EVGA isn’t necessarily a company most people associate with small form factor builds. They’re known for great video cards and solid motherboards, but they don’t even have an mATX offering. Now they have skipped that form factor altogether and come on strong with their first mITX motherboard. Good things really can come in small packages, but is that the case with the EVGA Z77 Stinger? Let’s find out.
Packaging & First Look
EVGA definitely knows how to present a product. Their packing looks quite nice. Everything inside is packed in anti-static bags and well-protected for shipping.
Small motherboard is small. That’s the first thing I thought. The second was that this is a great looking board for such a tiny little thing. Not only do they know how to package their product, but they’re quite good at designing a great looking motherboard as well.
Some more glamor shots for your viewing pleasure.
Now, when I say small, you may not fathom the tininess that the mITX form factor is. I haven’t had the chance to handle any mITX motherboards before now. When the Maximus V GENE arrived, I thought that board was small. Boy was I wrong. The Stinger, ladies and gentlemen, is what you can call small.
While small, it is definitely a very nice looking motherboard. It sure looks like they packed a lot of functionality in that small space.
Specifications & Features
The specifications and features listed are pulled from EVGA’s Z77 Stinger product page.
Based on Intel Z77 chipset
2 x 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 16GB of DDR3 2133MHz
4 x Serial ATA 300MB/sec (2x Internal + 2x E-SATA) with support for RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 0+1, RAID5, RAID10 and JBOD
2 x Serial ATA 600MB/sec (2 Internal) with support for RAID 0 and RAID1
1 x PCIe x16, 1 x Mini PCIe
Audio connector (Line-in, Line-out, MIC)
8 Channel High Definition (ALC889)
1 x 10/100/1000 (Intel 82574L)
Mini-ITX Form Factor
Length: 6.7in – 170.18mm
Width: 6.7in – 170.18mm
- USB 3.0 Support
- EVGA Vdroop Control
- SATA 6G Support
- EVGA E-LEET Tuning Support
- HDMI 1.4 connector
- Onboard Clear CMOS, Power and Reset Buttons
- Supports Intel Core i5 and i7 Socket 1155 Processors
- Onboard CPU Temperature Monitor
- 8 Channel High Definition Audio
- DisplayPort 1.1a
- 100% Solid State Capacitors
- PCI Express 3.0 Support
Great looks and a solid feature set. Looking good so far.
The board is small and so is the accessories pack. That’s not to say you aren’t getting all you need, there just isn’t a whole lot they need to include. You get a manual, driver disc and giant poster outlining everything you need to hook up the board.
In the directly-related-to-the-system department, you get enough cables to fill up all the SATA ports – two SATA II and two SATA 3. There is also the rear I/O plate and convenient MOLEX-to-SATA power cables, one sleeved with three SATA plugs and one not sleeved with two. I don’t mind the not-sleeved splitter at all, but do bemoan the choice of clear MOLEX plug rather than sticking with black. Aside from that, no complaints at all.
EVGA has supplied all you need to get up and running with the Stinger. Let’s take a closer look at those features they mentioned.
Up Close & Personal
In the upper right of the board you have the control corner. There aren’t extensive “controls” really, but there are two nice looking onboard power & reset buttons. Turn that corner and there is the POST code indicator.
One interesting feature of EVGA boards is that after POST, that indicator turns into a CPU temperature display, showing he current core temperature of your CPU. I’ve always liked that feature and wish more manufacturers would implement it. It’s very handy for at-a-glance readings rather than having to open up software, assuming you can see your board. On my test bench it’s handy at least.
Also residing in this corner is the CHiL voltage controller and two fan headers – one for the JCPU fan and the other for the JPWR fan.
Moving to the right a little bit, you can see another CHiL controller and the 8-pin CPU power plug. Some mITX boards opt for the 4-pin power plug, but this is a full featured, overclocking mITX board and thankfully they went with a plug to supply plenty of amperage to your CPU.
Checking out the lower right-hand corner of the board, you can see the internal storage ports. There are two SATA 3 and two SATA II ports, all native to the Z77 PCH. Also residing in this corner are the hook-ups for the front panel switches and LEDs as well as a couple LED indicators.
Moving to the bottom left corner, we have plenty of connectivity options. You get one USB 3.0 header and two USB 2.0 headers. Additionally, since PCIe connections aren’t exactly plentiful on the mITX form factor, EVGA has supplied an mPCIe slot. The screw hole there is for holding down the mPCIe card of your choice. Since this board is HTPC-bound, a wireless N adapter will fit nicely there.
