Today we have a chance to look at the newly released Z77 based board from EVGA, the Z77 FTW. If their releases are anything like we have seen in the past, you should see a lower end model, usually dubbed SLI, and perhaps even a Classified version down the road. The FTW models are usually a nice blend of high end features with pricing falling in between the venerable Classified and SLI versions of the board. Let’s see what EVGA has brought to the table for Ivy Bridge.
Specifications & Features
The listed specifications below were sourced from the EVGA website.
Based on Intel Z77 chipset
Supports Intel Socket 1155 Processors
4 x 240-pin DIMM sockets
Dual Channel DDR3
Maximum of 32GB of DDR3 2133MHz+
5 x PCIe x16/x8, 1 x PCIe x1
0 x UltraDMA133
6 x Serial ATA 300MB/sec (4x Internal + 2x E-SATA) with support for RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 0+1, RAID5, RAID10 and JBOD
4 x Serial ATA 600MB/sec (4 Internal) with support for RAID 0 and RAID1
8 Channel High Definition
2 x 10/100/1000
10 x USB2.0 ports (6 external + 4 internal headers)
6 x USB3.0 ports (4 external + 2 internal headers)
Audio connector (Line-in, Line-out, MIC)
FireWire 1394A (1 external)
EATX Form Factor
Length: 12in – 304.8mm
Width: 10.375in – 263.5mm
This product comes with a 3 year limited warranty. Registration is recommended.
Packaging & Accessories
The first photographs we will look at are the retail packaging. EVGA usually sports a black background with the chipset and model listed, and that did not change with the Z77 platform. It appears to have lightning around the model name, as opposed to what I would call traces on the X79 model. The back of the packaging shows the shot of the board, and some specifications. One side shows their accolades in benchmarking, with the other showing more features. One thing to note on the packaging, some may not know EVGA recently dropped the 30-day requirement for registering motherboards, instead the warranty is based on the boards serial number. Kudos to having a transferable warranty.
Inside the packaging you can see the board comes in a clam-shell for protection, which seems to do a good job as it is securely placed inside the plastic with no chance to move around. The accessories include a very typical spread of SATA cables, SLI bridges, Molex to SATA power connectors, along with rear slot USB2 (4), USB3 (2), a firewire port, and of course your I/O plate.
The Evga Z77 FTW
Ahh, now to finally see the board. If you have read my other EVGA motherboard reviews, you know I’m a huge fan of how they look. Black on black, or black and red have been the themes in the past. In this generation, the Z77 has touches of red on the board in the DIMM slots, SATA slots, and PCIe slots (as well as some writing on the PCH fan). The Z77 FTW sports a an effective looking heatsink covering the power section, keeping things cool there (notice there are 2 8 pin CPU connectors?). Per usual, nothing much to see on the back side of the board.
A Closer Look
Taking a look at the CPU area first, you see the large heatsink for the power delivery components. One of the differences in this board is EVGA use of “300% more gold” in the socket, 7+1 power plane setup, and the use of high quality POSCAP capacitors ensure you have clean and stable power delivery when you need it. You can also see from these shots the Z77 FTW uses two 8 pin CPU power connectors. Only one is needed for most overclocking, but when you go extreme, you will want the supplemental power both plugs offer.
Taking a look at the PCIe area, you can see a total of five(5) full length slots along with one PCIe 1x above the last PCIe slot. With the use of the PLX chip (not pictured – its hiding underneath the PCH cooler). The lanes break down as follows:
- 1 Card: x16
- 2 Cards: x16 – x16 (Slot 2 & Slot 4)
- 3 Cards: x8 – x16 – x16
- 4 Cards: x8 – x16 – x8 – x8
Moving over to the DIMM area, you see the normal four DIMM slots offered in the platform. Just above the DIMM slots you see EVGA’s voltage read points. If you are thinking this area looks a bit different than past implementations of voltage read areas, you are correct. Each of those pins are for a specific read point and from right to left as pictured, are as follows: Vcore – Ground – DIMM – Ground – VCCIO – Ground – VCPU VCCIO – Ground – PCH – Ground – CPU PLL-VSA. I sure would have like to have seen these labeled, or a plugin that was included. It was trial and error, then eventually confirmation through EVGA on this one.
