Intel’s Z77 chipset has spawned a tremendous amount of motherboard offerings from just about every manufacturer there is. BIOSTAR alone is responsible for six Z77 offerings with the Hi-Fi-Z77X being their latest rendition. So, what makes this version special? It’s all about the audio my friends, BIOSTAR’s Puro Hi-Fi audio to be exact. The idea behind this motherboard is to attract the overclocker, the gamer, the audiophile, and those that might be looking for a HTPC motherboard solution. Sounds like pretty high expectations, so let’s carry on and see what this latest BIOSTAR Z77 chipset based motherboard brings to the table.
Specifications and Features
The list of specifications and features is quite lengthy to say the least; BIOSTAR has left no stone unturned as far as incorporating all that the Z77 chipset has to offer. Here are the specifications as provided by BIOSTAR’s web site.
- Intel Z77
- Intel® Core™ i7 LGA 1155 Processor
- Intel® Core™ i5 LGA 1155 Processor
- Intel® Core™ i3 LGA 1155 Processor
- Intel® Pentium® LGA 1155 Processor
- Intel® Celeron® LGA 1155 Processor
- Maximum CPU TDP (Thermal Design Power) : 95Watt
- Support Dual Channel DDR3 2600(OC)/2400(OC)/2200(OC)/2133(OC)/1866(OC)/1800(OC)/1600/1333/1066 MHz
- 4 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
- Max. Supports up to 32GB Memory
- 2 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (SLi / CFX x8)
- 1 x PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (x4)
- 3 x PCI-E x1 2.0 Slot
- 2 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
- 4 x SATA2 3Gb/s Connector
- Support SATA RAID: 0,1,5,10
- Support Intel Smart Response Technology
- 2 x USB 3.0 Port
- 1 x USB 3.0 Header
- 4 x USB 2.0 Port
- 2 x USB 2.0 Header
- Intel USB3.0 only support Win7 or later version
- Realtek RTL8111F – 10/100/1000 Controller
- AMD CrossFireX
- NVIDIA SLI
- By CPU model
- Supports DX11
- Supports HDCP
- Realtek ALC898 8 Channel Blu-ray Audio
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
- 2 x USB 3.0 Port
- 4 x USB 2.0 Port
- 1 x HDMI Connector
- 1 x DVI Connector
- 1 x VGA Port
- 1 x RJ-45 Port
- 6 x Audio Connector
- 1 x USB 3.0 Header
- 2 x USB 2.0 Header
- 2 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
- 4 x SATA2 3Gb/s Connector
- 1 x Front Audio Header
- 1 x Front Panel Header
- 1 x S/PDIF-OUT Header
- 1 x CPU FAN Header
- 2 x System FAN Header
- 1 x Serial Header
- 1 x CIR Header
- ATX Form Factor Dimension: 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm ( W x L )
- Support Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8
We’ll begin listing the features of the BIOSTAR Z77X Hi-Fi starting with those that are common to most Z77 based motherboards.
All images and descriptions are courtesy of BIOSTAR:
Intel Z77 is the first chip to use Intel’s 22nm tri-gate transistors, which will help scale frequency and reduce power consumption. It features an integrated GPU and it is backwards compatible with previous LGA-1155(Sandy Bridge) motherboards. The Intel Z77 chipset also supports USB 3.0 natively and Intel’s Smart Response Technology (SRT, aka SSD caching). Intel 3rd generation processor “Ivy Bridge” is the codename for Intel’s 22nm of the Sandy Bridge micro architecture. The first to use tri-gate(“3D”) transistors, it is also backwards-compatible with the Sandy Bridge platform requiring a BIOS/firmware update. It supports 2 or 4 DIMM Slots DDR3 memory that features data transfer rates of DDR3 2000(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600/1333. The processor support 2 memory channels and setting the memory multiplier, allows selection of the channel speed. These clearly uplift the band width and boost the overall system performance The advanced NVIDIA® SLI® technology delivers the best gaming performance. Experience the fastest performance imaginable on new killer gaming machines. Surround yourself with amazing 3D performance, remarkable physical effects, and accelerate your most performance-driven applications. ATI CrossFireX™ is the ultimate multi-GPU performance gaming platform. With game-dominating power, ATI CrossFireX technology enables two or more discrete graphics processors to work together to improve system performance. It supports up to four ATI Radeon™ HD graphics cards, making it the most scalable gaming platform ever! PCI-E 3.0 is the next evolution of the ubiquitous and general-purpose PCI Express I/O standard. At 8GT/s bit rate, the interconnect performance bandwidth is doubled over PCI-E 2.0, while preserving compatibility with software and mechanical interfaces. SATAIII 6Gbps provides a higher bandwidth to retrieve and transfer HD media. With this super speed data transfer, SATAIII allows an incredible data boost which is 2x faster than the SATA 3G. The HDMI 3D Visual provides a level of interoperability for devices designed to deliver 3D content over the HDMI connection. The latest HDMI Specification adds key enhancements to support the market requirements for bringing broadcast 3D content into the home featuring key enhancements for 3D applications including the addition of mandatory 3D formats for broadcast content. Intel Smart Response Technology is an Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) caching feature that improves computer system performance. It allows a user to configure computer systems with an SSD used as cache memory between the hard disk drive and system memory. This provides the advantage of having a hard disk drive(or a RAID volume) for maximum storage capacity while delivering an SSD-like overall system performance experience.
