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One of the things that many forget to mention is that as of recent ASUS has offered the APS service for their Z77 and even X79 models which is a premium Warranty service. This service entitles the user to a speedy advanced replacement so that less time is spent without a board as standard RMA practice is to send the product back and wait for the turnaround of a replacement once the manufacturer receives the board you sent in. To see which boards are supported by default for the APS service check Here
Here is what makes all the video card support possible the PLX PCIe 3.0 multiplex chip. This chip alone is what makes it possible for this and other Z77 boards capable of running 4 way SLI/Crossfire configurations without dropping down to x4 lanes on each slot. The PLX chip adds more lanes so that even fully populated all 4 slots will run at x8 bandwidth which with PCIe 3.0 spec is equivalent to x16 PCIe Gen 2. So all in all this little board could pack some serious punch with the right hardware. Since this is a workstation board figure compute cards will likely find their way into these slots and this is where we will see the true potential.
Server Grade is a word that can get thrown around but what does it really mean? Well when ASUS says server grade this means the WS boards go through the normal desktop testing and validation just for starters then it moves on to the server level validation and testing. This is where things can get very interesting as the Server grade testing includes extreme level component reliability tests, thermal and heat soak testing along with extended operational testing in some of the worst environments imaginable. For anyone who has ever spent a significant amount of time in a server room knows what kind of conditions these servers can face and the 24/7 stress they can be under for many years on end. The Server grade testing does not stop there. Once the components are validated to survive the rigors of workstation usage it moved on to add in validation. This is where many desktop boards can fall short as add in cards such as Raid cards (HBA) or high end fiber/network cards or even really high memory count compute cards can cause hell for the system during post. Many times the system simply cannot properly address the physical needs of the adapters in the addressing space it allocates or has available which becomes even worse as multiple adapters are installed.
What does all of this “Server Grade” testing mean to you? Well let’s start with the most basic part of the equation, compatibility which will be far superior to any other standard desktop board. This means that any card you decide to add to your system should have no issue, no OROM limits or weird compatibility problems as this board is tested with some of the highest usage cards out there. Then we have the durability and reliability testing which is a key factor for someone like me who likes to not only overclock and run my system at its limits but also likes a good gaming session regularly. The components are tested to withstand the rigors of 24/7 server usage which means in my menial attempt at stressing it with gaming the board won’t even break a sweat let alone break down. Believe me servers go through some serious heavy loading and it is consistent whereas anything most users put on it won’t be near that unless of course you are crunching or folding at which then this board is even more perfect for you. The fact that the board has the same overclocking potential as every ASUS Z77 means that this also should be a very capable performer, and with the ability to run 4 way single GPU’s this could actually be an ROG board in disguise.
The DIGI+ VRM for this board is not surprising to see that it is very stout. First off we have the DIGI+ engine which allows for very precise digital control of the VRM components for the ultimate in power delivery to the key components and ensuring that it is fed well. The WS carries an extremely potent 20 Phase power design (16 phase for CPU and 4 Phase for iGPU) and also a dedicated 2 Phase for the DRAM to ensure that no matter the load or overclock there should be plenty of juice on tap. Even though it is a workstation at heart just like many of us it cannot be all work and no play and the WS definitely has some headroom for when it comes time to play or tinker with the capabilities of your rig.
Anti-Surge/ESD protections are yet another technology built into the Z77 series as a whole and something that should add a great amount of comfort for anyone having to maintain many systems as from rack to rack it is easy to build up a charge of several thousand volts which can instantly cause big issues if discharged to a component. ASUS built on special components to absorb such charges and help avoid costly damage and downtime from these mistakes. Now this does not mean that we recommend running across the carpet then shocking your board for fun as this technology is designed to help protect the components but given the wrong conditions ESD can still damage hardware.
USB BIOS flashback is one of those things that once again is taken for granted or not mentioned or understood by many users advanced or otherwise unfortunately. For anyone who has been in the tech field for any significant amount of time the stress of finding a compatible CPU on a new build just to flash the BIOS to support the new CPU you are trying to install was always a huge headache and sometimes would grind progress to a halt. With the introduction of the USB BIOS Flashback by ASUS this all changed, as there is no CPU or even memory needed for the BIOS flash. Using a Thumb drive with the properly named ROM file and a PSU is all that is needed to get the board up to the latest firmware. With the Thumb drive installed in the appropriate port and the press of a button the firmware will be updated and ready to run in a matter of minutes.
A new technology implemented by ASUS on the Z77 boards would be a completely new trace layout for the memory referenced as “T Topology” which is a complete redesign of how the traces run from the DIMM slots to the memory controller (CPU). This allows for more efficient operation and overall better performance and as we have seen from the testing from the professional overclockers some very impressive memory overclocks as well. I do think it’s a little early to see the full benefit from the new topology design and as the extremes are pushed further and further it will become a lot more apparent. Usually complete new layout designs are reserved for the ROG line and eventually trickle down to the other boards but to see a top down redesign like this for every model tells me that ASUS is holding fast to their promise that end users can expect similar overclocking and performance from the most basic model all the way to the top of the stack. This means no matter how much you spend with ASUS you know you’re getting the best performance possible from this board for your dollar and the only performance difference you will likely see will be when going to the extreme benchmarking level or of course comparing feature sets which will make up most of the price difference