller which is generally seen as an upgrade to Realtek controllers found on less expensive motherboards. Included in the ASUS iNetwork control software package is a packet priority feature which allows one to do some flow control at the PC level much as one would normally do on their router/ firewall. ASUS also adds six USB ports, two USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports to the rear I/O panel. Audio is handled by six mini jacks for 7.1 output and a S/PDIF optical output. ASUS does not include a eSATA port, but includes an expansion bracket with two USB ports and an eSATA port if one really needs it. ASUS makes a big deal in marketing material that their UASP enabled USB 3.0 ports are much faster than traditional USB 3.0 ports and their ease of use makes eSATA almost redundant.
Probably one of the most interesting things one can see in the P8Z77-V Pro is the integrated WiFi module and external antenna. ASUS is finally bringing their WiFi suite down the product line-up which is great (and something I have given them feedback about.) It is a single antenna 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n solution so it is not going to be a high-end router replacement, but what it is great for is connecting devices in the same room. I had great success taking pictures with the Eye-Fi Pro X2 and having the images sync to my PC and storage server through this. I am very happy to see this functionality becoming more mainstream as people have tons of WiFi devices these days and being able to get a decent connection near a PC is awesome. ASUS does include a software package called WiFi GO to support things such as easy file transfers, remote desktop, and DNLA media streaming. For those with smart phones and tablets, this will add a lot of functionality.
Probably the most interesting piece of software is the UEFI interface that ASUS provides. For those accustomed to standard BIOS that have been used for decades, the ability to use a mouse is welcome. I did find though that using a mouse was almost necessary as navigating by keyboard was not as slick as old AMI, Phoenix, and Award BIOS implementations. The UEFI interface provides a simple mode (called EZ mode) that shows things like boot order, and lets a user change profiles between a power saving profile, balanced profile, and performance profile.
Beyond the UEFI interface, ASUS provides a suite of software including AISuite II and ASUS Fan Xpert+. Plenty of details can be found on ASUS’s site, but the highlights from this software are the abilities to:
Monitor system information from fan speeds, temperatures, voltages, clock speeds and etc. and set alerts.
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.
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.
With the P8Z77-V Pro ASUS provides a great WiFi suite that helps quickly create a WiFi hotspot with the wireless solution that comes with the motherboard. ASUS also is including Lucid’s VirtuMVP software to help unlock the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge onboard GPU in systems with PCIe GPUs.
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.
Overall, the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro is a great board that is going to be a great mainstream board. ASUS decided to put 802.11 b/g/n onboard which is just a great feature especially with today’s Android smartphones and tablets as well as Apple iPhones and iPads. ASUS has put a lot of great features onto their mainstream Z77 offering and really caters to a broad audience. This is one of those boards where I would probably start my search looking at and then decide if more expensive models have enough of a feature upgrade (that I would use) to warrant their price premiums.