Next are the UEFI BIOS and onboard enthusiast features. UEFI BIOS is always nice to have, and the BIOS flasher sounds promising as well. Not to leave the overclocking crowd out in the cold, there is a windows based overclocking utility (Toverclocker) and enthusiast friendly onboard power and reset buttons.
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a brand new framework that provides a revolutionary interface. It is a modern clear and easy-to-use graphical user interface. The UEFI comes with a colorful easy-understand icons leads users into the setup layer directly. Update BIOS effortlessly from a USB flash disk before entering the OS.
BIO-Flasher is a convenient BIOS update tool. Just launch this tool and put the BIOS on USB pen driver before entering the OS. You can update your BIOS with only a few clicks without preparing an additional floppy disk or other complicated flash utility.
T-overclocker presents a simple Windows-based system performance enhancement and utility management. It features several powerful yet easy to use tools such as overclocking for system performance enhancement, CPU and memory special enhancement, a smart-fan control for managing fan speed control of both CPU cooling fan, north-bridge chipset cooling fan, PC health for monitoring system status, and pre-set OC modes for easy OC. Integrated e-service automatically sends your technical support request to Biostar Globe tech support without any delay. BIOSTAR G.P.U (Green Power Utility) is a new function that enhances energy efficiency by disabling extra phases while the CPU is under light loading. It integrates a friendly GUI to monitor the resourcing and response of your CPU, as well as optimize the power saving function in your system. G.P.U sets the best power efficiency in your system, be it for heavy 3D gaming, Internet or MSN charting. Personalize your desktop with customizable boot logo. BIOScreen is the new feature that lets you personalize and create your own style with unique, custom-made boot logo. Engineered by BIOSTAR, the exquisite onboard switches allow you to easily shut down and restart your system. Rapid Debug3 posts critical POST code information in a digital LED display. When system malfunction occurs, it auto-detects the device’s failure and translates the error codes on the digital LED. It also shows the CPU temperature on the same screen.
The next group of features BIOSTAR calls “Exclusive Features”. Some are exclusive to BIOSTAR motherboards, but many are not including the USB 3.0 support, THX True Studio Pro, solid capacitors, etc. A little over-marketing perhaps? You be the judge!
