ASUS has pushed many new models onto the playing field with Z77, and with the P8Z77-V Premium, we now see the first solution Intel-certified for Thunderbolt, along with many other technical and feature advances that push ASUS even further in the forefront for the Z77 offerings.
Introduction – ASUS P8Z77-V Premium
The Z77 chipset has been opening many new doors for computer builders. We have already looked at a few Z77 boards, and the prevailing trend has been that the CPU is the limitation, and the performance from board to board (regardless of manufacturer) is extremely similar. This is great for budget builders, as this means that when running air or water the performance will be roughly the same with the same chip. With that we have proven this to be very accurate as the boards we have tested from top to bottom scale ever so slightly with minute efficiency differences but overall performance difference is miniscule and within the margin for error. However, this board is a little different when it comes to performance. The P8Z77-V Premium is yet another step forward for the ASUS engineering team, as the board is not only the first to carry Intel integrated Thunderbolt, but also a few other cool features as well.
ASUS does not release a “Premium” model board for every chipset; instead, they reserve the Premium branding for when thy have something special on their hands. The Premium models always have the best of the best ASUS can offer on a PCB and the P8Z77-V Premium is no different.
The P8Z77-V Premium features numerous cool additions such as:
- Thunderbolt port integrated
- 20 Phase VRM w/ Smart DIGI + power control
- USB 3.0 boost with blazing fast UASP support
- Lucid Virtu MVP
- ASUS SSD Caching II
- Wi-Fi GO
- Integrated mSATA port with included 32GB mSATA SSD (Upgradable)
The Z77 boards no longer scale to huge performance improvements when overclocking as they all overclock similarly and are limited by the CPU for the vast majority of users. This has left motherboard manufacturers in a features race as each manufacturer tries to offer more and better features or functionality improvements to coerce you into buying a board with their name on it. If this board carries even half of the capability we have seen from previous ASUS boards we see no reason why you should not consider it.
Because of this trend, we will be looking at features in detail in this review. Let’s take a dive into the top line premium offering and see what makes this board shine above the rest and worth the whopping price of $439.99 on Newegg.
ASUS with the P8Z77-V Premium is the first to offer onboard Thunderbolt support which is fully certified by Intel. This may not seem like a very big deal, but this tells us that ASUS works very closely with Intel to get such a jump ahead on this offering. If ASUS works with Intel so closely for a add on component such as this it can only mean good things and great compatibility for the board as well as for the end user.
We will go deeper into the Thunderbolt technology a little later in the review but we can confirm it uses a full 10Gbps interconnect to ensure no bandwidth issues or slowdowns will be seen from the Thunderbolt interface. The Thunderbolt does carry both a data stream alongside a DisplayPort stream to ensure seamless integration of up to 6 devices in a daisy chain configuration along with a DisplayPort monitor at the end of the line all from a single connection on the board.
APS (ASUS Premium Service)
ASUS Previously offered the APS service on ROG boards, but starting with the X79 series they have extended the service to cover much more of their full board models in the standard channel line. This is nice to see as the APS service allows an advanced replacement or a board to be shipped to the user which in turn means less down time for the end user. More on this service can be seen on the ASUS website HERE
Windows 8 Ready
ASUS has been hard at work prepping for Windows 8 the new revolutionary OS from Microsoft. With this comes a new bios CAP file which is said to improve features and fucntionality integration for better compatibility with the new OS. Also other cool features are faster boot up times and optimized settings for a smooother Windows 8 working environment and the OS is not even officially on sale yet. Im sure the features available for this upgrade will scale larger as the OS matures and becomes available so keep a look at the asus site for updates found HERE
ASUS offers the Wi-Fi GO feature as a very interesting feature which I could see being widely underused and mis understood as mist will simply not understand the technology or the capabilities of the implementation. Just some of the usages are as follows:
- Wi-Fi hotspot – This allows for the unit to be used as a router or access point sort of device for other Wi-Fi capable devices.
- DLNA media server function - This allows for media streaming to your household network for effortless media playback.
- Remote desktop - Users can take control of the desktop remotely via a tablet or smartphone.
- File Transfer – easy and convenient file transfers wirelessly from a mobile device through your network.
This is just some of the ways the onboard Wi-Fi GO feature can be used but we’re sure that users will discover many ways to utilize it although most will likely just use it for wireless network access. But just be aware there are many capabilities to this system if you are willing to explore them.
ASUS offers the BIOS Flashback utility, which is actually a multi-facet tool and has many capabilities which some may not be aware of. We have had many times where a motherboard did not support a CPU, and we had to frantically search for a supported CPU just to flash the BIOS (ex. Gulftown CPU support on X58). ASUS has eliminated the worry of these kinds of issues by allowing the BIOS flashback procedure which does not require a CPU or memory to flash the BIOS. All that is needed in order to flash the BIOS is to have the desired firmware ROM file on a USB thumb drive and insert that into the BIOS Flashback USB port. Subsequently depressing the BIOS Flashback button for 5 seconds will start a flashing LED which indicates the firmware is being updated and once the update is complete the flashing will stop. It really is that easy and ensures no matter the condition the firmware can be flashed even if the newest CPU is not supported without the previously mentioned hunt for a compatible CPU.
