Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

It has been a while since we last saw a mainboard with some serious design flaws, which could hinder the overall system efficiency. The same is true for Asus P8Z77-V Premium: it seems to be quite convenient to work with despite extensive additional functionality.

We would like to start describing the board’s features with a multi-phase digital voltage regulator circuitry called “SMART DIGI+”. It is built with high-quality components and provides stable power flow not only to the processor, but also to the graphics core integrated into it and the system memory. The heat-dissipating components are covered with two additional heatsinks and the backplate at the bottom of the PCB also serves as additional heat dissipating surface. All heatsinks are fastened securely with screws and one of them is connected to the central heatsink via a heatpipe. Unlike Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe, the central heatsink on the Premium board is not just for decorative purposes. Just like the similar heatsinks on ASRock Z77 Extreme9 or Gigabyte G1.Sniper 3, it covers the PLX PEX 8747 hub, which provides additional PCI Express lanes to be used for multi-card graphics configurations. As a result, this mainboard distributes the available PCI-E lanes among the slots in a similar way as Intel X79 Express based mainboards do. Not only one, but two graphics cards can actually work at the full PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 speed, and you can use as many as four graphics card simultaneously at x8 speed. Asus P8Z77-V Premium allows building Nvidia 4-Way SLI or AMD 4-Way CrossFireX configurations. Moreover, there are two more PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots for expansion cards.

We are already used to the fact that contemporary mainstream and high-end mainboards come equipped with a lot of SATA ports, but this is yet another aspect where Asus P8Z77-V Premium is different from the majority of other products.  Intel Z77 Express chipset provides the board with two SATA 6 Gbps ports (white connectors) and four SATA 3 Gbps ports, but we only see three of them: two light-blue ports in the general group and one more a little to the side, close to the memory DIMM slots. The fourth port is laid out as a mini-SATA 3 Gbps with a 32 GB LiteOn LMT-32L3M drive already installed into it. This drive may come in very handy for Intel Smart Response and Rapid Start technologies. Besides that, the mainboard has another four SATA 6 Gbps dark-blue ports, which quite unexpectedly come not from a pair of controller but from one single chip. It is for the first time that we see the new four-port Marvell 88SE9230 controller integrated onto a mainboard. But this is not all: there are two more eSATA 6 Gbps ports on the mainboard back panel, thus making the total number of SATA drives that can be connected to this board equal to twelve.

Overall, there are the following ports and connectors:

  • Two eSATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller;
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), two of which are implemented via ASMedia ASM1042 controller. Another two ports and one more internal pin-connector for two additional USB 3.0 ports are provided by Intel Z77 Express chipset;
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0 module (AzureWave AW-NB111H);
  • Thunderbolt port based on Intel DSL3310 controller;
  • An optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec;
  • HDMI and DisplayPort video outs;
  •  Two USB 2.0 ports, another four ports are laid out as two onboard pin-connectors;
  •  “USB BIOS Flashback” button;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Intel 82579V and Intel 82583 controllers).

I have to say that AzureWave AW-NB111H “Wi-Fi GO!” module uses Broadcom chipset, supports IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n in 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency range and Bluetooth 4.0. “USB BIOS Flashback” button will help you to easily update the mainboard BIOS by using the namesake technology. The Deluxe mainboard has all of these features, too, but Asus P8Z77-V Premium also boasts Thunderbolt interface support on top of that.

Like other Asus mainboards, Asus P8Z77-V Premium has convenient wide Q-Slot latches on the graphics card slots and single-sided Q-DIMM latches on the DIMM slots. Besides the glowing Power On and Reset buttons and the “USB BIOS Flashback” button on the mainboard back panel, we see a “MemOK!” button, which lets the board start up successfully even if there are problems with the system memory, and a “Clear CMOS” button for resetting the BIOS settings. The “Q-Led” diodes will quickly indicate where the boot-up failed, and you can always use the POST-code indicator for more detailed diagnostics. The TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) switch will allow you to overclock the CPU automatically, and the EPU (Energy processing Unit) switch will enable more energy-efficient operation mode. The mainboard has two processor fan connectors and four system case fan connectors. All of them are four-pin connectors. The mainboard allows adjusting the processor core voltage in the interval from 0.8 V to 1.92 V, and the memory voltage in the interval from 1.2 V to 1.92 V with a very small increment of 0.005 V. If this is not enough, you can always use the “OV_CPU/DRAM” jumper, which will push the maximum voltage to 2.3 for both parameters. To ensure that all numerous controllers and connectors can coexist in harmony and work at the same time without problems, the board is also equipped with PLX PEX 8606 hub that provides the system with another eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes.

We summed up all the mainboard’s technical specifications in the following table for your convenience:

In the very beginning of this review we pointed out that Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe was a very feature-rich product, but Asus P8Z77-V Premium mainboard has more graphics card slots and therefore it supports a wider range of graphics configurations. It also has the additional PLX PEX 8747 hub, which allows these slots to work faster. It also has more SATA ports and comes with a pre-installed mini-SATA SSD Lite-On LMT-32L3M 32 GB drive. Moreover, Asus P8Z77-V Premium supports Thunderbolt technology. The backpanel connector can take a sequence of up to six different devices and a monitor. The mainboard’s accessories bundle is also somewhat richer than that of the Deluxe model. Of course, this board is called “Premium” for a reason: it is truly a high-end product targeted for those users who need to have as much functionality as possible right away.

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