Virtu Universal MVP, is an optimized Lucid Virtu GPU virtualization software that makes your PC look better, respond faster, process video and media smoother, all within a low power environment, Virtu Universal MVP has many of the same features as the popular Virtu software, but with a twist – the addition of the optional Hyperformance feature for intelligent reduction of redundant rendering tasks in the flow between the CPU, GPU and display. THX TruStudio Pro is specially designed to bring the same great audio experience found in live performances, films, and recording studios – to the PC. THX TruStudio Pro provides the latest groundbreaking technologies that are products of years of collective experience and research by Creative and THX. Together, these technologies deliver the fullest audio experience for music, movies and games, while remaining true to the source and intention of the artists who created it. Audio power is an important factor in audio quality. Most AV equipment isolates the power supply for each analog and digital signal to gather high-quality sound reproduction. Equipped with BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Power technology, it will utilize audio components with independent power design for a significant reduction in electronic noise and superb sound quality. BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Ground presents noise-blocking multi-layer PCB design which isolates analog audio signals from digital sources. The unique PCB layout is ideal for exceptional clarity and high fidelity sound. It’s focused on improving sound quality beyond the regular motherboard designs. BIOSTAR Hi-Fi series motherboards have a sampling rate of 192kHz/24-bit which delivers a high quality audio through an analog connection to your home theater system, multi-channel speakers and high-end headphone. You can enjoy real Blu-ray grade high-definition sound that you’ve never experienced before. Multi Channels Calibration (MCC) can transform any room into the ideal listening environment. With Multi Channels Calibration (MCC), audio performance is automatically calibrated according to the dimensions of your room. Simply place the speaker and setup the microphone at your usual listening spot, position the speakers and connect them. The users can set up the speaker settings easily by using a free bundle MCC software. BIOSTAR Hi-Fi series motherboards provide high quality ESD (Electro-Static Discharge) solution for its front I/O panel. This function prevents static electricity and reduces the damage to the motherboards when you are plugging or unplugging your headphone. The built-in amplifier can drive major high-end headphones with over 100dB loads and offer wide band-width, low noise, high slew rate and low distortion audio source from front panel I/O. Gaming enthusiasts can enjoy a fuller range of dynamic sound with crisper details and less distortion. Smart EAR is a windows-based audio utility which allows you to easily adjust system volume. With its user-friendly GUI, you can also increase or decrease impedance setting (Low/High Gain) to optimize your headphone performance. You can easily enjoy high-quality and awesome sound. Metal-oxide film resistors are made of metal oxides such as tin oxide. The electric characteristics are greater stability and reliability than regular metal film resistors when operating in an extremely broad working temperature range. This special component is used in applications with high endurance audio demands. BIOSTAR Hi-Fi series motherboards come with high quality ‘Non-Polarized Electrolysis Electric audio capacitors’ for each audio channel circuit. The customized audio capacitors deliver low noise, low distortion, and wide bandwidth to achieve the highest sound resolution and sound expansion. The critical component will ensure the most realistic sound effects to gaming enthusiasts. Embrace exceptional sound quality for the win with 110dB SNR and stylish and efficient EMI shield blocks electromagnetic interference to help provide cleaner audio. It has achieved a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 110dB, yielding almost loss-less audio form rear audio connectors. SmartSpeedLAN is a free software application which monitors and manages your PC’s network behavior. With user-friendly GUI, it allows you to select and prioritize different types of network traffic, including gaming, media streaming, communications or web surfing.You can also set any specific applications, choosing to prioritize or block accordingly. SmartSpeedLAN can feature automatic management options that use adaptive networking intelligence to ensure that you are getting the best online experience possible. Experience Fastest data transfers at 5 Gbps with USB 3.0–the new latest connectivity standard. Built to connect easily with next-generation components and peripherals, USB 3.0 transfers data 10X faster and backward compatible with previous USB 2.0 components. 13 phase power design enables the best delivery of power to supercharge your system, giving extreme users unparalleled overclocking ability and the lowest temperatures to reach maximum performance levels. With armor-plated Biostar Technology, all capacitors are placed with 100% solid capacitors that have a lasting life cycle, durability and stability for crucial components. BIO-Remote2 Technology is featuring users a better Home Theater environment. Users who own either Android mobile or Apple goods are able to access and control your PC remotely; At this moment, you’re smart device became a intelligent and functional remote controller; more than that, BIO-Remote2 also includes both function of mouse pad and power point presentation mode. MORE INFO Charger booster is the best and efficient charger solution for apple devices such as iPad, iPhone. Basically, Charger booster Technology is able to boost the charging time to be more efficiency and faster once any apple goods connecting to our Motherboard. With charger booster technology, you are able to charge your apple devices up to 42 % faster. MORE INFO
Packaging and First Look
By the looks of the box cover, do you think BIOSTAR is trying to get their Puro Hi-Fi Audio message across to you? I think the big speaker on the front of the box gets the point across nicely. The rest of the box front is littered with icons depicting many of the Puro Hi-Fi and Intel features. Both box sides are identical and have the motherboard model with additional branding applied to them. Front and center on the back of the box is… You guessed it, more information on the Puro Hi-Fi. In addition to that, the information provided is a repeat of what we described above in the features.
