|ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe/WD mini-ITX Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by David Ramsey|
|Wednesday, 14 November 2012|
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ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe/WD Final Thoughts
I have to admire ASUS for producing this board. Although we've seen a lot of action in the micro ATX and mini ITX form factors of late, with innovative new motherboards and cases, the fact is that the vast majority of motherboard sales are full sized ATX boards. And (especially in the mini ITX world) the people that buy these motherboards almost always have HTPC or small home server use in mind. And if that's what you're looking for, there are much less expensive mini ITX motherboards available.
The feature set of this board is amazing: aside from the hardware expandability limitations imposed by the mini ITX form factor, you're giving up almost nothing in comparison with ASUS' own micro ATX and full ATX motherboards. The feature set is so extensive it would require a much longer review to cover them all in details; you can see the complete feature list on ASUS' web site.
If youv'e never built a mini ITX system before, keep this in mind: with a single PCI-E x16 slot, only four SATA ports, and two memory slots, your options are very limited compared to an ATX or even a micro ATX board. Still, few enthusiasts need more than a single video card if they're not running multiple monitors, and 2x8GB memory kits are actually slightly cheaper than 4x4GB kits at Newegg just now (of course memory prices are very volatile, so your mileage may vary).
The board's value is enhanced by ASUS' robust suite of utility software and premium features like DTS Ultra PC II sound via an ALC898 chip. If you're interested in this board, you want to build a small system (otherwise you'd be looking at micro ATX or larger motherboards) and you want it to be high performance (otherwise you'd be looking at less expensive motherboards). That said, you'll want to choose your case and power supply carefully: most mini ITX enclosures won't accommodate enthusiast level CPU coolers, for example.
I have only two real criticisms of this board. The first, paradoxically, is one of its strongest features: the Digi+ VRM for ITX riser board that extends vertically from the edge of the motherboard. If your CPU cooler requires screwing fasteners down from the component side of the board, you may not be able to reach the two screws nearest this board. For example, it's impossible to install a SilverStone SST-NT06-E cooler because of this. Even the Prolimatech Super Mega cooler I used here has less than a millimeter of cleareance. ASUS says that their board layout places the CPU socket further from the PCI-E slot than competing mini ITX boards, which actually allows larger coolers, but in any case you'll still want to check whatever cooler you use before getting too far into your build.
My second criticism is the price. At an MSRP of $200, this board is $40-$60 more expensive than many of ASUS' own similarly featured micro ATX and full ATX Z77 motherboards. Of course, there are reasons for this, such as the 8-layer PCB that forms the basis of the product (most motherboards are 6-layer). Making things smaller costs money; that's just the way it is. You can save $15 by getting the non-WD version for $185.00. Still, you really have to want to build a small system to justify the cost of this board.
If you want to build a high performance mini ITX system, this is definitely the board for you. ASUS has squeezed more features and functionality into this board than I would have believed possible, and the performance of the board showed that nothing was sacrificed (performance-wise) to do so.
The performance of this board is exceptional, fully the equal of ASUS' larger Z77 motherboards. But there's more than just CPU performance, and the USB 3.0 Boost feature makes the most of your USB 3.0 devices, especially if you have those that support UASP.
The color scheme is ASUS standard black and blue (black and red being reserved for the Republic of Gamers series). There's not as much branding and logos on this board simply because there's almost no space for it, but since a cooler and video card will cover most of the board anyway, its appearance is irrelevant.
The construction quality is up to ASUS' usual high standards. The use of an 8-layer PCB is unusual in the mini ITX world, and ASUS claims that this enabled them to optimize trace routing (especially to the DIMM slots) for the best performance. It's one of those things you don't see, but it's there.
Functionality is the board's strongest point. Most LGA1155 mini ITX boards are based on the less capable H77 chipset; ASUS' choice of the top-end Z77 chipset enables them to provide most of the features you'll find on a full sized ATX motherboard, with the obvious exception of PCI-E and DIMM slots. AI Suite II remains as versatile and capable as it is on ASUS' larger offerings.
As for value... well, that's kind of an either/or proposition. For the Deluxe/WD model it's $200 (Newegg/Amazon), or Deluxe non-WD version is $185 (Newegg/Amazon), which makes this board is significantly more expensive than equally capable, if larger, Z77 boards from ASUS and other vendors. You're paying for small size, and you either really need it (in which case it's worth it), or you don't (in which case it's not).
+ Baddest mini ITX motherboard out there.
- DIGI+ VRM for ITX riser board blocks some coolers.
Final Score: 9.3 out of 10.
Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.
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