Table of Contents:
Looking at the board itself you can tell this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The color tones and rather mild heatsink profiles is just a mast as to the true potential of this board. First off you see the 4 dual slot spaced PCIe slots which can only mean one thing this board is capable of some very nice GPU configurations and pending they are dual slot cards you can run up to 4 way SLI or CrossfireX setups. Now as many of us have seen ASUS builds some monster GPUs and since many gamers utilize 1-2 cards in most scenarios ASUS took that info and decided to make monster coolers for the cards which come out to a triple slot thickness which in the end means more performance potential and better thermals. One issue this normally raises would be with board fitment since finding two full speed slots spaced appropriately to fit the cards and allow room for them to breathe may be problematic. With the P8Z77 WS the two main slots are 4 slot spaced apart so even if using the 7970 DC2 or the recently released GTX680 TOP DC2 cards you can be assured 2 of them will fit, and even have some space to breathe.
The Storage side of things is really nice as well since the Z77 supports Intel Smart Response Technology right out of the gate you can cache your Standard hard drive to give it a credible performance boost that will give SSD like performance when booting and opening commonly used programs. Now this is not really anything special as every Z77 supports Smart Response, but what is really special is that this board also has the Marvell dual SATA 6G ports which support ASUS SSD Caching. Now before thinking aw man great Marvell you need to understand these are not like some of the first generation Marvell’s which we all saw issues with performance and compatibility. The ASUS SSD Caching is like the Intel Smart Response on steroids! Just for a quick comparison the Intel Smart Response allows for an up to 64GB SSD to be used to cache the hard disk, but with the ASUS SSD Caching we can cache any size SSD we want to our HDD therefore making for the ultimate cached volume with truly no limits. Now one last cool point for the caching is that both can be run concurrently so that your OS can be on the Intel Smart response cached drive while you can run a storage drive of 2TB or whatever size you choose on the Marvell ports with any size SSD to cache it so that not only your boot drive id cached but even your data or game drive. This is the kind of advances were talking about when we mention ASUS giving you the most options and configuration possibilities for your buck!
Memory, oh my memory where has it gone? Oh there it is and its Dual channel and rated up to some ungodly speeds in excess of 2600MHz. It seems like just yesterday memory manufacturers were scrambling to produce units of 2000MHz flavor, then came 2133Mhz and now were seeing units produced in the 2800MHz range and even higher. It’s all thanks to the Ivy Bridge IMC, which is yet another step forward in capability as we have seen a gradual march forward in speeds jump to an outright sprint for 3K from every manufacturer. The Ivy Bridge IMC should be able to handle 2800MHz DIMMS with not much trouble but do expect that as some are stronger than others overclocking past this point and in excess of 3K will likely be in need of some lower temps for the chip and let’s not forget that the modules will need some love as well if you will be pushing this far. We have been watching many of the well-known overclockers for a bit now and have seen that with some looser timing these ASUS boards can hit memory frequencies well above 3K in some instances. Also, using some good BBSE modules we have seen some even doing 2800Mhz C7 which is downright amazing but mind you this is with CPU and memory on LN2 so for gaming you will probably be keeping it a lot more tame.
At the upper edge of the board we have some controls reminiscent of the OC station controls we normally see on the ROG boards. Here we don’t have all of the hub bub that we see on the ROG boards such as the Voltage read points and what not and instead it is kept to its WS or “Workstation” roots with some simplistic features. EZ Plug is the White Molex connection which supplies supplemental power to the board which should help ensure a nice stable voltage across the PCB as the entire load will not be on the sometimes tiny 24 pin ATX connector’s wires. Next to the EZ Plus we see the Mem OK button which is nice as it allows a safe default setting to the BIOS to help with a no post condition so that the BIOS can be entered and properly configured. And lastly in this area we have the TPU switch which for anyone not in the know is similar to an auto overclock setting in that by the flip of the switch the system automatically tunes to a performance increase of up to 37% or even better depending upon operating environment and components used.
At the lower edge of the board is a lot of the front panel and basic connectivity options including the Power/reset onboard controls. One thing to note is that if this board is destined to be a 4 way SLI or CrossfireX bench setup switches will need to be connected to the front panel header since the onboard buttons will be covered by the lower most GPU. Accompanying the power/reset switches is a whole host of pin headers such as the COM port, USB and fan headers.
The LCD post indicator is right next to the front panel header and will help with any possible posting issues or concerns. Next to the LCD poster we did find a mainstay of the WS lineup but something many users may not be familiar with. There is a full function USB 2.0 port right on the PCB which allows for either quick thumb drive or USB Wi-Fi access in a bench top configuration or when built in a workstation can even mean a bootable Linux thumb drive can be locked inside the case for the ultimate in connectivity options. I’m sure there is many more usages I am completely leaving out but literally anything can be connected to that port and it really is what I believe is a very overlooked option.
The IO Side offers a pretty beefy connectivity stack by eliminating some of the display options seen on the other board offerings.
- 4x USB 2.0
- Dual purpose PS2 port (Keyboard or Mouse)
- 4x USB 3.0 (2 via ASMedia, 2 via Intel PCH)
- Dual Intel Gigabit Server Grade LAN ports
- Dual eSATA ports (Via ASMedia Controller)
- Dual Link DVI-I Output (Supports Virtu MVP)
- Optical S/PDIF port
- 8 channel Audio via Realtek ALC898
This is very good connectivity and being a workstation class board the single display output is about standard as most workstations and server class boards are normally in benches or racks and hooked to a KVM which means only a single display output is necessary. Add to this that with Dual NIC’s this board will handle failover should a NIC ever fail it can just keep chugging along so there is no costly downtime. The USB 3.0 as you see consists of 6 total available ports 4 of which are on the IO with 2 routed from the PCH and 2 routed from the ASMedia controller. The reason the ASMedia controller is still utilized even after the PCH has implemented native USB 3.0 support is that ASUS utilizes the USB 3.0 Boost function which we covered previously in the Maximus V Gene review . To say that the increase in performance from the USB 3.0 is impressive just would not explain how amazing it is.