This is not an overly flashy box, but it does get the marketing aspects across to the user rather effectively.
Once inside the box, we see the users manual sitting on top and the accessories to the left. Don’t expect a plethora of accessories because, err…. there just isn’t a whole lot to be had. Under the cardboard upper shelf we find the Hi-Fi Z77X wrapped in a familiar anti-static bag with a foam pad for it to rest upon. To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of protection for the motherboard in this packaging scheme; it could stand a little improvement in my opinion.
Although the accessories are not overly abundant, there is an adequate supply for getting the Hi-Fi Z77X installed. Tucked inside the users manual is the driver/software CD, which has all the BIOSTAR software and utilities. I always advise checking the web site for updated versions, especially where drivers are concerned. As far as the manual goes, it’s one of the more detailed ones I have come across. About the only thing missing from the manual is a detailed walk through of the UEFI BIOS. Luckily, a detailed UEFI BIOS overview can be downloaded from BIOSTAR’s web site.
Here is a list of the included accessories:
- 4 x SATA Cables
- 1 x SLI Connector
- 1 x CrossFire Connector
- 1 x MCC Audio Calibration Microphone
- 1 x I/O Shield
- 1 x Driver/Utility CD
- 1 x User Manual
Before we have an in depth look at the different areas of the Hi-Fi Z77X, I thought I’d post up some teaser photos for your viewing pleasure. Oh, and make no mistake about it, I’m really digging the black and blue color scheme. If you like building a color coordinated system, this board would make a good beginning.
Closer Look/Under the Hood
As we begin our Hi-Fi Z77X tour of the outer extremities, we’ll begin at the bottom side of the motherboard. From left to right we see the S/PDIF out header, which is used to bring digital audio to the back of the computer by way of a PCI expansion slot bracket. This bracket is not included with the motherboard, but it is listed on BIOSTAR’s accessories page. The CIR1 header is used for infrared remote control or communication devices, such as the BIO-Remote. A system fan header and a COM port header round out the bottom left side of the board.
Moving over to the bottom right side, we see two front panel USB 2.0 headers, onboard power and reset buttons, and the connections for chassis wiring.
Let’s head over to the right side of the board where there is a lot going on. Starting at the bottom section we see the post code LED diagnostic display, a useful tool should you run into a system malfunction. The back of the users manual has two full pages of post codes to reference if you run into issues. The Winbond W25Q32BVAIG 4 Mb AMI BIOS chip can also be seen from this vantage point. This is a single BIOS chip with no switch to go between one BIOS version and another, so be careful flashing it or you could end up having to purchase a pre-flashed BIOS chip to recover.
There are six SATA ports, all of which are native to the Z77 chipset. The upper most ports are SATA III 6.0 GB/s and the lower four are SATA II 3.0 GB/s. Only having six SATA ports could be problematic for some users, but BIOSTAR has chosen not to use a third party solution to add more.
The upper area of the board’s right side doesn’t really have a lot to go over other than the 24-Pin ATX power socket. You can also catch a view of several solid state capacitors used throughout this motherboard.
Moving around to the top of the Hi-Fi Z77X we can see the four DIMM slots (more later), CPU fan header, and get a glimpse of the CPU socket area and the first of two PWM heatsinks (more later on these also).
The left side of the Hi-Fi Z77X features the I/O area that will be of interest to most of you. BIOSTAR has again chosen not to implement a third party solution to increase the number of USB 3.0 ports. There are two USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ports included in the I/O area. For display connectivity, there are DVI, VGA, and HDMI options available. Realtek is the vendor of choice for the onboard LAN connection, the RTL8111F 10/100/1000 controller to be more exact. For the gamers that still prefer a PS/2 keyboard, you’ll be happy to see the included PS/2 port.
The Puro Hi-Fi system uses the Realtek ALC898 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio codec as its base. You may notice in the picture below of the audio ports that there is no option for digital coax or optical connections. For a motherboard that is being pushed to HTPC users and audiophiles, I find that a tad strange. At least a S/PDIF bracket is available, but it should have been included in the accessory bundle. For those of you thinking of HTPC use, you can always use the HDMI audio options of your video card or CPU’s IGP. You’ll need to make sure your standalone graphics card has an HDMI port, or your CPU has integrated graphics.
