While most of the focus for motherboards is on the big models, what happens when we get down to the lower price points?  If you want a basic ATX Z77 motherboard with all the IGP video outputs, Gigabyte has you covered at $120 with the Z77-HD4.  At this price point we are dealing with an overclockable chipset designed for a single GPU but still has basic audio and all Z77 features.  Typically using HDMI invokes a small price premium due to the licensing, and in a budget board stripping down everything is the number one priority.  Gigabyte wanted to have that stripped down Z77, but also offer a full video output set without pushing the price up too high.

Gigabyte Z77-HD4 Overview

When writing a review, we go to great lengths to be unbiased in our analysis – I give no favor to branding on the box.  An issue comes along when dealing with a sub $125 motherboard like the Z77-HD4 because we simply do not do enough in this price range.  Is it a good price?  I honestly do not know.  There are a lot of motherboards in that price range and below, meaning that the Z77-HD4 will be a focus on two fronts – if you need a feature that Z77 provides that H7x, Q7x or B7x does not, and you want any of the digital IGP ports.

The points that make a user want a Z77 motherboard will be in the overclocking, the PCIe lane allocation, and the combination of RST/SRT.  If you do not need overclocking, then H77/Q77 will be the port of call.  There are a few B75 motherboards south of $70, but you lose overclocking, RAID, RST and SRT.

The Gigabyte Z77-HD4 then covers the basic Z77 platform for a single GPU user.  We get six SATA ports from the chipset (two SATA 6 Gbps, four SATA 3 Gbps), three fan headers, a PCIe layout for an x16 GPU, an extra x4 device, and a pair of PCIe x1 and PCI devices – the latter via a controller.  Like almost all Gigabyte motherboards we get a TPM header and a COM port as well.  Audio is in the form of a Realtek ALC887, Ethernet via a Realtek 8111E, USB 3.0 from the chipset and a full complement of DIMM slots.

Overall the board performed reasonably well, even while overclocking.  Performance on Gigabyte boards has been getting more and more efficient as the BIOSes mature, giving the Z77-HD4 some higher scores than expected.  Clearly there are some draw backs with cheaper motherboards – in this case the Windows 7 posting time for a dual GPU setup was nearer 20 seconds than 10 seconds, the DPC Latency suffered from spiking in normal usage and the audio testing was way down compared to an ALC898 or enthusiast variation therein.  In terms of layout, using the PCIe x4 from the chipset for a dual slot GPU will reduce the number of SATA ports available.

But for a board that works, overclocks, supports 32GB of high speed memory and a base number of Z77 devices, the Gigabyte Z77-HD4 does hit those checkpoints.

Visual Inspection

As this is our first real budget board of the Z77 range (something we are going to rectify with Haswell), it is hard to put down on paper what to expect.  Essentially, I expect the chipset defaults, though as seen below, in order to keep costs down we only get three audio outputs (due to the codec), and SATA ports coming out of the motherboard.  Also note that the Z77-HD4 is thinner than normal ATX, and is missing the far end screw holes.

The socket area is a little different to most of what we have reviewed in the past, as the VRM heatsink is above the socket and comparatively quite far away from the Intel minimum recommended distance, giving plenty of room for large CPU coolers.  Unlike the G1.Sniper M3 reviewed previously, we get a full 8-pin CPU power connector for the CPU, although with few phases it will be interesting to see how well such a budget board overclocks.  Around the CPU we have access to three fan headers for fans – two 4-pin headers to the bottom left of the socket, and another beside the 24-pin ATX power connector.  The other 4-pin header is on the bottom of the board.

Moving clockwise around the board, we have a full complement of DIMM slots, and as expected these are latched on both sides rather than the single sided latch system that is emerging on some motherboard manufacturers’ ranges.  Beside this is the 24-pin ATX power connector, one of the aforementioned fan headers, and a USB 3.0 port.  Moving down is our chipset heatsink – small enough to cover the chipset but not connected to any other heatsink.  The SATA ports are all coming out of the board, with two SATA 6 Gbps in white and four SATA 3 Gbps in blue.  Even though the second full PCIe slot could cause some of the SATA ports to be blocked if large GPUs are used, this second PCIe only runs at PCIe x4 from the chipset, and although CrossFireX compatible, is not suggested for gaming GPU usage.

Along the bottom of the board we have our front panel connectors, two USB 2.0 headers, a fan header, a TPM header, a serial port header and the front panel audio header.  The PCIe slots are arranged in an x16, x1, x1, x4, PCI, PCI layout.  Seeing two PCI slots on a Z77 motherboard is not as common as it once was, with the PCI standard no longer included as part of the chipset specifications (and requires a controller).  However it is cheap, and users can purchase PCI to USB or PCI to Firewire cards if extra functionality is needed.

The main point that Gigabyte marketing are trying to sell with this motherboard is the use of HDMI certification on a cheap product.  Normally products in this price range are limited to D-Sub and DVI-D, and there is apparently a market for HDMI on board.  Gigabyte also pairs this with the DisplayPort connector.  Aside from the four video outputs, we also have four USB 2.0 ports, a combination PS/2 port, two USB 3.0 ports, a Realtek gigabit Ethernet port, and three audio jacks from a Realtek ALC887 chip.