Moving around to the rear I/O area, you can see six USB2 ports, four USB3 ports, a CMOS reset button, a legacy PS/2 connector, two GB Ethernet ports, as well as your analog audio jacks supported by the Realtek 8988 chip. Basically a pretty standard setup back there. Jumping over to the other side of the board you can see the SATA ports with the two red ones being SATA3 (6Gbps) The left supported by Intel, the right ones supported by Marvell, and the black ports being Intel SATA2 (3Gbps).
Also pictured just to the right of the SATA ports are five DIP switches to enable or disable the PCIe slots for easier troubleshooting. Behind the SATA ports is a jumper labeled ‘dark mode’.
Rounding out this set of pictures is the bottom I/O area sporting additional USB2 and USB3 ports, front panel headers, as well as your bios switch to move through any one of the three(3) bios available to you. Along those lines, at the extreme right of the picture you can see the three bios chips with one being removable in case you somehow manage to corrupt all three of them, it can be replaced (perhaps a better picture of this is in the SATA picture above on the left hand side).
Listed below are a couple of the controller chips used on the board. The CHiL chip to control CPU power, the Marvell chip pictured controls the eSATA ports, and last we have the Realtek ALC898 audio chip for the onboard audio solution.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
EVGA, like most other motherboard makers have moved to the UEFI bios. I cant say its as dolled up as some of the others we have seen, but hey, function over form right? The overall scheme here is black on white with red being your ‘active’ item. There is no mouse control within this UEFI bios however. One thing I am happy to see is they changed back to using “F10” to save and exit. For someone explicitly used to using that, using F4 like in the EVGA X79 FTW motherboard (read our Review), wasn’t a big deal, but certainly a departure to what most are used to. I wont dig too far down in to the bios as there are just so many screens and options, but we will look at the primary options, then dig down a bit deeper in the overclocking options.
Pictured below are simply the headings across the top moving from left to right. It starts out with the Overview, which shows your current status of clock speed, cores, voltages and some temperatures. Next is the Advanced tab where you change onboard devices, such as USB ports, Firewire, NIC’s, etc. Under the chipset heading you can enable/disable the LED displaying temperature among other things. The Overclocking section is quite obviously where a lot of people here will spend most of their time. This is where one would adjust all the settings for overclocking your CPU and memory. The last screenshot is of the boot section…again pretty self explanatory what goes on in here, you get to select boot order and hard drive priorities.
Stepping into the Overclocking section, is where boards of this caliber earn their keep. In a high level, one has all the overclocking functions needed. Ample voltage control covering Vcore, DIMM, VCCIO, PCH, PLL, as well as PWM frequency. Digging down in to the CPU section, here you can control the use of Hyper Threading, one of the power saving functions in C1E. On this screen you drill down further to see EIST and Turbo Mode, along with sleep states and power limits.
For memory, you have all the timing options one can imagine. While you may not have specific options for several types of ram, this board does well in setting stable, if a bit conservative (understandable for stability), automatic settings for ram when raising the multiplier. The key here is to set your speeds first, reboot, then come back in and make your timing adjustments. Last is the screen where you can adjust your base clock (bclk). Most are aware by now that bclk is pretty limited compared with previous generation platforms, however Ivy Bridge is said to stretch its legs a bit longer than Sandy Bridge, especially under cold.
Here we see the latest version of EVGA’s E-LEET software. This CPUz-esque tool not only displays important system information from clock speeds, both memory (not pictured) and CPU, to voltages (all you need to see), and temperatures. Once you enable the E-LEET overclocking in the bios, you are able to use this software to overclock. In order to have full functionality of this software, a new version will be released soon. Currently it does not read the settings on the Overclocking tab, nor overclock.
Test Setup and Overclocking
Below is the configuration used for testing out the motherboard:
|CPU||Intel i7 3770K @ 3.5 GHz|
|Motherboard||EVGA Z77 FTW|
|RAM||2×2 GB G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-2133 7-10-7-27|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX680 Lightning|
|Solid State Drive||60GB Vertex 2|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1 (Fresh Install)|
Overall, overclocking was a piece of cake, but I would like to mention a minor issue and get that out of the way. Upon dropping down to less cores, when returning back to having all cores active, you will lose the ability to overclock. It essentially locked itself to a 3.7ghz limit (3.5Ghz at default but 3.7Ghz when entering a value higher than that in the bios/windows). There is a simple work around (CMOS reset) to get you back to up to speed, but still a bug that will need to be worked out. This is an issue with AMI in their base code and EVGA is working with them to resolve it.
