(another) ECS Z77 A2X Golden Board review


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Intro

ECS ECS ECS...... my first ever motherboard was an ECS.... and it was awesome. It never missed a beat. It was a billion years ago and since then, well... ECS just kinda faded out of the enthusiast space and no-one really cared. They spent some time focussing on low-end/entry level stuff. No bling, no presitge.

BUT! that changed and ECS started putting work into pleasing-on-the-eye boards that performed. The Black series raised a few eyebrows and now we have been offered the Golden Board series. It's....not a subtle series name, but sometimes ya gotta be noticed to be noticed.... if you know what I mean.



Box, packaging, accessories


From the first glance in the direction of this box, it catches your eye. If you're in a well-stocked hardware shop, this box STANDS OUT.



ECS are definitely taking the Gold theme seriously.

The box has velcro-stuck flip-lids on both sides, which open up to promote features of the board and the technology in it. Mine was cellophane wrapped....which makes them pointless. I hope shelf stackers are bright enough to see that as external packaging to be removed.



















Gold gold gold and marketing hype.... but the gold makes the marketing a little more triumphant, if you know what I mean. Psychology at work. Present it like it's the best, you start to believe it....even if some of the features are present in every single Z77 board. (Lucid, PCI-E 3.0 etc)

Opening up the box, the contents are split into two trays...inside another box. The mobo itself sits in an open-topped shallow box (so it can sort-of be seen through its anti-static bag and the acetate of the outer box,) while all the accessories are packed in their own box. Each box has a cut-out for the carry handle, which is a simple touch but it really does make the handle easier to pack away










The bundle is, overall, functional but pretty standard. The bag of blanking caps for ports is unexpected. The USB3 panel is nicely finished, although of course, it won't colour-match every case.


More to come.
 
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The Board




















































Everyone has their own criteria for "well laid out" Personally, I think it's fine.

+ The x16 PCI-E slots are well spaced. The first PCI-E x16 slot is easy to insulate for cold, should that be necessary. The second, slightly more complicated but it's not a chore.

+ The PWM heatsink is weighty and well designed- the heat has proper dissipation channels. It's also very refreshing to see a PWM heatsink that's not attached to the SB cooler/ the rest of the board. A plus point FOR SURE.

+ There's plenty of space between the 8-pin CPU power plug and the I/O, so unplugging cables won't be a problem.

+ On-board voltage measuring points. (which are accurate!)



*There's a reasonable amount of space around the CPU socket for bigger coolers. Some of the biggest coolers might struggle, but that's nothing new

*The placement of the power and reset switches is.....alright. No complaints.




- The CMOS clear jumper is in a terrible place- it's guaranteed to be covered by a GPU.

- One of the standard ATX mounting holes is missing

- I think it would be better if the onboard mini PCI-E slot faced inwards instead of out. Things sticking out are more likely to be knocked or broken

- The Battery isn't in a good location for a frozen CPU, but that won't affect many people.
 
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BIOS

The BIOS is easy to navigate. The UEFI is a little sluggish in mouse response, but I found that with UEFI from other vendors too.

ECS implemented BIOS degug/POST in such a way that after the first boot, BIOS will give an "incorrect settings" message. This is cleared by going into BIOS and setting default values, save and restart.

Speaking of "save," save and restart is F4, not F10 as usual. It takes a little getting used to.

BCLK is adjusted in relatively "crude" integer numbers. It takes the fine-tuning out of the equation (read as....saves time?!,) but does increase the probability of missing out on those final few MHz.


The voltages are set as offsets, ie.. +0.1v etc. Thankfully, at the bottom of the voltage adjustment list, there is a dynamic list of voltages, so it is at least possible to confirm in advance what the voltages will be after F4 & restart.

The CPU vCore has the option of VID or Absolute modes. I switched to absolute and never looked back. The voltage control is in 0.025v increments until 1.50v, then the options are in 0.1v jumps. 1.90vCore max.

The Droop function does not function quite as expected. It has two settings- enabled or disable. "Enable" gives the kind of performance a user might expect from a "disabled" setting. Disabling vDroop gives a voltage INCREASE under load.





Test setup

CPU: 3770K
Memory: 2x2GB G.Skill Ripjaws BBSE
VGA: Reference 7970
PSU: Xigmatek NRP-1200
Cooling: Coolermaster V6 GT
O.S.: Windows 7-64.

