Biostar TZ77XE4 Motherboard Review

The Biostar brand doesn’t have a massive presence in the UK, at least not in the enthusiast segment of the market.  We consider Asus, ASRock and Gigabyte to be the top three enthusiast brands on the market at the moment but this is something Biostar are looking to change with the release of their new range of motherboards.
Today we are going to look at the top-end motherboard in Biostar’s range, the TZ77XE4.  It has been designed with enthusiasts in mind and boasts a feature set to rival some of the best boards currently offered by the market leaders.  We look forward to seeing how well the TZ77XE4 will overclock and perform in our tests.
We will be using both the Intel Core i7-3770K and i7-2700K for testing today.

Features
  • Support the Intel 3rd and 2nd generation Core i7 and Core i5 processors in the 1155 package
  • Intel Z77 single chip architecture
  • Support 4-DIMM DDR3-2600(OC)/2400(OC)/2133(OC)/1866(OC)/1600/1333 up to 32G maximum capacity
  • Support SATA 6Gb/s 2X speed than current SATA 3G
  • Support Intel Smart Response Technology
  • Support USB 3.0
  • 100% X.D.C solid capacitor
  • BIOSTAR G.P.U (Green Power Utility) Technology for Energy Saving
  • BIOSTAR Toverclocker utility
For more detailed information about the TZ77XE4, please visit the Biostar website, here.

Biostar supply the TZ77XE4 in a medium-sized motherboard box which is constructed from thick cardboard.  We have no doubts that it will provide the product inside with a high level of protection during shipping. The box carries a grey livery with red and yellow text.

The front of the box is littered with badges advertising the motherboard’s vast array of features.  Turning the box over reveals some more information about the board’s features.

We were a little surprised when opening the box as Biostar doesn’t include as plentiful a bundle as other motherboard manufacturers.  However, all the essential items are bundled, including SATA cables, SLI and crossfire bridges.  We also find a user manual and software CD inside the box.

Biostar have chosen to use an attractive black and orange colour scheme for the motherbaord.  However, they could have used the orange highlights sparingly, only including them on the heatsinks, giving the board a sophisticated appearance.  The PCB and all of the fittings are black, though, so the TZ77XE4 should fit in aesthetically with most other components.

It’s obvious that this motherboard has been designed with overclocking in mind as the heatsinks covering the power regulation circuitry are quite large.  They are set back slightly from the socket so they shouldn’t cause any compatibility issues with CPU coolers.

The 8-pin power connector is located just behind the power regulation circuitry in the usual place.

To the right of the CPU socket we find the four black DDR3 RAM slots.  The TZ77XE4 supports up to 32 GB of memory at speeds of 2600 (OC)/2400 (OC)/2133 (OC)/1600/1333/1066 MHz.  It also supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 1.3/1.2.

We aren’t convinced that the layout of the expansion slots will be favoured by everyone.  Biostar have positioned the first PCI Express x16 slot right at the top which can cause issues when installing large air coolers such as the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 2.
There is an additional PCI Express x16 slot further down the board, though, so this won’t pose a massive issue for those planning to use a single GPU setup.  In a dual setup, these two slots are both limited to x8.  Both of the x16 slots support PCI Express 3.0.  Biostar have also included a PCI Express x1 slot, two legacy PCI slots and a PCI Express x16 slot but this is limited to 4x bandwidth.

Along the bottom edge of the motherboard we find a series of internal headers as usual.  There are two front panel USB2.0 headers, two fan headers, an internal S/PDIF header, a CIR header and the front panel header.  The on-board HD Audio and USB 3.0 headers are both located further up the board which means it is more difficult to manage all the cables effectively in your system.  The USB 3.0 header could also be blocked if you use the bottom PCI slot as most internal USB3.0 cables are quite substantial.  There are also power, reset and clear CMOS buttons in the bottom right hand corner alongside a Debug LED.

