Asus P8H77-M Pro £90
18th Jun 2012 | 09:35
A multimedia giant on an Intel H77-based motherboard
If Intel's new Ivy Bridge chips haven't exactly been a revelation on the desktop, the first of its new 7 Series chipsets have been a lot more satisfying.
Previously, we've only had a taste of motherboards based on the premium Z77 chips, as seen in the Asus P8Z77-V Pro. But thanks to the new Asus P8H77-M Pro, it's time to take the Intel H77 for a spin.
In simple terms, the H77 chipset is a slightly more mainstream and multimedia-orientated alternative to the full-featured Z77 platform. That means it shares most of the same features, including the well-established Intel LGA1155 socket and hence support for both older Sandy Bridge CPUs, such as the Core i5-2500K, and the latest Ivy Bridge specimens such as the Core i5-3570K.
Chipset - Intel H77
Socket - Intel LGA 1155
Graphics support - Intel integrated, PCIe 3.0, CrossFireX, Lucid Virtu MVP
USB 3.0 - Two ports, plus header
Multimedia - VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, optical S/PDIF, 6.1 sound
However, there are detail differences that you'll either be pretty relaxed about or regard as non-negotiable deal breakers, depending on the workloads your PC spools up. On the one hand, then, the Intel H77's feature set looks like a solid choice for 2D video buffs. On the other, it loses some capabilities that performance junkies demand. For gamers, as we'll see, it's a bit of a mixed bag.
As for the Asus P8H77-M Pro, it's a compact MicroATX board that costs £90 in the UK and $130 in the US, and is nevertheless pretty generously specified, especially when it comes to graphics and video outputs. In that context, it doesn't really compete with Z77-based boards. Instead, the competition is the older generation of H67 efforts, including the Sapphire Pure Platinum H67 and Gigabyte H67MA-UD2H.
The best way to understand the new H77 chipset, and therefore the Asus P8H77-M Pro, is as a direct replacement for the previous generation of H67 motherboards.
Up to a point, everything is as you'd expect. Just like the H67, the H77's feature set certainly packs plenty of multimedia prowess. The Asus P8H77-M Pro adds a few of its own flourishes, too. But as ever with Intel's platforms, there are some frankly pretty arbitrary product differentiation measures to get your head around.
It's all about which of the key Intel 7 Series features are offered by each of the new chipsets. The Z77 is the easiest to pin down, because it gets everything. For the H77, there are ticks next to the boxes for processor graphics support, SSD caching and USB 3.0, but a big fat cross next to CPU overclocking. You can't increase the CPU multiplier setting.
Best CPU: the 8 top processors today
Exactly how much that matters is somewhat subjective. But generally speaking, we don't much care for artificial limitations. It wouldn't cost Intel a penny to turn on overclocking for the H77, but that would make it harder for Intel to charge extra for the Z77. So it goes.
Still, whatever your attitude is to Intel's tactics here, one thing is for sure. There's no point paying extra for a K Series processor with an unlocked multiplier if you're going with an H77 board. You simply won't be able to overclock it in any meaningful sense.
It's also worth noting that the H77 supports Lucid Virtu MVP and therefore using both discrete graphics and Intel's integrated GPU in parallel. The main benefit of this is enabling access to the Quick Sync video transcode engine inside Intel's HD Graphics core.
For the Asus P8H77-M Pro's part, it has the home theatre thing pretty nicely covered, thanks to a full compliment of video-out ports including VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. The latter enables you to achieve desktop resolutions of up to 2,560 x 1,600. If nothing else, that gives you plenty of options as a temporary backup should your discrete graphics card bomb out.
The H77 chipset isn't an out-and-out performance platform, so you'd expect the Asus P8H77-M Pro to be slightly off the pace compared to quickest Z77 motherboards. So it proves, with Asus's own Sabertooth Z77 besting it across the board.
Of course, that's relevant only for context.
More significant is that Asus has the measure of the closer H77 competition in the form of the Gigabyte H77M-D3H, even if they're not priced on a par and therefore not directly comparable.
Also, if you're here looking for overclocking results, the bad news is that the H77 chipset is multiplier-locked.
Boo hiss to Intel.
Professional rendering performance
Video encoding performance
If there's a sticking point with the Asus P8H77-M Pro it involves overclocking, or the lack of support thereof. We don't want to get bogged down with this subject, since it's true that most PC users wouldn't think to overclock their systems.
However, it's also clear that performance enthusiasts looking for a cheaper alternative to Z77 boards need to look to the Z75 chipset, which has fully fledged overclocking chops. But be warned, the Z75 does without SSD caching. Infuriating stuff, but that's Intel current stratification for you.
With the overclocking issue dealt with, what about gaming? With a few caveats, the H77 and the Asus P8H77-M Pro make for a decent enough gaming platform. We like the fact that you can slap in a good graphics card and retain access to the Quick Sync video transcode engine. You also get support for PCI Express 3.0 and thus tons of bandwidth.
In the very long run, that might be critical for games performance using a single video card. In the nearer term, it's desirable for efficient scaling with multiple GPUs. On that subject, our early understanding of the Intel H77 platform was that it wouldn't actually support multi-GPU.
However, Asus has served up AMD CrossFireX support, so that appears not to be the case. Whether any of the motherboard makers will pony up Nvidia's fee to make their H77 boards SLI compatible remains to be seen. None of Asus's nor Gigabyte's new H77 boards support SLI.
In the real world, solid performance and plenty of features is what you want from a motherboard. That's exactly what the Asus P8H77-M Pro delivers. You get most of the best Intel 7 Series features, along with some nice multimedia peripherals added by Asus.
This is demonstrably not a PC motherboard for full-on performance enthusiasts. For starters, there's no real overclocking support thanks to locked-out CPU multipliers. Gamers will also want more flexibility than the CrossFireX-only multi-GPU support offered.
The Asus P8H77-M Pro's real strength is as a compact and relatively affordable multimedia platform. The highlights start with that four-strong array of VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs. You also get 6.1 analogue sound and an optical S/PDIF port.
As a more general computing platform, it also looks solid. Partly, that's thanks to general H77 features such as Intel's Smart Response SSD caching tech and native USB 3.0 support (at last!), along with Intel's Rapid Start technology, which helps PCs spring out of sleep mode more quickly. The fact that you only get two 6Gbps SATA ports, however, is also down to the H77 chipset.
Still, Asus has also done its bit by not skimping on features, including those sound and video outputs as well as extras such as an eSATA port. OK, one glance at the motherboard's layout will tell you it's not an enthusiast item festooned with cooling paraphernalia. But overclocking aside, the reality is the Asus P8H77-M Pro will do everything most PC users actually need.
Look past the locked-out overclocking and this is a nice multimedia platform.