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The Intel DZ77GA-70K is a high-end 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 Intel DZ77GA-70K will have 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 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 Intel DZ77GA-70K 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.
Intel has already announced three different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications.
|PCI Express x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1|
|PCI Express x4||1||0||1|
|PCI Express x1||2||3||1|
|Price||USD 240||USD 175||NA|
Figure 1 shows you the Intel DZ77GA-70K motherboard.
The Intel DZ77GA-70K comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, 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.
This motherboard has one PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot. This slot allows the installation of a PCI Express x16 video card in it, so this motherboard supports three video cards. If you install a video card in this slot, you will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots. (Computer cases usually have seven.) Usually, manufacturers prefer to install a PCI Express x16 slot working at x4 instead of using a physical x4 slot. Using a physical x16 slot allows users to easily understand that they can install a third video card in it, even if it is running at a lower speed (x4). On the other hand, by using a physical x4 slot, the speed is obvious (x4) and the manufacturer frees up some space on the motherboard to install more electronic components. However, users may not know that you can install an x16 video card in an x4 slot.
The PCI Express x16 and x4 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
In order to properly accommodate the additional PCI Express devices that are on this motherboard (PCI Express x4 slot, additional Gigabit Ethernet port, two extra SATA-600 ports, etc.), the board makes use of a PLX PEX8606 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices, without a switch chip you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0, SATA-600, and Gigabit Ethernet ports when transferring files at the same time.[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).
The Intel DZ77GA-70K 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. On the Intel DZ77GA-70K, the first and third memory sockets are blue, while the second and fourth are black. When installing two memory modules, use the blue sockets.
[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). This motherboard has two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by a Marvell 8
8SE9172 chip, which supports RAID 0 and 1. These ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. Thankfully, Intel used different colors to identify which SATA ports are SATA-300 (black), SATA-600 controlled by the chipset (blue) or SATA-600 controlled by the additional chip (gray). See Figure 4.
This motherboard also has one independent eSATA-600 port, controlled by another Marvell 88SE9172 chip.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The Intel DZ77GA-70K offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, four available on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and eight USB 3.0 ports, four located on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. The additional ports are connected to the USB 3.0 ports controlled by the chipset using two Genesys Logic GL3520 hub chips. The motherboard comes with a 3.5” panel with two USB 3.0 ports, so you can use the internal USB 3.0 connector if your computer case doesn’t have USB 3.0 ports using this kind of connector.
The Intel DZ77GA-70K has two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard. These ports are controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip.
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 has on-board optical SPDIF output. A header labeled “SPDIF” 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 only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use either the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer, and one controlled by an Intel WG82574L chip.
The Intel DZ77GA-70K also comes with a Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) module. This module, which is actually manufactured by MSI (model MS-3871), is a USB 2.0 device and must be connected to a USB 2.0 header of the motherboard.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 connector for keyboard and mouse, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, one eSATA-600 port, clear CMOS button, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display, where you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on. It also has a series of POST LEDs, which have the same function.
In Figure 8, you can see all of the accessories that come with the Intel DZ77GA-70K.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Intel DZ77GA-70K has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), one for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces), and one for the CPU integrated video controller (VAXG). Therefore, it uses an “8+2+1+1” configuration.
The voltage regulator is controlled by a CHiL CHL8328 integrated circuit, using a digital design, and each phase is controlled by an FDMF6707B integrated circuit, which combines the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”) and are able to use a switching frequency of up to 1 MHz, allowing efficiency above 90 percent. (Usually, motherboard voltage regulator circuits switch at 250 kHz.) Integrated circuits with these characteristics are known as “DrMOS.”
The Intel DZ77GA-70K 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 portrayed motherboard comes with a series of LEDs near the EPS12V connector for you to monitor the active phases.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The Intel DZ77GA-70K has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones:
- Base clock: From 100 MHz to 120 MHz in 1 MHz increments
- CPU core voltage: From +0,000 mV to +1,000 mV in 1 mV increments
- Integrated graphics processor (“IGD,” VAXG) voltage: From
1.000 V to 1.9200 V in 0.0050 V increments
- CPU VTT (“I/O”) voltage: From 1.000 V to 1.2750 V in 0.0250 V increments
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.000 V to 1.8750 V in 0.0250 V increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.200 V to 2.000 V in 0.010 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) voltage: From +0.010 V to +0.630 V in 0.010 V increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Intel DZ77GA-70K include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
- Super I/O: Winbond W83677HG
- 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 a Marvell 88SE9172 chip (RAID 0 and 1)
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 port controlled by another Marvell 88SE9172 chip
- USB 2.0: 10 USB 2.0 ports, four on the rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Eight USB 3.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard, controlled by the chipset and expanded using two Genesys Logic GL3520 hub chips
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by a Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU, HDMI connector
- 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 optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer, and one controlled by an Intel WG82574L chip; Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11b/g/n support
- Buzzer: Yes
- 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 x4 slot, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots (PLX PEX8606 switch chip)
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-1600, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and three four-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, POST diagnostics display, POST diagnostics LEDs, phase-monitoring LEDs
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.intel.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 240.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The Intel DZ77GA-70K is a high-end motherboard, meaning it is targeted to the most advanced user, who understands the importance of the PLX PEX8606 switch chip. Since the chipset doesn’t have enough PCI Express lanes available to connect all the devices that are present on this motherboard, this chip automatically switches PCI Express lanes in order to provide the highest performance possible to the device that is requiring performance at any given moment. On motherboards without this chip, you need to manually disable devices (namely, USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports) that you are not using if you want to achieve the highest possible performance on the ports that are being used.
Feature-wise, it comes with a myriad of options: Eight USB 3.0 ports, four SATA-600 ports, one independent eSATA-600 port, two FireWire ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an adequate voltage regulator circuit.
Also noteworthy is the high-end audio codec used by Intel on this motherboard, the Realtek ALC898, which provides very high signal-to-noise ratios (110 dB for the outputs and 104 dB for the inputs), allowing you to use the on-board audio from this motherboard for professional tasks, such as audio editing.
In summary, it is a terrific option if you want the extra features brought by this motherboard and want to have the peace of mind of using a motherboard that was designed by the same company that designed your CPU. If you don’t need so many fancy features, you can pick a more affordable product.