Intel DZ77GA-70K LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

We'll be taking a look at one of Intel's motherboards today, specifically the Intel DZ77GA-70K which is part of its Extreme Motherboard series. How can you tell it's an extreme motherboard? Why it has a skull on it of course! All kidding aside there is more to the DZ77GA-70K than just marketing.

Introduction

Intel is synonymous with the desktop computer industry and Intel is easily one of the most influential companies in the computing industry. While it is typically known for CPUs, Intel does actually produce a wide variety of computer related products that some people may not be aware of. Intel manufactures or at least designs a wide range of products not necessarily limited to, flash memory, network cards, network switches, wireless network solutions, motherboards, solid state drives, and more. Intel is of course a force behind many industry standards such as PCI, PCI-Express, EFI/UEFI, and even memory standards.

Today we are reviewing the IntelĀ® Desktop Board DZ77GA-70K motherboard.

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Intel isn't generally the first motherboard manufacturer that enthusiasts think of when buying a motherboard. Often times Intel has been thought of more for server or OEM uses and in systems requiring the utmost stability and no overclocking. Intel has been trying to compete in this tough market for some time and that's what its Extreme series motherboards and Core i7 Extreme Processors are all about. Intel usually adorns these products with a skull and that's what sets these apart from the rest of its products at a glance.

I've been particularly critical of some very solid products Intel's put out in the past because more often than not I think Intel is somewhat out of touch with the enthusiast market. To its credit Intel is getting much better at it, but the wheels of change turn slowly. Intel is often slow to adopt features that others have been using for some time. Examples of this include overclocking support, third party drive controllers, and the last board I saw from Intel didn't even have a UEFI as we've come to know it. While it was technically a UEFI, the DX79SI used a traditional BIOS interface for system tuning. Before that the DX58SO2 had an awful BIOS which was an abortion of an attempt at an enthusiast's BIOS. The DX79SI was better, but still fell woefully behind the rest of the industry.

Why do I bring all this up? Well it is important to give credit where credit is due. I wanted to illustrate how far Intel has come in just a short period of time. And by the end of this article, you'll come to understand what a step in the right direction the DZ77GA-70K is for Intel.

The Intel DZ77GA-70K is a Z77 Express chipset based board designed for socket LGA1155 processors. Based on its feature set I'd classify it as a mid-high end LGA1155 board. There is a higher end SKU out there called the DZ77RE-75K. The main difference is the expansion slot configuration and the fact that the DZ77GA-70K doesn't support Thunderbolt connectivity. The DZ77RE-75K does. Feature-wise I'd say the DZ77GA-70K is fairly basic in terms of features. It supports the usual 32GB of RAM, SATA 3Gb/s and 6Gb/s ports, eSATA, RAID0, 1, 5, 10, JBOD, Intel's Smart Response Technology, Rapid Storage Technology, Smart Connect Technology, Intel Fast Boot technology, IEEE1394, USB 3.0, PCIe 2.0/3.0, CrossFireX/Quad-CrossFireX and SLI/Quad-SLI technologies.

Intel's made some odd ball design decisions which is par for the course. Some I agree with and some I don't. Intel tends to see things differently than other board makers do. For example, this board is truly designed with discreet graphics usage in mind. As a result Intel has cut the I/O connectivity options for the integrated GPU down to a single HDMI port. Why? It leaves the I/O panel space open for more ports. This is one area of thought that I'm absolutely in agreement with. Another oddball decision lies in Intel designing dual legacy PCI slots onboard. This is coming from the company that gave the axe to PCI support in the Z77 chipset.

It actually requires a third party adapter chip to implement PCI which increases the board's manufacturing costs. On an Extreme series board designed for use with modern graphics cards, I'd wager you won't see too many people making use of more than a single PCI slot. So here is where I have to call Intel "somewhat out of touch" with its user base. Intel clearly do not fully understand its market. On one of its normal desktop boards, I get it. But on an enthusiast design? Anymore than a single PCI slot is a waste.

One thing Intel has stepped up its game on is the UEFI BIOS. Intel believe it or not has actually supported EFI/UEFI from almost the beginning and even supported it on boards made as far back as 5 or 6 years ago. Granted EFI/UEFI booting just meant that the underlying technology was EFI. It still used a traditional BIOS interface. Intel was actually late to the party supporting all that UEFI is capable of. And I'll talk more about that in the BIOS section, but Intel has done some rather unique things in regard to its "Visual" BIOS.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The board ships in the usual black box with a skull on it letting you know that this thing means business. Or I guess that's the impression you are supposed to get. Our board was not a retail sample, so it lacked the traditional driver disc, though I'm certain retail boards do come with these. Also included was a mouse pad (again with skull), I/O shield, integration guide, USB cable, Bluetooth and WiFi adapter, front panel USB 3.0 bay with two ports. (This actually should have had a skull on it, but sadly does not.) Our board was lacking in SATA cables or anything like that but keep in mind this was a very early sample delivered with our original 3770K engineering sample.

Board Layout

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The DZ77GA-70K is a standard sized ATX motherboard. As far as the layout goes Intel did a fairly good job with it. I've got a couple of complaints like the front panel audio connector being at the BACK of the motherboard. In all fairness, Intel is not the only motherboard manufacturer that does this. I'd have also liked to have seen the onboard power and reset buttons moved to the other side of the ATX 24-pin connector or moved down to the bottom corner or bottom edge of the board. Not a huge deal mind you, but a preference.

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The CPU socket is clear of any major obstructions. At least it's no worse than any other LGA1155 board is. The DIMM slots are again too close but this is a fact of the electrical design standard. Actually it is Intel’s "fault" since Intel is the one who designed the CPU. So I get to finally lay some blame here. Intel put the DIMM slots too damn close to the CPU socket and designed it so others would have to do the same.

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There are the usual color coded 4 DIMM slots supporting a maximum of 32GB of memory in 4 8GB DIMMs. These use traditional locking tabs which others are getting away from. Fortunately the PCI-Express x16 slot is far enough away that this doesn't pose a problem for memory upgrades down the line.

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The Z77 Express chipset is located directly in front of the primary PCIe x16 slot. It uses a flat, passive heatsink adorned with a skull. It's a basic design and fairly cool looking. Fortunately the Z77 Express chipset isn't all that demanding in terms of heat load.

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The expansion slot area is laid out well. I do have a problem with there being so many PCI slots on an "enthusiast" board. Some people may or may not agree with that assessment but it bothers me. Slots are correctly color coded to let you know which ones are usable for CrossFireX and SLI. Intel moved the primary PEG slot down and placed a PCIe x1 slot above it for smaller devices. A good move in my opinion.

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Here is where Intel's odd-ball decision making process for boards works. They sacrificed integrated GPU connectivity and gained space on the I/O panel for things like dual NICs, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 4 USB 2.0 slots, (the yellow ones are higher power ports for charging devices), BIOS Go back button, PS/2 keyboard / mouse port combination, eSATA port, IEEE1394 port which on most modern boards is typically via header only if it is supported at all. Finally we have our 5 mini-stereo jacks and an optical out port. There is little wasted space here and on most Z68 or Z77 boards, you'll find those will have less usable ports thanks to iGPU connection options.