Intel quietly unveils its new 7-series motherboards
With just over a week until the official launch of the Z77, H77 and B75 chipsets, Intel has posted details of its upcoming motherboards on its website. Generally Intel motherboards aren't all that much to get excited about, but the new Skulltrail board, known and the DZ77GA-70K looks better than what we've been used to see from Intel.
We'll take a quick look at Intel's Z77 models in this article and follow up with the H77 and B75 boards in a separate post. We've already given you all the technical details of these boards back in February, but sadly we lacked pictures to go with the specifications back then. It's all good and well to read a spec sheet, but it doesn't give you a full impression of a product in the same way a picture does. Intel also appears to have changed the model names slightly and we have no idea what the 70K in the DZ77GA-70K model name stands for, but its higher-end sibling is now known as the DZ77RE-75K, so it seems like Intel is trying to bring in a higher number equals better scheme for its motherboards, just as it has done for its CPUs.
The DZ77RE-75K and the DZ77GA-70K shares the same PCB and largely the same feature set with the major difference being that the DZ77RE-75K will sport Thunderbolt support. However, as Intel's Cactus Ridge Thunderbolt chipset isn't quite ready as yet, it looks like this model will launch later in the year. Looking at the PCB of the DZ77GA-70K on can clearly see a missing chip just left of the topmost x16 PCI Express slot and a missing connector right next to the audio jacks.
As for the DZ77GA-70K, well, beyond the specifications we've already mentioned, the pictures do reveal some additional features, although thanks to Intel blanking out the text on all the peripheral chipsets on the board, it's a little bit hard figuring out what they all are. It appears that the additional SATA 6Gbps ports are via Marvell's second generation SATA 6Gbps controllers if we're not entirely mistaken and there also appears to be a PLX PCI Express bridge chip on the board. Amusingly it seems like Intel's motherboard division has run into the fact that the company's chipset division doesn't like adding a sufficient amount of PCI Express lanes to it chipsets and as such had to add the PLX bridge.
Power and reset buttons are also present, alongside various LED's and four 4-pin fan headers, hardly generous on a board in this price range, but at least they all support PWM fans. The VRM design appears to feature 10 phases, plus two additional phases for the IGP. Most of the VRMs are covered by a large heatsink, with a smaller one covering the topmost part, but there's no heatpipe to be seen here. The unusual positioning of the HDMI port is also an interesting feature in itself, as you don't see too many boards with a vertical HDMI port. Intel will also supply a front USB 3.0 bracket with the board and a RazerZone discount voucher. Overall no big surprise on a whole, but at least it confirms our earlier specs were indeed correct.
Moving down a to the Media series we find the DZ77BH-55K which compares quite favourable to the DZ68DB that it slots in above. Again, we've already covered the specifications for the DZ77BH-55K and its sibling, the DZ77SL-50K back in February, although back then the DZ77SL-50K was called the DZ75SL, but it seems like even Intel decided it was pointless making a Z75 chipset motherboard.
The DZ77BH-55K is still adorned with heatsinks, albeit a fair bit smaller than the ones on the DZ77GA-70K. The advantage here is that you get an extra SATA port over your average Intel motherboard, although Intel has dropped the x4 PCI Express slot of the DZ77GA-70K in favour of a regular x1 PCI Express slot. There's no need for a PLX bridge chip on this board, due to the reduced feature set. Oddly enough the reset button is missing, but there's at least a power button on the board. For those looking at taking advantage of Intel's integrated graphics, the good news is that the DZ77BH-55k has an HDMI port as well as a DisplayPort connector of which the latter wasn't mentioned in our earlier specifications.
The DZ77SL-50K is something of a peculiar beast, as just as with the DZ75SL that it was once intended to be, it only has a single x16 PCI Express 3.0 slot, but there's an open ended x4 PCI Express 2.0 slot on the board, as well as a x1 PCI Express 2.0 slot and three PCI slots. A very peculiar board layout to say the least, at least until you realise that it shares the same PCB as the DH77KC. The shared PCB doesn't mean that the two boards are identical, as the DZ77SL-50K is quite a feature light board. Changes from our previous specs of this boards include the loss of the mini PCI Express slot, but most of the other features seems to remain unchanged, except possibly the audio outputs which now only appears to offer 5.1-channel audio without the optical S/PDIF out. We're not entirely sure why anyone would go for this model, as it makes very little sense compared to the DZ77BH-55K or for that matter just about any other Z77 motherboard.
All four models, at least as soon as the DZ77RE-75K launches, will come with a copy of LucidLogix Virtu Universal, McAfee Antivirus Plus and Splashtop remote desktop. The DZ77RE-75K and DZ77GA-70K will both come with Intel's new Visual BIOS at launch, a feature the other models will get later in the year.