CPU settings: 100x45.
Memory settings: 933MHz 9-9-9, 1T


The ECS board will be compared to the Asus P8P67-Pro and the Gigabyte Z77 UD5H.

Each benchmark was run three times (with a restart in-between each run,) then averaged. Except for SuperPi, which was ran twice, with a restart in-between.
 
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Performance

I'll let the charts speak for themselves :) PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THE CHART SCALES!!



















Performance discussion

Well, in black and white, the ECS board is a little bit behind the other two in most benchmarks- SuperPi32M and 3DMark01 being the exceptions. Aquamark is the only bench where there is a noticeable difference. In the six benchmarks where the ECS board trails, the performance deficit, compared to its Z77 rival is on average under 0.5%. This is completely irrelevant, for reasons I will explain next :)
 
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Overclocking



BCLK

Well...... this is where things got interesting. The unlocked multi of the 3770K means that a board doesn't have to be tuned to the limit to OC well. I got the same MHz on this board as I did on the Asus and Gigabyte boards. So far, so good. I did find the BCLK overclock to be disappointing though- an uninspiring 104BCLK was as far as I got.



Memory
I also had problems getting any memory strap higher than 1066 to boot, despite trying a number of BIOS. Samsung memory was also brought out here because it's well known that Samsung memory will go as far as the CPU IMC will. Sadly, it didn't help. 1066 and some BCLK was as far as I could go..... and BCLK was limited to 102 with the 1066 strap.

The problem with the limited memory strap....is that other boards don't have this problem. As seen above, the ECS board is marginally behind when settings are matched on other boards. Once a rival board has the 1200 strap (or higher) enabled, the ECS is going to lose out in a more noticeable way.


Y'know..... it clocks like a P67/Z68 board with a Sandy Bridge chip. That kinda sums it up.




LN2
*sigh* In short, a writeoff. I struggled to get 5.6GHz to run any benchmarks. I can't help but get the feeling it's some kind of power limit? I don't know. As things stand at the moment, I would advise people to avoid this board for LN2 or cascade benching.


Power consumption

In short- very fine. Once voltages and MHz were matched across the three boards, all three performed with a few watts and a few degrees of each other. There is no point in putting together graphs. The ECS board remained nice and cool to the touch.

Speaking of power consumption, as usual, "auto" pumps in way more vCore than is necessary. From a starting point of 1.28v (load,) 4C/8T power consumption was 160W. After setting vCore to 1.10v in BIOS and enabling droop, power consumption under load dropped to 143W- a saving of 10%. Idle power consumption dropped by a few watts as well, despite the higher MHz.

This isn't a benefit only of the ECS board. In general, Intels EIST can be discarded. Fixing the CPU MHz at "full speed" and tweaking the vCore offers better power consumption figures, even at idle. The EIST idle speed of 1600MHz makes no difference, the CPU power consumption is influenced more from % load than MHz.


Conclusion

Conclusion. Well, after reading through the review again and again, one might think I would be harsh in my conclusion and I cannot ignore the boards shortcomings. Tuning is, in some places, crude. Memory and BCLK limits are NOT as good as the rivals'. LN2 performance is basically absent. The UK still has no stock of the board, so I checked newegg.com and it's $10 more than the UD5H.

None of these things bode especially well for a gushing recommendation. We can ignore LN2 performance though. Most potential buyers don't care. ECS are not touting themselves as the new daddies of extreme benchmarking. They wanted to make a solid product and they did. Performance matches that of Asus and Gigabyte. Power consumption is as expected. The board feels solid and reliable. Those are features that make a good board for the majority of users. One other thing to mention.... no other board looks like this! For a case modder, the looks can decide a purchase.

I believe that this board has its place. There's nothing wrong with it, it just needs some more tuning here and there. ECS are still getting to grips with the enthusiast market of 2012. So far, i think they're on the right track.

My thanks to ECS for the review sample and for taking my feedback on-board :)
 
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Ian

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Thanks for the review Kenny - great work on the testing and writeup! :)
 

muckshifter

I'm not weird, I'm a limited edition.
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oh, I remember them ...

Exceptionally Crap Systems (ECS), along with their Perfectly Crap Chips (PCChips) Created a new era in the PC Industry in 2005 whereby, many an engineer in the computer building industry had to undergo psytriatric treatment ... I remember it well, I'm sane now, got my release papers to prove it. :)


:user:
 
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