This may seem like an odd feature but many may buy the newest and greatest CPU on the market while the board could have been shipped with the older firmware which in most cases would leave the user stuck without an option. As for our usage we have found this useful in quite a few experiences where running a LN2 cooled system not necessarily in the most stable conditions and a BIOS had gotten corrupt, but with the BIOS flashback it was remedied as quickly as we could copy the Rom file from our laptop to the flash drive and get it flashing.
USB 3.0 Boost
Turbo USB is a new feature we have seen from ASUS as of recent and it allows for a speed increase from older USB 2.0 thumb drives or storage devices when the Turbo mode is enabled on that device through the ASUS AI Suite II software.
One thing that not many have publicized is the fact that this boost also supports a protocol names UASP which supports a much higher transmission rate via the ASMedia controller. ASUS included with the motherboard a Thermaltake BlacX 5G USB 3.0 capable external docking station along with a Corsair Force GT SSD to allow for testing of this feature. We went ahead and tested multiple different drives and combinations to see how the functions actually plays out in real world scenarios.
Here we see standard performance from the ASMedia controller under its “Normal mode” which is rather good and plenty fast for an external storage device.
Here we see with the UASP mode enabled, that the speed is increased massively by over 100MB/s throughput which put some serious speed into the equation.
Also with Z77 one of the features is the new inclusion of Intel native PCH USB 3.0 ports. With this ASUS has found a way to enable faster speed via the AISuite USB boost control for these ports as well. The Intel USB 3.0 does not support UASP protocol so only Turbo mode can be enabled as of this time.
Here we have the stock results for the Intel controller. So far, the results are really good, so we definitely see the Intel inclusion of native USB 3.0 support as being an advantage.
Here we have the result with turbo mode enabled which nets some very extreme results! This is very impressive and should be noted that with UASP support the results may improve even further, but we will have to wait and see how that goes
Keep in mind that this is not just for external docks, as any USB storage device can possibly be sped up via the USB 3.0 boost. Even USB2.0 thumb drives may grab a small advantage from being plugged into the USB3.0 port and having the boost enabled.
For more information please see the ASUS USB 3.0 Boost landing page here
Included mSATA SSD for Smart response/Rapid Start functions
ASUS has went above and beyond when it comes to the mSATA department. mSATA ports they have offered before amongst many manufacturers but ASUS decided with the Premium board they wanted to make sure the user had something special so in the port comes a 32GB SSD preinstalled which means right out of the box you can have a cached drive ready to run. This may seem like small peanuts to some but in reality a 32GB SSD can make quite a large difference in performance when coupled with Intel’s Smart Response feature. Also one not so mentioned feature comes as the Rapid start technology which caches the Hibernation data on the quick access SSD to ensure when waking from a hibernation state it can be done quickly and seamlessly with no intervention from the user. Another cool feature of the integrated mSATA port is that it can be upgraded with any size mSATA SSD up to 240GB+. This means that even though the pre-installed drive is primarily a cache drive, a sufficiently large replacement could serve as a primary system drive.
ASUS SSD Caching II
ASUS as offered its SSD caching option which we have covered on many occurences now but now they have expanded it for the SSD Caching II feature. The previous gen ASUS SSD Caching allowed for a single SSD to be cached to a connected drive with no capacity limit for the attached SSD. Now ASUS has pushed the limits further by having 4 total ports on the SSD caching controller to allow a number of combinations including caching of a single drive with up to 3 attached SSD’s for insane levels of performance or even dual HDD’s cached by SSD’s. This allows for a wide range of options and scalability to match multiple applications or usages. With the array configured as triple SSD’s caching a single drive you can expect speeds of up to 700MB/s+ which means you can configure a large capacity hard drive with a decent sized high speed caching volume to give SSD speed with the massive capacity of the platter drive. In comparison to the Intel SRT solution, this has many advantages:
- No size limit on the SSD’s for the ASUS solution (Intel solution limit is 64GB Cache volume)
-ASUS solution allows multiple SSD to cache a single drive (Intel solution allows single SSD caching a single platter drive)
-ASUS solution is scalable to multiple cached arrays or a single super fast cached array (Intel solution allows a 1 to 1 ssd/hdd cached array)
These are not the only advantages but rather some of the key ones we saw with the ASUS SSD Caching II solution.
Here is an overview of settings up a 1 to 1 SSD cache: as you can see it is very simple single click to initialize the drives for a caching operation. Also note above we show triple SSD’s ready to cache a single platter drive for the ultimate performance configuration.
