The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 is a top mid-range socket LGA1155 motherboard targeted to the third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors, codenamed “Ivy bridge,” and also supporting the second-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors (“Sandy Bridge”). Let’s see what the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 has to offer.
The Intel Z77 is an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It also has two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).
In addition, the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.
ASUS has launched 12 different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the tables below, we compare their main specifications.
|Specification||P8Z77 WS||P8Z77-V DELUXE||SABERTOOTH Z77||P8Z77-V PRO|
PCI Express 3.0 x16
|4 (x16/x16/x0/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x0 |
|2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||3 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||0||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||2||4||3||2|
|Wi-Fi||No||Yes (a, b, g, n)||No||Yes (b, g, n)|
|Price||NA||USD 285||USD 240||USD 235|
|Specification||P8Z77-V||P8Z77-V LE||P8Z77-V LK||P8Z77-V LX|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||1(x4)||1(x4)||1(x4)||1(x4)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||2||2||2||2|
|Wi-Fi||Yes (b, g, n)||No||No||No|
|Price||USD 210||USD 165||USD 150||USD 140|
|Specification||Maximus V GENE||P8Z77-M PRO||P8Z77-M||P8Z77-I DELUXE|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1||1|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||0||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||0|
|PCI Express x4||1||0||0||0|
|PCI Express x1||0||1||1||0|
|Mini PCI Express||2||0||0||0|
|Price||USD 210||NA||USD 140||NA|
A unique feature of the SABERTOOTH Z77 is the “Thermal Armor,” a plastic shield that covers most of the motherboard area, guiding the airflow provided by two fans and protecting the components at the same time. There are also plastic covers for the expansion and memory slots to protect them from dust. Figure 1 shows you the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 motherboard with the plastic protection.
Figure 1: ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77
Figure 2 shows the SABERTOOTH Z77 with its plastic cover removed.
Figure 2: Cover removed
The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
The two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is installed, and with both working at x8 when two video cards are installed. Since these slots are controlled by the CPU, they will offer PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth (8 GB/s at x16) when a “Sandy Bridge” CPU is installed, but PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth (16 GB/s at x16) when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used.
The third PCI Express x16 slot is 2.0 and always works at x4 speed. If you want to install a dual-slot video card in this slot, you will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots. (Computer cases usually have seven.)
The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
Figure 3: Slots
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, which defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to ASUS, the SABERTOOTH Z77 supports memories up to 1,866 MHz.
The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install either two or four memory modules. On the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77, the first and third memory sockets are dark brown, while the second and fourth are light brown. When installing two memory modules, use the dark brown sockets.
Figure 4: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
As with other high-end motherboards from ASUS, the SABERTOOTH Z77 comes with the “MemOK!” feature, which allows you to test the compatibility of the memory modules that are installed by pressing the button shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5: The MemOK! button
The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). This motherboard has two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip. The SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. ASUS used different colors to identify which SATA ports are SATA-300 (black), SATA-600 controlled by the chipset (brown) or SATA-600 controlled by the additional chip (gray). See Figure 6.
Figure 6: The four SATA-300 ports (black), the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (brown), and the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the additional chip (gray)
This motherboard also has two independent eSATA-600 ports, controlled by another ASMedia ASM1061 chip.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 offers ten USB 2.0 ports, four available on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and six USB 3.0 ports. Four of these ports are controlled by the chipset, two located on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header located on the motherboard, near the SATA ports, and two are controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip and available on the rear panel of the motherboard.
The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 doesn’t have FireWire ports.
This motherboard supports the 7.1 audio format, i.e., eight channels. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC892 codec, which is a good mainstream solution,
providing a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. These specs are good for the mainstream user, but if you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB for the analog input.
The motherboard has on-board optical SPDIF output. A header labeled “SPDIF_OUT” also provides SPDIF output for you to install a coaxial SPDIF output or to route digital audio to older video cards that require this physical connection in order to have digital audio output in their HDMI connectors.
The analog audio outputs are independent, so you won’t need to use the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks when installing an analog 7.1 speaker set.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer.
In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with four USB 2.0 ports, a clear area for airflow (notice the fan), four USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA-600 ports, optical SPDIF output, HDMI output, DisplayPort output, Gigabit Ethernet port, the “BIOS Flashback” button, and the analog audio jacks.
Figure 7: Motherboard rear panel
The BIOS Flashback button, shown in Figure 7, allows you to easily flash the motherboard BIOS with the computer turned off and without having to load any BIOS flashing program. With the computer turned off, simply install a USB memory on a USB port containing the file to be flashed, press the button for three seconds, and the BIOS will be updated.
In Figure 8, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77.
Figure 8: Accessories
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), one for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), one for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces), and four for the CPU integrated video controller (VAXG). Therefore, it uses a “8+1+1+4” configuration.
Figure 9: Voltage regulator circuit
The voltage regulator is controlled by ASUS’s Digi+ EPU (ASP1000C) integrated circuit, using a digital design.
The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 uses solid electrolytic capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 has some overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones:
- Base clock: From 80 MHz to 300 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
- CPU multiplier (only for unlocked CPUs): From x16 to x63
- CPU core voltage: From 0.800 V to 1.920 V in 0.005 V increments
- CPU VCCSA (memory controller) voltage: From 0.8000 V to 1.7000 V in 0.00625 V increments
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.2000 V to 2.2000 V in 0.00625 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) voltage: From 0.800 V to 1.800 V in 0.010 V increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.200 V to 1.920 V in 0.005 V increments
- Memory reference voltage: From 0.3950x to 0.6300x in 0.0050x increments
Figure 10: CPU overclocking options
Figure 11: Voltage options
Figure 12: Memory timing options
The main specifications for the ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 DELUXE include:
- Socket: LGA1155
- Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6779D
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports, two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5), and two SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- External SATA: Two eSATA-600 ports controlled by another ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- USB 2.0: Ten USB 2.0 ports, four on the rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Six USB 3.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header on the motherboard, four controlled by the chipset and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU; HDMI and DisplayPort connectors
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 97 dB SNR for the outputs, and 90 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: No
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (x16/x0 or x8/x8, supporting SLI and CrossFireX), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4), and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-1833, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, five four-pin connectors for auxiliary fans, and two three-pin connectors used by the motherboard fans
- Extra features: MemOk! button
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
s included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asus.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 240.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 is a top mid-range motherboard, meaning it is targeted to the user who wants more features than mainstream motherboards provide, such as three PCI Express x16 slots and six USB 3.0 ports. The plastic cover that hides most of the motherboard, as well as the slot covers, is a feature that will make its owner feel like he or she has a unique motherboard.
However, the SABERTOOTH Z77 has some specs that make it closer to mainstream motherboards than to its sisters, the P8Z77-V PRO and the P8Z77-V DELUXE. It has a simpler voltage regulator circuit, no Wi-Fi, and lacks a PLX switch chip (that allows higher performance when several data transfers are being executed at the same time). The Realtek ALC892 audio codec is also a better option for mainstream motherboards than top-shelf ones.
In summary, the SABERTOOTH Z77 is an excellent motherboard, but unless you really like the plastic cover, you should pick the P8Z77-V PRO, which is a little less expensive and has a few more features, or the P8Z77-V DELUXE, which costs a little more but offers a lot more.