ASRock Z77 Professional Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on May 16, 2012


Introduction

The ASRock Z77 Professional is a high-end socket LGA1155 motherboard targeted to the “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what the ASRock Z77 Professional has to offer.

The Intel Z77 is an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It also includes the addition of two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).

In addition, the ASRock Z77 Professional supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.

ASRock has launched 11 different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article. The Z77 Professional, the Z77 Professional-M, and the Z77 Performance are part of the “Fatal1ty” series, coming with a special USB port with a higher polling rate for gaming mice.

Specification

Z77 Professional

Z77 Performance

Z77 Extreme9

Z77 Extreme6

Z77 Extreme4

Z77 Pro4

Z77 Pro3

Form Factor

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

Memory Sockets

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

PCI Express x16

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

2 (x16/x4)

6 (x16/x16/x0
/x16/x0/x4 or x16/x8/x8
/x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x0
/x4 or x8/x8
/x4)

2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)

2 (x16/x4)

2 (x16/x4)

PCI Express x1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

Mini PCI Express

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

Standard PCI

2

2

0

2

2

3

2

CrossFireX

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

SLI

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

SATA-300

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

SATA-600

6

2

6

4

4

4

2

eSATA-300

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

eSATA-600

1

0

1 (shared)

1

1

0

0

USB 2.0

10

10

8

8

8

10

10

USB 3.0

8

6

12

6

6

4

4

FireWire

2

0

2

2

0

0

0

Bluetooth

No

No

4.0

No

No

No

No

Gigabit Ethernet

2

1

2

1

1

1

1

Wi-Fi

No

No

802.11
a/b/g/n

No

No

No

No

VGA

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DVI

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

HDMI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DisplayPort

Yes

No

No

Yes

No

No

No

Audio

ALC898

ALC892

ALC898

ALC898

ALC898

ALC892

ALC892

Voltage Regulator

16+8

8+4

8+4

8+4

8+4

4+2

4+1

Price

USD 230

USD 160

NA

USD 160

USD 130

USD 120

USD 110


Specification

Z77 Professional-M

Z77 Extreme4-M

Z77 Pro4-M

Z77E-ITX

Form Factor

microATX

microATX

microATX

Mini-ITX

Memory Sockets

4

4

4

2

PCI Express x16

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x1/x4)

1 (x16)

PCI Express x1

1

1

1

0

Mini PCI Express

0

0

0

1

Standard PCI

0

0

0

0

CrossFireX

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

SLI

Yes

Yes

No

No

SATA-300

4

4

4

2

SATA-600

4

4

4

2

eSATA-300

0

0

0

1

eSATA-600

1

1

1 (shared)

0

USB 2.0

8

10

10

6

USB 3.0

6

4

4

6

FireWire

0

0

0

0

Bluetooth

No

No

No

No

Gigabit Ethernet

1

1

1

1

Wi-Fi

No

No

No

802.11n

VGA

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

DVI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

HDMI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DisplayPort

Yes

No

No

Yes

Audio

ALC898

ALC898

ALC892

ALC898

Voltage Regulator

8+3

4+2

4+2

6+2

Price

USD 170

USD 130

USD 110

USD 150

In Figure 1, you see the ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 1: ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard

Slots

The ASRock Z77 Professional comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots.

The two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU. The first slot works at x16 when only one video card is installed; both work at x8 when two video cards are installed. Since these slots are controlled by the CPU, they will offer PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth (8 GB/s at x16) when a “Sandy Bridge” CPU is installed, but PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth (16 GB/s at x16) when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used.

The third PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot is controlled by the chipset and always works at x4 speed. You will need a case with at least eight expansion slots if you decide to install a dual-slot video card in this slot. (Computer cases usually have seven expansion slots.)

The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.

Since the Z77 chipset doesn’t support standard PCI slots, these slots are connected to PCI Express x1 lanes using an ASMedia ADM1083 bridge chip.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 2: Slots

In order to properly accommodate the additional PCI Express devices that are on this motherboard (the third PCI Express x16 slot, the second Gigabit Ethernet port, the four additional USB 3.0 ports, the four additional SATA-600 ports, etc.), the board makes use of a PLX PEX8608 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 3: The PLX PEX8606 chip

Memory Support

Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to ASRock, the Z77 Professional supports memories up to 2,800 MHz.

The ASRock Z77 Professional has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.

In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. When installing two memory modules, you will have to “skip” one memory socket. On the ASRock Z77 Professional, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are red. When installing two memory modules, use the black sockets.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 4: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

On-Board Peripherals

The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution that is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5).

