Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Features

Last year we reviewed Asus Sabertooth P67 mainboard, which was also almost completely covered with a protective plastic casing called “TUF Thermal Armor”, that is why we weren’t really chocked when we saw Asus Sabertooth Z77 mainboard. But in any case, a seriously armored mainboard does command respect with its mere looks.

The main idea behind “TUF Thermal Armor” technology is to provide a physical barrier between the mainboard components and the much hotter processor and graphics accelerator. To ensure that the hot air trapped under the casing doesn’t stay there, the manufacturer included two 35 mm fans and two sets of retention screws for them. One fan should be installed onto a special reserved spot in the center of the mainboard, while the other one should cool two heatsinks on the processor voltage regulator components also hidden beneath the casing.

35 mm fans are not very popular these days, so they might be difficult to replace in case of failure, therefore, there is also a special frame that will allow using a 40 mm fan if necessary. There is also enough free space on the back panel to avoid any airflow obstruction. The only strange thing is that the warm air won’t be pushed to the outside of the system, but rather sucked inside it. However, only LGA 1366 and LGA 2011 mainboards are in serious need of additional cooling of their voltage regulator circuitries, while significantly more energy-efficient LGA 1155 boards may easily do without it, as they do not heat up a lot.

“TUF Thermal Armor” technology eventually evolved into “TUF Dust Defender” technology. You could see on the mainboard photo that three internal USB 2.0 pin-connectors are covered with anti-dust protective plastic caps. However, there are additional dust-filters for all expansion card slots as well as memory DIMM slots among the bundled accessories.

As a result, once the system has been completely assembled and all components and dust-filters are in place the mainboard’s body armor becomes almost completely solid:

Dressed up like that, Asus Sabertooth Z77 doesn’t look anything like a regular mainboard anymore, but the component layout shows that its design is, in fact, very thought-through and complies fully with contemporary system needs and requirements.

The digital “TUF ENGINE!” voltage regulator circuitry designed as 8+4+2 powers the processor, integrated graphics core and memory. The board uses “TUF Components”, which exceptional quality is confirmed by the enclosed certificate. There are four memory DIMM slots that can accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM working in dual-channel mode. By the way, Asus mainboards allow clocking the memory in very wide frequency range from 800 to 3200 MHz in systems with Ivy Bridge processors. The graphics cards can be installed in two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots that share 16 PCI Express lanes. The third PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot works at the maximum speed of x4, but it has to share the available four lanes with another three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots that is why its default speed is only x1.

The Intel Z77 Express chipset provides support for four Serial ATA 3 Gbps ports (black connectors) and two SATA 6 Gbps ports (brown connectors). The additional ASMedia ASM1061 controller adds another two SATA 6 Gbps ports (light-gray connectors). Besides two three-pin connectors for the included 35 mm fans, there are six four-pin connectors, two of which are designated for processor fans. Here we should bring up “TUF Thermal Radar” technology, which allows monitoring and controlling twelve (!) temperatures in various hot spots. The fan rotation speeds may be set dependent on these readings.

The mainboard back panel contains the following ports and connectors:

  • Four USB 2.0 ports, another six ports are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • “USB BIOS Flashback” button;
  • 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;
  • Two eSATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller;
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
  • HDMI and DisplayPort video outs;
  • Local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Intel 82579V controller).

“USB BIOS Flashback” button will allow to easily update the mainboard BIOS with the help of the namesake technology even if the system hasn’t been completely assembled yet. Like other ASUS mainboards, Asus Sabertooth Z77 uses convenient wide Q-Slot latches on the graphics card slots and Q-DIMM latches only on one end of the memory slots. Besides the abovementioned “USB BIOS Flashback” button on the back panel, there is also a MemOK! button that allows the mainboard to successfully boot even if there are memory-related problems present. The Q-LED diodes will help you quickly determine at what stage the boot-up process has stalled by gradually lighting up the LEDs as the processor, graphics cards and boot-up drive get initialized.

We summed up the mainboard’s major technical specifications in the following table:

We were pretty surprised to see the following note to the technical specifications, which we haven’t seen or noticed before: “Due to Intel chipset limitation, P8Z77, P8H77 and P8B75 series motherboards do not support Windows Vista operating system”.

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