I have always had a thing for small form factor PCs. Till recently, there were very few options in this segment, both in terms of quality chassis as well as motherboards. But now things have changed. There has been a lot of activity in this segment and a flow of mini ITX boards has been seen. A lot of companies have been releasing mini ITX Z77/H77 boards that basically get you almost the same features and functionality of a full ATX board but with a much smaller foot print.
Today we will take a look at a motherboard from ASRock, called the ASRock Z77E-ITX and as the name suggests, its a mini ITX board which is based on Intel’s Z77 chipset. The board supports the latest 22nm Ivy bridge processors in the LGA 1155 package. The board allows CPU overclocking, so enthusiasts looking out for a SFF rig, do take a look at this board
These ITX boards are significantly smaller than your regular ATX sized boards. They measure 6.7″x6.7″ against a full ATX board that measures 12″x9.6″, so as you can imagine, there is very limited PCB real estate. Components are generally cramped and you will lose out on features such as crossfire/SLI and overall expandability is limited, so is the power modulation circuitry on the board. But all that aint that bad. Not all want a multi GPU setup and the overclocking potential of this board is pretty good (as we will see later in the review). This board comes with built in Wifi and ASRock even managed to put in a mini SATA port on the back of the board!
So before I really start off with the review, let us first have a look some features and specifications of this board.
The Package :
The box is surprisingly large for such a small board, I was expecting the box to be much smaller. Anyways, inside you find the board well protected in a foam seat if you may call it. The bundle is in itself decent, nothing special. You get 2x Sata 3 cables (black), a DVI to VGA converter, wifi antenna with a stand, I/O panel (not in picture), driver disc, software installation guide and a user manual.
The board looks pretty nice overall. As you would expect on a board of this size, there is a fight for space. First thing you would notice, its got just 2 RAM slots. These are DDR3 slots capable of running speeds of up to 2800MHz. Above that, we see the mini PICe slot with the Wifi module. Below the slots we see the 24 pin motherboard power connector and next to that, the Power/Reset switch and HDD/system LED connectors. You will also find a chassis fan connector next to it. Sadly, it is the only chassis fan connector on the board, which is slightly disappointing.
On the other side, we find most of the motherboard connections. We have 4 Sata ports (2-Grey Sata 3 6Gb/s, 2-Black Sata 2 3Gb/s). On their left you see 2 USB 2.0 headers and the superspeed USB 3.0 connector. Further on the left we see the clear CMOS jumper and the CPU fan connector.
On the opposite side, we have the lone PCIe x16 (PCIe 3.0) slot. Right in front, we have the Realtek ALC898 HD audio codec along with the front panel audio connectors.
Now moving to the rear panel, we see PS/2 port above 2 USB 3,0 ports. Then you got the DVI-I port and above that you got 2 pins for the Wireless. Then you have HDMI and display port outputs, if you want VGA, you can use the bundled DVI-to-VGA converter. Then we have the Clear CMOS button, which is great for overclockers. Moving on, we have 2 USB 2.0 ports above the eSATA port (red). Then we have the Ethernet LAN port (Broadcom BCM57781) above 2 more USB 3.0 ports. Then we see the 5 audio jacks and the SPDIF out as well.
When I was installing the system, I assumed the ports below the PS/2 port to be USB 2.0, so when I booted up the system first time, they just did not respond. The USB 3.0 ports need drivers, else they would not work. It would have been nice if all the USB 3.0 ports where bunched and the USB 2.0 ports were below the PS/2 port.
On the bottom of the board, we have the mSata port (Sata 2.0 3Gb/s), which can be used for enabling Intel SRT technology (SSD caching). Be careful while installing the cooler backplate, it comes pretty close to the mSata port.
The socket position is very important when it comes to mini ITX boards, it can really restrict your options in terms of cooling (air cooling). That is the case with this board. The socket is too close to the PCIe slot, so you can not use any dual rad kind of coolers with this board, until unless you are read to sacrifice your PCIe slot. What they could have done is, shifted the socket away from the PCIe slot by swapping positions of the Z77 chipset and wifi module with that of the CPU socket. If you are going for liquid cooling, there should be no issues. Larger 120mm heatsinks can be used, I used the SVG Tech AOC 120ST, but you cant do a push pull configuration.
The position of the ports is pretty good. They are fairly easily accessible. The front panel headers end up under your graphics card, not an ideal place for them IMO.
Since this board has a Z77 chipset, it does support overclocking. It comes with a 8+4 phase power design with digital control,so it should lead to more accurate voltage and current control. Before you go ahead reading, I have to tell that my Core i5 2500k has undergone massive degradation. When I initially got this board, I had achieved 5200MHz at 1.49v (no screenshot) . But now I was not able to replicate that overclock. I could only manage a 4600MHz clock at 1.28v.
As for BCLK overclocking, this board performed pretty well and I managed to get 108MHz BCLK.
This board is meant for some casual overclocking, no records will be set on it. The LLC settings performed rather poorly. All settings gave a pretty significant overvoltage during load. With the fixed core voltage set in the BIOS at 1.28v, under load and at a level 5 LLC setting (maximum drop), the voltage reported was 1.296v. When using level 1, it goes to 1.30x volts,but was a far more stable voltage(no fluctuation during load, good thing!). So I kept the voltages slightly lower in the BIOS to counter this effect.
Overclocking with offset was rather scary, with a +0.005 setting i was reported voltages of 1.372v, which is pretty high. Going in the negative route. with around -0.05 the reported voltage was around 1.34v on load, with lower settings it failed to boot.
The memory overclocking options were sufficient, but far less timings were available. Its not really a bad thing, you won’t change those other settings anyways, whatever that is required is there. Overall, comparing it to other Asus boards with Digi+ VRM, the options available on this board are far less.
The Verdict :
The ASRock Z77E-ITX is a great mini ITX motherboard that brings a lot of features on to the small form factor. It has almost all the features that you have on a standard ATX or micro ATX board and enables you to have a very small, but powerful PC. With a small form factor PC,you will obviously run into some spacing issues, but I think its a fair trade off. The socket position could have been better and even the BIOS could have been made slightly better, but I don’t think that’s a very big issue. With a price of Rs12,500, its definitely not cheap, but with the growing demand for ITX board, it should come down a bit,soon. With that in mind, I would give it a 8/10 and is highly recommended.