PCB Design and Functionality
The real golden mainboard can’t just have a golden box. ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) has “golden” heatsinks, capacitors, core chokes, processor socket and even an entire back panel. They used “Gold 4ever” principle in the design of their mainboard:
Of course, everyone knows that golden mainboards use this color primarily for aesthetical purposes, but it also has practical value. All “Black” series mainboards, not only the “golden” ones, have 15 micron gold plating on connector contacts, which ensures excellent contact, high reliability and extended life of the connectors.
In our previous review we talked about MSI Z77 MPOWER mainboard. The unique thing about this mainboard is that it undergoes a serious 24-hour stress test in an overclocked system using Prime95 utility before hitting the stores. However, the unique peculiarity of all contemporary Elitegroup mainboards from the “Black” series is the “ECS Nonstop Technology” – a 72-hour stress test at 50°C temperature. This technology also implies the use of high-quality solid state capacitors and anti-static protection. So, if we consider only the extend of the pre-sale testing, we will be able to conclude that in this respect all Elitegroup mainboards from the “Black” series are three times better than the only mainboard from Micro-Star.
But, let’s get back to ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0). The golden heatsinks on the processor voltage regulator circuitry components are remarkable not only for their color, but also for their reliable screw-on retention and a connecting heatpipe. The logo on the chipset heatsink performs not only decorative functions, but is also capable of changing color under higher temperatures, thus indicating possible overheating. However, Intel Z77 Express chipset doesn’t heat up too much, so we have not seen any heatsink color changes during our test session.
There are two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 graphics card slots, which can share the bandwidth and allow building ATI CrossFire or Nvidia SLI multi-card configurations. There are also two PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two PCI slots. It is a real pity that Elitegroup mainboards do not use color-coding principles for their connectors, because it could make it a lot easier to distinguish between different SATA ports. Two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports are implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller. Another two SATA 6 Gbps ports are supported by the Intel Z77 Express chipset, but out of four SATA 3 Gbps ports provided by the chipset, we see only two. One of the “missing” ports powers the universal Mini SATA or Mini PCI Express slot, while the second one is laid out as an eSATA port on the mainboard’s back panel.
The complete list of ports and connectors on the back of ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) looks as follows:
- Bluetooth v2.1+EDR (Atheros AR3011) and Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g/n (Atheros AR9271) wireless modules;
- Four USB 2.0 ports, another two ports are laid out as an onboard pin-connector;
- D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI video outs;
- eSATA 3 Gbps port;
- Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) provided by the Intel Z77 Express chipset. ASMedia ASM1042 controller provides an additional pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
- A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controller;
- An optical S/PDIF and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec.
The components layout chart shows the Power On and Reset buttons, and a POST-code indicator. There are control points for manual voltage monitoring a little above the memory DIMM slots, although you won’t see them on the layout chart. Unfortunately, there are only three fan connectors onboard. This should be more than enough for a small microATX platform, but not for a top mainboard in the family. Moreover, the internal USB 3.0 pin-connector is not in the best place. It is at the very bottom of the PCB, which makes it easier to bring these additional ports to the back, but not to the front panel. A longer cable of the universal USB 3.0 port module that is bundled with the ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) mainboard partially makes up for this inconvenience.
We summed up all the major technical specifications of the ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) mainboard in the following table for your convenience: