Thunderbolt comes to the Windows PC – ASUS P8Z77-V Premium and MSI Z77A-GD80 Review
ASUS P8Z77-V Premium
We first spotted the Premium in a 40-minute long video interview with ASUS America at Anandtech last month, which replaces the P8Z77-V Deluxe (our review) at the top of ASUS's range of Z77 motherboards.
As we can see (P8Z77-V Premium on the left, and P8Z77-V Deluxe on the right), the P8Z77-V Premium is even more feature packed than the already crowded Deluxe. We will cover the new additions in the sections below.
Accessories and Bundle of the P8Z77-V Premium – includes extended SLi bridges for 3-way or 4-way operation.
The newcomer has less USB ports than the Deluxe but gains full HD 4000 triple-display support in the form of the Thunderbolt enabled mini-DP port. As expected from its "Premium" standing and considerable price tag, both Gigabit 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet qualified ports are powered by Intel chipsets and there is a Wi-Fi 802.11 AGBN + Bluetooth 4.0 (Broadcom based) module. Its a shame that the audio solution is still a muddy Realtek codec instead of something more audiophille.
Intel's Cactus Ridge 2C (DSL3310) Thunderbolt chipset takes up two PCIe 2.0 lanes (8Gb/s effective throughput) somewhere, presumably tapping on the eight PCIe 2.0 lanes from the Z77 PCH.
Most prominently, the P8Z77-V Premium is one of the two Z77 motherboards (the other being GIGABYTE's Sniper 3) that we have seen so far with four PCIe x16 slots. The x16+x16 or x8+x8+x8+x8 operation is achieved with the use of a PLX PEX8747 switch to distribute the sixteen PCIe 3.0 signals from the CPU, albeit with some unavoidable latency increases. Another PLX PEX 8608 takes care of eight lanes of PCIe 2.0 from the Z77 PCH for the numerous other SATA/USB 3.0/TB host controllers on the motherboard. Legacy PCI is fully depreciated and does not make an appearance here.
On-board storage wise we get six SATA 3.0 ports (dark blue and white) and three SATA 2.0 ports (light blue). A 32GB mSATA SSD (Toshiba SLC NAND with Marvell controller) is provided for Intel SRT functionality, although we found it to a tad slow when we tested its performance.
ASUS's innovative "T-Topology" DRAM memory traces and 22 Phase VRM design (16 for CPU + 4 for IGP + 2 for DRAM) is carried over from the P8Z77-V Deluxe, which are controlled by the much vaunted DIGI+ PWM controllers allowing for impressive subzero CPU and 2800MHz+ DRAM overclocks. One notable change is the switch from a flimsy LOTES socket on the Deluxe to a more rigid Foxconn piece on the Premium, which is helpful if you are swapping CPUs in and out frequently like we do.
As usual, ASUS did not disappoint with its polished UEFI BIOS and Windows software suite, providing a functional and clean layout for quick adjustments to various system parameters. One feature that ASUS engineers should consider is the inclusion of OC memory profiles (like on ROG boards) for the different memory chipsets.