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EVGA Z77 Stinger

We’ve had difficult relationships with EVGA mainboards. We’ve tried to test them a number of times throughout the last year but had to give up the idea after various problems emerged. Meanwhile, EVGA mainboards are quite enticing. They are cleverly designed and well-made products in attractive packaging, so every new model seems to be interesting. That’s why we want to give them another try.

As usual, an EVGA mainboard seems perfect at first sight. The Z77 Stinger features an almost perfect component layout. Although it’s often hard to place every component properly on a compact PCB, this mainboard is a good illustration that miniaturization doesn’t have to be inconvenient. The Z77 Stinger also looks a perfect overclocking platform since there’s a lot of free space around the CPU socket, meaning that you can easily install massive CPU coolers. The recipe is simple: like on the ASUS P8Z77-I DELUXE, the chipset is placed in between the LGA1155 socket and the PCI Express x16 slot.

The mainboard is overclocker-friendly in other respects, too. For example, it has hardware Power and Reset buttons, so you can use it as part of an open testbed. Its full-featured POST indicator is quite a rare thing to see on a mini-ITX product. The indicator does double duty, reporting CPU temperature after the mainboard has started up.

The CPU voltage regulator incorporates seven power phases, using IR3550 PowIRstage integrated circuits and solid-state capacitors. It features high efficiency, which is confirmed by the low temperature of the regulator’s components at work. Anyway, EVGA installed a rather massive heatsink, securing it with screws. A similar heatsink is mounted on the chipset, so the Z77 Stinger is blameless in this respect.

The mainboard offers not two but three 4-pin fan connectors, which is more than enough for a mini-ITX mainboard. Unfortunately, they only support PWM-based regulation, so 3-pin fans will work at their full speed always.

For all these advantages, the Z77 Stinger is not really perfect. There are some minor flaws in its design. First of all, the DIMM slots are too close to each other. Overclocker-friendly memory modules like Corsair’s Dominator Platinum may feel cramped and will be pushing each other with their plump heatsinks. Secondly, the onboard USB headers are placed at the mainboard’s back panel, so the cables are going to trail through the entire computer case from the latter’s front-panel connectors. And thirdly, the Z77 Stinger lacks a connector for the computer case’s audio sockets. These are all but minor downsides, though. The good news is that the ATX power connectors are placed in such a way that you can easily access them while assembling your PC configuration.

We felt more disappointed when we looked through the mainboard’s detailed specs. The Z77 Stinger is positioned as a premium solution, priced at $200. That’s more expensive than any other Z77-based mini-ITX product. But the EVGA mainboard doesn’t offer anything special. It doesn’t even come with a bundled Wi-Fi controller, offering an empty miniPCIe slot instead. Otherwise, the Z77 Stinger is comparable to regular mini-ITX mainboards you can see in this review. Its capabilities are determined by the chipset and two extra controllers: an ASMedia ASM1042 for additional USB 3.0 ports and a Marvell 88SE6121 for eSATA 3 Gbit/s.

Despite the extra SATA controller, the Z77 Stinger has only four SATA ports: two 3 Gbit/s and two 6 Gbit/s ones. It has two USB 2.0 headers and one USB 3.0 header. All of these ports are implemented via the chipset.

The back panel looks kind of empty because the mainboard lacks DVI and Wi-Fi antenna connectors. It only offers two video outputs: HDMI and mini-DisplayPort. The following can also be found on the back panel: two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports (two of which are based on the ASMedia controller), a Gigabit Ethernet port (based on an Intel 82574L controller) and two eSATA ports (based on the additional Marvell controller whereas two of the chipset’s SATA channels remain unused). Analog speaker systems can be connected to the mainboard’s five audio sockets. An optical SPDIF output is available, too. Finally, we can see a Clear CMOS button and a miniature Bluetooth adapter BTA3011M01 with USB interface.

The accessories to the EVGA Z77 Stinger include four SATA cables and two SATA power adapters. The included I/O Shield has unneeded openings for Wi-Fi antenna connectors.

It is the mainboard’s BIOS that’s the main disappointment, though. Even its user interface doesn’t bode well. While the rest of the manufacturers have already switched to a graphical BIOS Setup, the Z77 Stinger offers an archaic text-based one with just a few graphical icons.

The list of settings isn’t impressive, either. The Overclocking section contains CPU configuring options, but the voltage can only be set as an absolute value. It means you cannot overclock in an energy-efficient way. The fixed voltage cannot be changed, so the CPU loses its ability to enter power-saving states at low and zero loads.

Memory configuring is done in a special section where we can see a lot of options but no XMP support. The top memory mode supported is only DDR3-2133.

CPU technologies are controlled from a dedicated section, too. Everything’s normal here. Like any overclocker-friendly platform, the mainboard supports multistep counteraction to CPU voltage drop under high loads.

The Z77 Stinger is inferior to its opponents in terms of extra BIOS tools. It cannot update its firmware without booting the OS, for example. The BIOS doesn’t provide any information about the memory modules’ SPD or XMP profiles.

All of the mentioned downsides are pale before the Z77 Stinger’s behavior in practice. We must confess we couldn’t test it normally at its default as well as overclocked settings.

At its default settings the Z77 Stinger refused to set the CPU clock rate up properly. As we used an unlocked Core i5-3570K, the mainboard increased its frequency multiplier by one step without our intervention. We couldn’t turn off this feature, so the mainboard imposes this overclocking on you without asking. Another problem is that the Z77 Stinger is unstable with any memory faster than DDR3-1600. In other words, this rather expensive and enthusiast-targeted mainboard only allows using slow entry-level modules of DDR3 SDRAM.

New problems emerge when you try to overclock. Increasing the CPU multiplier above the default level disables all power-saving technologies, so the CPU works at a constant clock rate irrespective of load. Of course, its voltage remains constant as well. This is true until a certain load, though. In heavy applications the CPU multiplier drops back to its default level for some reason and we can’t check out the mainboard’s stability at overclocked settings because every stability test is a heavy application.

 
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