The Intel Z77 chipset will be released in April, but we had the privilege of getting the Biostar TZ77XE4 for a “first look” article. It will be a top mainstream socket LGA1155 motherboard targeted to the forthcoming “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors) and also supporting the current “Sandy Bridge” models (second-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what the Biostar TZ77XE4 will have to offer.
The Intel Z77 will be 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 will also include 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 TZ77XE4 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.
Biostar has already announced five different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications.
|PCI Express x16||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||1||2||2||2||2|
|Price||USD 160||USD 135||USD 120||USD 110||USD 120|
In Figure 1, you see the Biostar TZ77XE4 motherboard.
The Biostar TZ77XE4 comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, and two standard PCI 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 controlled by the chipset and always works at x4, offering PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth. If you want to install a dual-slot video card in this slot, you will need to use a computer case with at least eight expansion slots. (Computer cases usually have seven expansion slots.)
The PCI Express x16 slots support both 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, 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 Biostar, the TZ77XE4 supports memories up to 2,600 MHz.
The Biostar TZ77XE4 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.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
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).
The Biostar TZ77XE4 has another two SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip (no RAID support).
One drawback is that the manufacturer didn’t use different colors to identify the SATA ports. See Figure 4. All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.
This motherboard also has one eSATA-600 port, which is shared with the “SATA3-U” port, so they can’t be used at the same time.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The Biostar TZ77XE4 offers eight USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard; and four USB 3.0 ports, two located on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a header located on the motherboard, near the third PCI Express x16 slot.
The Biostar TZ77XE4 doesn’t support FireWire ports.
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 the new 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.
The motherboard doesn’t have SPDIF outputs, which is certainly a drawback, but you can add them by buying and installing adapters on the “JSPDIFOUT1” connector available.
The analog audio outputs are completely independent, so you won’t have to kill either 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 a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a PS/2 keyboard connector, four USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, VGA output, DVI-I output, eSATA-600 port, two USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code where the component is preventing the computer from turning on.
It 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 7, you can see all of the accessories that come with the Biostar TZ77XE4.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Biostar TZ77XE4 has ten 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 an analog design.
The Biostar TZ77XE4 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.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The Biostar TZ77XE4 has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones:
- Base clock: From 95 MHz to 300 MHz in 0.001 MHz increments
- CPU core voltage: From -0.010 V to +0.520 V in 0.01 V increments
- Integrated graphics processor (IGD) voltage: From 0 V to +0.520 V in 0.01 V increments
- Memory controller (“System Agent,” VCCSA) voltage: From 0.900 V to 1.605 V in 0.013 V increments
- CPU VTT (“I/O”) voltage: From 1.062 V to 1.700 V in 0.013 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) voltage: +5%, +10% or +15%
- Memory voltage: From 1.300 V to 2.112 V in 0.012 V increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Biostar TZ77XE4 include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
- Super I/O: ITE IT8728F
- 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: One eSATA-600 port shared with one of the SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset
- 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: Yes, controlled by the CPU, VGA, DVI-I, HDMI, and DisplayPort 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 RTL8111E 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, all slots supporting SLI and CrossFireX), one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, and two standard PCI slots
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2600, 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.com.tw
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 160
* Researched at Newegg.com on 04/08/2012.
The Biostar TZ77XE4 is a top mainstream motherboard, meaning it is targeted to the average user who wants “something extra.” This comes in the form of an additional PCI Express x16 slot, allowing you to install up to three video cards under SLI or CrossFireX modes, a very high-end audio codec, which allows you to work professionally editing analog audio with this motherboard, overclocking in 0.001 MHz increments (this was the first time we’ve seen a motherboard with such fine adjustment), and a very decent voltage regulator circuit.
There are some drawbacks with this product, though. All SATA ports use the same color, making it difficult to know which ones are the SATA-300 and which ones are the SATA-600; and which are controlled by the chipset and which are controlled by the additional ASMedia chip. There are no SPDIF outputs; there are only two connectors for auxiliary fans, which may be a problem for some users. Some competing products offer additional USB 3.0 ports.
Biostar traditionally prices its motherboards lower than its competitors. If this holds true for this particular model, it will be a terrific buy if you are, indeed, an average user looking for “something more” and want an affordable motherboard for your new computer. Of course, if you want more than this motherboard has to offer, or if its drawbacks present you with a problem, you will need to pick a different (and probably more expensive) product.