It took us a little while to get to Intel's Z77 reference board — mainly because the pre-production sample we had was quite unstable. The retail kit is another matter, and it operates as well as one would expect.
- Web page: Intel
- Form factor: ATX (305x244mm)
- Chipset: Intel Z77
- External USB: 4 x 3.0 (Intel via Genesys GL3520), 4 x 2.0
- Internal USB: 6 x 2.0, 4 x 3.0 (Intel via Genesys GL3520)
- SATA 6Gbps: 2 x Intel, 2 x Marvell 88SE9172
- SATA 3Gbps: 4 x Intel
- PCI-E: x16: 1 | x8: 1 | x4: 1 | x1: 2
- PCI: 2
- E-SATA: 1
- FireWire: 1 external, 1 internal
- Video: HDMI
- Audio: TOSLink, 7.1 Realtek ALC892
- Ethernet: 2 x 1Gbps Intel
Ever since Skulltrail, Intel's had a thing for the skeletal bit that sits inside most heads, and the motif lives on here, both on the box and the chipset heatsink.
Above and beyond
As the reference board for the Z77, Intel has packed up the DZ77GA-70K with quite a few features above standard fare.
You generally don't see dual Ethernet these days on anything but the highest of the high-end boards, and, being an Intel product, this one comes with dual Intel gigabit ports. One is an 82574L (on the left); the other an 82579V. The major difference is that the L supports NC sidebanding, while the V does not. In a home environment, you'll never need to worry about such things.
There are also four USB 3.0 ports on the back, with another four provided internally via header. Before you get excited at having more Intel-controlled ports than usual, this is achieved through the Genesys GL3520, a port multiplier. This means that bandwidth-wise, it's sharing what's usually reserved for four ports across the eight ports instead.
There's also a FireWire port at the back, a FireWire header and an extra pair of 6Gbps SATA ports courtesy of the Marvell 88SE9172. There are also headers for transmit and receive IR connectors.
If there's one thing this Intel board will be able to help with, it's figuring out boot issues. A tiny piezo speaker on the board does what has long been lost amongst modern cases: it beeps when the machine POSTs or there's an error. There are diagnostic POST lights on one side, and power phase LEDs on the opposite. A hexadecimal readout further assists in troubleshooting.
Accessories are fancy, too, with a USB Bluetooth and 802.11n RALink adapter, mouse pad and a 3.5-inch drive bay module featuring two USB 3.0 ports.
One of the odder audio implementations we've seen.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CNET)
Finally, the rear audio stack only has five 3.5mm jacks, replacing the sixth with optical audio — those who use 7.1 systems will have to give up their microphone or use a USB microphone instead.