The controllers you see in this photo are a Realtek ALC898 audio codec (on the left) and an ASMedia ASM 1042 USB 3.0 controller.
Moving up on the left side you can see very inventive placement of the motherboard battery. Kudos to whoever thought up the vertical battery holder. Not a millimeter is wasted on this board. In controller valley amidst the rear I/O, you have a Marvell 88SE6621 eSATA controller and an Intel WG82574 Gigabit Ethernet controller.
Speaking of rear I/O, there is a lot of connectivity back here. Starting on the left, you have the included Bluetooth module and two USB 2.0 ports. Just to the right of that is the external clear CMOS button (how many mITX boards do you know that have one of those?). Then there are two video output ports if you want to use the iGPU of your CPU, one mini DisplayPort and one HDMI. Keeping on our tour, you can see there are four USB 3.0 ports total and two eSATA ports. Last, but not least, you have the ethernet port and the audio outputs.
There is certainly a lot of connectivity shoehorned into this demure motherboard! Let’s take the heatsinks off and see what lies underneath.
Under the Hood
There are two heatsinks on the Stinger, one for the power MOSFETs and one for the Z77 PCH (platform controller hub). Both are applied using thermal pads and contact was consistently good throughout.
The heatsinks themselves do a good job of pulling the heat away from their respective components. The PCH heatsink also pulls double duty as an mPCIe port cover; with it on, you only have access to the input side of the mPCIe slot, which is a good thing.
EVGA’s matte black PCB has always been good looking and it is no exception here. Front and back it’s an elegant looking board. The black CPU hold down is a nice touch as well.
There is very little space for thick memory modules on this board. In fact, an ADATA Gamer series set of RAM was destined for this build….until it wouldn’t fit. Their heatsinks are just too thick. RipjawsX and TridentX modules from G.Skill as well as HyperX Beast modules from Kingston both will fit, however.
On the left here, you have the Intel Z77 PCH chip. On the right is a better look at the mPCIe connector.
To have a full featured motherboard, even in such a small form factor, you need a strong power section and the Stinger has you covered. EVGA has gone with a 7+1 phase PWM, with seven phases for the CPU and one for the iGPU. For stiffening up the power section, the capacitors they went with on this board are POSCAP and solid state capacitors. There are three POSCAPs on the front of the board…
…but there is definitely not a lack of capacitance, with quite a few solid state capacitors on the rear.
With its heastinks on or off, the Z77 Stinger sure looks like it will live up to its name.
EVGA hasn’t gone the route of mouse-controlled eye candy in their UEFI, but that doesn’t mean their UEFI is lacking in any way. You just have to use a keyboard to control it. Truth be told, after years of tooling around in various boards’ BIOSes with a keyboard, I don’t even use the mouse in those types of UEFI.
The first screen you see when entering the EVGA UEFI is the Overview, which shows at-a-glance information including what’s installed, various voltages and temperatures.
Hitting the right arrow puts you in the Advanced menu. Many of the screens in this section are boilerplate configuration and we won’t mention them in great detail. While they’re definitely necessary (and easy to use), they are typically standard across most boards and don’t need elaboration. All screens not spoken about will reside in a chart below you can click through at your convenience.
Anyway, one area that’s important to overclockers here is the PC Health Status section. In here you can monitor voltages, temperatures and fan speeds. You can also control all three of the Stinger’s fan headers from the Fan Speed Monitor menu.
Two of the fan headers (JCPU and JPWR) have SmartFAN control or manual control. SmartFAN adjusts the fan to a percentage you set when the CPU reaches a temperature you set. You can set four temperature levels and five fan speed levels (four to correspond with the temperature and one base level below the lowest temperature).
The last fan header (JCHA) has either “Manual” or “Auto” control. I’m not sure what temperature the Auto control corresponds to or how it’s regulated.
Not all is perfect in fanland though. All three of the fan headers are four-pin headers and can accept both 3-pin voltage controlled and 4-pin PWM fans. Unfortunately, the JCHA header can control 3-pin (voltage controlled) fans, but the other two cannot. EVGA is looking into this issue and trying to figure out why the other two headers are struggling to control 3-pin fans. For now, if you’re going to use the Stinger to control your fans, be sure to invest in PWM fans that can be controlled by this BIOS.
