The Hi-Fi Z77X is the latest motherboard from Biostar targeted to the “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Its main highlight is the presence of a sophisticated audio configuration. Let’s explore this product.
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 includes the addition of 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 Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X 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.
So far, Biostar has released six motherboards based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications, so you can easily identify which motherboard fits your needs. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article, except for the Hi-Fi Z77X, which is the price advertised by the manufacturer.
|PCI Express x16||3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)||3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)||3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)||2 (x16/x4)||2 (x16/x4)||2 (x16/x4)|
|PCI Express x1||3||1||2||2||2||2|
|Price||USD 150||USD 150||USD 125||USD 110||USD 100||USD 110|
In Figure 1, you see the Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X motherboard.
Figure 1: Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X motherboard
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4), 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.
If a third dual-slot video card is installed (in the third PCI Express x16 slot), you will need a case with at least eight expansion slots.
According to Biostar, only the PCI Express x16 slots controlled by the CPU support SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that 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 Biostar, the Hi-Fi Z77 only supports memories up to 2,600 MHz.
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X 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 two or four memory modules. Unfortunately, Biostar used the same color for all the memory sockets (black) instead of using two different colors, which would certainly help users detect which sockets to use. Installation must start from the bottom-most socket, i.e., the socket closest to the main power supply connector. When installing two memory modules, you will have to “skip” the second memory socket, and install the second memory module in the third memory socket.
Figure 3: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution that 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 doesn’t bring any additional SATA controllers.
All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 4. Unfortunately, the manufacturer used the same color for all por
ts, making it difficult to identify which ports are SATA-600 and which are SATA-300. The two left-most ports are SATA-600.
There are no eSATA ports on this motherboard.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X offers eight USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four through two headers located on the motherboard; and four USB 3.0 ports, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header located near the second PCI Express x16 slot.
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X doesn’t have FireWire ports.
The highlight of this motherboard is its audio section, which we will talk about on the next page.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111F chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a PS/2 keyboard connector, four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI output, VGA output, DVI-D output, two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, and the analog audio jacks.
Figure 5: Motherboard rear panel
[nextpage title=”The Audio Section”]
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 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. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.
Biostar added an electromagnetic shield around the codec and added an on-board audio amplifier, as you can see in Figure 6. In addition, the audio section of this motherboard was physically separated from the other components, as you can see in Figure 7. This was done to minimize interference, improving audio quality.
Figure 6: The audio amplifier and the EMI shield around the codec
Figure 7: The audio section was physically separated from the other components
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.
Sadly, the manufacturer didn’t add an on-board SPDIF output to this motherboard. One can be added, though, installing an adapter (that doesn’t come with the motherboard) on a header called “JSPIFOUT1.” On the other hand, you have digital audio on the on-board HDMI connector.
This motherboard comes with a microphone in its box.[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X has a POST diagnostics display, where you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on. This display also indicates the CPU temperature, after the self-test phase is over.
Figure 8: POST diagnostics/temperature display
The portrayed motherboard has a legacy serial port, which is available through a header labeled “J_COM1.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port. It also has an infrared interface, making it inexpensive for you to add an infrared sensor to be able to use a remote control or to connect devices using infrared technology (IrDA).
In Figure 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X has 10 phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and one for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “10+2+1” configuration.
The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6367 integrated circuit, using a hybrid design.
Figure 10: Voltage regulator circuit
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X uses solid electrolytic capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are solid, 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.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (07/27/2012 BIOS):
- Base clock: From 95.00 MHz to 300.00 MHz in 0.01 MHz increments
- CPU core voltage: From -0.010 V to +0.520 V in 0.010 V increments
- CPU VTT (“I/O”) voltage: From 1.062 V to 1.700 V in 0.013 V increments
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.400 V to 2.000 V in 0.010 V increments
- Memory controller (“IMC,” “System Agent,” VCCSA) voltage: From 0.900 V to 1.605 V in 0.013 V increments
- Integrated graphics processor (“IGD,” “VAXG”) voltage: From +0.000 V to +0.520 V in 0.010 V increments
- Chipset (“PCH”) voltage: From +5% to +15% in 5% increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.300 V to 2.112 V in 0.012 V increments
- Memory reference voltage: From -0.300 V to +0.300 V in 0.025 V increments
Figure 11: Overclocking options
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
- Super I/O: ITE IT8728F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports and two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5)
- External SATA: None
- USB 2.0: Eight USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Four USB 3.0 ports, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header on the motherboard
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: Controlled by the CPU, VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC898 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 110 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs)
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111F chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (x16/x0 or x8/x8), 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 DDR3-2400, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and two three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: POST diagnostics display, legacy serial port
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.biostar-usa.com
- MSRP in the U.S.: USD 150.00
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X is targeted to the mainstream user who wants a motherboard with an above-the-average audio section. It brings all the features that fulfill today’s average user needs, such as four USB 3.0 ports and two SATA-600 ports, as well as a few features that exceed these needs. These additional features include three PCI Express x16 slots, a very decent voltage regulator circuit, outstanding overclocking features, a POST diagnostics/temperature display, and, of course, the audio section. The audio section uses a high-end codec with an on-board amplifier and extra care to make sure the audio section will receive the least amount of electromagnetic interference as possible, thereby increasing audio quality. Because of that, this motherboard is also highly recommended for the user who works professionally with audio and video editing.
The lack of more SATA-600 ports may be seen as a drawback, and the absence of an on-board optical SPDIF output is rather weird on a motherboard where the main highlight is its audio section. Even with these drawbacks, we believe the Biostar Hi-Fi Z77X is a good pick, especially when you take into consideration its price.
We hope Biostar releases a more high-end version of this motherboard for the enthusiast user, with more SATA-600, USB 3.0 ports, possibly more PCI Express x16 slots, and a switch chip.
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