While most of the focus for motherboards is on the big models, what happens when we get down to the lower price points? If you want a basic ATX Z77 motherboard with all the IGP video outputs, Gigabyte has you covered at $120 with the Z77-HD4.
At this price point we are dealing with an overclockable chipset designed for a single GPU but still has basic audio and all Z77 features. Typically using HDMI invokes a small price premium due to the licensing, and in a budget board stripping down everything is the number one priority. Gigabyte wanted to have that stripped down Z77, but also offer a full video output set without pushing the price up too high.
Gigabyte Z77-HD4 Overview
When writing a review, we go to great lengths to be unbiased in our analysis – I give no favor to branding on the box. An issue comes along when dealing with a sub $125 motherboard like the Z77-HD4 because we simply do not do enough in this price range. Is it a good price? I honestly do not know. There are a lot of motherboards in that price range and below, meaning that the Z77-HD4 will be a focus on two fronts – if you need a feature that Z77 provides that H7x, Q7x or B7x does not, and you want any of the digital IGP ports.
The points that make a user want a Z77 motherboard will be in the overclocking, the PCIe lane allocation, and the combination of RST/SRT. If you do not need overclocking, then H77/Q77 will be the port of call. There are a few B75 motherboards south of $70, but you lose overclocking, RAID, RST and SRT.
The Gigabyte Z77-HD4 then covers the basic Z77 platform for a single GPU user. We get six SATA ports from the chipset (two SATA 6 Gbps, four SATA 3 Gbps), three fan headers, a PCIe layout for an x16 GPU, an extra x4 device, and a pair of PCIe x1 and PCI devices – the latter via a controller. Like almost all Gigabyte motherboards we get a TPM header and a COM port as well. Audio is in the form of a Realtek ALC887, Ethernet via a Realtek 8111E, USB 3.0 from the chipset and a full complement of DIMM slots.
Overall the board performed reasonably well, even while overclocking. Performance on Gigabyte boards has been getting more and more efficient as the BIOSes mature, giving the Z77-HD4 some higher scores than expected. Clearly there are some draw backs with cheaper motherboards – in this case the Windows 7 posting time for a dual GPU setup was nearer 20 seconds than 10 seconds, the DPC Latency suffered from spiking in normal usage and the audio testing was way down compared to an ALC898 or enthusiast variation therein. In terms of layout, using the PCIe x4 from the chipset for a dual slot GPU will reduce the number of SATA ports available.
But for a board that works, overclocks, supports 32GB of high speed memory and a base number of Z77 devices, the Gigabyte Z77-HD4 does hit those checkpoints.
As this is our first real budget board of the Z77 range (something we are going to rectify with Haswell), it is hard to put down on paper what to expect. Essentially, I expect the chipset defaults, though as seen below, in order to keep costs down we only get three audio outputs (due to the codec), and SATA ports coming out of the motherboard. Also note that the Z77-HD4 is thinner than normal ATX, and is missing the far end screw holes.
The socket area is a little different to most of what we have reviewed in the past, as the VRM heatsink is above the socket and comparatively quite far away from the Intel minimum recommended distance, giving plenty of room for large CPU coolers. Unlike the G1.Sniper M3 reviewed previously, we get a full 8-pin CPU power connector for the CPU, although with few phases it will be interesting to see how well such a budget board overclocks. Around the CPU we have access to three fan headers for fans – two 4-pin headers to the bottom left of the socket, and another beside the 24-pin ATX power connector. The other 4-pin header is on the bottom of the board.
Moving clockwise around the board, we have a full complement of DIMM slots, and as expected these are latched on both sides rather than the single sided latch system that is emerging on some motherboard manufacturers’ ranges. Beside this is the 24-pin ATX power connector, one of the aforementioned fan headers, and a USB 3.0 port. Moving down is our chipset heatsink – small enough to cover the chipset but not connected to any other heatsink. The SATA ports are all coming out of the board, with two SATA 6 Gbps in white and four SATA 3 Gbps in blue. Even though the second full PCIe slot could cause some of the SATA ports to be blocked if large GPUs are used, this second PCIe only runs at PCIe x4 from the chipset, and although CrossFireX compatible, is not suggested for gaming GPU usage.