Board Features

Gigabyte Z77-HD4
Price Link
Size Slim ATX (30.5cm x 21.5cm)
CPU Interface LGA-1155
Chipset Intel Z77
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1066-2800 MHz
Video Outputs D-Sub
DVI-D
HDMI
DisplayPort
Onboard LAN Realtek 8111E
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC887
Expansion Slots 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
2 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 2 x SATA 6 Gbps (Chipset), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
4 x SATA 3 Gbps (Chipset), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
USB 4 x USB 3.0 (Chipset) [2 back panel, 2 onboard]
8 x USB 2.0 (Chipset) [4 back panel, 4 onboard]
Onboard 2 x SATA 6 Gbps
4 x SATA 3 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
4 x Fan Headers
1 x SPDIF Output Header
1 x Serial Port Header
1 x Clear_CMOS Header
1 x TPM Header
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
1 x 8-pin CPU Power Connector
Fan Headers 1 x CPU
3 x SYS
IO Panel 1 x PS/2 Combination Port
D-Sub
DVI-D
DisplayPort
HDMI
2 x USB 3.0
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Intel GbE
1 x Optical SPDIF Out
3 x Audio Jacks
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

For a cheap board, we are going to get the basics and not a lot else.  As mentioned previously, the main draw for this motherboard is the inclusion of all four video outputs.  We get a fairly cheap audio codec used to bring costs down, but in my opinion I would still like motherboard manufacturers to place power/reset/Clear_CMOS buttons as well as a two digit debug in order to diagnose issues.  Users who want a PCIe GPU, an x1 WiFi card, a PCIe RAID card and a pair of PCI devices will be well catered.  Ultimately this board is probably aimed at the internet café market in China, where cheap and cheerful rule the roost, although I cannot see why they would want overclockable motherboards, unless it is used as a point of advertising.

Gigabyte Z77-HD4 In The Box, Overclocking
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  • DanNeely - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    Sata 6GB and USB3 both take significantly more die space on the chipset to implement; since most users only have at most a few devices that need the extra bandwidth most of ports offered on the chipset are still the older models. Haswell will probably be all Sata6GB on the chipset, although i wouldn't be surprised if some budget mobos add sata3gb ports via external controllers.

    The USB2/3 mix will probably last for a few more years on the desktop; this is both because of the much larger total number of ports involved, and because the internal headers aren't directly compatible (afaik you can buy adapters) and there're lots of cases which only have USB2 on the front panel; and lots of people with USB2 based cardreaders in a drive bay. I suspect one or two mobo headers for those will be with us for a long time; and wouldn't be surprised if a few linger as onboard/embedded device connects too like the pair of USB1 ports AMD chipsets still have (notionally for laptop keyboard/touchpad connects; but in both the desktop and mobile chipsets). I doubt the next generation of laptops will have any external USB2 ports; but might continue to use them internally.
    Reply
  • maximumGPU - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    haha those spam comments actually made me laugh. Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    This is a weird board.

    Full ATX but with 2x PCI slots. What do people use 1 for now, nevermind 2.

    SATA sockets upright and in just the place that will ensure you lose the use of one of the SATA 6G sockets as soon as you put in a graphics card.

    Spend a bit more a get a decent M-atx board with better layout
    Reply
  • Wall Street - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    Since the second x16 slot is powered from the x4 from the southbridge, I think they did this because they ran out of PCIe lanes. Also, some people use PCI for legacy devices. For example, I have a PCI TV tuner that I still use because a 4 year old tuner is just as good at HD as a new one. Reply
  • kasakka - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    FireWire cards are actually still a good choice for using PCI slots, because most PCI-E FW cards cost 2x more and are essentially a PCI-to-PCI-E bridge chip + the PCI card's components. The few natively PCI-E FW cards are 3x more expensive than their PCI counterparts.

    Yes, FW still matters since most of the better audio interfaces use it so a big thing for studios or home recording, now that most motherboards don't come with a built-in FW chip.

    It's the x4 full size PCI-E slots that make no sense to me.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    raid cards, or a second gpu for extra (non gaming) monitor outputs all need more than a single 1x lane; but 4 is plenty for anything they'd be asked to do. Some 4 port USB3 adapter cards on newegg are more than just 1x (though not explicitly marked I think they're 2x); presumably if you tried loading all 4 ports at once on the 1x cards you'd be bottlenecking on the PCIe bus. Reply
  • Wall Street - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    You can install a PCIe x16 card in an x16 physical slot that is electrically PCIe x4. You also can install an PCIe x4 card in a x16 physical slot that is electrically x4. You cannot install a PCIe x16 card in a physical x4 slot. This is why they put an x16 physical slot for an x4 interface. An x16 physical slot is always at least as good. Reply
  • jabber - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    X4 slots are hard to come by (I havent had a board with one fitted in years) so it may be they don't really make them anymore and just use a standard 16x slot instead. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, May 20, 2013 - link

    I think the second PCI slot is as much about the limited number of PCIe lanes available as anything else. IIRC 7 series chipsets don't have native PCI support instead requiring a bridge chip, and only 8 PCIe lanes on the SB. That's 4 for the x4 slot, 2 for the 2x slots, 1 for the bridge, and 1 for the realtek nic (if I'm reading the specsheet right, the audio connects to the chipsets audio out and not over PCIe). That uses up all 8 available lanes; leaving the choice of only having 5 expansion slots filled, or spending more for a PCIe mux to add more available lanes. The latter is what I think many higher end boards do, but is cost-prohibitive in the value segment where every dollar counts. Reply
  • Cerb - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - link

    Awhile ago, I came across some audio books on cassette tape, and wanted to transfer them. My best input choice, by far, was an existing PCI sound card, with an external ADC. There you have it. For someone else, it may be an old but high quality plotter or scanner using SCSI, or a special serial card, or firewire card, or some other little thing.

    Like serial and parallel ports, PCI will be with us for awhile yet, though there is no good reason to need more than 1 of them, except that they would have had an unfilled slot, otherwise.

    That 2nd slot is there, almost certainly, to fill space, due to using up the PCIe lanes available. Even MicroATX boards do this, giving 2 PCI slots, but an extra PCIe with more lanes, instead of several 1x PCIe slots.
    Reply

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