Articles: Mainboards

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Design and Features

About a year ago we were very pleased with the enhanced functionality of the DZ77BH-55K product page on Intel’s official website. The mainboard was represented as a large 3D photo you could turn around as you wanted. You could also get additional information about each of the mainboard's components by moving your mouse pointer over them. It was most convenient for checking out the product before making your purchase. Other mainboard makers don’t offer such preview features and, unfortunately, it was just a one-off promo from Intel as well. The product page for the Intel DZ87KLT-75K model shows a conventional small photo where you can hardly see anything and adds a general description with a list of basic specifications. So we have to make out everything on our own.

Being black like the gloomy mainboards from ASRock and Gigabyte, the Intel DZ87KLT-75K has a merrier appearance thanks to the color coding of its components. As opposed to MSI mainboards, it is the first-to-use pair of memory slots that are marked in blue. The fan connectors are red. The chipset's six SATA ports are blue and distinct from the two additional SATA ports, which are gray. The onboard USB 3.0 and FireWire headers are blue as well, but you just can’t confuse them. The front-panel audio header is light yellow whereas the dark yellow connector is USB 2.0 High Current. The latter features stronger electric current for recharging mobile gadgets (even when the computer is shut down). The connector for the computer case’s ports and buttons can be found in its conventional location in the bottom corner of the PCB. Its individual pins are color-coded as well. Despite the numerous colors, the mainboard doesn't look gaudy. The skull badge may seem somewhat incongruous on such a serious product, but that’s a tradition that can’t be avoided.

The DZ87KLT-75K makes full use of the PCIe sharing implemented in the Intel Z87 chipset. There are three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots but the second works in x8 mode and the third, in x4 mode. A single graphics card installed into the first slot will work at full speed. Two cards will share the bandwidth 50/50%. And if you’ve got three graphics cards, the speed formula will be x8/x4/x4. The mainboard lets you build multi-GPU configurations using AMD CrossFireX or Nvidia SLI technology. It also offers three PCI Express 2.0 x1 and one PCI slot for expansion cards. The six blue-colored SATA 6 Gbit/s ports are based on the chipset. The additional pair of SATA 6 Gbit/s ports are provided by an ASMedia ASM1061 controller (the user manual calls it Marvel 88SE9172 for some reason). They are gray. Next to them you can see a connector for mSATA and mini-PCIe cards (both full- and half-size cards are supported).

The chipset and the hot components of the power system are equipped with heatsinks, which are secured with screws. When you look at it from another angle, you can see that the decorative piece on the largest heatsink impedes the heat-transfer process. The heatsink is going to be cooled by the air flow only if you have a small cooler, like those that accompany Intel’s boxed CPUs, but enthusiasts are unlikely to install weak coolers on such an advanced mainboard. With a powerful tower-design cooler, the decorative faceplate will deflect the air flow, driving it above rather than through the heatsink. We must confess, though, that the ASUS Z87-K was the only mainboard we’ve tested so far to have really hot heatsinks. The heatsinks of the other LGA1150 mainboards, including the Intel DZ87KLT-75K, are barely warm even at high CPU loads. So, it looks like not only the faceplate but the heatsink itself is a decorative element that serves only to emphasize the high status of the product.

The mainboard back panel has the following ports and connectors:

  • Universal PS/2 connector for the keyboard or mouse;
  • Two USB 2.0 High Current ports (yellow connectors), which always can be used for charging gadgets (even PC is power off); another six are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors, one connector is also High Current;
  • Illuminated Back to BIOS button, which equal for Clear CMOS
  • IEEE1394 (Firewire) port built on Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A controller. Another IEEE1394 port you can get from onboard pin-connector;
  • Two gigabit local network ports (from Intel WGI217V and Intel WGI210 network adapters);
  • Six USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented in the Intel Z87 chipset and replicated by two Genesys Logic GL3520M dividers. Additional two USB 3.0 ports can be received by internal pin-connector on the mainboard PCB;
  • HDMI-Out;
  • Optical S/PDIF and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec;
  • Thunderbolt connector.