The bottom area of the board’s left side is where the Hi-Fi cap, resistors, stainless shield cover, and grounding features are located. The Hi-Fi ground is the yellow line you see stretching from the stainless shield cover to the Hi-Fi cap area. This ground is a multi layer PCB design which should improve signal clarity. The intent behind these features is to reduce EMI noise, eliminate interference, and isolate analog audio signals from digital sources. Right in the middle of the Hi-Fi caps and resistors is the Hi-Fi front panel audio headphone amplifier chip. This amplifier will allow over 100 dB and 600 Ohm loads, making use of high quality professional headphones possible. As a side note, the stainless shield cover has a red LED under it which lights up when the system is on.
Moving towards the inside of the Hi-Fi Z77X we find the CPU area uncluttered, and seemingly ready to accept large CPU coolers. My guess is you will run into memory height issues if anything, but that’s typical for most motherboards nowadays. You can also see the 13-phase CPU power delivery section here; not the most stout there is, but adequate nonetheless.
The four DIMM slots support DDR3 memory up to 2600 MHz (overclocked), and will accept up to 32 GB total capacity.
The PCI-e area is comprised of 3 PCI-e x1, two PCI-e x16, and one PCI-e x4 slots. A single graphics card in the top slot will run at x16, but SLI or Crossfire will drop to x8/x8 when populating the top two slots. Gone away with completely are the traditional PCI slots: man, have times changed!
As mentioned earlier, Realtek provides both the base audio and LAN interface for the Hi-Fi Z77X. ITE’s IT8728F sensor chip provides the system monitoring capabilities. The four ASMedia ASM1480 PCI-e 3.0 16 to 8 channel switches allow the PCI-e slots to switch between x16 and x8 mode relevant to the number of video cards installed. Not pictured below is the Realtek Audio chip; I believe it to be living a sheltered life under the stainless shield.
Next up is our customary look “Under the Hood”. All three of the motherboard’s heatsinks are held in place with plastic push pins; not my favorite way of doing it, but they seem to work fine in this case. The heatsink over the PCH used a thermal interface material I have not yet come across. The best way I can describe the texture of it is to imagine a thin layer of bubble gum, sticky and gooey. This doesn’t mean it’s bad necessarily, just something new. Having said that, it was nicely applied and the heatsink was making good contact with its target area.
The PWM heatsinks use a thermal pad that stretches the length of the PWM area. Once I had these off, I found them to be making level contact with the PWM chips across the entire span. All and all I’d say BIOSTAR did a pretty descent job with the heatsinks on this motherboard.
The UEFI BIOS does not have a lot of eye candy associated with it, but it does have mouse support and enough options to keep you busy for quite some time. One thing it does not have is the ability to screen capture, so you will have to bear with the old school camera shots here.
Once inside the UEFI BIOS you are greeted with the main page section where you can set the date and time. There is also information on the firmware version and model number.
Under the advanced tab we have nine subsections to explore. Beginning with the PCI Subsystem Settings, you’ll find the options for PCI latency, snoop, payload and ASPM (active state power management). The ACPI sub menu has the same settings found on most motherboards, which includes the wake timers, power on functions, and sleep/hibernation options. The top area of the CPU Configuration sub menu is reserved for information relevant to the CPU you have installed, while the bottom area allows you to adjust the active cores, Hyper-Threading, and the C-States.
Under the SATA configuration sub menu is where you will set the SATA controller mode to IDE, AHCI, or Raid. The next sub menu is where you can enable or disable the Intel Rapid Start Technology. The next sub menu is for the USB configuration options. Here you can enable or disable USB ports and set USB trasfer time-out values. The Smart Fan Control sub menu allows the user to set CPU fan speeds based on temperatures; if left disabled the CPU fan will run full speed. The Super I/O sub menu contains options pertaining to the Serial Port and CIR (Consumer Infrared) features. You can enable or disable both of these once inside their sub menus and also set the Serial Port address. The last sub menu in the Advanced tab is the PC Health Status area. This is the place to monitor the different voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.