That small issue aside, overclocking was as simple as any other board since Sandy Bridge. Disable C1E, Sleep states, enable PLL override voltage (leave EIST and turbo alone) and hang on for the ride. You are only limited to the cooling you are using essentially, and there are plenty of voltage options to tweak. Voltages are in mv form (no decimal) where you can adjust them, and thankfully “save” is back where most of us are used to it being, your F10 key. Memory overclocking was also easy once you got the hang of it. Just make sure you select your speed, reboot to accept it, then adjust your timings and all should be well. I just wish I had a better set of test memory to really see what the IMC and board could do… in time however. This board accepted the older XMP profile these ripjaws had, and when set manually, really had a chance to do well as you will see below.
The benchmarks we will look at first are Super Pi 1M and 32M. As you can see below I was able to run both of these stable at 5.1Ghz with the memory at its XMP profile of 2133Mhz CL7. I cut back to two cores just to give some headroom on temperatures. Don’t mind the woeful efficiency benchers!
Continuing our testing using Cinebench (both R10 and 11.5) we beat up all the cores here. You can see a pretty nice increase from stock CPU speeds to the overclocked 4.9Ghz in these benchmarks. Temperatures reached a sizzling 90C with these tests, so I am about at the thermal limit with my current cooling and using all cores.
Moving on to the memory benchmarks, AIDA64 and Maxmemm, we see a similar trend in there are speed gains to be had simply by overclocking the CPU. Read/Writes/Copies go up while latency goes down a bit.
Unlike the Gigabyte board I recently reviewed, I was able to get this memory rocking on the EVGA. One of the great things about the board is its ability to ‘auto-tune’ your ram. So, in my case the sticks used are rated at 2133Mhz, but want to push up past that and do not want to mess with the timings and such yourself, just change the memory frequency limit and leave the settings on auto. In my case, it really did loosen things up and boot higher, but I was able to tighten the major timings down to known good settings after it was completed. It seems to be an all or nothing situation with the memory timings on this board. They are either all manual, or all automatic and that is where I got in to trouble. I do wish there was an option to set all timings, outside of the four major ones most are concerned about, to automatic. This isn’t a problem per say, but just a function of doing things a bit differently on this board. Set the speed first, reboot, then adjust timings.
That out of the way I was able to manage a hair over 2300Mhz out of my 2133Mhz sticks (Super Pi 1M/32M stable). There may be a bit more left in the tank on these I would imagine, as I have seen plenty of them hit 2400Mhz+ at CL8. You can see below I was sitting at 104.7 bclk for this testing. I was able to push that to 105 and some change on default voltage under water with no tweaking at all. The last pictures show some nice gains in Super Pi times at 2300Mhz speeds.
So where do we stand on this one? There really isn’t too much NOT to like about the EVGA Z77 FTW. I will admit it, I’m a sucker for their look, with the red and black theme so you wont hear any complaints from me there.
However, this is not a flawless product out of the box. The issue with EVGA E-LEET not being able to overclock right now, while a minor one considering you can overclock through the bios, is still something to take note of until a new release comes out that resolves the issue. The other bug in dropping cores then enabling them and losing the overclock has an easy workaround, but still something that could be bothersome to those switching cores while benching. But like the first issue, this is a known bug and should be resolved soon.
Its minor imperfections aside, you have a great looking board in the Z77 FTW that seems to have everything you need for ambient overclocking, extreme overclocking, and quad SLI/Crossfire abilities for your gaming or benching needs. The memory overclocking pushed on my sticks pretty well and I’m confident we would push them further with a bit more time on my side.
EVGA has strapped a three(3) year warranty on the board, so it seems they stand behind the product as well. If you stroll on over to Newegg.com, you can find this board at a price of $329.99 plus shipping. In the world of Z77 motherboards, that price is on the high end of the scale, but you will own a robust solution in return. The EVGA Z77 FTW should be a top choice for hardcore enthusiasts looking to get the most out of their hardware and tri/quad GPU setups.
Joe Shields (Earthdog)