Lucidlogix Virtu MVP
ASUS, like all other manufacturers offers the Lucidlogix Virtu MVP support for their Z77 line. The Virtu MVP technology is a very interesting improvement over the previous Lucid Virtu we had used before. This version of Virtu MVP does all of the same functions that the original could do but is better optimized, and now adds some new 3D enhancement features to the mix that make for a very interesting possible implementation. Virtu MVP offers HyperFormance which allows for rendering to be offloaded to the iGPU, and in turn allows the discrete GPU to do the grunt work it was designed for, while the iGPU does the light frame renders to ensure better frame rate. The frames are pre-rendered in place and any duplicate frames are not rendered by the discrete GPU. This keeps the discrete GPU processing only frames which are new or different from the previous.
Also included in the MVP package is Virtual Vsync which allows for the tear-free quality of Vsync display without being limited to the display refresh rate; this will ultimately allow for smoother performance and playback. This is accomplished by the same method of pre-rendering frames and dropping partially rendered frames before they get to the discrete GPU to avoid from partial redraws which will cause the undesired tearing affect we have seen before.
Further in this review we will do some game testing to find what exactly we get from Virtu and whether the performance is worth the hype.
Fan Xpert 2
ASUS has always had Fan Xpert technology as part of its AISuite utility chest but its always been used for manual adjustments and profiling of the system fans.
The Fan Xpert 2 now comes with a automatic profiling system which we will attempt to demonstrate in the following.
Here is the main screen where you can select between custom fan profiles such as Silent which spins down all fans except the CPU cooling fan. then standard which is standard throttled fans depending upon temperatures, and lastly we have the Turbo mode which throttles every fan up for maximum cooling when needed.
Pressing the “Fan Auto Tuning” button will start the motherboards intelligent learning process which we see below.
Here we see as the fans are proceeding through the automatic tune process. The fans are ramped to maximum then gradually ramped down to stopping at which point the motherboard knows where the stop and start point for every fan connected to the motherboard would be and this helps the motherboard better tune the system for an optimum airflow/noise ratio.
After the analysis is complete the fan Xpert 2 screen moves to the next and final step which is where you select where each detected fan is on the chassis. if you are not sure you can always click the “Search” button to the right and the system will spin all fans down and it will spin the selected fan only up to maximum speed so that you can identify its position and even name it. This as well will help with the cooling setup and how the system throttles each fan independently.
Thunderbolt Done Right – The first Intel certified Thunderbolt Platform
What is Thunderbolt?
Thunderbolt is a very new interface to the PC world but has been around Mac for awhile. Very simply, Thunderbolt is a super high speed interface with up to 10Gbps throughput. In reality, however, there is much more below the surface so let’s dig in and see what Thunderbolt is all about.
ASUS is the first to carry full Intel Certification for Thunderbolt integrated into a motherboard. This speaks highly to the close working relationship ASUS shares with Intel.
Thunderbolt interface is a 10Gbps interconnect which also carries DisplayPort signal so that a single port on the board can easily be daisy chained out for multiple devices and terminated at a DisplayPort display.
Here we have the block diagram layout similar to what we have with the P8Z77-V Premium board. As we see it pulls a full 4x PCI-E link to ensure there is no starvation of bandwidth to the high speed Thunderbolt interface. For many boards that have been newly announced, we are unsure if the manufacturers used a full 4x link or if the links are switchable between 2x and 4x depending upon device population. However, the P8Z77-V Premium has PLX controllers in place to allow plenty of available PCI-E lanes for component usage. For those boards that do not carry auxiliary PCI-E multiplexers the board may need to disable certain devices or lower the Thunderbolt link speed in order to allow dull usage. For the premium variant ASUS chose the no compromise route to ensure everything is available when needed.
Here we see as previously mentioned that the Thunderbolt carries 2 signals concurrently (both a Thunderbolt DATA signal and a DisplayPort signal). This allows for the aforementioned connection of a DisplayPort monitor at the end of the line of data devices which makes for a single cable output from the board to devices and display.
Here we see the 7 device connection. This is 6 devices through data and a display at the end. Even if using no display inline, the limit for data devices such as external storage is still at 6 total for the data stream which is pretty awesome from a single connector on the board.
For testing the Display function we used an ASUS PA238 IPS panel hooked up via the thunderbolt interface (DisplayPort) daisy Chained from a LaCie 240GB external Thunderbolt SSD setup.
USB3.0 vs. Thunderbolt trace comparison
Here we see a few things for those who are familiar with trace layouts and how they work. The traces for the Thunderbolt port are very short which decreases latency and also chances for EMI amongst other issues. With a really high speed interface such as Thunderbolt this is an absolute necessity as they can be easily susceptible to interference on larger trace runs.
Another area we see is the arced or curved trace routing as it makes turns whereas the USB 3.0 utilizes angle style runs which means it takes 45 degree sharp angles when making a turn on the PCB and changing PCB layers. This will help reduce both electrical impedance and signal reflection.
