ECS Z77H2-A2X v1.0 - Golden LGA 1155 Mainboard From The Black Series (Part 4)

4/21/2013 9:07:35 AM

We performed our tests on a testbed that included these following components:

·         ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) mainboard (1155 LGA, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version 13:06:12)

·         CPU Intel Core i5-3570K (3.6 to 3.8 GHz, 4-core, 22nm Ivy Bridge rev.E1, 77 W, 1.05 V, LGA 1155)

·         2 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (1866 MHz 9-10-9-27 timings, voltage 1.5 V)

·         Gigabyte GV-R797OC-3GD graphics card (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB)

·         Crucial M4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps)

·         Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100) CPU cooler

·         ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface

·         Enermax NAXN ENM850EWT PSU

·         Open testbed built by using Antec Skeleton system case

We used the Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit SP1 (Microsoft Windows, version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version, AMD Catalyst 12.4 graphics card driver.

Specific details of operation and overclocking

We did not encounter any problems of any kind during the system assembly process on the ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) mainboard. However, before starting our test session, we usually update the BIOS with the latest version available at the time of testing. Nevertheless, this is where such a disappointment we found: there were no newer BIOS versions available. This is not a big trouble, and it happens all the time if the board comes with a pretty new BIOS version already, but unfortunately, there was only one single BIOS version available having its root in late March of 2012 which was launched in early April 2012, right before the release of the new seventh series chipsets, including Intel Z77 Express. It looked like no one cared about this mainboard after it had been launched. Once we checked out the mainboard and the BIOS and noticed that it had improved a lot compared to the versions we saw on other older mainboards, but still had a few things that could be solved, we requested an updated version. We had a BIOS version which we used for all the benchmarks and screenshots in this review. Unfortunately, the only thing that was different was the release date, while all the minor matters that we had discovered still remained unchanged.

The testbed on ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) was well supported and started working normally, although it was quite strange that by default only the additional ASMedia ASM1061 controller was set to “AHCI Mode”, while all drives connected to the chipset ports were still working in “IDE Mode”. It was not really a problem, as you can easily alter this setting, but it is unclear why they would do it this way. The board displays a modest start-up image with the useful reminders about the hot keys. There are no options here that allow you to disable this image; therefore, there is no way to see the startup information during boot-up.

The boot menu

The boot menu

With the default settings, the board had all system components function correctly in their proper modes, except the higher memory voltage, which we had already discussed above. All the power-saving technologies also worked fine right from the start. You will encounter some challenges only when you attempt to modify some settings or make some adjustments. For example, the automatic overclocking mode didn’t affect after we used the “Quick OC” parameter in the BIOS. The voltage increased, but the processor clock frequency multiplier remained the same. It could, actually, be considered the best, because it looks like the proposed overclocking method could only work well with Sandy Bridge processors, but not with Ivy Bridge ones, as the core voltage was set 0.2 V higher, while the clock frequency multiplier was supposed to get 45x. The good thing is that this automatic overclocking system uses XMP profile for the memory frequency. In reality, the memory actually only got overclocked in the end. Note also that in this case the board used the correct memory voltage of 1.5 V, which was recorded in the XMP profile. We already mentioned that the board sets higher memory voltage by default, and there is no way users can lower it manually. So, it ends in an unreasonable way: the memory working at 1333 MHz uses the increased 1.62 V voltage setting, while at overclocked 1867 MHz the voltage reduces to 1.5 V.

During manual overclocking when the frequency multiplier of the processor clock does not get adjusted, the board turns off all power-saving technologies. Therefore, if you follow smart and energy-saving overclocking, do not forget to turn them back on manually. Remember, they are not in the “MIBX” section lying among the majority of options related to overclocking, but in the “Advanced” section. Unlike other manufacturers’ mainboards, the Load-Line Calibration processor cannot be adjusted: it can only be turned on or off. You can’t set the Vdroop value as you would want it to be. Despite these pretty limited features, we managed to overclock our tested processor to 4.5 GHz, which is a good result in some situations, but the maximum of 4.6 GHz was what we coulnd not achieve.



You might have noticed that the processor Vcore is very high, but it is mainly because the board seems to report higher values than in reality, as the CPU temperature still remained within the normal range even under very heavy operational load. Another thing that is worth pointing out: is that the memory frequency was increased with the help of an XMP profile, while the board set 9-10-9-27-1T timings on its own. In fact, the profile times are 9-10-9-27-2T and we normally manually correct them. As we have already said before, the ECS Z77H2-A2X (v1.0) mainboard doesn’t allow adjusting any settings if you select the XMP profile, so these memory settings are not completely our advantage. This is a very lucky coincidence, but the overall flexibility of the BIOS settings is still wanted.

Now I would only like to remind you that we always overclock mainboards in that way, then they could be used for a prolonged period of time in this mode. We do not try to make it seem easier by disabling any of the mainboard features, such as onboard controllers. We also try to keep the CPU's power-saving technologies in good conditions and running normally with our best ability. And this time, all the power-saving technologies were still running even during overclocking lowering the CPU voltage and frequency multiplier in idle mode.

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