ASUS Sabertooth Z77 LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

ASUS brings us another gem in the form of the Sabertooth Z77. It is one of the first in a new generation of Z77 Express chipset based motherboards which many will no doubt consider when Intel’s next generation Ivy Bridge processors drop soon. The beauty of it is, being LGA 1155, Sandy Bridge will work just fine, if not downright well.

Introduction

ASUS is the world’s largest motherboard manufacturer claiming around 40% of the motherboard market share. Their website further states that 1 in 3 computers sold today come with an ASUS motherboard. So that number is about in line with the 40% market share statement. Regardless even if you haven’t heard of them, you’ve probably owned one of their boards without realizing it. Now much of their work is in the OEM market, but they command a significant presence in the do it yourself market as well.

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The ASUS Sabertooth Z77 is based off Intel’s new Z77 Express chipset. The chipset is largely identical to the Z68 chipset released not too long ago. The main difference is that Z77 Express has native USB 3.0 support. And on that all I have to say to Intel is "about time." For whatever reason the drive controllers weren’t updated significantly so we still only have 2 native SATA 6G ports. Intel Rapid Storage Technology or iRST 11 is supported now. So it’s a slight upgrade at best, but what we really wanted was more SATA 6G ports which we didn’t get.

Another interesting fact is that Z77 finally drops the legacy PCI bus. Motherboards can still be equipped with PCI slots, but they’ll have to rely on 3rd party controllers and adapter type interfaces to do so. So it is very likely, due to cost factors and a lack of demand that the Z77 Express chipset will mark the final nail in the coffin for dated PCI devices. Motherboards that have the legacy interface are sure to be few and far between. Onboard display capability has improved as it now supports up to three independent displays as opposed to only 2. The final improvement is with regard to flexibility of the PCIe 2.0 lanes provided by the CPU. It supports 1x16 and 2x8 lane configurations as before, but now supports a 1x8 + 2x4 configuration as well.

The ASUS Sabertooth Z77 is part of the TUF series. Boards in this series are built to various military testing standards and specifications which are listed on a card included with the board. These include shock tests, vibration tests, moisture tests and more. I’m not sure this is anything more than a marketing gimmick, but one thing you can take away from the marketing speak is that the board is well built. More importantly it uses all solid electrolytic capacitors and alloy chokes. It is also built to Intel’s VRD 12.5 specifications.

As for its actual features, the Sabertooth Z77 has a lot to offer without too much unnecessary fluff. Onboard GPU support, SLI and Crossfire support, along with dual card Quad-SLI and CrossfireX support. Intel Quicksync, LucidLogix Virtu MVP technology, PCI-Express Generation 3.0 support (Ivy Bridge CPU required), eSATA, Intel Gigabit networking, 8-channel audio, USB 3.0, SATA 6G, and more. Among the features unique to the TUF series are the thermal armor and thermal radar features. I’ll get into those in more detail later.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The board ships in a faux stainless steel themed box and comes with quite a solid bundle of accessories. Included in the box are the following items: User guide, thermal armor slot covers, 2x 35mm fans, fan mounting screws, SLI bridge, I/O shield, Q-connectors, SATA cables, driver disc, certificate of stability, and a single sheet of paper which covers the installation of the thermal armor covers. The driver disc is not pictured as our version was pre-retail. The hardware here should be what’s shipping now however.

Board Layout

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Due to the thermal armor ducting system, the Sabertooth Z77 has an interesting look to it. It has this diamond plate thing going on. You can still see some of the alloy chokes and I/O connectors spread out across the board. Because of the cover, the board has a very clean and basic look to it. The layout of the board is excellent with no real problem areas to speak of. I’d like a little more room around the CPU socket but I always say that.

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The CPU socket area is standard fare for the LGA1155 socket and Z77 platform. There is adequate room for most cooling solutions. Large CPU coolers may block one or more memory slots depending on their orientation and fan options. This is virtually unavoidable on all platforms these days so I can’t slam ASUS too hard on this particular point. I realize that CPUs with integrated memory controllers all have issues when the DIMM slots are mounted too far away.

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The Sabertooth Z77 has four DIMM slots which are directly in front of the CPU socket. These use the single sided locking tab retention system other ASUS boards use. They are color coded for proper and easy dual channel mode operation. Directly in front of these you’ll find the 24 pin ATX power connector and the MEM-OK button. This is used for forcing memory compatibility between the board and memory modules should the timing values provided in SPD cause issues with system POST.

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Being a unified design, the Z77 Express chipset is a single chip solution located where the south bridge was traditionally located. It is cooled by a flat passive heat sink. The heat sink is designed to allow for maximum clearance for installed expansion cards. Directly in front of this are the front panel USB 3.0 headers and the onboard SATA ports.

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The expansion slot area is well thought out. As I said before Z77 doesn’t natively support PCI slots so this board is legacy free. The setup ASUS employed here works well as there is a free PCIe x1 slot above the primary PCIe x16 slot, which also has nothing directly below it. This is a nice thing to see because this means that most video cards will never block an expansion slot. The secondary PCIe x16 slot is done much the same way, though there is an additional PCIe x1 slot which a secondary video card could block. The last PCIe x16 form factor slot is a little less useful in general as it wouldn’t allow for the use of a dual slot video card in most cases. Not that you’d want to do that with this board anyway.

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The rear I/O panel is a nice clean solution. Either to save room or as a cost cutting measure, there is no legacy DVI port. Video connectivity is provided via a display port and an HDMI port. There are 8 USB ports here 4 of which are USB 3.0 compatible. We have a single optical output and the usual mini-stereo jacks for audio. The board also features a single RJ-45 port and dual eSATA connectors. You may have noticed a ton of wasted space here on the I/O panel. The open area you see just to the right of the standard USB 2.0 ports is an open air passage where one of the included 35mm fans can be mounted to pull air into the thermal armor system.


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