Along the bottom of the board we have our front panel connectors, two USB 2.0 headers, a fan header, a TPM header, a serial port header and the front panel audio header. The PCIe slots are arranged in an x16, x1, x1, x4, PCI, PCI layout. Seeing two PCI slots on a Z77 motherboard is not as common as it once was, with the PCI standard no longer included as part of the chipset specifications (and requires a controller). However it is cheap, and users can purchase PCI to USB or PCI to Firewire cards if extra functionality is needed.
The main point that Gigabyte marketing are trying to sell with this motherboard is the use of HDMI certification on a cheap product. Normally products in this price range are limited to D-Sub and DVI-D, and there is apparently a market for HDMI on board. Gigabyte also pairs this with the DisplayPort connector. Aside from the four video outputs, we also have four USB 2.0 ports, a combination PS/2 port, two USB 3.0 ports, a Realtek gigabit Ethernet port, and three audio jacks from a Realtek ALC887 chip.
|Size||Slim ATX (30.5cm x 21.5cm)|
|Memory Slots||Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1066-2800 MHz
|Onboard LAN||Realtek 8111E|
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC887|
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCIe 3.0 x16
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
2 x PCI
|Onboard SATA/RAID||2 x SATA 6 Gbps (Chipset), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
4 x SATA 3 Gbps (Chipset), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
|USB||4 x USB 3.0 (Chipset) [2 back panel, 2 onboard]
8 x USB 2.0 (Chipset) [4 back panel, 4 onboard]
|Onboard||2 x SATA 6 Gbps
4 x SATA 3 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
4 x Fan Headers
1 x SPDIF Output Header
1 x Serial Port Header
1 x Clear_CMOS Header
1 x TPM Header
|Power Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
1 x 8-pin CPU Power Connector
|Fan Headers||1 x CPU
3 x SYS
|IO Panel||1 x PS/2 Combination Port
2 x USB 3.0
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Intel GbE
1 x Optical SPDIF Out
3 x Audio Jacks
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
For a cheap board, we are going to get the basics and not a lot else. As mentioned previously, the main draw for this motherboard is the inclusion of all four video outputs. We get a fairly cheap audio codec used to bring costs down, but in my opinion I would still like motherboard manufacturers to place power/reset/Clear_CMOS buttons as well as a two digit debug in order to diagnose issues. Users who want a PCIe GPU, an x1 WiFi card, a PCIe RAID card and a pair of PCI devices will be well catered. Ultimately this board is probably aimed at the internet café market in China, where cheap and cheerful rule the roost, although I cannot see why they would want overclockable motherboards, unless it is used as a point of advertising
GIGABYTE Z77-HD4 IN THE BOX, OVERCLOCKING
Gigabyte Z77-HD4 In The Box
Motherboards on the low end of the price scale have only one focus – the motherboard itself. While the $180-$400 packages might have those extras and bonus, we would not expect a $120 motherboard to produce much. That being said, in the past we have been pleasantly surprised in $140-$160 packages, either ATX or mITX, which have included a USB 3.0 panel in the past. That was when USB 3.0 was ‘an extra’, rather than a standard of the chipset – meaning that we are unlikely to get one of those as most cases now have a connector. But in the Gigabyte Z77-HD4, we do get:
Rear IO Shield
Four SATA Cables
I am surprised we have four SATA cables in the box – previous motherboards from Gigabyte have had two, so users wishing to have the additional storage have some extra headroom (as long as you are not blocking the SATA ports with a second GPU).
Gigabyte Z77-HD4 Overclocking
Note: Ivy Bridge does not overclock like Sandy Bridge. For a detailed report on the effect of voltage on Ivy Bridge (and thus temperatures and power draw), please read Undervolting and Overclocking on Ivy Bridge.
