Asus Sabertooth Z77 £179
26th Apr 2012 | 12:45
A visual lesson in motherboard design, and an OC beast to boot
Introduction and benchmarks
With Intel's Z77 desktop chipset expose in full swing the new Asus Sabertooth Z77 is one of the most intriguing of the motherboard models available at launch.
Of course, the full splendour of Intel's shiny new Z77 chipset won't be revealed until the new Ivy Bridge family of CPUs, for which it has really been created, arrive in a few weeks time.
Until then, we'll have to make do with putting the Sabertooth through it paces courtesy of Intel's existing Sandy Bridge processors, like the Core i7 2600K we're using here.
At this point, you'll have deduced that the Z77, and indeed Ivy Bridge, are not accompanied by a new CPU socket.
That's actually some relief given the almost punitive frequency with which Intel has been socket swapping of late.
We've still no real clue why the LGA1156 socket had to give way to the almost identical LGA1155.
But no matter, backwards compatibility is the name of the game and it's time to find out how the Sabertooth Z77 stacks up compared to both ye olde Intel 6 Series platforms and also a few of the competing members of the Z77 vanguard, including the MSI Z77A-GD65 and an in-house rival in the form of the Asus Republic of Gamers Maximus V Gene.
Bring it on.
Chipset - Intel Z77
Socket - Intel LGA 1155
CPU support - Intel 2nd & 3rd Generation Core
Form factor - ATX
Graphics support - Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFire, Intel integrated
High speed interfaces - 4x USB 3.0, 4x SATA 6Gbps
We've updated our benchmarks now to reflect the performance you get using Ivy Bridge CPUs, here in the shape of the Intel Core i7 3770K.
In terms of how the Sabertooth Z77 board compares with the other Z77 motherboards we've looked at it does rather well. That's to be expected though as it's one of the most expensive boards we've seen.
The straight battle is with the Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H, and it's nip and tuck all the way. The Gigabyte board takes the plaudits in the Cinebench score, but the Asus Sabertooth Z77 has the edge in both the X264 video encoding test and, more importantly for us, in the gaming benchmark.
Interestingly though the Asus P8Z77-V Pro is a cheaper board and isn't actually that far off the pace of either our top end boards.
CPU rendering performance
CPU encoding performance
If motherboards were rated purely on appearance, the Asus Sabertooth Z77 would have things completely sewn up.
It's almost entirely clad in air-channeling armour, with gaps allowed for the various slots and sockets. Even the USB headers have little plugs.
OK, the cladding is actually just plastic, but it gives the Sabertooth line of motherboards a completely unique look.
Apart form allowing for more accurately managed airflow, we reckon the protective shell will help dust and dirt from building up on the board's surface, which has to be a good thing.
It also makes just about every other motherboard out there look like a mess. But what about the detail specification and, critically, the Asus Sabertooth Z77's actual performance?
Beyond the standard Z77 fare, you get multiple fan configurations and Asus's Fan Xpert 2, which now extends to operation after the PC has powered down, the better to expunge hot air. Asus has also upped the SATA 6Gbps ante by adding a pair of ports to go with the two provided by the Z77 chipset.
The remaining four ports are 3Gbps.
Then there's support for both quad SLI or quad Crossfire graphics (in triple-card configs) and LucidLogix Virtu MVP, so you can have your discrete graphics and eat your Intel QuickSync video transcode cake too.
Performance wise, it's a tale of two halves.
It's nothing special at default settings, but it's spectacular overclocked, pushing our Intel Core i7 2600K to a spectacular 5GHz with nothing more than a battered old fan doing the cooling duties. Remarkable.
All motherboards should look like the Asus Sabertooth Z77. Everything else seems bitty, dated and messy by comparison. We reckon the cladding should help with longevity, to boot. It certainly doesn't harm the Sabertooth's overclocking potential.
This is the highest clocking LGA1155 board yet.
Leading up to the release of the Z77, we'd an inkling it might deliver improved performance for existing Intel processors at default settings. So it proves for the Sabertooth's Asus Maximus V Gene sibling. But not, more's the pity, for the Asus Sabertooth Z77 itself.
Now we've had a chance to stick the Intel Ivy Bridge silicon in Asus' top gaming board, here with the Intel Core i7 3770K, it hasn't let us down.
It's one of the top overclocking Z77 boards we've seen with the Ivy Bridge chip, and it's stock performance trades blows with the excellent Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H. The Gigabyte board only takes top honours for us because of its slightly cheaper price.
The most incredible thing about the Asus Sabertooth Z77 is that overclocking performance with the existing silicon. Sadly it cannot manage the same feats with the new Ivy Bridge silicon which seems stuck just a shade under the 5GHz mark on air.
The plasticky 'armour' covering the board itself may seem a little gimmicky, but it does have a certain amount of aesthetic appeal, and should channel airflow across the major mobo components too.
It also gives it more of a consumer-class feel than just a serious chunk of PCB.
As much as we have to applaud the Sabertooth Z77 and it's overclocking credentials that still only makes up for a small number of users actually taking advantage of such things.
An overclocking beast and a fine physical specimen. A top Z77 motherboard for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge chips alike.