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ECS Golden Board Z77H2-AX Z77 Motherboard Review

Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ECS

Features, Layout, and Bundled Accessories

Features

Courtesy of ECS

- ECS Super Alloy Chose - 1.5X Long-Lasting Stability
- Nonstop Technology - ECS exclusive long-term stability solution
- Super Marathon 3X Stability - 72 Hours Stability Test
- Sahara Severe Test - 50 Degree Burn-in Test
- Apache Long-Life CAP - 100% Solid CAP
- Thor Ultra Protection - ESD (ElectroStatic Discharge) Protection
- ECS Golden Edition Motherboard - Gold "4" Ever
- LucidLogix Virtu Universal MVP - Switchable Graphics
- PCI Express Gen3 Ready - Double PCIe 2.0 Bandwidth
- Intel® Smart Connect Technology - Always up-to-date
- Intel® Smart Response Technology - Better, faster performance
- Support HD Video Playback
- Motherboard Intelligent BIOS X (M.I.B. X - Ultimate BIOS O.C. interface)
- Featuring Mini PCI Express Slot - laptop and small footprint device PCIe port
- ECS GUI UEFI BIOS
- ATI CrossFireX™ Technology Ready
- 3X Current Supply for ECS EZ Charger
- 15u Gold Contact - 3 Times Extra Protection

Motherboard Layout

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With its gold-plated hardware and flat-black surface, the ECS Z77H2-AX presents the user with a uniquely pleasant appearance. Its appearance is trumped only by the bevvy of features packed into the board including SATA, eSATA, and mSATA ports, both legacy PCI and PCI-Express 3.0 ports, 3 varieties of onboard networking, and plenty of USB device ports to round out the mix.

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The back of the PCB is clear of components with the normal soldering points, wire traces, and LGA1155 back plate. Did I mention that the back plate is also gold-plated?

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The Z77H2-AX rear panel assembly offers support for the following: 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 eSATA ports, a Realtek GigE NIC port, an 802.11n wireless networking adapter, a Bluetooth adapter, a VGA video port, an HDMI video port, a CMOS reset button, an optical digital audio output port, and 6 analogue audio ports.

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On the backside of the wireless networking adapter is an antennae port for the included wireless adapter antennae. You simply push the male port in until it snaps in place. If you attempt to use the wireless adapter without the external antennae, wireless reception and performance will suffer greatly.

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The board comes standard with a total of 3 PCI-Express 3.0 x16 ports, 2 PCI-Express x1 ports, and 2 32-bit PCI ports. Surprisingly enough, one of the PCI-Express x1 slots remains accessible even with all PCI-Express x16 slots filled due to the primary x1 slots location just above the LucidLogix chipset. With the LucidLogix MVP chip, the board offers support of up to 3-way NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire configuration. The board supports full x16 bandwidth on both slots with a single or two PCI-Express x16 video cards seated. With three PCI-Express x16 video cards seated, the board supports x16 bandwidth on the primary slot and x8 bandwidth on the secondary and tertiary slots. With all PCI-Express x16 slots filled, the board supports x8 bandwidth for all slots. The one quirk in the layout here was the CMOS battery placement. It would be impossible to remove the battery without first taking out the video card from the primary PCI-Express x16 slot.

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To the left of the Intel Z77 chipset, ECS placed the onboard mSATA device port. When used in conjunction with an mSATA SSD and the Intel RST driver, you will see an increase in system performance. Note that 2 of the onboard SATA ports controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset were sacrificed for the inclusion of the mSATA port integration.

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The Z77H2-AX features a total of 6 onboard SATA ports and 1 onboard mSATA port. The port labeled SATA2 3/4 are the SATA II ports controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset with those labeled as SATA3 1/2 being its SATAIII ports. The ports labeled SATA3 5/6 are tied to the ASMedia controller, sharing bandwidth with the rear panel hosted eSATA ports. ECS opted to integrate only 4 onboard SATA ports through the Intel Z77 chipset so that the integrated mSATA port could be included. The Intel Z77 controlled ports support RAID 0, 1, and 5, while the ASMedia ports support RAID 0 and 1 only. In between the mSATA and SATA port assemblies is the onboard 2-digit diagnostic display, helpful for troubleshooting board initialization issues. Unfortunately, ECS did not include an explanation for the diagnostic codes in the user manual. To the right of the ASMedia SATA ports are the onboard power and reset buttons with the onboard speaker just above them.