Experience with Gigabyte Z77-HD4
To be honest, when dealing with a motherboard at a low price point, I was not sure what to expect regarding the overclocking. A lot of the marketing fluff around the big launches and the high-end products is all about power delivery and overclocking prowess. If the hullaballoo surrounding overclocking capabilities of the more expensive motherboards was blown away by smaller models, it just represents another angle that should prioritize feature set over overclocking. Alternatively if a cheaper model falters, then the marketing surrounding overclocking could be considered justified – the other factor could also be longevity. With a more substantial phase design, components are stressed less. The cheaper motherboards often have cheaper phases, leading to potential heat generation issues – on the flip side more phases means more things to go wrong.
Overall however, the overclocking experience on the Z77-HD4 was better than expected, matching some of the other motherboards we have tested, despite our poor CPU! In previous motherboards we have achieved 4.6 GHz with reasonable temperatures (albeit rather high voltages), and the Z77-HD4 matched this with ease. In terms of manual overclocking options, we have Gigabyte’s three CPU Level Up options in the OS software, which performed with mixed results, with the top options placing too much voltage into the CPU.
Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with PovRay and OCCT to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.
For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from previous testing, starts off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed, and the process repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (100ºC+). Our test bed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.
For automatic overclocking, the three options available to users are located in the EasyTune6 software in the OS. These options are labeled in a traffic light system, and 1, 2, 3 with 3 being the highest overclock. There is also an option for ‘Auto Tuning’, which should perform a stress test style analysis to find the best overclock. Here are our results:
For CPU Level 1, the system attempts to apply a 41×102 overclock (4182 MHz) with a BIOS voltage setting of 1.335 V and a 0.150 V offset. In the OS, this leads to a load voltage of 1.380 volts, a PovRay score of 1532.10, and a peak temperature during OCCT of 83C.
For CPU Level 2, the system attempts to apply a 43×103 overclock (4429 MHz) with a BIOS voltage setting of 1.340 V and a 0.150 V offset. In the OS, this leads to a load voltage of 1.392 volts, a PovRay score of 1619.67, and a peak temperature during OCCT of 84C.
For CPU Level 3, the system attempts to apply a 45×104 overclock (4680 MHz) with a BIOS voltage setting of 1.345 V and a 0.150 V offset and LLC set to High. In the OS, this leads to a load voltage of 1.380 volts, a memory error during PovRay, and a peak temperature during OCCT of 101C.
The Auto Tuning option in ET6 failed to load.
Starting with our base settings (40×100 and 1.100 volts), we test for stability and increase voltage until stable. When stable, the multiplier is increased and the process repeated. Here are our results:
Software and BIOS
Unfortunately due to the timing of this review (very close to Haswell), we have not had time to write an extensive run-down of the BIOS and software on the Z77-HD4. After playing with the software and BIOS, it performs identically to that of the UD3H and UD5H which we have reviewed, meaning a couple of thousand rehashed words with a slightly different twist related to the HD4. If you wish to read up on the BIOS and software of a similar motherboard, please follow this link for the UD3H rundown.
Power consumption was tested on the system as a whole with a wall meter connected to the OCZ 1250W power supply, while in a dual 7970 GPU configuration. This power supply is Gold rated, and as I am in the UK on a 230-240 V supply, leads to ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, which is suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading. This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency. These are the real world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.
While this method for power measurement may not be ideal, and you feel these numbers are not representative due to the high wattage power supply being used (we use the same PSU to remain consistent over a series of reviews, and the fact that some boards on our test bed get tested with three or four high powered GPUs), the important point to take away is the relationship between the numbers. These boards are all under the same conditions, and thus the differences between them should be easy to spot.
For a low cost motherboard with few features, we would expect it to have a lower power consumption than that of a mid-range Z77 motherboard. The truth of the matter is that as a board is more expensive, especially at the high end, component efficiency is a factor in the overall board cost. As a result, the Z77-HD4 does well at idle and CPU load, but breaks over 500 W in Metro2033.
Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized. A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized). As part of our testing, we are now going to look at the POST Boot Time – this is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows starts loading. (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows specific features.) These results are subject to human error, so please allow +/- 1 second in these results.