Now we get to the important section – the Overclocking menu! In the main screen, you can control your CPU multiplier, LLC, PLL overvoltage and various system voltages. One very important note – when you adjust your CPU multiplier, you must select the E-LEET Control option to be able to adjust the multiplier with the E-LEET software. Selecting Manual will only allow you to change it manually within the BIOS.
Another quirk is that the voltages are in millivolts, so don’t try to enter, say, 1.65 (V) for the RAM voltage. Instead, you’ll have to input 1650 (mV). Also note the board tells me that it over-volts RAM a little bit. Assuming the board reads the voltages correctly, ~1.643V is roughly equal to 1.65 V in reality.
There is a strong memory section in this BIOS, actually rivaling ASUS in options if not in frequency range (the max speed option for the stinger is DDR3-2133). Everything here does what it says and makes it easy to control your RAM.
One very important note is that this board requires a bit more VCCIO to run DDR3-2133 than other boards I’ve tested. Previously, I’ve used 1.15-1.20 V VCCIO for easy 2133 operation. This board required 1.30 V VCCIO for stable operation. Once set though, it ran 2133 without issue.
Next up we’ll check out the advanced CPU settings. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory. Everything you need for CPU control is in here.
The last overclocking screen in the bottom right is BCLK control. Take note, to set a BCLK, you need to set if and then select the “Apply settings permanently after reboot” option, otherwise the BCLK setting won’t be applied after you save & exit.
Speaking of Save & Exit, the last two screens we’ll look at in detail reside in the section by that same name. Outlined here are the BIOS Profiles. There are ten slots available for your profiles, which should be plenty. Be careful when you’re saving and loading profiles! After you select “Save Profiles” or “Load Profiles”, the “Bios Profile Setup” popup is identical. If you choose the wrong one, you may save when you’re meaning to load, which can be a pain.
The rest of the BIOS is very well laid out and intuitively implemented. It’s mostly boilerplate stuff though, so we won’t go into extensive detail. Instead, all of the screens are listed below for your perusal.
While not the prettified mouse-controlled UEFI some manufacturers have gone with, the UEFI is solid and easy to work with. No complaints here.
The overclocking software bundled with the Z77 Stinger is EVGA’s E-LEET Tuning Utility. Overclockers the world over will recognize the interface, because it bears a striking resemblance (and is indeed modeled after) the prodigious program CPUz.
The CPU (above), memory & monitoring tabs show you pretty much everything you need to know about your system.
The overclocking & voltage tabs are where the action happens. Remember – you must set your multiplier selector in BIOS to E-LEET control to be able to use the multiplier control in E-LEET. Everything here is very self-explanatory and it all does what it should.
There was a brief period where I lost all voltage control in E-LEET and I have no idea why. EVGA worked on it and they have a solution to that problem in the form of a beta they sent me. If you find yourself with this board and lack voltage control, check for the newest version of E-LEET.
Regrettably, in the new version, E-LEET lost BCLK control. They’re still working on it though and considering they had it in the before-beta version, I’d hope it will be back soon.
The last three tabs aren’t as active but bear mentioning. The Graphics tab is interesting; you can monitor GPU clocks and on some GPUs even adjust the voltage. Personally, I’d use whatever software is meant for your GPU rather than try it from E-LEET as that will be much more full featured.
Processes is quite nice and allows you to set the affinity of various processes. This is very helpful for benchmarkers, allowing you to set the affinity of your benchmarks, save a hot-key and easily reset that affinity on the fly.
The settings page is pretty self-explanatory. You can save your CPUz validation file, save E-LEET profiles and even tell the software to stop polling if you want.
E-LEET is good at what it does. Like the BIOS, there aren’t a lot of graphical bells and whistles, but it performs the tasks that overclocking software needs to.
One thing missing that I wish was available is fan control. The BIOS fan control works fine, but in-OS fan control would be a nice added bonus.
Our test system is different than the usual test setup, coming in with an i5 3570K instead of our usual 3770K. From the get-go, this board was meant to go in a different direction – for use in a SFF (small form factor) build, which then turned into an experiment with an HTPC (home theater PC). You can see the build log here.
