Gigabyte GA-Z77-D3H review
Gigabyte's GA-Z77-D3H is at the other end of the Ivy Bridge price scale from Asus' P8Z77-V Pro. This is a good-value motherboard for Intel's latest processors which doesn’t have quite so many fancy features, but still acquits itself well on the specification front.
The motherboard has as much room for expansion as most people will need. You get two SATAIII and four SATAII ports, and you can create a RAID array across the four SATAII or two SATAIII connectors. There are two full-length PCI Express slots, but one of them only runs at x4 speed. This won't be a problem with most expansion cards, but could slow down a CrossFireX configuration. There are three PCI Express x1 slots, one of which will be blocked by a dual-slot graphics card, and a couple of PCI slots.
The rear panel has a sensible four USB2 and four USB3 ports; the four USB2 are useful when installing Windows from a flash drive; Windows 7's installer doesn't support USB3 yet, so the four USB2 ports mean there's room for the installer flash drive as well as a keyboard and mouse. You get HDMI, DVI-D and VGA display outputs for Ivy Bridge's internal graphics, and you can run up to two monitors from the motherboard's graphics outputs.
We had no problems with performance; the GA-Z77-D3H was as quick as Asus's more expensive P8Z77-V Pro in our benchmarks, managing a strong overall score of 117. There is some scope for overclocking in the motherboard's mouse-driven UEFI BIOS, which, despite its cheesy looks, is well laid out and easy to use. The overclocking options aren't as comprehensive as on Asus's board, though, and we couldn’t find a way to increase the voltage going to the RAM.
The motherboard's Z77 Express chipset supports Intel's Smart Response Technology, which uses a small-capacity SSD to cache frequently-accessed information to help speed up your system. The motherboard support miniature mSATA SSDs, which slot into a dedicated space on the motherboard between the processor socket and PCI slots. This saves you having to use a 3.5in drive bay for a normal-sized SSD in your PC's case.
To use Smart Response you have to set your motherboard's SATA controller to RAID mode, but, unlike on Asus's P8Z77-V Pro, doing so wipes your hard disk so you'll have to reinstall Windows. The manual mentions this, but only in the small print, which we missed to our cost. We would have preferred the option to add an SSD cache later without having to back up and start a Windows installation from scratch. Once we'd installed the cache our PC's boot time went from 47s to 14s, so it's certainly effective.
It's a shame about the tricky SSD cache setup, as otherwise Gigabyte's GA-Z77-D3H has a lot to offer for its price. If you're after an inexpensive start to an Ivy Bridge system, it’s a good buy.
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