The ASRock Z77 Professional has four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips (no RAID support).

One drawback is that the manufacturer used only two colors to identify the SATA ports: black for the SATA-300 and red for the SATA-600. The manufacturer should have used different colors to identify to where each port is connected. The red ports closer to the black ports are the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset.

All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 5.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 5: SATA-300 (black) and SATA-600 (red) ports

This motherboard also has one eSATA-600 port, which is shared with the “SATA3_A3” port, so they can’t be used at the same time.

Surprisingly, this motherboard comes with a parallel ATA (“IDE”) port, which is controlled by a VIA VT6330 chip, and a floppy disk drive controller.

The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z77 Professional offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard; and eight USB 3.0 ports, six located on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a header located on the motherboard, near the main power supply connector. The four additional USB 3.0 ports are controlled by an EtronTech EJ188H chip. (The four ports controlled by this chip are located on the rear panel. The motherboard comes with a 3.5” panel with two USB 3.0 ports, so you can use the internal USB 3.0 connector if your computer case doesn’t have USB 3.0 ports using this kind of connector.)

The ASRock Z77 Professional has two FireWire ports controlled by the same VIA VT6330 chip that controls the IDE port, one located on the rear panel and the other available as a header on the motherboard.

This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the new Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.

The motherboard has on-board optical SPDIF output. A header labeled “HDMI_SPDIF1” also provides SPDIF output for you to install a coaxial SPDIF output or to route digital audio to older video cards that require this physical connection in order to have digital audio output in their HDMI connectors.

The analog audio outputs are independent only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use either the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks.

The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Broadcom BCM57781 chips. These ports support the “teaming” function, which allows the two ports to be combined as one 2 Gbps port, if your network hardware supports this configuration.

In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, six USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, DisplayPort output, six USB 2.0 ports, clear CMOS button, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one FireWire port, one eSATA-600 port, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 6: Motherboard rear panel

The top-most, red USB 2.0 port is the “Fatal1ty” mouse port, which has a user-configurable polling rate from 250 Hz to 1 kHz. We think that ASRock could have done a better job identifying this port (for instance, using a different color on it).

Other Features

The ASRock Z77 Professional allows you to install CPU coolers that were originally designed for socket LGA775 CPUs, as the board has installation holes that match the retention mechanism of socket LGA775 CPU coolers. See Figure 7.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 7: Motherboard supports socket LGA775 CPU coolers

This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code which component is preventing the computer from turning on.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 8: POST diagnostics display

It has a legacy serial port, which is available through a header labeled “COM1.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port. The portrayed motherboard also has an infrared interface, making it inexpensive for you to add an infrared sensor to be able to use a remote control or to connect devices using infrared technology (IrDA).

In Figure 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 Professional.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 9: Accessories

Voltage Regulator

The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z77 Professional has 16 phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), four for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and four for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “16+4+4” configuration, which is incorrectly advertised by the manufacturer as “16+8.” The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6367 integrated circuit, using a hybrid design.

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 10: Voltage regulator circuit

The ASRock Z77 Professional uses solid electrolytic capacitors manufactured in Japan. All coils on this motherboard are solid, ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.

If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.

Overclocking Options

The ASRock Z77 Professional has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.00 BIOS):

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
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Figure 11: Overclocking options

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
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Figure 12: Overclocking options

ASRock Z77 Professional motherboard
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Figure 13: Voltage options

Main Specifications

The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 Professional include:

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

Conclusions

The ASRock Z77 Professional is a motherboard targeted to users who want to build a high-end desktop computer and understand the importance of the PLX PEX8608 chip. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time.

The highlights of this motherboard include, besides the abovementioned switch chip, the presence of one additional PCI Express x16 slot (which is 2.0 and works at x4 speed, though), allowing you to install up to three video cards in SLI or CrossFireX configuration, eight USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, a high-end voltage regulator circuit, and the “Fatal1ty” mouse port, which allows you to manually configure the polling rate between 250 Hz and 1 kHz.

Also noteworthy is the high-end audio codec used by this motherboard, the Realtek ALC898, which provides very high signal-to-noise ratios (110 dB for the outputs and 104 dB for the inputs), allowing you to use the on-board audio from this motherboard for professional tasks, such as audio editing.

Of course, if you don’t need so many USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports and/or won’t use several of them at the same time, you can pick a different model and save some money.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ASRock-Z77-Professional-Motherboard/1554


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