As opposed to entry-level mainboards which are likely to make use of the CPU-integrated graphics core, the Intel DZ87KLT-75K will surely work together with a discrete graphics card (or even several cards). So, it has only one video output (HDMI), leaving space on its back panel for more demanded interfaces.

Here’s a list of the supported interfaces, by the way: two network ports, additional FireWire and SATA controllers, three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and one PCI slot. PCI is not supported by modern Intel chipsets, so this interface is implemented via a PCIe->PCI converter chip. A Thunderbolt connector alone needs as many as four PCIe lanes and no chipset can provide so many free PCIe lanes. That’s why you have to compromise on ordinary mainboards, choosing between additional controllers and expansion slots. The Intel DZ87KLT-75K avoids this limitation by using a PLX PEX 8606 chip for six additional PCIe lanes.

We can spot more features of the Intel DZ87KLT-75K on its flowchart. The letter N denotes a line of Voltage Regulator Status LEDs which indicate the number of active power phases in the CPU voltage regulator. This feature used to be present on various mainboards from many brands but has disappeared recently. Suspiciously, it disappeared at the same time when it seemed to us that the dynamic adjustment of the number of active power phases depending on load ceased to work on some mainboards. Such LEDs are now missing on Gigabyte and MSI mainboards whereas ASRock mainboards don’t allow to check out the number of active phases via the exclusive software. Intel must have nothing to hide because everything works well on its mainboards. You can turn the LEDs off in the BIOS or choose an indication method (constant or pulsating).

The PP letters in the flowchart denote Board Status LEDs. These indicate your drives’ activity, CPU and power system overheat, and POST procedure progress (initialization of the CPU, memory, graphics card, USB, drives, etc). We didn’t find them particularly useful because it’s hard to understand at one glance what the LEDs have to tell (there are but very small and abbreviated labels next to them on the PCB). So you have to look up their meaning in the user manual, which only exists in electronic format. And you just can’t read an electronic manual if your mainboard has halted during the POST procedure! Moreover, the mainboard has two POST code indicators which can be used for diagnostic purposes. At the current moment most of the four-digit codes are reserved for the future, so only one of the two indicators provides the bulk of information.

We’ve summed up the basic specs of the Intel DZ87KLT-75K mainboard in the following table. Clicking on it will open a comparative table with specs of all previously tested mainboards, namely ASUS Z87-K, ASRock Z87 Extreme4, Gigabyte GA-Z87X-D3H and MSI Z87-G43.

It’s been a long time since we last saw a mainboard with a nonstandard component layout like an ATX12V power connector in the middle of the PCB or memory modules at the top. The major makers have long ceased such dubious experiments and stick to the classic solutions when developing their ATX products. Intel was in fact the last developer that tried to experiment. Even if Intel mainboards looked normal, they might have some design inconvenience. For example, an internal USB 3.0 connector, which is usually placed at the right edge of the PCB, would be placed at the bottom edge on Intel mainboards, making it harder to connect it to the computer case’s I/O ports. The connector for the computer’s front-panel buttons and indicators is usually found in the bottom right of the PCB but it could be anywhere on Intel mainboards.

Well, it was so in the past while today the Intel DZ87KLT-75K is an example of classic design. And still, we can find one unconventional solution. Power connectors are usually placed at the edge of the PCB in such a way that the connector lock were outside for easier plugging and unplugging. The lock of the ATX12V connector on the Intel DZ87KLT-75K is on the inside. Fortunately, this is not a problem as the nearest heatsinks don’t get in the way.

Overall, the Intel DZ87KLT-75K is a neat and classic mainboard with rich functionality and as many as two POST code indicators. If you remove the model name and logos, you wouldn’t tell it from mainboards of the major brands, which would certainly be proud to market such a product.

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