EVGA Z75 SLI Review – Today we’re reviewing an Intel motherboard using a chipset you don’t see too often – Z75 Express. What is the difference between Z75 and Z77? They are practically identical, save for one thing – Smart Response Technology support (Intel’s SSD cache software), which the Z75 Express lacks.
Going with the Z75 vs Z77 is an interesting choice by EVGA. It isn’t exactly a budget chipset – that would normally be the H77 Express, which lacks any sort of overclocking support. What the H77 doesn’t lack however, is Smart Response Technology. And as we have discovered, SSD cache performance is very good, and absolutely worth using either in place of a dedicated SSD, or along side one whenever a mechanical drive is used.
Aside from SRT, the EVGA Z75 SLI has all the features you’d expect from a motherboard in its class. We’ll cover everything from top to bottom, inside and out, and find out if the Z75 SLI is worth choosing over other products in its price range that use the Z77 Express chipset.
In our review, we will cover in detail:
- Motherboard layout – is the Z75 SLI designed well for enthusiasts?
- VRM details – the most important part of a motherboard, and we look into everything in detail. The Z75 SLI features a 7+2+1 phase VRM, which is fully digital and capable of sending 315 Amps to the CPU.
- Component Tour – We will go over the Z75 SLI with a fine tooth comb, and look at just about every component on the board in full detail.
- EVGA z75 SLI software – We review all the software that comes with the Z75 SLI, including the CPU-Z based tweaking software, and the BIOS
- Overclocking – A big part of this board is its overclocking features. This will be our first time overclocking Ivy Bridge in a motherboard review, so we’re covering new ground with the Z75 SLI.
- Software performance – since chipsets are highly integrated nowadays, we will quickly go over performance numbers to make sure everything is running correctly. There is no need to do anything more, unless something is not working properly.
- Peripheral performance – More importantly, we test every integrated component in the motherboard thoroughly.
If you were expecting a motherboard review that cuts and pastes the specs, then posts some pictures and then runs a PCMark and 3DMark benchmark before calling it a day, you are looking at the wrong site! By the end of this review, you’ll know for certain if the EVGA Z75 SLI is worth your money.
So let’s get right to it, starting with the layout:
EVGA Z75 SLI Layout
As you know, I am a huge fan of the matte black look on motherboards. Gigabyte has since abandoned the blacked out look, at least on their Intel motherboards, but EVGA brings it back with just a touch of red here and there.
Like the Gigabyte boards, it is a true matte black finish. However, it isn’t quite as ‘deep’ as the Gigabyte boards, so it’s possible that they are using an extra PCB layer to achieve the finish while EVGA do not. It still looks great though – most “black” motherboards out there are actually a glossy brownish color that doesn’t look so great in bright light.
Starting with the expansion slots, the Z75 SLI sports a pair of full length slots that share the CPU’s 16 PCI-E lanes. When the second gray slot is populated, they work in an 8+8 configuration. When only the top slot is used, it gets all 16 lanes to itself. Below that is a dedicated full length slot with 4 lanes of PCI-E, and a single x1 slot. If you’re looking for old-school PCI lanes, you won’t find them here.
The internal headers are well labeled, and even include caps for the USB headers. Both USB 2.0 headers output high power, allowing you to use high charge devices such as the iPad while in use. Since there seems to be plenty of room down there for the audio header, it is somewhat odd to have it placed right below the second graphics PCI-E slot. I can see that area getting quite cluttered with an audio header cable and extra USB brackets installed.
The front panel header is well labeled and color-coded, something we always look for in a motherboard. By now it would be horrible to see a motherboard not have this.
Since the SATA ports are stacked vertically, it’s hard to tell which one comes before the other. This is a very minor thing I suppose, but I think many people prefer to have their hard drives installed in correct order. This eliminates one step (changing the hard drive order) whenever you clear the CMOS. Also, I would have liked the non-Intel controlled ports to be labeled. While they do differentiate between SATA2 and SATA3 speeds, the auxiliary SATA3 ports are the same color as the Intel ports, but you definitely do not want to use these for your main drives.
To the right of the SATA ports is one of seven total fan headers (all PWM controlled) and a JLCM1 header, which is a proprietary data connection for an EVGA diagnostic peripheral.
The DIMM area is an interesting one. Here you can see that the Z75 SLI has power, reset, and CMOS reset buttons. What I like is that all three buttons feel completely different, which can help prevent you from accidentally pressing the wrong one. You wouldn’t want to clear the CMOS instead of turning the motherboard on!
Below the buttons is the diagnostic LED. These can come in handy, but this one is better than most I’ve come across. Once it has successfully booted up, it displays the current CPU temperature. Brilliant idea, and I have to say it was a pleasure to watch the temperatures drop under load as I adjusted the voltage one step at a time.
Moving over to the CPU area, we find the 12v 8-pin header right above the CPU socket. While this might help with cable routing, since it wouldn’t have as far to go from the PSU, I can see it getting in the way of larger heatsinks. To be honest, there really isn’t a lot you can do with this header, and no manufacturer has really come up with the perfect solution yet.
Beside the socket is a large heatsink for part of the VRM. The 7 phase VCC power plane is fully covered here, along with VCCIO. The VAXG plane is not covered, but it doesn’t really have to be. The heatsink is placed far enough away that it doesn’t get in the way of the fans of tower coolers like the Phanteks PH-TC14PE or Noctua NH-D14.
Finally, we have the rear panel header group, which only has one video output, and that is mini DisplayPort. They really could have fit an HDMI port on here vertically, and probably even a DVI combo above the USB 2.0 ports. I do like that they have a lot of USB ports, but if you want to use the output on the IGP, you will have to buy an adapter if your monitor doesn’t support DisplayPort connectivity (one is not included). Granted, the vast majority of Z75 SLI users will not need this.
Along with another CMOS reset button is a PS/2 keyboard port. LN2 overclockers like this because it allows them to use a non-USB input device, which would poll the CPU more. Analog audio output is handled by 5 ports for the 8 channel controller, so some port sharing is required if you intend to only use the rear panel.
This is what you get inside your Z75 SLI box, aside from the motherboard itself. It’s an interesting assortment of mismatching cables – why they included a pair of SATA 3.0 cables and a pair of SATA 2.0 cables and not just four of the same kind is beyond me. Likewise, there are two different types of Molex 4 pin > SATA power adapters (one has three SATA plugs, the other has two of a shorter length) but none of this is really problematic. The rear I/O shield is actually really nice; it is all black-and-white (which you know I love), and comes with a plush padding on the inside, so it fits snugly against the motherboard.
On the next page we’ll take a close look at the VRM, and at every single component that makes the EVGA Z75 SLI tick.