In any event, the system is different and the performance section of this review will be a bit different as well. Instead of comparing how it performs vs. another board, we’ll show you the potential that this strong overclocker has to improve the performance of your SFF PC.
|CPU||Intel i5 3570K|
|MB||EVGA Z77 Stinger|
|RAM||G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133|
|GPU||EVGA GTX 660 SC|
|PSU||Cooler Master Silent Pro 600W|
|OS||Windows 7 Professional x64|
It’s not going to set any records, but it will be a great set up for a LAN box or a living room gamer.
Overclocking for Stability
Overclocking this board was simple and straightforward, both with the BIOS & with E-LEET. The ultimate overclock was arrived at with two arbitrary stopping points: 70 °C core temperatures and 1.3 Vcore. With those two limits, the system overclocked to a healthy 24/7 overclock of 4.6 GHz.
Those that want to run higher speed memory, remember my comments from earlier – you likely need additional VCCIO to get to DDR3-2133, so keep that in mind. I tested at DDR3-1866 / 9-9-9-24, but after raising VCCIO a bit, the system proved plenty capable of DDR3-2133.
Since this CPU is brand new, there aren’t any other boards to compare results with. What we will do is run our suite of CPU benchmarks and show what sort of gains were had from stock to overclocked. As you can see, in timed benchmarks, the Stinger pushed the 3570K easily to an average 17% time improvement.
When considering the real world portion of our suite (including rendering, compression and video encoding), the Stinger helped the 3570K gain an average 20.3% over the stock configuration.
Adding a solid GPU to this system would most definitely make for a very good LAN gamer, HTPC, or even a SFF primary PC. Overclocked gains were stout across the board and the system was rock solid.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
When reviewing this board, I couldn’t help but remember watching Aladdin with the kiddo recently.
Yep, that’s about right. The Stinger is more than meets the eye. The first thought when I pulled it from the box: “Gee, well isn’t that cute?” Then it stung me. Think Joe Pesci in, well in pretty much anything he smacks around anyone and everyone, courtesy a massive Napoleon complex. That’s this board. It’s small, but it does big-board things.
It’s not perfect. The one thing I think that could improve its positioning is a WiFi module. I had one lying around, but for $15 less, you can get an ASUS P8Z77-I with one included. Heck, even Gigabyte’s $130 (but much less powerful) GA-Z77N-WIFI mITX board comes with one. In fact, all mITX Z77 boards on Newegg come with one - except the Stinger. Basically, I wish the Stinger came with a WiFi module. That would have made its price point more acceptable. As it stands, if you want one you have to shell out an extra $35. That’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but with the cost so little it would be nice to have it included.
Another small quibble is the fan control. I’d like to see EVGA add a Fan Control tab to E-LEET so you can control those in-OS. I’d also like to see functional 3-pin fan control on the JCPU and JPWR fan headers. For a board catering to overclocking enthusiasts, 3-pin fan control is crucial. Enthusiast boutique stores (i.e. Sidewinder Computers) often don’t even carry 4-pin PWM fans and if they do, they aren’t the powerful 3-pin screamers overclockers like to use (do note there is a 0.6 A maximum on the fan headers, which is plenty).
Aside from those two items, the only other thing to consider complaining about is price. The Stinger retails for $199.99. But wait, right now there is a $20 rebate card, making it $5 less than the ASUS mITX offering, which looks to be the Stinger’s main competition in the premium mITX space. So the price is fair, if a smidgen on the high side at full MSRP. The perfect price for this board would be $185, with a WiFi module included.
At it’s MSRP, this is the most expensive mITX Z77 motherboard on the market. There are other boards that have a stronger feature set (i.e. a graphical UEFI, an included Wi-Fi module, functioning 3-pin fan control) that will do the same for less. What they don’t have is EVGA’s stellar reputation for their warranty and in-house handling of the same. You need to carefully weigh this board’s novelty and features plus their great reputation for service against its higher-than-expected price.
Before receiving this board and hitting the ground running into the SFF obsession, I hadn’t given it much thought. Sure, lots of people liked it, but it wasn’t truly on my radar. I tend to use big form factors. Sometimes even bigger.
However, there’s a time and place for everything. With motherboards this strong powering such tiny systems, the time and place for the small form factor is approaching here and now. Frankly, a lesser board probably wouldn’t have piqued my interest as much as this one did. EVGA has spent quite a while developing an mITX board and it shows. The EVGA Z77 Stinger’s name is befitting such a small but powerful piece of hardware.