BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z77X LGA 1155 Motherboard Review
BIOSTAR generally has a reputation for making low end or budget oriented motherboards. Fortunately that isn't all BIOSTAR designs and builds. The Hi-Fi Z77X is an unusual motherboard in that it seems to be targeted towards HTPC and media type duties while still addressing enthusiast hardware and overclocking concerns.
BIOSTAR isn't a brand we cover a lot. While we've generally been impressed with the company’s enthusiast offerings, its presence hasn't been strong in North America. Availability of some of these great boards is somewhat lacking. So I was a little bit surprised when Kyle gave me one to review. It was a nice surprise as I hadn't looked at one in a few years. BIOSTAR’s T-Force series was always fantastic. It just sucked recommending a board you couldn't really find to purchase.
BIOSTAR generally has a reputation for making low end, or budget oriented boards. Fortunately that isn't all it sells. The Hi-Fi Z77X is kind of an unusual board in that it is really seems like it's targeted towards HTPC and media type duties while still being somewhat of an enthusiast oriented solution.
The BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z77X is based on Intel's Z77 Express chipset. The board at first glance is unremarkable with regard to features. It has everything the chipset normally has going for it and little else. The board has 4 SATA 3Gb/s ports, 2 SATA 6Gb/s ports, USB 2.0, 3.0 support, SLI, CrossFireX, 7.1 channel audio, and Gigabit Ethernet; nothing unusual about any of that. However upon further examination the board has several unusually large capacitors near the back of the board. These are labeled "Hi-Fi Cap" and "Hi-Fi Resistor." Essentially BIOSTAR used larger and supposedly higher quality resistors and capacitors in an effort to improve audio quality. The board is marked also with things like "Hi-Fi Ground" and "Hi-Fi Power" and even "Hi-Fi Amp." There is a nice heat sink looking tin deal on the audio CODEC. THX TrueStudio Pro is emblazed on the board.
According to the box, the board is geared towards media use. A bit odd given the board's size and few chassis being designed for full sized ATX motherboards. Nevertheless, such setups do in fact exist. I have one myself. That system sits in my attic unused at this point, but I do have one. Other than that this is a pretty basic motherboard.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The board ships in the usual cardboard accommodations. Not much in the box. User manual, driver disc, I/O shield, SATA cables, microphone, SLI bridge, CrossFireX bridge and that's it.
The layout of the Hi-Fi Z77X is well designed. One thing I'm not a huge fan of is the placement of the USB 3.0 header, but rather than committing to a front panel or rear panel setup, BIOSTAR split the middle; literally. That's where the header is. So that can go either way. In some cases USB 3.0 connector's may not reach. Otherwise the layout is quite good. In the past I've really hammered BIOSTAR for its hideous color schemes. However this board uses the tried and true black and blue color scheme which works well for it.
The CPU socket area is relatively clean. At least it isn't any worse than the LGA1155 socket areas on other boards. DIMM slots are too close but I always say that.
The DIMM slots are standard fare. There is no color coding. I'm not generally a fan of that, but it does look good. There are no issues with expansion slot clearance or any unusual CPU clearance problems. So again this part is well executed.
The Z77 Express chipset is located between and in front of the two first PCI-Express slots. It is cooled by a passive heat sink with a blue cover on it. I hate the plastic push pin installation, but it gets the job done. The board's six SATA ports are in front of the chipset. While not color coded, the PCB is clearly marked as to which are 3Gb/s and 6Gb/s ports. So I have no problem with this.
The expansion slot area is well designed. It is ideal for two card multi-GPU setups. There is no PLX chip, so the configuration is limited to a single x16, or dual x8 slots with a 4x at the bottom if you have an Ivy Bridge CPU installed.
The I/O panel is fairly clean for a board of this type. Only 4 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 PS/2 keyboard port, 1 RJ-45 LAN port, DSUB, DVI, HDMI, and six mini-stereo jacks for audio. The lack of an optical port surprised me here.
BIOSTAR includes their TOVERCLOCKER software with the Hi-Fi Z77X. It's a bit dated in its look, but it's simple and works fairly well. That right there is half the battle as some software included with a lot of boards doesn't work worth a damn.
The software is exceedingly simple; effective but hardly robust. There are four tabs at the top which organize the information and settings. The CPU tab is all information. Clock speed and motherboard information are all listed here. More detailed CPU information is outlined on the right. The memory tab lets us view installed memory information per slot. Timings are shown in table form as expected. There are no settings here.
The OC Tweaker menu is where all of our settings actually reside. As you can see there aren't many. On the frequency tab, simple adjustments for the BCLK and Turbo multiplier are all that are provided here. You can save these settings to a profile or load these. The voltage tab gives us a whopping 5 voltage settings; CPU VCore, DRAM voltage, PCH voltage, IGD voltage, and VCC IO. The mode tab gives us a V6, V12 and an Auto button. The first two are profile settings and that's basically it. The latter automatically tunes the system for the maximum stable overclock. This setting is actually fairly aggressive, but I'll talk about that more in the overclocking section.
The H/W Monitor has three tabs for monitored items. Voltage, fan speed, and temperature. With the exception of fan speed, there are no settings. There are rudimentary smart fan controls. Despite not doing a lot, everything worked fairly well. Again that doesn't say a lot, but given that not all utilities from all manufacturers do, I'll give credit where credit is due.