Moving round to the right hand side of the motherboard, there are eight SATA connectors in total which are mounted at right angles to the board to make cable routing easier.  The first six SATA connectors are connected to the Z77 chipset so two of them are SATA-600 and the other four are SATA-300.  They support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 as well as Intel Smart Response Technology.  The final two SATA-600 connectors are catered for by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip.  One of the SATA-300 is disabled when the eSATA port on the back panel is in use.

The rear I/O panel supports:
  • 1x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port
  • 1x D-Sub Port
  • 1x DVI-D Port
  • 1x HDMI Port
  • 1x DisplayPort
  • 4x USB2.0 Ports
  • 1x eSATA Connector
  • 2x USB3.0 ports
  • 1x RJ-45 LAN Port
We are a little disappointed with the selection of connections on the rear panel.  Competing boards offer four USB3.0 ports, optical S/PDIF connectors, and Firewire connections.  We would like to see Biostar including these in the future.
Biostar have created a UEFI interface for the TZ77XE4 which is relatively easy to use and contains all of the configuration options we could ask for.  It isn’t as good as the Asus UEFI, though, as it doesn’t feature a basic mode for less advanced users.  If you’re building a system with this motherboard, please note that the BIOS defaults to IDE mode in the SATA configuration and should be changed to AHCI when installing Windows 7.
We have included a full set of BIOS screenshots below.













All of the overclocking settings can be found under the O.N.E. (Overclocking Navigator Engine) tab in the BIOS.  Biostar provide a wide range of overclocking options in this section, letting us tweak every setting we could possibly ask for.

We managed to push the i7-3770K to 4.9 GHz in the TZ77XE4 which is the same maximum clock speed we achieved using the impressive ASRock Z77 Extreme6 motherboard.
This required a CPU voltage of 1.30V however the chip wasn’t completely stable at this speed when loading the CPU with Prime95 and the temperatures were a little high for our liking.
We expect that we could have achieved stability by using a higher CPU voltage but this would have been too much for the Be Quiet! Shadow Rock TopFlow CPU cooler to handle.
See validation over here.

In the end we settled on an overclock of 4.7 GHz for testing which only required a CPU voltage of 1.25V.  With these settings the CPU temperature was reasonably high but shouldn’t affect the longevity of the chip.
We will be using these settings for the overclocked results in our benchmarks.  See validation over here.

We also overclocked the Intel Core i7-2700K to 4.7 GHz for our tests so we could do a clock for clock comparison with the i7-3770.  This required a CPU voltage of 1.35V.
See validation over here.
In this review we are going to benchmark the i7-3770K at reference clock speeds and when overclocked to 4.7 GHz. We will be comparing it to a similarly clocked i7-2700K chip. Both of these processors were cooled using a Be Quiet! Shadow Rock TopFlow CPU Cooler.
Test System:
Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K and Intel Core i7-2700K
Motherboard: Biostar Z77XE4
Cooler: Be Quiet! Shadow Rock TopFlow
Thermal Paste: Arctic Cooling MX-4
Memory: 8 GB G.Skill @ 1600 MHz 9-9-9-24
Graphics Card: AMD Radeon HD 6950
Power Supply: NZXT Hale90 750W
System Drive: Intel 520 Series 240 GB
Monitor: Viewsonic VX2260WM
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Software:
PCMark 7
3DMark 11
SiSoft Sandra 2012 SP3
Cinebench R11.5
CrystalDiskMark
Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.5
VLC Media Player
Performance Monitor
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
Super Pi 1.5 Mod
CPUID Hardware Monitor
CPU-Z
DiRT 3
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads. If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.


In 3DMark 11 we saw a decent boost in performance when the system was overclocked.
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.


In 3DMark Vantage, the i7-3770K showed improvements over the i7-2700K in the CPU test both at stock speeds and when overclocked.

PCMark 7 includes 7 PC tests for Windows 7, combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed to cover the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete PC performance testing for Windows 7 for home and business use.


In this test there was a small increase in performance in system wide performance when the system was overclocked.
Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset. A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand. Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk. Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:
  • Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
  • Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
  • Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
  • Multicore CPU support
  • Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
  • Powerful C++ API
  • Comprehensive performance profiling system
  • Flexible XML-based data structures
We use the stock settings for our tests.

We saw a very small improvement in the benchmark score between the i7-2700K and i7-3770K.  When the system was overclocked there was also a small bump in performance.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software.
Sandra is a (girl) name of Greek origin that means “defender”, “helper of mankind”. We think that’s quite fitting. It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what’s really going on.
Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCI-X, PCIe (PCI Express), database, USB, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc. Native ports for all major operating systems are available:
  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x86)
  • Windows XP, 2003/R2, Vista, 7, 2008/R2 (x64)
  • Windows 2003/R2, 2008/R2* (IA64)
  • Windows Mobile 5.x (ARM CE 5.01)
  • Windows Mobile 6.x (ARM CE 5.02)
All major technologies are supported and taken advantage of:
  • SMP – Multi-Processor
  • MC – Multi-Core
  • SMT/HT – Hyper-Threading
  • MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE 4.1, SSE 4.2, AVX, FMA – Multi-Media instructions
  • GPGPU, DirectX, OpenGL – Graphics
  • NUMA – Non-Uniform Memory Access
  • AMD64/EM64T/x64 – 64-bit extensions to x86
  • IA64 – Intel* Itanium 64-bit




In SiSoft Sandra we saw big performance improvements when overclocked.
Cinebench R11.5 is the newest revision of the popular benchmark from Maxon. The test scenario uses all of your system’s processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral “No Keyframes” animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores.
In fact, CINEBENCH can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.


In Cinebench we see the benefits of purchasing a Core i7 processor instead of a Core i5.  With hyperthreading enabled, the multi core scaling was above 4x for both the i7-3770K and i7-2700K which is quite impressive indeed.
Super Pi is used by a huge audience, particularly to check stability when overclocking processors. If a system is able to calculate PI to the 2 millionth pace after the decimal without mistake, it is considered to be stable in regards to RAM and CPU.


In this test we saw a reduction in the time taken to complete the benchmark when the system was overclocked.
CrystalDiskMark is a useful benchmark to measure theoretical performance levels of hard drives and SSD’s. We are using V3.0 x64. Today we are testing with the Intel 520 Series 240 GB SSD system drive.

Here we can see the performance achievable when connecting our solid state drive to a SATA-600 port. Great SATA 3.0 performance results.
CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5 is the successor to CyberLink MediaShow Espresso 5.5. With its further optimized CPU/GPU-acceleration, MediaEspresso is an even faster way to convert not only your video but also your music and image files between a wide range of popular formats.
Now you can easily playback and display your favourite movies, songs and photos not just on your mobile phone, iPad, PSP, Xbox, or Youtube and Facebook channels but also on the newly launched iPhone 4. Compile, convert and enjoy images and songs on any of your computing devices and enhance your videos with CyberLink’s built-in TrueTheater Technology. New and Improved Features
  • Ultra Fast Media Conversion – With support from the Intel Core i-Series processor family, ATI Stream & NVIDIA CUDA, MediaEspresso’s Batch-Conversion function enables multiple files to be transcoded simultaneously.
  • Smart Detect Technology – MediaEspresso 6 automatically detects the type of portable device connected to the PC and selects the best multimedia profile to begin the conversion without the need for user’s intervention.
  • Direct Sync to Portable Devices – Video, audio and image files can be transferred in a few easy steps to mobile phones including those from Acer, BlackBerry, HTC, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Palm, as well as Sony Walkman and PSP devices.
  • Enhanced Video Quality – CyberLink TrueTheater Denoise and Lighting enables the enhancement of video quality through optical noise filters and automatic brightness adjustment.
  • Video, Music and Image File Conversion – Convert not only videos to popular formats such as AVI, MPEG, MKV, H.264/AVC, and FLV at the click of a button, but also images such as JPEG and PNG and music files like WMA, MP3 and M4A.
  • Online Sharing – Conversion to video formats used by popular social networking websites and a direct upload feature means posting videos to Facebook and YouTube has never been easier.
For our testing today we are converting a 1.09GB 720p MKV file (44mins) to Apple Mp4 format for playback on a portable device. This is a common procedure for many people and will give a good indication of system power. We are using the newest version of this program.