With fewer controllers, a cheaper motherboard would be expected to POST quicker than a more indepth motherboard. But it would seem that the cheaper motherboards also have less time spent optimising the POST sequence. As a result, the default boot time with two GPUs is north of 18 seconds. The fact that the second GPU had to be in an x4 slot via the PCH may also be a factor in this.
Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5
In part due to reader requests, we are pleased to include Rightmark Audio Analyzer results in our benchmark suite. The premise behind Rightmark:AA is to test the input and output of the audio system to determine noise levels, range, harmonic distortion, stereo crosstalk and so forth. Rightmark:AA should indicate how well the sound system is built and isolated from electrical interference (either internally or externally). For this test we connect the Line Out to the Line In using a short six inch 3.5mm to 3.5mm high-quality jack, turn the OS volume to 100%, and run the Rightmark default test suite at 48 kHz, 96 kHz and 192 kHz. We look specifically at the Dynamic Range of the audio codec used on board, as well as the Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise.
With the price of the board, we get one of the cheaper Realtek audio options. It performs worse in our testing than the ALC89x and above, but is able to pass our 192 kHz test unlike the ALC889 mITX versions.
USB 3.0 Backup
For this benchmark, we run CrystalDiskMark to determine the ideal sequential read and write speeds for the USB port using our 240 GB OCZ Vertex3 SSD with a SATA 6 Gbps to USB 3.0 converter. Then we transfer a set size of files from the SSD to the USB drive using DiskBench, which monitors the time taken to transfer. The files transferred are a 1.52 GB set of 2867 files across 320 folders – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are the videos used in the WinRAR test.
USB 2.0 performance is middling, on the wrong side of 61 seconds but only a fraction worse than the top non-XFast score
Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing. In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority. Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests, such as audio, will be further down the line. So if the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled. If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time, resulting in an empty audio buffer – this leads to characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks. Having a bigger buffer and correctly implemented system drivers obviously helps in this regard. The DPC latency checker measures how much time is processing DPCs from driver invocation – the lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes. Results are measured in microseconds and taken as the peak latency while cycling through a series of short HD videos – under 500 microseconds usually gets the green light, but the lower the better.
A major realisation of having that un-optimised BIOS is perhaps shown best in the DPC. To start, with the default install, the monitoring features of ET6 causes the DPC to peak at over 800 microseconds. Disabling this software causes a maximum of around 114 microseconds, although every so often we encountered a peak of around 300-500 microseconds, and 561 was recorded as the highest peak.
Readers of our motherboard review section will have noted the trend in modern motherboards to implement a form of MultiCore Enhancement / Acceleration / Turbo (read our report here) on their motherboards. This does several things – better benchmark results at stock settings (not entirely needed if overclocking is an end-user goal), at the expense of heat and temperature, but also gives in essence an automatic overclock which may be against what the user wants. Our testing methodology is ‘out-of-the-box’, with the latest public BIOS installed and XMP enabled, and thus subject to the whims of this feature. It is ultimately up to the motherboard manufacturer to take this risk – and manufacturers taking risks in the setup is something they do on every product (think C-state settings, USB priority, DPC Latency / monitoring priority, memory subtimings at JEDEC). Processor speed change is part of that risk which is clearly visible, and ultimately if no overclocking is planned, some motherboards will affect how fast that shiny new processor goes and can be an important factor in the purchase.
For reference, the Gigabyte Z77-HD4 does enable MCT when XMP is enabled.
3D Movement Algorithm Test
The algorithms in 3DPM employ both uniform random number generation or normal distribution random number generation, and vary in various amounts of trigonometric operations, conditional statements, generation and rejection, fused operations, etc. The benchmark runs through six algorithms for a specified number of particles and steps, and calculates the speed of each algorithm, then sums them all for a final score. This is an example of a real world situation that a computational scientist may find themselves in, rather than a pure synthetic benchmark. The benchmark is also parallel between particles simulated, and we test the single thread performance as well as the multi-threaded performance.
For a $120 motherboard, despite the DPC and Boot Time inefficiencies, the Z77-HD4 deals really well with our 3DPM benchmark, showcasing nice efficiency in multithreaded load. We do not test the memory here, so it provides a contrast result to the poor WinRAR performance below.