Next up is the Chipset area of the UEFI BIOS. Three sub menus are found here; we’ll begin with PCH-IO section. Located here are the PCI Express configurations, additional USB Configuration options, and the PCH Azalia Configuration. You can set the PCIe speeds, USB XHCI/EHCI options, and enable or disable both the Azalia controller and its internal HDMI function within this section. The next sub menu is the Onboard PCI-e Devices section where you can configure the storage, video, and LAN OpROM settings. You can also enable or disable the LAN from here as well. The System Agent Configuration sub menu is the last section in the Chipset tab. Located here are all the settings for the CPU’s IGP, provided your CPU supports that. You can also set your primary display and disable the CPU’s IGP completely, if so desired. Also in this section are additional PCI Express settings that deal mostly with the generation you would like to apply to the different slots. Finally, this sub menu contains information on your current memory speed, total memory installed, max TOLUD options, and the memory remap options.
Sliding over to the Boot tab, we find all the boot order and priority options. The BIOS Flash Protection option is nice to have; it basically write protects the firmware code and will not allow it to be changed (think virus). Make sure you disable this if you want to flash the UEFI firmware. Another nice option here is the ability to turn off the post beep, keeping the boot process quiet. If you’re like me and want to be privy to whats happening during the boot process, you can disable the Full Screen Logo Display option. The thumbnail image below is the bottom portion of the Boot tab screen
The Security tab doesn’t have a whole lot to discuss other than the ability to set an administrator or user password.
The next tab we come to is the Overclocking Navigation Engine or O.N.E. for short. I’m a big fan of the way the O.N.E. section is laid out; I love not having a ton of sub menus to navigate through. You can access all the settings by simply scrolling up or down. If you are an overclocker, you will find just about anything you need to get the maximum performance out of your CPU and memory. A lot of you will be interested to know the maximum CPU voltage available is 1.790 v. As far as memory voltage goes, that peaks out at 2.112 v. I’ve seen higher voltage options out there, but these should be adequate for the vast majority of overclockers. Some other highlights in this area include the ability to set a ratio limit for each CPU core, a full host of memory options (both manual and XMP), and voltage manipulation options for many of the motherboard’s sub systems.
The last UEFI area to explore is the Save & Exit tab. The highlight of this section is the ability to save up to five profiles. Saving profiles is a great option to have, especially for those of you that like benchmarking under various system configurations. However, there is one caveat regarding the profile saving feature, you can’t name them. When you save a profile, a date and time is automatically assigned as the name. I guess if you are good at remembering what you did at an exact time and date, this isn’t so bad. But if you’re like me and have trouble remembering what you did yesterday, then this is a major downfall.
Restoring defaults, saving changes, and discarding changes are the other options available in this section. The thumbnail image below is the bottom section of the Save & Exit screen.
The BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z77X is not lacking for included software. The bundled software has overclocking, audio, LAN, and even smart phone applications. I spent some time going through most of them beginning with the Windows-based Toverclocker utility. While not as flashy or detailed as some other Windows-based overclocking tools I have seen in the past, this one works well and has enough options to test varying overclocked settings. The utility is broken up into four main areas: the CPU screen, memory screen, OC Tweaker screen, and finally, the H/W Monitor screen. Both CPU and memory screens are simply informational and do not offer any adjustments; those things are done in the OC Tweaker area.
Once you have navigated your way to the OC Tweaker screen, you can adjust the CPU Core clock and CPU ratio in the first tab. The second tab is where the adjustable voltages are found, but you are limited to CPU, memory, PCH, IGD, and VCCIO adjustments. The last tab inside of the OC Tweaker screen is the Mode screen. Here you find a few automatic overclocking options called V6, V12, and Auto. Not much to get excited about; the overclocks they set are only around 200 MHz or less.
The H/W Monitor screen has three tabs which will give you current voltage readings, fan speeds, and temperatures for the CPU and system.
There are a few other nifty little utilities in the software bundle that I particularly liked. The first of which is called BIOScreen, a program that allows you to change the boot splash screen to an image of your choosing. BIOScreen will transform an image to the appropriate size and resolution, and then update your UEFI BIOS for you. Once it has performed its magic, the system will reboot and you will see your image!
The eHot-Line software is used to gather all your system information in a nice neat package to send off in an e-mail to BIOSTAR technical support. The only system specifications you have to manually enter are for the PSU and memory. Tell it what region you reside in, provide an e-mail address, and hit the send button. It will use your default mail client to send the e-mail.
