Best Z77 Motherboards Under $200: May 2013 PART 1

motherboard

When choosing a motherboard, two problems will always sprout up for a potential buyer that will try to deviate him/her from making his/her purchase in to an effective one. One of those things is no doubt PRICE and the other one is FEATURE. The objective of the buyer is to buy a motherboard which will give the best amount of features according to the amount of money he/she pays. That is where our job comes in to play. To minimize the confusion factor, we have formulated a helpful guide that will allow you to make your purchase quicker and a better one.

We have specifically assembled this guide for users who are using INTEL’s Z77 chipset. Please note that we HAVE NOT covered any other chipset as we want to maintain a strict buying decision in this guide. Also, we will start with the cheapest motherboard which gives the most and the best amount of features according to THAT PRICE CATEGORY ONLY. Please also note that we will only be detailing the ON-BOARD FEATURES OF THE MOTHERBOARD and NOT the software bundle that comes with it. If you want us to change that, please give us your feedback. For now, we will stick to this.

Since the motherboard market is extremely competitive, we have done our level best to provide you with the most accurate information possible. Let us move one with our guide.

MOTHERBOARDS BETWEEN $100-$150
Asrock Z77 Extreme4:

ASROCK, is a Taiwan-based electronics company and it has made quite a name for itself in the computer industry by allowing a great line-up of motherboards in the respected chipset department for mainstream and enthusiast level users. The best thing about this motherboard is that it is only priced at $134.99 and it gives one of the best features that you could possibly imagine.

z77 extremememe 4

ON-BOARD FEATURES: The extreme 4 supports intel’s 2nd and 3rd generation processors as it supports the LGA 1155 socket. Users can happily switch from their sandy bridge to their ivy bridge configuration without making any more purchases. This particular board has an ATX form factor, meaning that mounting this board in your case will not cause any form of clearance issues as long as you have a chassis that can support an ATX form factor. For your convenience we have labelled the on-board features and connectors and the details are given below:

1: SATA 3 Gb/s (black) and SATA 6 Gb/s interface (grey). The four black ports are controlled by Intel’s PCH (platform controller hub) and they support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, Intel Rapid Storage and Smart Response Technology, NCQ, AHCI, and Hot Swapping functions. The 6 Gb/s ports on the left are also controlled by Intel’s PCH and they offer the same features as the one mentioned above. However, the SATA 6 Gb/s ports on the right hand side are controlled by the ASMedia ASM1061 controller and they only offer support for NCQ, AHCI, and Hot Swapping.

2: On-board power and reset buttons. Useful for bench testing or when the casing’s connectors are not plugged in.

3: Casing connectors

4: DEBUGGING LED. This is useful for isolating startup errors and pin-pointing which component is causing startup issues.

5: Z77 Extreme 4 BIOS chip. The thing that we liked about this chip is that it IS NOT SOLDERED meaning if under unforseen circumstances, it does manage to get corrupted, a new one if available in the market can be used as a replacement.

6: Chassis fan connector

7: On-board USB 2.0 ports

8: CIR connection

9: COM connection

10: IR connection

11: HD audio connector

12: USB 3.0 header connector. If you have a front panel or PCI-e bracket, you can gain access to a more USB 3.0 outputs.

This particular board is also SLI and Crossfire X capable so if any of you guys are multi-gpu fanatics, then this is the board for you. You can add a maximum of 32 GB of RAM which can operate between the frequencies of 1066 MHz and 2800+ MHz (provided you know how to overclock the memory properly to achieve such speeds). The extreme 4 also allows overclocking capabilities by incorporating a 8+4 phase power design. Combine this board with a ‘K’ series sandy or ivy bridge processor and let the overclocking sessions begin. Now that we have covered the features present on board, let us take a look at the features provided at the back panel.

BACK PANEL FEATURES:

asrock extreme 4

It is quite a flexible solution for a board priced at $134.99. Equipped with 3 display connectors (HDMI, VGA and DVI), these will serve perfectly and you will have ample connectors even when one of them stops functioning. A CLR CMOS button has also been provided that will allow the user to reset the CMOS rather than re-positioning the jumpers and removing the battery, thereby creating a hassle-free solution. A 7.1 CHANNEL HD Audio Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec has also been provided, which supports THX TruStudio. The eSATA and the 4 usb 3.0 ports are also a bonus; in which two of the usb ports are controlled by the intel Z77 chipset while the remaining two are controlled by the ASMedia ASM1042 controller. Broadcom BCM57781 ethernet controller has also been provided for allowing the use of wired networking.

The thing that we thought could use improvements were the fact that the SATA connectors were placed right behind the second PCI-E slot. Which means that if you plan to adopt a multi-gpu solution, you will have trouble connecting and disconnecting the SATA cables due to the enormous length of the video cards. Secondly, the 24-ATX power connector is not positioned in a 90 degree angle like the SATA connectors. That means that you will have to make a little effort in pulling in your main PSU power connector and pushing it down. Also, the placing of the battery is right between the two PCI-E slots so if you have two video cards plugged in, removal of the battery will be virtually impossible unless you can shape shift your fingers into very long and thin chop sticks.

All in all, it is a perfect board in its price range. You can never receive a better board in such a price range. If your budget is stretched thin, then we highly recommend you this board. Let us move on with the next board in our line-up.

GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD3H

When it comes to making high quality, durable, and long lasting products, gigabyte is no stranger to the tools of this specific trade. Priced at only $139.99 (at the moment), you will see why we have included this board in our line-up as well.

sZ77X-UD3H(Rev1.0)

ON-BOARD FEATURES: There are several features placed on this board that have caught out eye; some have caused profound appreciation due to the innovation, others have caused slight concern. This board supports the 2nd and 3rd generation of Intel’s processors so once again you will NOT have to purchase other components if you are shifting from one processor to the other. Again for your convenience, we have labelled the features so that you may be the verdict on whether to purchase this board or not.