WinRAR x64 3.93 – link
With 64-bit WinRAR, we compress the set of files used in the USB speed tests. WinRAR x64 3.93 attempts to use multithreading when possible, and provides as a good test for when a system has variable threaded load. If a system has multiple speeds to invoke at different loading, the switching between those speeds will determine how well the system will do.
Despite the good 3DPM showing, the WinRAR score comes in as the worst 3770K+ at 2400 C9/C10 we have had. In contrast, for our new WinRAR 4.2 testing, the Z77-HD4 scored 54.36 seconds.
FastStone Image Viewer 4.2 – link
FastStone Image Viewer is a free piece of software I have been using for quite a few years now. It allows quick viewing of flat images, as well as resizing, changing color depth, adding simple text or simple filters. It also has a bulk image conversion tool, which we use here. The software currently operates only in single-thread mode, which should change in later versions of the software. For this test, we convert a series of 170 files, of various resolutions, dimensions and types (of a total size of 163MB), all to the .gif format of 640×480 dimensions.
Xilisoft Video Converter
With XVC, users can convert any type of normal video to any compatible format for smartphones, tablets and other devices. By default, it uses all available threads on the system, and in the presence of appropriate graphics cards, can utilize CUDA for NVIDIA GPUs as well as AMD APP for AMD GPUs. For this test, we use a set of 32 HD videos, each lasting 30 seconds, and convert them from 1080p to an iPod H.264 video format using just the CPU. The time taken to convert these videos gives us our result
x264 HD Benchmark
The x264 HD Benchmark uses a common HD encoding tool to process an HD MPEG2 source at 1280×720 at 3963 Kbps. This test represents a standardized result which can be compared across other reviews, and is dependent on both CPU power and memory speed. The benchmark performs a 2-pass encode, and the results shown are the average of each pass performed four times.
Gigabyte Z77-HD4 Conclusion
How much can $120 buy in a motherboard? If you want a simple single GPU system with a mild overclock, Gigabyte seem to have you covered. The Z77-HD4 is almost along the lines of a no-frills product: we have the base features of Z77 (overclocking, SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0), in a shortened board with additional PCIe, PCIe x1 and PCI ports as needed.
Performance-wise, the Z77-HD4 performs as well as any other Z77 motherboard on the market in terms of actual CPU and gaming performance at stock. All the CPU benchmarks and gaming benchmarks were in the mix – the only point at which we could consider the HD4 was not too good was in some of the IO, particularly DPC Latency where no matter what options we tried, the motherboard still spiked up to 561 microseconds without ET6 loaded and 871 with. USB performance however was decent enough and while power consumption seemed a little high under dual GPU testing, idle power usage was good.
The Z77-HD4 did well in our overclocking suite surpassing expectations. In terms of our bad CPU, it matched other boards we have reviewed recently, and although the voltages had to be increased more than I would like the temperatures were comparatively low compared to our other CPUs. Of course while the board may overclock like some of the big boys, an issue comes along with VRM temperatures at those high overclocks – with fewer phases and smaller heatsinks, you may find the hardware throttles earlier than some of the more substantial designs.
What the HD4 lacks most of all is functionality. Due to the price point we have no extra controllers on board, SATA ports sticking out of the motherboard and an x16 + x4 full length PCIe allocation which does not lend itself to multi-GPU gaming. However if one of the selling points of this motherboard is the inclusion of all four video outputs at the low price, then one could conceivably argue that this board should not be paired with a discrete GPU and more like a good RAID card or Sound card, or one should venture forth with Virtu MVP to get the best responsiveness.
Going up the Gigabyte range, the UD3H is currently on sale for $140, and offers a bit more in styling, eSATA ports, an mSATA port, and up to 3-way CrossFire with an x8/x8 + x4 PCIe lane setup. The in-box package also includes an SLI bridge as a point of differentiation.
For the future, I have had requests to have a look at some of these cheaper products, as well as B- and Q- series when time allows. Unlike some of the bigger boards that flesh out the $150+ range, these lower models can sometimes only differ in one feature, but be based on the same PCB design.