The BIOS Updater program allows desktop UEFI BIOS flashing, either through the internet or from a file saved to your computer. There is also an option to backup the existing UEFI BIOS version to a file. I’ve never been one to flash a BIOS from within Windows, but if you must, I strongly suggest you download the UEFI BIOS file first and then flash from from that file. Letting this, or any other desktop based flashing tool seek out the correct file is a gamble I’d rather not take.
BIOSTAR’s Green Power Utility is designed to satisfy the “green” in us all. It comes with four different presets ranging from performance to maximum power savings. The theory behind this utility is to increase energy efficiency by disabling extra power delivery phases, while the CPU is idle or under a light load condition.
Smart Speed LAN is program that allow internet traffic prioritizing. If you tend to run several applications simultaneously that require internet traffic, you will find this utility handy. You can set any application to a high or low priority, and even block its access all together.
Next up are the three audio utilities to help get the most from the Realtek onboard audio. The first being the Multi Channel Calibration tool. Used in combination with the bundled MCC microphone, it can automatically calibrate each speaker based on your room configuration. Simply set the MMC microphone where you are typically located while in the room and run the utility.
Creative THX Studio Pro gives you several audio configuration tools to enhance the quality of music, movies, and games. The five different sections of the program allow for a good deal of audio adjustments. Most people should find settings that appeal to their audio senses.
Control of your system volume can be accomplished by using the Smart Ear utility. Additionally, you can set impedance to a high or low gain when using headphones.
If you happen to own a smart phone, you’ll really like the BIO Remote2 abilities. If you can set your smart phone’s Wi-Fi on the same network that the computer is on, you can use your smart phone as a remote control for Power Point Presentations, mouse control, Windows Media Center, and control several of the bundled applications listed above. For more detailed information visit BIOSTAR’s BIO Remote2 web page where you can download the needed software. Hey, there’s an app for that!
The bundled software as a whole has some useful applications, but I couldn’t help but noticing that most of them are simply GUI versions of options already available through Windows itself. However, some people find it daunting to figure out how to accomplish such tasks, and having a simple to follow GUI to guide them is a big plus.
I spent a fair amount of time listening to the Hi-Fi audio on this motherboard, using both a 5.1 speaker setup and headphones. If I was to be totally honest (and I will be) the music listening didn’t seem much better than any other board with onboard Realtek audio. Once you peel away the Hi-Fi amp, resistors, and caps, you are still left with the Realtek onboard sound solution. However, where the audio prowess really came to the forefront was during game play and watching DVD movies. The sound quality and clarity in both of those scenarios was really good! I’m sure if I spent more quality time with music CD’s, I might be able to get better sound from them too. This is not to say the music CD sound was bad, just not as big a step forward as I enjoyed with games and DVD movie watching. I think BIOSTAR may have figured out how to get as much as possible from an onboard Realtek sound solution.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
- BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z77X Motherboard
- Intel i7 3770K CPU (Overclockers Approved!)
- G.Skill F3-2400C10D-16GTX TridentX 2X8 Gb DDR3 2400 Mhz Kit
- PowerColor PCS+ HD7850 Video Card (Overclockers Approved!)
- OCZ Vertex 4 128Gb SSD
- EVGA Superclock CPU Cooler
- Corsair HX1050 PSU
First up is a quick stability test using AIDA64’s System Stability Test. No problems here with memory set to its rated 2400 MHz speed.
My motivation for a 24/7 stable overclock was to keep the CPU temperatures under control, with the end result being a speed even those with a decent air cooling solution could obtain. So, with the use of a pretty decent air cooling solution (EVGA Superclock), I headed toward 4.8 GHz. Setting the CPU to a 48x multiplier and giving 1.280 v to the CPU was all it took to get there. Under full load CPU-Z showed 1.296 v was being supplied to the CPU. The maximum CPU temperature recorded during the stability testing was 76 °C. Keep in mind the stress testing was performed in an open air environment. With everything installed in a chassis, the CPU temps will obviously be a little higher, but there is still some headroom at these overclocked settings.