1: On board power switch. It comes in handy when performing a bench test to prevent the element of hassle but here is the thing that what concerned us. The on-board power button, reset and ‘clear CMOS’ are placed too close to each other so majority of the time, you might end up switching the wrong button. It is not such a huge issue to be complaining about, but it can become a nuisance if you are not careful

2: On board reset and clear CMOS buttons

3: USB 3.0 header. For extra USB 3.0 ports. You can never have too many usb ports.

4: mSATA port. For connecting mSATA based SSD’s and HDDs.

5: mSATA port again. Both ports are placed too closely to the cpu socket. If you plan on overclocking your CPU, you will need a beefy heatsink to dissipate all that heat. Since the heatsink will be too large, it might be too difficult to reach for the connector. Things like this need to be considered before you start the manufacturing process.

6: ATX4P1 connector. This is the first time we have seen such a connector and what it does is that it is used for supplying auxiliary power to the board’s expansion slot area when multiple graphics cards are in use. Its flat design make it a much nicer solution than standard 4 pin Molex connectors or the 6 pin PCI-Express power connectors. Perhaps in the near future, this might end up becoming a standard when manufacturing boards.

7: 2 SATA 3 6 Gb/s outputs.

8: 4 SATA 2 3 Gb/s outputs. All 6 outputs are RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10 capable. Their speed will differ according to the device connected. We would also like to add that the SATA 2 port number 5 will become unavailable when the mSATA connector is installed with a solid state drive.

9: Chassis connectors. The color scheme was a smart move when flexibility is concerned because users will NOT HAVE any difficulty when identifying which wire is to be connected with which connection.

10: Debugging LED. Similar to the ASROCK EXTREME 4 motherboard, it helps in isolating start – up problems so you can pinpoint which component/s is causing start – up issues.

11: Chassis USB 2.0 connectors. Their existence and relative placement have become a well observed standard in nearly all motherboards so we will not be labeling them next time.

12: SLI and Crossfire X capable. Please keep in mind that when adopting a multi-GPU configuration, both the slots will be running at speeds of x8 instead of x16. This will not cause any performance degradation when gaming is involved which will be proven in a later article.

Voltage points are also present right below the ON – board power button. Using a multi-meter, you can check whether the outputs are delivering voltage in the recommended range or not. Technologies such as Intel’s smart response, smart connect and rapid storage technology are also present. The board itself is a fairly basic model, but has a number of Gigabyte features ranging from their 3D power technology, ultra durable 4, and 3D BIOS. In addition to this, you’ll discover a digital power design, 2 oz. copper PCB, high quality capacitors, and a UEFI. Now that this is taken care of, let us move on with the back panel.

BACK PANEL FEATURES:

z77 ud3 h back panel

Now that is what we call a feature-rich board. Having a PS/2 connector is the standard but having 6 USB 3.0 ports? Isn’t that an overkill? Like we mentioned above, you can never have too many USB 3.0 ports. Up to 4 usb 3.0 ports can be controlled by the chipset while at the same time, up to 4 usb 3.0 ports can also be used by the VIA VL800 chip. However, it is recommended that because of a limitation in the windows 7 os, you should connect your USB device/s to the usb 3.0 present below the ethernet port. 4 display ports are also available (VGA, DVI, HDMI and Display port). 6 audio jacks are also present (Center / Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Side Speaker Out, Line In / Mic In, Line Out).

There are 2 eSATA 6Gb/s connectors also present in the red color scheme to externally connect your storage devices. They are controlled by the Marvell 88SE9172 chip and they allow support for RAID 1 and RAID 0. An optical S/PDIF Out connector is also present. Most manufacturers look to the Realtek ALC89x series audio CODECs, but on this particular occasion Gigabyte went a different route opting for the VIAVT2021 high definition audio CODEC support up to 7.1 channel surround sound. An Atheros GbE LAN chip has been incorporated in the complete layout of the motherboard in order for the RJ-45 ethernet port to function.

Overall, it is a well laid out board. For a price tag of $139.99, you get a ton features. Though it might not be the best laid out motherboard in the world, we believe that a very small percentage of the computer populace will actually end up using the mSATA ports. We were also disappointed by the fact there were only 2 SATA 3 6 Gb/s ports available on the board. The asrock extreme 4 was fitted with 4 which would allows users to set up multiple storage devices and gain extra performance but still we got a trade-off by getting extra usb 3.0 ports, an extra eSATA connector and an ATXAP1 connector which is by far the most unique thing we have ever seen. So having said that, there should not be any room to complain.

CONCLUSION

Unfortunately, we will have conclude part 1 of our segment right here. We will inspect more boards and have the reviews prepared for you accordingly. We also recommend that you read other guides such as ‘Best Desktop Gaming Cpus For The Money Of 2013‘ and ‘Best Gaming Cards For The Money Of 2013‘ to further expand your knowledge related to what you need to buy when you are in the search of building a proper gaming computer worth the money. Once again, if you can add anything related to this topic, or anything else for the benefits of the readers, please DO NOT hesitate. Your comments will always be welcomed. We will obviously be returning with more guides and reviews in the near future. Till then, happy gaming!


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By Omar Sohail

Omar has two talents which he uses to his maximum advantage. One is being knowledgeable in finance and the other being knowledgeable in technology. When technology is concerned, he lives and breaths it. Whatever your technological issues, be it with computers or mobile devices, he can always provide you with a remedy. Not only this, he can provide prudent blogging and writing tips in order for you to maximize your writing skills. You can catch him on the following links: Facebook and Twitter

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