Thunderbolt on Windows with Asus, Intel and Promise
Intel and Asus Thunderbolt Motherboards
To test Thunderbolt under Windows, we got our hands on a couple of high-end motherboards that have the technology built-in. First up we have the Intel DZ77RE-75K. The DZ77RE-75K is a member of Intel’s Extreme Series of motherboards, and as such, features the black and dark blue color scheme of its predecessors and a full complement of overclocking capabilities.
As you’d expect from an Intel-built motherboard, DZ77RE-75K exploits all of the features inherent to its Z77 Express chipset and adds a few more, like Thunderbolt obviously, and Firewire, through the use of a third-party controller. The board also features Intel’s “Fast Boot” technology, which speeds the boot process by eliminating the need to complete a full POST when the hardware and configuration of the system is unchanged from the previous boot.
Like other Intel Extreme Series boards, the DZ77RE-75K also supports Extreme Memory Profiles (XMP 1.3) for easy high-speed memory configuration and includes an extensive set of overclocking tools via an excellent UEFI Intel is calling their Visual BIOS. We should point out that those overclocking tools are not only available via the UEFI, but also through a Windows-based application called the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, or Intel XTU. XTU gives users the ability to tweak numerous performance-related options and monitors system temperatures and fan speeds. “One Touch” overclocking options are also available via a simple slider for those that want a quick and easy speed boost, without doing much tweaking.
The DZ77RE-75K features heavy-duty heatsinks for the chipset and voltage regulation modules, integrated power and reset switches, solid capacitors, and a POST code error reporter, along with a number of LED status indicators. The board is outfitted with three PCI Express x16 slots as well, with full support for both NVIDIA’s SLI and AMD’s CrossFire multi-GPU technologies.
Although the sample we received was a pre-production model , and as such its bundle may change, the DZ77RE-75K we tested included an Intel “Extreme Series” mouse mat, a quick installation guide, a custom I/O shield, an SLI bridge, a driver / utility CD, and a bay mountable cage with dual USB 3.0 ports.
Next up, we have the Asus P8Z77-V Premium. The P8Z77-V Premium is one of the most feature rich motherboards we have ever come across, in terms of both its hardware and software.
In addition to exploiting all of the features inherent to the Z77 Express chipset, the P8Z77-V Premium offers additional USB 3.0 support by way of discrete ASMedia controllers, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, additional SATA 6Gbps ports, Asus “Dual Intelligent Processors 3”, and of course, Thunderbolt connectivity. The Dual Intelligent Processors consist of Asus’ EPU unit, which we’ve covered in the past, and the TurboV processing unit. The processors work together with the P8Z77-V Premium’s programmable digital VRM (DIGI+ VRM) and give users the ability to monitor and adjust power delivery on the fly. According to Asus, the combination of the programmable digital VRM and Dual Intelligent Processors 3 results in superior power efficiency and longevity.
Along with the aforementioned items, the P8Z77-V Premium is also outfitted with a PLX PCI Express switch, which gives the board to the ability to have all of its full length expansion slots enabled with full bandwidth at all times, regardless of the CPU installed.
Another great feature of the Asus P8Z77-V Premium is an integrated mSATA connector which comes populated with a 32GB SSD. And we should point out that the P8Z77-V Premium comes with a newer SSD cache controller that offers higher performance than the controller used on some of Asus' initial Z77 board. The 4 port controller on the P8Z77-V Premium has a x2 link instead of x1, and users can run dual SSDs in SSD Caching mode with dual mechanical HDs or users can take a larger single volume and extend performance further by using up to three SSDs for caching.
The P8Z77-V Premium has a couple of other interesting features as well. For example, you can flash this board’s BIOS even if there is no CPU or memory installed via its “USB BIOS Flashback” feature. It also supports the USB Attached SCSI Protocol, which can be enabled via Asus’ AI Suite software, to boost USB 3.0 throughout by as much as 170% (we have an article in the works specifically exploring this feature).
The Asus P8Z77-V Premium also supports SLI and CrossFireX, DTS Surround, and Asus includes a copy of their AI Suite II, which gives users easy access to all of the Asus proprietary features mentioned here in a single software package. In addition, the P8Z77-V Premium also sports an excellent UEFI with one-click overclocking and tuning that’s easily navigable using a mouse.
Bundled with the Asus P8Z77-V Premium were a user’s manual, driver / utility CD, a Wi-Fi & Bluetooth module (with dual external antennas), a package of front panel header quick disconnects, an I/O shield, SLI bridge, and six SATA cables.