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The board’s 4 DDR3 memory slots are located in the lower right of PCB, along with the USB 3.0 header and the 24-pin ATX power connector. The primary memory slots are the second and forth slots, with dual channel memory mode enabled when modules are seated those slots. The board offers support for up 32GB of memory with speeds of 2800MHz, 2400MHz, 1600MHz, 1333MHz, and 1066MHz. Note that memory speeds above 1600MHz are considered overclocked speeds and are outside of the official Intel stock memory speed specifications.

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Along the outside edge of the memory slots, ECS integrated onboard voltage measuring points for the listed voltages: CPU Vcore, CPU IMC (Integrated Memory Controller), CPU AXG (integrated graphics controller), and ground. The board voltage can be read directly from these points using a multi-meter device.

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Sticking with the gold-plated theme, ECS chose to gold-plate the entire Intel LGA1155 CPU socket including the socket handle. There is more than adequate room around the socket for use of any heat sink or water block. The LucidLogix MVP chipset, as well as the CPU power circuitry, are covered by large gold-plated heat sinks connected by two separate heat pipes. The Intel Z77 chipset and the LucidLogix MVP chipset are bound together with one heat pipe, while the CPU power circuitry reside on a separate loop. In testing, this separate design actually hindered board cooling, requiring the need for two separate fans to cool both heat pipe loops. As you can see from the socket photo, the board features a 16-phase power system for the CPU - gold-plated digital MOSFETs. Included Accessories For the ZX77H2-AX accessory bundle, ECS went above and beyond normal and bundled in several extras that add to the board’s golden allure.

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Bundles into the accessory package are six total SATA cables. The four black-colored cables are rated for 6 GB/s operation, while two the red-colored cables are rated for 3 GB/s operation.

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ECS includes a USB 3.0 expansion bracket with two optional housings – a 3.5” drive bay housing and a rear bracket housing.

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ECS also includes port plugs that fit in all the rear panel and bracket USB ports. This keeps the unused ports dust-free as well as giving the delicate connections inside some protection from the elements (read kids and pets).

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For multi-gpu use, ECS chose to include a total of three 2-way NVIDIA SLI connectors. Oddly enough, no AMD CrossFire connectors were bundled in with the board.

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In keeping with the board’s golden theme, the included rear panel shield is gold-plated.

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The included user manual and install DVD give the essential information and drivers needed to get the board up and running, even including a foldout visual diagram for board setup. However, the manual itself was found lacking in several key areas including explanations for the BIOS startup codes for the onboard diagnostic LED and for the installation and use of the wireless networking antennae.

November 10, 2012 | 01:30 AM - Posted by Operandi

50 Cent; your motherboard has arrived.

Seriously though, if ECS wants to go for the high-end motherboard market blinging it out in gold is not the way to go.

November 10, 2012 | 09:40 PM - Posted by Morry Teitelman

You really need to see it live to get the full effect.  I tend to like the read and black theme that ASUS ROG boards normal sport, but I would seriously consider putting this one in my system if the o/c performance was better...

November 12, 2012 | 07:52 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The black & gold is too over the top, should go down well with the chaps on the sub continent though.
I could be wrong but as far as I know there is no such thing as a SATA 6 cable. All generation cables are the same.

November 13, 2012 | 10:00 AM - Posted by Morry Teitelman

The SATA 6G cable terminology seems to be more of a corporate marketing-speak term, since you are correct that any SATA cable is capable of handling a SATA III drive/signal.  What I've noticed with the manfacturer-labeled "SATA III" cables is that those cables seem to be a bit thicker and more substantial than the SATA II labeled cables.

November 17, 2012 | 10:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The gold thing is silly and impractical. Proper colour coding of every port individually is saner.

As for "eSATA ports", I fail to see why. This is an interface that crashes boxes under almost any OS and is utterly obsoleted by USB3 and Thunderbolt by now.

I would much rather have seen a second gigabit RJ45.

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