I've recently covered quite a few high-level enthusiast-grade products from ASUS, ECS, and Gigabyte, but today, we take a look at someone new to the enthusiast market, none other than Biostar. Biostar has been in the motherboard business for quite some time, but their entry into the enthusiast market is still relatively new, and as such, they've had a few "growing pains", but today they present a completely different look and quite a mature package, one that really suits the "high-end enthusiast" moniker, but at the same time it still rings true with Biostar's company mantra of providing top-level, high quality products that do not break the bank while doing so.
3rd Gen Intel Core i7 processor family for the LGA 1155 Socket
2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (electrical x8/x8 or primary @ x16) 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (electrical x4) 2 x PCI slot 1 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s (Intel Z77) 4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s (Intel Z77) 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s (AsMedia ASM1061) 1 x eSATA 6.0 Gb/s (Intel Z77)
1 x Realtek RTL8111E PCIe Gigabit LAN
8 x USB 2.0 ports (4 at back panel, 4 at front panel) 4 x USB 3.0 ports (2 at back panel, 2 at front panel) 1 x eSATA port 1 x RJ45 LAN connectors 1 x Audio port with 6 audio jacks 1 x PS/2 Keyboard port 1 x HDMI port 1 x Display Port 1 x DVI Port 1 x VGA Port
Realtek ALC898 HD CODEC
ATX Form Factor (305 mm x 244 mm)
THX TruStudio Pro
Intel Z77 Express Chipset
Intel launched their latest desktop platform in the first half of April 2012, just a little while ago, beginning with board products. The Intel Z77 Express platform is an incremental upgrade from previous platforms, adding additional features and providing a wider level of functionality, while adding full support for the 3rd Generation Core i5/i7 family of CPUs, commonly called Ivy Bridge in enthusiast circles.
The Ivy Bridge CPUs are made using a new 28 nm process technology that lowers power consumption as well as offering a bit more performance-per-clock than previous Intel 2nd Generation Core i5/i7 products. Also changed is the onboard GPU that's part of the Ivy Bridge silicon, which now takes up more of that slice of silicon that sits under the integrated heatspreader.
The integrated PCIe bus on the CPU is also upgraded, and can be split differently than with Sandy Bridge CPUs, with Ivy Bridge natively supporting three devices over a single bus with 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity, compared to the two devices and PCIe 2.0 link that is found inside Sandy Bridge products. Taking advantage of that added PCIe functionality requires a motherboard design change from previous Sandybridge-supporting motherboards, yet backwards and forwards component compatibility for both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge platform products including CPUs and chipsets is possible with updated firmware for older Socket 1155 board products. Using a new IvyBridge CPU with an older P67 Express or Z68 Express motherboard may limit PCIe functionality, and naturally, with SandyBridge only supporting two devices, the tertiary slot provided on some Z77 Express boards will not work on some products when a SandyBridge CPU is installed.
Biostar has completely re-thought their product design, and their current Z77 Express line-up boasts several new features, including a new-for-Biostar VRM design, and a new audio design as well. Has Biostar hit the mark? I think they have.
The Biostar TZ77XE4 arrived on my doorstep in a new box design for Biostar, quite separate from the designs they used for products launched in 2011. The grey box is quite busy, with 20 technology logos on the bottom half surrounding the product name, which makes the "TOverclocker" logo across the top half of the box stand out even more than it would normally, looking like Thor's hammer come down to smite the competition. The rear of the box contains the standard brief desciptions of some of the technologies present in the Biostar TZ77XE4, along with various certifications and previous awards along the bottom.
Upon opening the box I found the box goodies on top, separated from the board itself by a protective cardboard layer. The board below is wrapped nicely in my favorite type of anti-static bag, which allows easy inspection of the board without having to remove the bag.