Here we can see the real world benefits of overclocking, reducing the time taken to convert our test video by a significant amount.
Many people who have media systems will be familiar with the Matroska (.mkv) file format which is often used for high definition video. In this test we will be using VLC Media Player to play a 1080P MKV file while recording CPU usage using Performance Monitor.

In this test the CPU usage was very low throughout, leaving plenty of cycles for background tasks.
DiRT 3 was released quite recently and has received a lot of praise from gamers and reviewers across the globe. It is the latest iteration of the Colin McRae Rally series, despite Codemasters dropping the Colin McRae branding. It supports DirectX 11 which enhances detail and brings a number of other visual enhancements to the gaming experience.


In DiRT 3 the performance gains when overclocking were minimal as it is a more graphics dependant game than some others.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City is a standalone compilation of the DLC episodes forGrand Theft Auto IV, containing both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony on one disc. It was released alongside the DLC release of The Ballad of Gay Tony on 29 October 2009 for the Xbox 360 and released on 13 April 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Playstation 3.
It does not require a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV to play, nor is an Xbox Live or PSN account necessary (except for multiplayer). The engine is still extremely demanding for this game – even now for the newest hardware. The latest version changes some of the rendering calls and is used partially within the latest Max Payne engine. The settings we used to test this game are displayed in the screenshot below.


In Grand Theft Auto 4: Episodes for Liberty City the performance gains when overclocking are far greater as it is a much more CPU intensive game than DiRT 3.
We measured the power consumption of our entire test system at the wall while loading the CPU using Prime95. We recorded results with the system at reference clock speeds and when overclocked to 4.7 GHz.

The power consumption of the i7-3770K was far lower than that of the i7-2700K which will certainly be favourable for your electricity bill.  This is the main benefit of the die shrink to 22nm from Sandy to Ivy Bridge.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Biostar TZ77XE4 motherboard and it really shows that the company can compete with the top enthusiast motherboard manufacturers.  Biostar have created an attractive looking motherboard, thanks to the predominately black PCB with metallic highlights on the heatsinks. We are confident the appearance will appeal to many enthusiast users.
The overclocking performance of the TZ77XE4 was probably the most exciting aspect of the motherboard for us.  We think it is actually slightly better for overclocking than the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 we reviewed recently and it also seemed to require slightly lower voltage to achieve the same overclocks.  This is quite significant with the i7-3770K as it gets very hot when you start increasing the voltage.  As a result, the CPU temperatures with the Biostar Z77XE4 were more impressive.
There are a few slight niggles with the board, though.  For example, the layout of expansion slots isn’t ideal as large CPU coolers such as the Be Quiet Dark Rock Pro 2 can obstruct the top PCI Express x16 lane.  ASRock get around this issue by locating a PCI Express x1 slot at the top of the motherboard instead.  Additionally, the UEFI interface isn’t as intuitive to use as those from ASRock and ASUS. We don’t think this will be a big issue for the enthusiast audience, although for a newbie it might cause a few problems.
We think that the Biostar TZ77XE4 offers good value for money as it only costs £130 from Ebuyer.  This makes it around £20 cheaper than the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 which could make a difference if you are building a system on a tight budget.
Pros:
  • Overclocks well.
  • great appearance.
  • competitive pricing.
Cons:
  • Bios isn’t quite as good as the leading designs.
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