As seen above the arced route improves the signal in multiple areas and appears to be a more efficient design for the high speed Thunderbolt interface.
Thunderbolt Performance Comparison
USB 3.0 Throughput
The USB3.0 performance is good for the single 1 to 1 interface and it does its job just fine and with the ASUS USB 3.0 boost even gets some very respectable speeds on its own but it really is limited when it comes to total bandwidth as it only carries a native link of 5Gbps which means if using a USB3.0 hub you can quickly hit the limit of the bus.
Thunderbolt Max Throughput Test
With a multiple SSD daisy chain configuration we can see the thunderbolt interface can quickly reach speeds in excess of 900MB/s read which is extremely fast and can be very usable for media professionals who need extreme bandwidth capability for high definition content.
Identifying a Thunderbolt cable
Thunderbolt cables and mini DisplayPort cables share the same connection type but unfortunately are NOT interchangeable. A DisplayPort cable can plug into a Thunderbolt port, but cannot be used for a data device. A Thunderbolt cable can be easily identified like above as it has the Thunderbolt logo and is also an active cable with an IC in the cable head.
All in all Thunderbolt is a super high speed interface that is capable of completely insane speeds simply not possible on USB 3.0 as it only has half the available bandwidth that Thunderbolt can use.
Overview of the ASUS P8Z77-V Premium
The packaging is standard fare from what we have seen for the other channel line boards which is not necessarily a bad thing but more of a note to the simplicity of packaging with only minor signage to denote the importance and capability of what is within. A Thunderbolt logo adorns the package but those who do not know the significance of this will understand once they open the flap and browse through the features. The box has a lot of information within the cover and on the rear of the box but it gives a brief intro and explanation to the included features and tech without going into too much detail or becoming overly technical for the regular user. We knew that the board had Thunderbolt, which is fast and awesome, so we wanted it. Also included is a 32GB mSATA SSD.
Here we get a look at the vast array of accessories that come in the box, as there are many.
Here is a list of all items included in the accessory pack:
USB 3.0 3.5″ front panel module
2 Way SLI Bridge
3 Way SLI Bridge
4 Way SLI Bridge
Wi-Fi GO! Antennae
Wi-Fi GO! module
Easy connect front panel connectors
The accessory package is stout and covers complete connectivity of the board and should have more than enough to fully utilize the board with the supplied connectivity.
Click Images to Enlarge
Here we take a look at the complete board, along with the installed Wi-Fi GO! module and antennae installed. The overall layout of the board is very similar to what we have seen on other ASUS offerings in that the component placement is well though out and optimized for excellent cable management and routing. The component connectors are mostly at the boards edge which helps keep cables from being strung across the board surface making for a much more tidy build. The Wi-Fi GO! module is just like the one we looked at on the P8Z77-V Deluxe in that it offers a multitude of convenience and functionality features such as DLNA media server or even an access point.
Click Images to Enlarge
Here we take a look at the Rear I/O portion and see what kind of connectivity is offered by the P8Z77-V Premium.
2x USB 2.0
Dual Intel Gigabit LAN
BIOS Flashback Button
8 Channel audio
The Premium comes equipped with dual Intel NIC’s to ensure maximum reliability. Intel NIC’s have been long known to be very reliable and great performers by both gamers and enthusiasts users. Besides reliability and performance Intel NIC’s also do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to network traffic which means the CPU doesn’t work as hard since it is offloaded from the CPU to the NIC. Also, the fact that dual NIC’s means that even if one fails there is another so that downtime is kept to a minimum. Teaming is also available for those who wants to pair up both LAN ports for increased performance.
Click Images to Enlarge
At the center of the board there is a heatsink connected via heatpipe closely resembling the Northbridge cooler of previous generations. This houses something quite special: a PCI-E Gen 3 PLX chip used for multiplexing or multiplying available PCI-E lanes for the GPU slots. This allows for 4 card SLI or crossfire configurations at full X8 Gen 3 to all 4 cards which is a boatload of bandwidth. Gen 3 PCI-E is twice the theoretical bandwidth of the Gen 2 spec which in turns means that the x8 on the 4 slots will be closely comparable to x16 on Gen 2 which means that even on gen 3 capable cards the bottlenecking will be low (in single digit percentage wise) in most cases.
The lower edge of the board carries the connectivity for front panel and control switches. On the switch side of things there is the standard power and reset switches but also there are 2 toggle switches for EPU and TPU. EPU is all about power savings and how low can you go so to speak in terms of power efficiency for the board. TPU is basically an automatic overclock on the CPU to approximately 3.2-3.3GHz, and it will even give a bump to the iGPU as well if being used. Also on the bottom edge is the LCD post indicator which helps diagnose if there is ever an issue during bootup even though through all of our testing we did not see a reason to need it yet, but when overclocking im sure it will come in handy.
Click Images to Enlarge
The bottom right of the board was a real surprise, housing a mSATA port with a preinstalled 32GB mSATA SSD. To have a mSATA SSD right out of the gate was pretty awesome to see as that means that Intel Smart Response SSD caching is ready to run out of the box. The SSD is not tied to the SRT function and can easily be upgraded to any size you want and can be run as the system boot and even storage. If you were so inclined you could even run the board just with the mSATA SSD and no other drives attached (obviously, such a system would not be ideal for large amounts of data storage).
The 4 slots are all dual slot spaced to allow 4 dual slot cards to be installed or even two triple slot cards to be installed with a single slot of air space between them to ensure plenty of cooling airflow to the cards. there are also dual x1 slots to allow discreet audio or other controller cards to be installed if needed. The PLX chip seen here is a Gen 2 switch which allows plenty of lanes for all of the special features the board offers without having to sacrifice any onboard component function as all will have enough lanes to operate.
Click Images to Enlarge
The SATA interface carries the standard PCH ports (4 ports SATA 3Gbps and 2 ports 6Gbps); the white ports are 6Gbps capable. The three light blue ports are the 3Gbps ports and are split up so the third is next to the 24-pin EATX connector. The fourth of these light blue ports coming directly from the PCH is routed to the mSATA port which means the mSATA port is native and bootable like any other installed drive. The dark blue SATA ports are routed from the third party controller which also happens to be capable of the ASUS SSD Caching II feature. These ports do not have to be used for the SSD caching feature and can be run as standard ports for extra storage expansion as well.
Like all other Z77 boards, this one has four RAM slots for dual channel configurations up to 32GB. This board supports insane speeds if overclocked–in excess of 3000MHz, as long as you have a capable IMC and DIMMs. One really special feature of ASUS Z77 boards is the T Topology. This is a new trace layout design for the memory which is designed to be super efficient and provide serious improvements in memory performance. As of now the present memory design used by all manufacturers does the job but with memory quickly eclipsing 3GHz and at much higher densities, we think this technology will really show its stuff in future generations as speeds will only get faster and density is most assured to increase.
Click Images to Enlarge
The top end is where we find the VRM section which is fed by a 8-pin CPU ATX power connector. This is good as it gives more than enough amperage to feed a hungry CPU even when pushing the clock. The VRM is 20 Phase, which is a 16+4 design (16 Phase CPU and 4 Phase iGPU). This means that there is more than enough current capacity available to handle even the most extreme loads or overclocking conditions. The VRM is a DIGI+ design which as we have covered many times before are digitally controlled power circuits, allowing for amazing amounts of efficiency while also having excellent performance capability. Part of DIGI+ is the components selection which are all top notch and without question finely selected to ensure the best possible performance and compatibility and efficiency. The secret to DIGI+ system’s efficiency and thermal performance is in how it handles throttling. The MOSFETs actively throttle load back and forth between phases which keeps independent phases from being loaded consistently, which means the components stay cooler. Cooler components tend to run more efficient and also last longer. This feature can of course be disabled in the DIGI+ controls in the BIOS or AISuite II software.
Click Images to Enlarge
Here we see 4-way SLI fitment which is great as normally the mainstream chipsets do not have enough lanes to support this kind of load. However, with the help of the PLX chip it can be done with ease and dual slot ATI crossfire will work just the same. One really cool feature with the 4 slots double spaced is that 2 triple slot monster cards will fit and still have room to breathe as there is a single slot of space available between the cards even with the massive triple slot girth of the cooler. This allows for cooling airflow to get in between the cards and keep them nice and cool.
ASUS has a very familiar layout for its software so no surprise here until we run into the actual menus themselves. Let’s take a look and see what new gadgets we can play with in the AISuite software package.
First up is the menu bar as we have seen before, and upon opening we find a very similar list layout like we are used to seeing. entering the Turbo V Evo we see similar adjustments as we are used to including the CPU level up tab which allows an automatic overclock in a single click. Otherwise if opting for manual overclocking adjustments then voltage and frequencies can be easily adjusted all within this menu allowing a full range control similar to what can be adjusted in the BIOS itself.
When entering the DIGI+ Power control it now consists of 3 different sections which can be shuffled between.
Smart Digi+ Setting
CPU Digi+ Settings
DRAM Digi+ Settings
The Smart DIGI+ settings are quite cool as it allows for advanced quick single click overclocks within the single menu. there is also another very interesting setting we ran into which deserves mention. For those looking for the ultimate in low power computing there is the Smart CPU Power Level which when enabled there are 2 options 45W and 35W. These settings allow limiting the CPU to these preset wattage settings for power savings and it will be throttled as such. This is especially great in business type environments where full CPU performance is never utilized as this can cut power consumption and wasted energy by quite a lot.
CPU Digi+ settings allow full control over the CPU Digi+ Digital VRM components and the parameters at which they operate.
DRAM Digi+ settings allow for similar adjustment of the Digital VRM controls for the DRAM power circuits.
The EPU utility allows for custom tuning of the system to best match the usage model and even graphs out the present setting into whether it is more tuned toward performance and speed, or whether it is tuned toward power savings and tranquility.
A new section on these boards we come across as well is a new fan profiling software labeled “Fan Xpert 2″ and this really is the next step in the way an automatic fan control interfaces with the desires of the user. The whole approach starts with a custom tuning via the board going through a learning process where all fans are throttled to max then moving downward until it learns the stopping point for each fan as well. after the board learns these limits it can profile a fan curve automatically to best suit noiseless operation at low load and ramp up properly to cool as needed under load.
After the fans are learned you are taken to another screen which allows us to tell the software where each fan is located, and in case you are not sure which fan is on which corresponding port you can easily just click the “Search” button which will throttle down all other fans while throttling up the single fan you selected, then at that point you can tell the software where it is located in the chassis which will help with profiling the cooling performance. Lastly you can even name the fan whatever you like for instance if a fan is on a radiator you can name it “Radiator fan front” or whatever fits what you need. then after naming the fans and getting it finalized the software takes you back to the Fan Xpert 2 screen where you can even set the fans to a specific mode for that time such as silent which throttles every fan down with the exception of the CPU cooling fans and even those are at lowest setting possible that can still adequately cool your chip. Or there is standard mode which runs the standard profile it built from the previous learning experience, and lastly we have Turbo which ramps every fan up for when maximum cooling is needed.
The Probe II software is very similar to what we have seen before which is simply allowing monitoring of temperatures, voltages and fan speeds all to keep a good eye on the system performance. Also here we can set alarms for specific areas we want to keep an eye on such as if a fan drops in speed below an amount we specify.
The sensor recorder function is cool because if you hear a fan ramping up during gaming or something seems to be getting to hot you can always engage the sensor recorder to monitor and graph the fan speeds, voltages or temps recorded while in game so you can better diagnose possible issues before they become bigger ones.
AI Charger + allows for charging of high draw devices at a much higher rate than before. This allows for charging of BC1.1 mobile devices much more quickly although for that function you would need to confirm that the device you are charging actually supports the BC1.1 function.
USB Charger + is a general fast charging option via a USB charger + port designated by a green outline on the IO Shield which indicates the port utilized for this faster charge power delivery. Fast charging function can even be enabled for power down modes such as sleep, hibernate or shutdown modes.
USB 3.0 Boost we touched on earlier and we are rather impressed as to the level of performance we were able to achieve from USB 3.0 devices. Just for testing we even tested a USB 2.0 Patriot Memory thumb drive and we were surprised to see that on USB 2.0 we saw the following results.
USB 2.0 port: 29MB/s Read – 18MB/s Write
USB 3.0 Port (Normal Mode): 32MB/s Read – 21MB/s Write
USB 3.0 Port (Turbo Mode): 36MB/s Read – 24MB/s Write
This in and of itself is cool as the read speed jumped by up to 8MB/s which breathes a whole new life into the old thumb drives you may have sitting in your desk drawer. That may seem like a small jump but remember that is a free performance boost by just a press of a button and the performance boost is far more dramatic on USB 3.0 spec devices.
Network iControl software is a nice feature as it allows active control and management of the way your network bandwidth is allocated to ensure whether streaming a movie or gaming the packet priority is always in the right configuration as you are in the drivers seat so you tell it what is important to you.
The system can have different profiles to best match your usage model which enables downloads to be performed at the same time as online gaming without the issues normally seen such as increased latency or jumpiness caused by uncontrolled packets and no prioritizing of which should take priority.
The system info screens show data about the present system configuration such as CPU info, motherboard and even installed Memory SPD/XMP profiles read from the DIMMS.
The GUI of the Z77 UEFI is very smooth and works well. One area that most boards struggle on are the mouse controls whether were talking about delayed clicks or a jumpy mouse cursor it is just as smooth s silk and mouse clicks happen as if you were in windows itself. The main opening page is the EZ mode which is just a few simple clickable adjustments, but for any enthusiasts user such as me I skipped straight to the advanced mod.
The AI Tweaker is almost a mirror of every other Z77 we have seen from ASUS which is a huge relief as that means with board changes you won’t have to relearn a board every time you swap models. But another area we see this as a good thing is it means updates to the firmware will likely be easier which is why ASUS is always dropping new BIOS updates as they find ways to better tweak performance or optimize or correct an issue. The AI Tweaker section houses all of the tweaking options and allows for a fun overclocking experience as adjustments and descriptions are well laid out and described quite well.
Click Image To Enlarge
Here we have the advanced screens mentioned previously. The DRAM settings are more than adequate for standard tuning and will likely be downright confusing depending on the expertise of the user. We would suggest leaving most of the advanced options on defaults as setting them incorrectly can cause a no post condition and unless knowing how to set them correctly the performance can actually be made much worse, especially since the auto values are actually quite good. The DIGI+ controls allow for setting the amount of current and thresholds for the VRM components performance. These settings will allow for much more overclocking headroom at the expense of higher power usage and hotter VRM components as this will lower the amount of power saving features used since the extreme settings are designed for the maximum loading and extreme benchmarking setups which of course means that power savings comes secondary as priority is maximum power delivery and stability under excessive load.The CPU performance settings allow for disabling of power saving features and other CPU settings to allow either ultra stable high power benchmarking or power saving and stable regular 24/7 performance.
Click Image To Enlarge
The Advanced Tab covers many of the integrated components on the board along with the options to enable or disable specific features or functions of the board to better fit your usage model and possibly even reduce resource usage by eliminating features or components you do not plan on utilizing. One added feature you will see here is the Intel Thunderbolt control which allows configuration of the Intel Thunderbolt controller and how it functions. Also, control over SATA ports and their function can be found as well. Moving to the monitoring area we find a plethora of monitor able fields which help us get the low down on the operation of our system and find possible warning signs of an issue before it becomes a bigger problem.
Click Image To Enlarge
Here we have the monitoring/fan speed settings which allows for specialized “smart” fan settings to modulate the fans as needed. one of the last pages to round out the BIOS we have the boot screen which gives us setup of the boot devices and how the board performs during the post process.
Click Image To Enlarge
Lastly we have some of the key BIOS level tools including the ASUS SPD information which in the BIOS level will show the SPD readout directly from the DIMM that is installed. Also another nice utility is a flashing utility which can view installed drives or thumb drives to actively flash the BIOS from within the menu itself.
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear Prefetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
We are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. We ask that you provide feedback in an effort to help us deliver better reviews for you.
|Case||Thermaltake Level 10 GT|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K/Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Motherboard||ASUS P8Z77-V Premium
|Ram||(TBA) 16GbpsB Patriot Viper Xtreme 2400MHz +|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-220 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||ASUS GTX680 Top/GTX 580/Intel HD 4000|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 1200W|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black gaming mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 mechanical gaming keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the Motherboard and installed components.
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
|Unigine Heaven 3.0|
|SiSoft Sandra 2011b|
The Z77 platform is brand new but when clocking is very similar to what we have seen with the Z68 models we have tested previously. We have said it time and time again but it bears repeating, the BCLK of the present platforms is very limited so you will be lucky to get 107 MHz with relative stability for 24/7 operation. This means that unlocked or K Sku’s are about the only real answer for a good clock and the exceptional performance potential being unlocked. The 22nm CPU’s do have one oddity we have observed and that is heat output when overclocked. This has limited air/water clocks to around 5GHz depending upon cooling solution.
We have run some of the ASUS board on Single stagephase change cooling and even though it was quite an older unit (Tuned for P4 with HT chips) the Ivy Bridge 3770K easily eclipsed 5GHz and handled approximately 5.4GHz fully stable. 5.5GHz and the required voltage for that clock overloaded the unit under extended stress so we know that better cooling (DICE, Cascade or LN2) would be required to really push the limits on these chips.
In order to best meet the middle ground of most users and their component capability we stuck with our 4.6GHz speed for the overclocked runs as this was easily obtainable on decent air cooling which means most users should be able to reproduce it without much issue.
Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure. Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.
The temperatures were recorded with RealTemp while running wPrime 1024 right before the end of the 5th run. The results were recorded carefully. After the results were recorded, we waited for 30 minutes before taking Idle temperature measurements. The results were as follows:
|CPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS P8Z77-V Premium OC (4.6GHz)||30C/68C|
|ASUS P8Z77-V Premium||25C/54C|
|Chipset Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS P8Z77-V Premium OC (4.6GHz)||41C/47C|
|ASUS P8Z77-V Premium||32C/42C|
The reason temps may look a little lower than seen elsewhere online is that We are using a custom liquid cooling loop compliments of Swiftech which helps us reach an area of much higher headroom for overclocking and performance testing.
The power consumption was tested while running Wprime 1024 for a few minutes at stock settings. The results were recorded carefully with a Kill-A-Watt power consumption measuring tool at the wall. After the results were recorded, we waited for yet another few minutes minutes before taking Idle power consumption measurements.
|Configuration||Power Consumption (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS P8Z77-V Premium (4.6GHz)||214W/436W|
|ASUS P8Z77-V Premium||145W/338W|
The power consumption is not with GPU usage. This is with CPU/system loading but nothing graphically intensive in order to provide the most accurate results by not ramping up the GPU, which will pull significantly more power.
NOTE: A system using just the integrated GPU alone will likely pull much less power but a board like this is not likely to be used with an integrated GPU alone or at least most users will have a discreet GPU installed.
SiSoft sandra 2011
“SiSoftware Sandra (the System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software. It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what’s really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCI-X, PCI-E (PCI Express), database, USB, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc.”
Click Image To Enlarge
SiSoft Sandra is a good system efficiency and performance benchmark as it deals with just raw numbers. A Core i7-2600K was used to show the improvement users will see from the previous generation. Many may say that a fair comparison would be the 2700K but in reality, for 1155 most users adopted the 2600K or the 2500K as the 2700K didnt come until late in the Sandy Bridge life cycle. Therefore anyone looking to jump into Ivy Bridge will likely be moving from 2600K to the 3770K as shown here. The jump from 2600K to 3770K is not large and not really a surprise as this die shrink is a small step forward.
SuperPi is a single threaded benchmark which measures efficiency and is heavily influenced by architectural changes as much as it is by clockspeeds.
SuperPi is a great efficiency benchmark and one we always use just because its simple and it shows improvements when they exist. the slightly higher clock speed of the 3770K in single threaded apps likely gives a jump here but overall efficiency is still a step forward and quite good for the platform.
The X264 benchmark is all about encoding and how well your CPU can do it. wWe have seen the 3770K and how it performs and there’s no surprise here as performance is spot on with what I would expect with minor efficiency differences from board to board but overall the difference is marginal and within the margin for error.
Real world/Gaming Benchmarks
3DMark 11 is the newest in Futuremark’s suite of benchmarking utilities. Its a fully capable DirectX11 benchmark which also stresses and analyzes the system performance as a whole to simulate a heavy rendering environment such as a high end game or other app the end user may run. This benchmark was run with Performance settings 5 times and all runs were averaged for the result below.
In 3DMark 11, we opted for the Physics score as this test is CPU based and relies on no graphics, so we just see the CPUs ability to render the preset Physics test. As we see the die shrink scales ahead by a decent amount especially when overclocked and this shows for gamers coming from the common 2600K this would be a rather decent upgrade.
Here we look at how the system scores with a ASUS GTX680 installed in the system. now remember that the 2600K offers PCI-E 2.0 whereas the 3770K is PCI-E 3.0 enabled and therefore we do see a small jump in graphics performance when we run the Xtreme preset. But the real star of the show here is the LucidLogix MVP which really is the MVP of our testing with a huge gain by bolstering the GPU with the iGPU to increase performance.
Unigine Heaven 3.0
Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.
Here with heaven at 1080P once again we see a small bump going from PCI-E 2.0 to 3.0 but the big jump comes from the MVP technology.
Metro 2033 is just pure hell on a GPU as with the GTX580 we found minimum framerates slowing to a complete crawl, though with the new GTX 680 that situation has been vastly improved. MVP once again gives a nice boost to the performance which could make the difference between smooth and choppy for the gamer who has a GPU just at the edge of playable and suddenly getting access to the MVP feature.
PCMark 7 is a simple but long running synthetic system benchmark, and overall it gives a good overall view of how your system can run multiple everyday tasks. The 3770K flat out beats the 2600K and when overclocked it just pounds it into the ground so definitely a worth upgrade for anyone building a scratch system.
We were very excited to see the implementation of Thunderbolt on a PC. After witnessing its performance and realizing we were running a monitor daisy chained through an external drive it really was a sobering experience. The Thunderbolt technology really is the main star of the show for the Premium board but we cannot let that overshadow the board as a whole with its multitude of features.
The premium brand is exactly what it says: it is the Premium offering from ASUS and could even be a segment board like the ROG or WS if ASUS wanted it to be due to its insane amount of features. At the end of the day it has a good spot as the flagship for the channel P8Z77 board lineup. The board offers more features than you could shake a stick at and it ensures the board can run all of them without compromise, and that is no easy task. The Thunderbolt on this board is fully Intel certified and is the first Intel certified solution to be available on the market as such. The board also carries 4 way SLI/Crossfire support, dual Gbt Intel NIC’s, included mSATA 32GB SSD, ASUS SSD Caching II, 20 Phase VRM, Wi-Fi GO! capability with full Wi-Fi support along with Bluetooth as well for a complete wireless solution. All in all, this board is packed chock full of features.
The only disadvantage to the board is the price as the board eclipses the 400 dollar mark which is a tough pill to swallow–indeed, it is higher than many graphics cards. However, considering the power this board is packing we can see why the price is so high, as 32GB mSATA SSD’s run upwards of 60-100 dollars depending on model not to mention the cost of adding features like the PLX bridge for 4 way GPU and all of the other bells and whistles it can all quickly add up.
The P8Z77-V Premium takes all the other boards by storm, and will be a hard act to beat (perhaps even for ASUS). If you want the best of the best and are willing to pay the price to get it, there really is very little besides the price that we didn’t smile about. This board is amazing and a half and for that we would highly recommend it to anyone looking for even half the functionality it offers.
|OUR VERDICT: P8Z77-V Premium|
|Summary: ASUS hit another homerun with a high performance segment board that somehow snuck into the regular channel lineup. Despite its high price, excellent performance and a litany of features such as Intel Thunderbolt make this board a powerhouse. It earns the Bjorn3D Golden Bear Award.|