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ASUS P8Z77 WS Workstation Motherboard Review
ASUS P8Z77 WS Workstation Motherboard ReviewThe ASUS P8Z77 WS is the latest in the ASUS Workstation series and has virtually every feature but the kitchen sink thrown into it. If you are looking for a board that can fill almost any role while utilizing a desktop LGA1155 processor, then this motherboard is worth a serious look. Its product lines span virtually every price point and market segment you can think of.
The ASUS P8Z77 WS is based on the Intel Z77 Express chipset supporting all current LGA1155 socket processors. While E3 Xeon should work on most LGA1155 boards, many boards do not officially support them. Being a board marketed toward the workstation crowd, the P8Z77 WS does carry official Xeon compatibility, though this board is largely targeted towards users of Ivy Bridge. The PCIe slot configuration is what tells you this is the case as Sandy Bridge isn flexible enough to allow for the use of all the board PCIe x16 slots simultaneously. The Z77 Express chipset is also the first chipset from Intel which supports USB 3.0 natively, and while SATA 6G support is present; Intel didn really do anything new here. So as usual, only two SATA 6Gbps ports are supported.
The P8Z77 WS is interesting in that it differentiates itself from most of the P8xxx series by being a workstation oriented solution. Sure it shares many commonalities with normal enthusiast products, but the feature set is a little more in line with someone that might choose a workstation build. While the highest end workstations built today would most like by single or even dual socket LGA2011 based boards, there is still a market for midrange and lower priced LGA1155 based workstations which are in most respects almost as capable. To that end the feature set reflects this thinking. ASUS gave this board dual Intel 82574L NICs instead of the usual V series parts desktop oriented boards are lucky to have. These are of course server grade parts. Not super high end, but definitely capable for workstation and light server type duties.
ASUS of course made sure the board had you covered in the storage department as workstations typically have more storage or at least, faster storage arrays than a desktop user might. These days we rarely see this on ASUS boards, but the P8Z77 WS brings back multiple RAID controllers, and goes a step further by adding SSD disk caching to the third party controller. eSATA is also present, which again many companies are getting away from that and ASUS is no exception. Rather than waste the space on something which many do not use, ASUS simply include a bracket that can appropriate one of your internal SATA ports and put a connector for it on the expansion slot area instead. With the ASUS P8Z77 WS, this isn the case. You get two real eSATA 6Gb/s ports on the back plane.
Of course the P8Z77 WS also features ASUS DIGI+ VRM design which is an all digital VRM solution which supports Intel VRD 12.5 specifications. It allows for a great deal of adjustment to your loadline calibration and voltage settings. This in conjunction with ASUS TPU and EPU features provides optimal power savings and efficiency. In addition to being digital, the board features a 20 phase or 16+4 power solution; 16 phases for CPU power and 4 for the iGPU. 2 phases are dedicated to the DRAM as well. ASUS also brings industry leading fan control to the party allowing a great deal of customization of fan speeds and monitoring to each header individually, supporting multiple 4 and 3pin fan devices. ASUS new BIOS Flashback feature also makes an appearance on the P8Z77 WS as it does on the rest of its Z77 line.
Of course that not all of the feature list. In addition ASUS added more USB 3.0 ports via the ASMedia 1042 controller, SLI, 3Way SLI, QuadSLI, and even 4Way SLI are supported along with AMD CrossFireX for up to 4 cards or 4 GPUs. Onboard graphics connectivity and LucidLogix Virtu MVP technology are supported as well. Being a workstation board, the P8Z77 WS supports ASUS SASsaby M SASsaby 1064E cards. Additionally the board supports an internal vertical USB port. This may not make a lot of sense to those familiar with consumer oriented boards, and systems. However, there are many high end workstation and productivity applications which require USB dongles as hardware keys. Vertical ports like this allow the dongle to be stored internally in the system where it is less likely to be stolen. Basically just about everything but the kitchen sink was thrown in here and you be hard pressed to find a more feature rich solution without stepping up to an ROG line board which of course is going to be focused a bit differently in terms of features.
The board ships in the usual P8xxx series packaging we are used to seeing. Though this one does have a slip cover with a flap providing some more information concerning the board numerous features. Our board arrived damage free and with all accessories. Inside the box you find the following items: P8Z77 WS motherboard, User guide, driver disc with ASUS logo sticker, I/O shield, SATA cables, Qconnectors, SLI and Crossfire bridges, 3Way SLI and 4Way SLI bridges, RS232 port on an expansion slot bracket, SATA power adapters, and an USB/IEEE1394a bracket.
Most boards these days have a competently executed layout, but the P8Z77 WS is executed masterfully. It goes above and beyond with superior attention to detail. Expansion slot spacing, single sided locking tabs, and excellent placement of the ASUS EZPlug are what elevate it to this status. About the only thing I could potentially complain about are the location of the onboard power and reset buttons. These are places where it would be difficult to reach these if any expansion cards are in the bottom three PCIe slots. That just not forward thinking at all, but this isn truy that big a deal as these controls aren really going to get used with the board installed in a chassis.
The P8Z77 WS has 4 color coded DIMM slots located in the usual area. The board features support for dual channel memory mode operation and supports up to 32GB of RAM in 4 DIMMs. As is the case with all current ASUS boards I seen, the P8Z77 WS features DIMM slots with single sided locking tabs. Modules are simply inserted at an angle into the side closest to the primary PCIe slot and pressed down locking the module into place. This type of DIMM retention mechanism is ideal when space is at a premium and given the location of the DIMM slot relative to the expansion slot area, this design was a good call.
The expansion slot area is what I call optimal. It allows for the installation of up to 4 graphics cards assuming that your case will allow for the fourth card to simply hang off the board edge. The top most slot of course is well thought out because under no circumstances would a normal dual slot solution block any slot for any reason. PCIe x1 slots would get blocked as usual but there isn much getting around that unless the cards you install are single slot solutions. Given the board intended audience, single slot RAID controllers, or additional network cards could be a possibility, and therefore these x1 slots could get used. But otherwise the four PCIe x16 slots can operate at x8 speeds with up to four graphics cards being installed, so long as you use an Ivy Bridge CPU and not the older Sandy Bridge CPU due to differences in the integrated PCIe controllers.
The expansion slot area of the P8Z77 WS is packed with ports. The board back panel features a PS/2 keyboard or mouse combination port, dual eSATA ports, 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 1 DVII port, 2 RJ45 LAN ports, 1 optical SP/DIF port, and six ministereo jacks for analog audio output. Lastly the BIOS Flashback button is present as well.