Our Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: All of the Z77 Express-based motherboards we tested offered similar performance overall, which is to be expected when using identical hardware (i.e. the same CPU, RAM, GPU, drives, and PSU) to power the boards. All of the Z77 Express-based boards also performed about on par with the Z68 Express. In terms of overall system performance, there's virtually nothing to differentiate the motherboards we tested from one another. Heck, they all even have the same black-and-blue color schemes, integrated POST code error reporters, power and reset switches, and passive cooling.
MSI Z77A-GD65: There may not be much in terms of performance separating the four Z77 Express-based motherboards we tested, but they do offer differing feature sets and are priced somewhat differently. The MSI Z77A-GD65 is the least expensive of the boards we tested. It carries and MSRP of $189, and while it may not have the same wealth of included connectivity options (like WiFi and Bluetooth) as some of the other boards, it does come with plenty for the vast majority of users and its accessory bundle is adequate. MSI has been ready with this motherboard for quite a while and have had it on the test bench for a number of weeks, and it has proven to be rock solid. The UEFI could use some optimization for better mouse responsiveness and we'd like to see the adjustable menus take up a larger part of the screen instead of the giant buttons, but those are minor quibbles. For the money, MSI has a very nice board on their hands with the MSI Z77A-GD65.
The MSI Z77A-GD65 Motherboard
Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H: According to Gigabyte, the Z77X-UD5H should be priced right around $200, which makes it the second most affordable in our round-up. It too lacks any included wireless connectivity options, but Gigabyte's board does have the most display output options should you plan to use the integrated graphics built into Intel's socket 1155 processors or want to take advantage of Lucid's Virtu for GPU virtualization. The Z77X-UD5H is also the only board with a built-in mSATA connector which is an interesting option for those thinking about leveraging Intel's Smart Response SSD caching technology. Gigabyte's "3D BIOS" UEFI could use some refinement, but all of the options most enthusiasts need are represented, and the motherboard was stable throughout testing. Overall, the Z77X-UD5H is another solid offering from Gigabyte.
Intel DZ77GA-70K: Our contact at Intel tells us the DZ77GA-70K should be priced in the $220 - $240 range. As you would probably expect from an Intel-built motherboard, the DZ77GA-70K leverages all of the features of the Z77 Express chipset, but it goes beyond them as well and includes Firewire, WiFi and Bluetooth as well. Intel has also done a really nice job with its Visual BIOS interface and we like that the board has features like diagnostic LED indicators (over and above the POST code error reporter) and dual Intel LAN controllers.
The Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe Motherboard
Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe: Asus has set the MSRP of the P8Z77-V Deluxe at $279, making it the most expensive board in our round-up. The P8Z77-V Deluxe's price premium is easily justified, however. The board includes more USB ports than the others, it includes WiFi and Bluetooth, an Intel LAN controller, it's Thunderbolt-ready, its UEFI is well laid out and offers extensive tweakability features. The board also includes a PLX PCIe switch, which offers all of its slots full PCIe connectivity. The Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe also proved to be perfectly stable throughout testing. In short, the Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe may be pricier than the rest, but if you've got the funds and want / need one or more of the board's features, we'd recommend it.
Picking a favorite amongst this crop of motherboards is difficult. We like the MSI motherboard's affordability and low power consumption. Gigabyte offers the most flexibly display output configuration, integrated mSATA port, and one of the lowest prices. The Intel DZ77GA-70K includes WiFi and Bluetooth, dual Intel Gigabit LAN, and a very nice (and easy to use) UEFI. And the Asus board is packed with features, some of which aren't available on the others. We also feel it's too early to pick an Editor's Choice for Z77 Express-based motherboards without having (officially) tested Ivy Bridge and seeing what else is coming down the pipeline. So at this point, we're going to give these four boards "Recommended" awards and leave it at that.
Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe