Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

We’ve picked up the ASUS P8Z77-M and Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H for this review because they have similar specs, yet there are differences in their design, of course. For example, both of them are microATX but the Gigabyte is smaller as you can see in the photos. The ASUS is 244x244 mm, which is the maximum permissible size for a microATX mainboard, and the Gigabyte is 244x220 mm.

Asus P8Z77-M

Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H

The mainboards are no different in terms of CPU and memory compatibility. Each has four slots for up to 32 GB of DDR3 SDRAM while the CPU compatibility list includes not only all varieties of desktop LGA1155 CPUs but also server CPUs of the Intel Xeon E3 series.

The ASUS P8Z77-M features a digital power system called DIGI+. Some of its components are covered with an additional heatsink, which is missing on the Gigabyte. It hardly makes any difference, though, because the power components aren’t very hot anyway. All of the heatsinks are fastened with spring-loaded latches.

The mainboards are both devoid of additional USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbit/s controllers, so their functionality is limited to that of the Intel Z77 Express chipset. There are two SATA 6 Gbit/s (white) and four SATA 3 Gbit/s (blue) connectors on each. Two USB 3.0 ports can be found at their back panels while the onboard USB 3.0 header supports two more ports. The mainboards have the same expansion slots but their layout is different. Besides one CPU-based PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slot, there is one chipset-based PCIe 2.0 x16 slot working at x4 speed. They are complemented with one PCIe 2.0 x1 and one PCI slot.

Asus P8Z77-M

Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H

The selection of connectors available on the back panel is almost the same with both mainboards. Here’s the ASUS:

  • Universal PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Four USB 2.0 ports, another six ports are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI video outs;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), as well as one more internal pin-connector for two additional USB 3.0 ports are provided by Intel Z77 Express chipset;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111F controller);
  • An optical S/PDIF and three analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC887 codec.

Asus P8Z77-M

The Gigabyte offers the same connectors but their positions and controllers are different. For example, the Gigabit Ethernet port is based on an Atheros AR8161 controller and the audio subsystem uses an 8-channel VIA VT2021 codec. We can also note that the back-panel components are placed closer to each other on the ASUS mainboard, so the manufacturer managed to squeeze in an optical S/PDIF, which is missing on the Gigabyte.

Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H

Like many other mainboards from ASUS, the P8Z77-M has broad and handy Q-Slot latches on its graphics slots and single-sided Q-DIMM latches on the memory slots. As opposed to the more advanced models, it lacks Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons, but has a USB BIOS Flashback button (which enables the namesake BIOS update feature) and a MemOK! button (which allows the mainboard to start up successfully in case of problems with system memory). The diagnostic Q-LED system is only represented by a DRAM LED indicator which is accompanied by a Standby Power LED and a BIOS Flashback LED.

The mainboard offers four fan connectors, all of which are of the 4-pin variety. The CPU-related one can only regulate 4-pin fans. The system fan connectors can lower the speed of both 4-pin and 3-pin fans. The ASUS P8Z77-M has an onboard COM port header, but in a rather inconvenient location, above the 24-pin power connector in the top right of the PCB.

The Gigabyte GA-Z77M-D3H has ordinary latches on its graphics and memory slots and only has three 4-pin fan connectors (including a CPU one). Typically for Gigabyte, the GA-Z77M-D3H is equipped with two BIOS chips. The DualBIOS technology is implemented in such a way that only one chip is in use while the other serves as a backup copy. Featuring Gigabyte's Ultra Durable 4 Classic technology, the mainboard has protection against high temperature, voltage surges, electrostatic discharges and high humidity. The Classic version of the Ultra Durable 4 technology only lacks double-thickness copper interconnects.

Like the ASUS, the Gigabyte mainboard has a COM port header, which is placed conveniently near the bottom left corner of the PCB. It is accompanied with an LPT port header, a very rare interface for a modern mainboard to support.

Besides the GA-Z77M-D3H, Gigabyte’s GA-H77M-D3H and GA-Z77M-D3H-MVP models feature the same PCB design. By the way, we’re discussing the GA-Z77M-D3H revision 1.1 but you may come across revision 1.0 which looks almost the same and has the same functionality. The only notable difference is that the ATX12V power connector is 4-pin rather than 8-pin.

As usual, we summed up all technical specifications in the table below:


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