I ran each of the benchmarks at stock and the 24/7 4.8 GHz overclock. This should give the non overclocking crowd, and the overclockers amongst us, a good idea of performance levels. Beginning with SuperPI 1M and 32M, we see the results scale nicely between stock and overclocked. A sub eight second 1M time when overclocked is pretty descent; and just a shade over seven minutes for the 32M run isn’t too shabby either!
The next benchmark I ran was wPrime 32M and 1024M. I often use wPrime 1024M as a stability test in addition to benchmarking the results. It does a good job of heating up the CPU; and if your overclock is not very stable, it will let you know in a hurry. There were no big surprises good or bad here; results were about as expected for this setup. The overclocked results were pretty impressive with the 32M run coming in at just a fraction over five seconds.
Moving to the synthetic benchmarks, Cinebench R10 (x64) and 11.5 (x64) are first up. Cinebench will test 3D rendering capabilities based on Maxon’s 3D animation application, and is almost completely reliant on the CPU’s capability. As expected there were significant gains to be had between the stock and overclocked results.
The next benchmarks have to do with memory performance. First up is the AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark, which will test system RAM bandwidth and latency, as well as the system’s L1, L2, and L3 cache. You wouldn’t think overclocking the CPU would have a big effect on the memory portion of this benchmark, but as you can see by the results it sure seems to.
Rounding out our benchmark tests is MaxxMem PreView. I noticed good performance here, and like the AIDA64 tests I ran, things just got better when overclocked.
Pushing the Envelope
The i7-3770K CPU I have does great up to 4.8 Ghz, but anything past that you really have to start pouring the volts to her. So, being on air cooling, naturally the temperature wall was quick in coming. Just as was the case during the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 review, it took 1.4 v to get 5.0 Ghz stable enough to run Wprime 32M and AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark. At that speed, wPrime 32M recorded a time of 4.851 seconds, down slightly from the 4.8 GHz time of 5.024 seconds. AIDA64 Cache and Memory benchmark completed with good scores as well, but again not a whole lot different than the 4.8 GHz scores.
Pressing on to 5.1 GHz was quite a challenge and required voltages I don’t normally use while under air cooling. Just the additional 100 MHz took a voltage of 1.47 v; and even at that voltage, it wasn’t very stable. I did manage a run of SuperPI 1M, which came in at 7.140 seconds, down just a bit from the 4.8 GHz time of 7.613 seconds.
The BIOSTAR Z77X Hi-Fi motherboard performed quite well in many different areas. The beefed up Realtek audio has some advantages not normally found on motherboards using an integrated audio solution, especially during gaming and movie watching. The lack of “out of the box” digital audio capabilities was a little puzzling to me, but it’s simple enough to overcome by way of an optional S/PDIF bracket or for HTPC use, an HDMI cable.
All the features that make the Z77 platform appealing are present and accounted for, BIOSTAR left no stone unturned in this regard. There are some limits imposed in order to keep the cost of the motherboard down. Most notably the lack of any third party solutions to add additional USB 3.0, eSATA, Firewire, or SATA connectivity. Some may actually see the lack of third party SATA and USB 3.0 solutions as a positive, we all know that seldom do they work as well as the native solutions do.
The UEFI BIOS is well laid out and easy to navigate. It’s loaded with enough options to satisfy the vast majority of overclockers and enthusiasts alike. Overclocking was easy to accomplish, and all the XMP profiles worked perfectly. My CPU and temperatures were the limiting factor during overclocking, not the motherboard. About the only bad mark I have for the UEFI BIOS is the inability to name saved profiles. Perhaps a later UEFI firmware will incorporate this feature.
The bundled software is extensive and provides easy configuration for many tasks that would otherwise be difficult for some users. You will find everything you need to get the most out of the Hi-Fi audio, onboard LAN, and Windows based overclocking with the Toverclocker utility. Oh, and don’t forget the nifty smart phone app!
Currently the BIOSTAR Z77X Hi-Fi sells for $149.99 at Newegg, which puts it right where it should be based on competitor pricing for mid-range Z77 motherboards. With so many Z77 motherboards on the market today, it’s no small task figuring out which one will best suit your needs. If you are looking for something in the mid-level range of Z77 offerings, then the Z77X Hi-Fi is definitely worth considering. All and all a good effort by BIOSTAR here!
– Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)