It is clear to us that our highly overclocked Core i7-920 solution is nearing the end of it’s useful life as our flagship. We simply cannot push it further without exotic cooling and the new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K easily surpases it at the same speeds!
We held back on upgrading to Sandy Bridge last year, partly because our X58 motherboard supports the full PCIe 2.0 16x+16x specification whereas Sandy Bridge is 8x+8x PCIe 2.0. Now that the PCIe bandwidth has been increased, 8x+8x PCIe 3.0 offers no disadvantage as we can see from benching with our GTX 690.
It now remains to be seen if AMD will be again competitive in the midrange as their new bulldozer FX architecture is barely able to compete with Sandy Bridge, never mind Ivy Bridge – at the costs of using much more power. AMD really needs to get their clockspeed much higher and their own roadmap indicates that they expect 10 to 15% more performance with “Piledriver” just to remain competitive with Intel.
Intel’s CPUs are powerful and even their entry-level CPUs offer a good value in gaming. The complaints with HD 3000 Graphics have been mostly been addressed for light gaming by HD 4000, although most DX11 games are still too demanding to run at good framerates even at a relatively low resolution. However, paired with a powerful video card like the GTX 680, the Core i7-3770K is the perfect match for high-end gaming and even multi-GPU.
ECS Z77H2-A2X Pros and Cons
- The ECS Golden Board Z77H2-AX2 is a beautiful-looking motherboard which accents gold on black
- The ECS Golden Series is a fully-featured Z77 motherboard with premium components that has proved itself to be stable and able to get a good 4.8GHz overclock on Core i7-3770K.
- ECS does exteme testing on their Golden Boards before shipping and they promise great warranty service if your motherboard ever needs RMA
- ECS’s Intel HD 4000 IG is sufficient for light 720p DX 11 gaming and is very useful by itself for a second or even a third display, or to troubleshoot PCIe graphics.
- USB 3.0 and PCIe 3.0 are important upgrades for speed and fast multi-video card graphics and this Z77 motherboard delivers taking full advantage of higher speed Kingston Hyper-X DDR3 and HyperX SSDs.
- In multi-tasking, encoding and almost every other task that we tested, the Ivy Bridge architecture is much faster clock-for-clock than Core i7-920.
- The ECS BIOS could be more fully featured with better options for CPU overclocking.
- The positioning of the CMOS reset is awful – under a full sized video card – and it should be moved to the IO panel.
- $220 is pricey for a Z77 motherboard with similar features
We feel that ECS has made good progress over the past couple of years in delivering a stable, full-featured and very good-looking motherboard and it deserves ABT’s Editor’s Choice Award.
We believe that Intel’s new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K completely leaves behind the older platform in every way – at the very least simply by virtue of a +600MHz overclock. If you are primarily a gamer, you can get by even with a GTX 690 on Bloomfield, but an upgrade to Ivy Bridge will allow you to take full advantage of the latest technology including the fastest DDR3 and SSDs for faster *everything*.
We were very impressed with Kingston’s HyperX DDR3 PC1866 as an upgrade over PC1800 – there is a real increase even in gaming performance with it. Considering that it is currently $35.99 for a 2x2GB kit at Newegg, it deserves ABT’s Great Value Award!
And Kingston’s HyperX SSD are an absolute joy to benchmark with compared to benching with HDD! Using them has literally saved many hours in performing this evaluation.
We are looking forward to our follow up evaluation which will feature Kingston’s HyperX SSDs and HyperX PC1866 right after we publish our Thermaltake Overseer RX-I case evaluation this week. And we shall also continue on with our goal in pursuit of 5.0Ghz using Thermaltake’s Water2.0 Pro and Notcua’s NH-DH14 as we have received an EVGA FTW Z77 motherboard that we are testing right now.
Make sure you follow us on our ABT forum. You will get the very latest news about Core i7-3770K and upcoming new graphics cards. We will continue to benchmark our new CPU and you can also help us on the forum and make suggestions for future evaluations.
ABT Senior Editor
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