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Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi

Zotac is not a major brand on the mainboard market, the company’s main business being concerned with graphics cards and nettops. It is the mini-ITX form-factor which is Zotac’s favorite, though. The company doesn’t miss new platforms and is always present in our comparative reviews of compact mainboards. Based on the Intel Z77 chipset, the Z77-ITX WiFi is a second enthusiast-targeted solution from Zotac. But can it compete with products from brands that are far more experienced in designing overclocker-friendly mainboards?

The exterior design of the Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi suggests that it can. It looks most impressive with its massive heatsinks on the chipset and the VRM which are secured with screws and connected to each other with a heat pipe. The cooling system does its job well, the temperature of the voltage regulator being the lowest among all the mainboards in this review. The eight-phase VRM features solid-state capacitors, ferrite-core chokes and integrated DrMOS components.

Enthusiasts will surely appreciate a number of things about the Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi. Despite its compact size, it offers a full-featured POST indicator, Power and Reset buttons and a replaceable BIOS chip.

And still, the component layout is not good enough to make the mainboard compatible with massive cooling systems. As on many other LGA1155 mini-ITX mainboards, the CPU socket is too close to the PCI Express x16 slot, although it would be more convenient for the user if the chipset were placed between them, like on the ASUS P8Z77-I DELUXE or EVGA Z77 Stinger. As a result, you can only install a tower-design cooler with an 80mm or 92mm fan or something like a standard boxed cooler. The Z77-ITX WiFi provides two fan connectors, both of the 4-pin type. 3-pin fans will not be regulated by this mainboard.

We didn’t like that most of the mainboard’s headers for the computer case’s I/O ports are closer to the back panel. The cables are going to trail through the entire case. The ATX power connectors are placed properly, though.

As for functionality, the Z77-ITX WiFi boasts separate mini-PCIe and mSATA slots, both on the face side of the mainboard. The engineers could implement this solution by installing the mini-PCIe slot upright – there’s a special metallic frame for securing an expansion card in it. The slot is already occupied by a Wi-Fi controller. It is based on an Atheros AR5B195 chipset that supports 802.11 b/g/n at 2.4 GHz. The same card is responsible for Bluetooth. The mSATA slot is free, so you can install an SSD, but you should be aware that the slot is connected to a chipset’s 3 Gbit/s port.

Most of the other features are implemented via the Z77 chipset, the Z77-ITX WiFi offering a standard selection of four SATA ports (two of them can work in 6 Gbit/s mode), two headers for four USB 2.0 ports, and one header for two USB 3.0 ports.

The rest of the interfaces are available on the back panel which is largely blocked by the massive VRM heatsink. Anyway, we can see four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a universal mouse/keyboard PS/2 socket, and two wired network connectors. Like Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI, the Zotac has extended networking capabilities thanks to two Gigabit Ethernet Realtek 8111E controllers. The Z77-ITX WiFi has no eSATA connector, though.

Besides everything else, there are two Wi-Fi antenna connectors, three digital video outputs (two HDMI and one mini-DisplayPort), five analog audio sockets and an optical SPDIF output on the back panel. The audio subsystem is based on a midrange 8-channel Realtek ALC889 codec. The overclocker targeting of the Z77-ITX WiFi is emphasized by the Clear CMOS button.

It must be noted that this mainboard comes with the richest accessories among all products in this review. Its box contains not only four SATA cables, a couple of Wi-Fi antennas and an I/O Shield, but also an extension cord for an 8-pin power cable, a mini-DisplayPort->DisplayPort adapter, and a back-panel bracket with two USB 3.0 connectors.

Zotac seems to have designed a very attractive product but our impression is significantly spoiled by its BIOS. We’ve come to take graphical interfaces for granted whereas the Z77-ITX WiFi has a text-based BIOS Setup with eye-straining colors, no mouse support, incomprehensible setup options and some other downsides. So, there’s no talking about easy configuring here.

That said, the Z77-ITX WiFi does offer everything necessary to overclock your system. Most of CPU and memory options are collected under the X-Settings section. You can specify CPU and memory voltages and enable the technology that counteracts voltage drop at high loads. As opposed to the other mainboards, Zotac’s Load-Line Calibration can only be enabled or disabled. You cannot flexibly choose the level of counteraction. The mainboard doesn’t allow to change system agent voltage whereas the lowest CPU voltage is 1.1 volts, which is rather too high, especially if you want to maximize your computer’s power draw.

CPU-related parameters can be found on a separate page. You can change all CPU technologies and change its frequency multiplier here. Overclocking is rather unusual with this mainboard. It is impossible to increase the base multiplier above the default level, so you have to specify higher Turbo Boost multipliers or lower Turbo Boost thresholds. You can also increase CPU voltage here by specifying the offset that is added in Turbo mode.

Memory settings aren’t numerous but you can tweak the basic timings. The mainboard can only configure all of the timings automatically. XMP is supported.

Some more CPU settings can be found in the CPU Configuration subsection of the Advanced section. It also shows some basic information about the installed CPU.

The BIOS of the Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi is not just ugly but also not very functional. It lacks information, has no integrated firmware update tool, doesn’t support multiple setup profiles, and offers no automatic overclock feature.

During our tests we noticed this mainboard to be somewhat slower than its opponents, especially at gaming loads. We don’t know why but we also noticed that our CPU switched to the Turbo mode less eagerly on the Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi than on the other mainboards. Another notable downside is that it sets CPU voltage too high at the default settings – and the 0.1V addition makes it the least economical of all of the mainboards in this review.

Well, this didn’t prevent us from getting good results from the Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi at overclocking. We easily made our Core i5-3570K stable at 4.4 GHz and 1.3 volts, so the Zotac is no different from the other mainboards in this review in this respect. However, the Load-Line Calibration feature would cause significant fluctuations in CPU voltage at high loads. It may show up badly in some situations.

Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

Since we are focusing on Mini-ITX mainboards, which want to be considered an alternative to full-size platforms, we didn’t make any special allowances during our test session. It means that our testbed was equipped with an overclocker Core i5 processor – Core i5-3570K, and a high-performance discrete graphics card – GeForce GTX 680. Moreover, during this test session we also paid special attention to practical overclocking.

However, we did have to make one small change. Unfortunately, many Mini-ITX mainboards impose restrictions on the size of the processor cooler that they can accommodate. Therefore, in a number of cases we had to replace our traditional NZXT Havik 140 with a considerably smaller CoolerMaster Hyper TX3. Otherwise, our standard platform remained the same. It included the following hardware and software components:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-3570K (Ivy Bridge, 4 cores, 3.4-3.8 GHz, 6 MB L3).
  • CPU coolers:
    • NZXT Havik 140;
    • Coolermaster Hyper TX3.
  • Mainboards:
    • ASRock Z77E-ITX (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS 1.80);
    • ASUS P8Z77-I DELUXE (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS 0801);
    • EVGA Z77 Stinger (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS 1.21);
    • Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS F3d);
    • MSI Z77IA-E53 (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS 10.2);
    • Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi (LGA1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS 2K121116).
  • Memory: 2 x 4 GB, DDR3-2133 SDRAM, 9-11-10-27 (Corsair Dominator Platinum CMD8GX3M2A2133C9).
  • Disk sub-system: Intel SSD 520 240 GB (SSDSC2CW240A3K5).
  • Power supply unit: Corsair AX760i (80 Plus Platinum, 760 W).
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise x64.
  • Drivers:
    • Intel Chipset Driver 9.3.0.1026;
    • Intel Rapid Storage Technology 11.7.0.1013;
    • NVIDIA GeForce 310.90 Driver.
 
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