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Product Review: Intel DH77DF

Written on May 4, 2012 by Matt Bach
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Introduction

Intel DH77DF Angled PictureWith the launch of the new 7-series chipsets, we spent the last few weeks looking at numerous Mini-ITX motherboards in order to update our Echo line of systems. There are many boards available from various manufactures, but the motherboard that immediately caught our attention was the Intel DH77DF. On our Echo line of systems, there are a variety of features that we have found to be very important to our customers including 7.1 audio, multiple video ports and wireless technology.

This motherboard has full 7.1 audio as well as DVI, HDMI and Display Port video ports, so this motherboard fulfills the basic port requirements for our Echo systems. Another factor we have to take into account is the fact that the Echo I uses the Antec ISK 110 VESA chassis which has four front USB 2.0 ports which requires two internal USB 2.0 headers. Surprisingly, many Mini-ITX motherboards only have a single internal USB 2.0 header, so the fact that this motherboard has two internal headers allows it to mesh well with our current product line.

Finally, the matter of wireless is where this motherboard really gets interesting. On Mini-ITX systems, wireless is usually either a choice of using the integrated wireless (if available) or an external USB adapter. The Intel DH77DF is interesting because it gives a third option by the way of an internal mini PCIe slot (just like the slots found on laptops) which allows you to install any after-market Mini PCIe card (such as the Intel 6230 wifi card). The I/O shield even includes a pair of cut-outs allowing you to mount a pair of wifi antennas. The problem with this design is that it is somewhat difficult to find just the right antenna adapters and cables that will allow you to utilize a Mini PCIe wireless card at a decent price.

BIOS

Intel DH77DF BIOS ProfileOverall, the BIOS on the Intel DH77DF is much nicer than we are used to seeing on Intel motherboards. Granted we typically use Intel more for their server motherboards which tend to have simpler BIOS options. This BIOS, however, has a fully visual BIOS which allows you to navigate using either a keyboard or a mouse. Most of the standard settings are available; allowing you to enable/disable various components, set the amount of RAM that the onboard video can utilize, control the fan headers, and even save a BIOS profile for easy recovery later. 

There are however two issues with this BIOS. The first is that while you can set RAM timings and voltage, you cannot manually set the frequency. In order to use RAM faster than DDR3-1333, you must use the XMP profile available for that RAM. When using an XMP profile, you cannot manually adjust timings or voltage, however, so you lose some of the manual control when using DDR3-1600 or faster RAM.

The second issue is that is that the method for setting the CPU/System fan throttling is not very intuitive. First, you need to set or verify that the fan control is set to auto with a minimum and maximum duty cycle. While you can adjust these settings for either higher performance (by increasing the minimum duty cycle) or for lower noise (by lowering the maximum duty cycle), we recommend keeping the minimum at 20 and the maximum at 100. The second place you need to change the BIOS settings is under the "Processor Temperature" entry. From here, you need to set the temperature that the system tries to maintain (Control Temperature) as well as the temperature that the fan runs at 100% (All-on Temperature). We recommend setting these at 70 °C and 80 °C respectively.

Intel DH77DF Fan Control Intel DH77DF Processor Fan Speed Intel DH77DF Processor Temperature
Main page for the Fan Control & Real-Time Monitoring section of the BIOS Options available in the "Processor (CPU Header) Fan Speed" menu Options available in the "Processor Temperature" menu

 

Connectivity

Connectivity covers the external ports on the I/O panel, the internal headers, the PCI-E slots on the motherboard, as well as the networking options. Since this motherboard only has a single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, we will be skipping the PCIe slot portion of our qualification. With that said, let's take a look at what external/internal ports and headers are available on this motherboard:

Intel DH77DF Rear IO Ports

  External Internal
USB 2.0 4 Ports 2 Header (providing 4 ports)
USB 3.0 2 Ports 1 Header (providing 2 ports)
Audio Realtek 7.1 Audio Headphone/Mic
E-SATA 1 Port (Intel H77 controller) -
SATA 3Gb/s - 2 Ports (Intel H77 Controller)
SATA 6Gb/s - 2 Ports (Intel H77 Controller)
Networking Gigabit Intel LAN (82579V) Mini PCIe slot
Firewire 1 IEEE 1394a Port -
Video DVI, HDMI, Display Port -


Most of the ports are fairly standard, but there are a few that we want to specifically point out. First, the fact that there are two internal USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 header on an mini-ITX motherboard is not common, but is very welcome. While Puget Systems currently does not offer any Mini-ITX chassis with front USB 3.0 ports, we do offer the Antec ISK-100 which has four front USB 2.0 ports which requires two internal USB 2.0 headers. The USB 3.0 is great for future-proofing even if no current mini-ITX chassis needs a USB 3.0 header yet. One thing to point out about the USB 2.0 ports is that half of them (the yellow ports) are high-current ports. High current USB ports are needed in order to charge some devices directly from the USB port.

There are only five SATA ports on this board with two internal 3Gb/s ports, two internal 6Gb/s ports and one external 3Gb/s port. The H77 chipset supports six 3Gb/s ports and two 6Gb/s ports, but for a mini-ITX motherboard four internal SATA ports is more than enough for the majority of users.

Intel DH77DF Mini PCIe slot
Mini PCIe slot

This motherboard does not include any built-in wireless, but does have a mini PCIe slot which can be used to either install a third party wireless card or a mSATA hard drive. The I/O shield for this motherboard also includes a pair of cut-outs to allow for easy mounting of dual wireless antennas. This allows for the use of mini PCIe wireless cards (typically found in laptops) that are in general much better than the wireless adapters typically found in desktop systems. The only difficulty with this design is that internal wireless antennas are somewhat difficult to find and purchase.

Motherboard Layout

Intel DH77DF Top View Intel DH77DF Schematic

After reviewing the layout of the motherboard, there are only two things that we do not like and both are simply a result of how little space there is on a mini-ITX motherboard. The first thing is that the CMOS battery (B on the schematic) is not actually on the motherboard itself, but is taped to the back of the USB/HDMI ports and connected to the motherboard via a wire. While this is not too big of a deal, it makes it much harder to replace the battery if/when the charge eventually runs out. Instead of being able to go to any store that sells small batteries to get a replacement, you instead need to get an exact replacement from Intel.

The second minor issue is the location of the 4-pin ATX power header (Z on the schematic). Rather than being near the edge of the motherboard, it is just behind the IO panel at about the middle of the board. This is a bit of annoying place for the plug, but we had no problems plugging in the 4-pin ATX power even in the Antec ISK 110 VESA which has a very short 4-pin ATX cable.

On the positive side of things, we really like that the front I/O headers allow you to use either a 2-pin (H on the schematic) or 3-pin (K on the schematic) connector for the power LED. While the main standard is to use a 3-pin connector for the power LED, some chassis only come with 2-pin connectors so have both options is great.

Everything else on this board is fairly standard with the majority of the headers located along the side of the motherboard.

Stability and Compatibility Testing

Our extended testing procedure for motherboards (see below) may at first glance seem short, but in actuality is very extensive. What you need to keep in mind is that the very first item - running the test system through our standard build process - is in itself a 98-point checklist.

The majority of the other checkpoints are designed to verify that the motherboard will function properly with a wide range of hardware. For that reason, we test using onboard video, Nvidia Geforce, AMD Radeon HD and Nvidia Quadro based video cards. We also test the motherboard with the largest quantity of RAM we can (2 x 8GB sticks) and with the fastest RAM currently offered by Puget Systems (DDR3-1600MHz).

Test  
Run test system through the Puget Systems build process
Review Device Manager to ensure all drivers loaded correctly
Loop test system through >50 reboot loops
Loop test system through >50 standby loops
Verify standby functionality using onboard video, Nvidia Geforce, AMD Radeon HD, and Nvidia Quadro GPUs
Run 3D graphics testing using onboard video, Nvidia Geforce, AMD Radeon HD, and Nvidia Quadro GPUs 
Test all internal SATA controllers
Verify stability with the largest quantity/size of RAM available
Verify stability with the fastest RAM offered by Puget Systems
Review Event Log for any unexpected warnings/errors
Verify basic funtionality with latest version of Ubuntu (12.04)

 

Intel DH77DF Device Manager
Windows Device Manager

Product testing simply can't go any smoother than it did on this motherboard. Simply put, we had absolutely no issues come up at any point in our testing. The system passed every benchmark we threw at it, and easily completely our standby and reboot loops.

Drivers in both Windows and Linux installed without any surprises and the system was rock solid using any GPU or RAM combination. We hate to have such a bare section in our qualification, but there simply isn't anything else to say except that this motherboard was absolutely flawless.

Conclusion

Intel DH77DF AssembledConsidering how easily the Intel DH77DF passed our stability and compatibility testing, we can honestly say that we have very little negative to say about this motherboard. In fact, the worse thing we can say about the motherboard itself is that configuring the CPU fan throttling in the BIOS is more confusing than it needs to be.

The number of internal and external USB ports is great and will allow this board to be used in almost any Mini-ITX chassis. The three video ports (DVI, HDMI and Display Port) gives plenty of video options and the inclusion of Firewire and ESATA will allow almost any modern device to be connected to this motherboard.

We also really like the inclusion of the Mini-PCIe slot. While this slot will typically be used for wireless, it can also be used for any other Mini-PCIe device as well. This design gives the end user a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing a wireless card since you are no longer limited to just USB wireless adapters. The only issue with this design is that since it is so rarely used, finding the right antenna adapters and cables can be a bit of a chore.

Overall, we are very happy with this motherboard, and excited to integrate it into our product line. Look for this motherboard to be used in our Intel-based Echo I and Echo II systems in the very near future!

Cov

I own the predecessor Intel DH67CF B3, which I'm quite happy with.
There are several thing I find annoying on the DH77DF:

1. The EFI BIOS seems to have a little improved but why not using an interface like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

2. Allows under- and overclocking the Intel HD Graphics core but not the processor core voltage.

3. Using a non-standard battery = fail

4. It still uses 3-phase VRM and liquid electrolytic over solid capacitors

Posted on 2012-05-15 06:17:35
Stormville

You say all that like it's a bad thing !!

Posted on 2012-05-22 16:02:38
heda_p

intel CPU fan will not work with this case, you need low height fan

did you figured it out wifi antenna for this? I am trying internal wifi antenna as of now

Posted on 2012-05-29 15:15:17

The Intel stock HSF won't fit in the Antec ISK 110, but we now use the Antec ISK 110 VESA, which does fit.  If you're using the older Antec chassis, the Gelid Slim Silence I-Plus is a good fan that fits ( 
http://www.pugetsystems.com/st... ).

We're sourcing the U.FL to RP-SMA pigtail adapters and antenna straight from manufacturers, and building them up in house.  Ebay is a pretty good source for those doing it themselves.  You need the pigtail adapters to be 6 inches long to reach the back IO panel.

Posted on 2012-05-29 15:19:34
Bob

Is it possible to get his mini PCI msata to run at sata3, i have a Mushkin Atlas 120 GB (Sata3) that is running at sata2 when installed on the motherboard min pcie slot, i dont have any other drives in this media box. Latest RST updated June 8 2012

Posted on 2012-06-13 14:36:09

Unfortunately, SATA ports (including mSATA) cannot be forced to run at speeds higher than what it is designed for. You can still use your Mushkin Atlas drive, but it will be limited to SATA 3Gb/s speeds. According to Mushkin, that drive has a read performance around 4.3Gb/s, so you would theoretically lose about 30% drive performance by using it in the mSATA slot on this motherboard.

Posted on 2012-06-13 20:20:23
Tolga Cakir

Hi, do you still have access to this board? Any possibility to look in the "Processor Overrides" Menu? You can find it under "Performance" -> "Processor Overrides". Then a new window will show up. I'm using the DZ77GA-70k, just curious, if you can set Vcore. I couldn't find a pciture of this menu in the internet. It's quite hidden.
Also, is it true, that Intel used electrolytic caps? I can't see any difference, sorry.

//Edit: I've looked it up - Intel is using 100% solid caps. http://www.intel.de/content/ww.... 'Cov' was wrong about that. Also, the 3-phase VRM of this test product seems to be limited to early samples only. If you search for DH77DF on Google, you will see high quality VRMs. Just curious about the Vcore now. Hopefully, Cov's information about that is wrong.

Posted on 2012-06-28 20:42:54

We actually take screenshots of all the BIOS screens for every single system we ship (both for record purposes and to make it easy for customers to confirm their BIOS settings if they ever have any issues) so pulling up that screen is absolutely no problem. So, here you go! 
https://www.pugetsystems.com/i...

It looks like you can't set the Vcore there. I poked around a bit as well, but I couldn't find anywhere to set the Vcore voltage. You can set the Voltage Offset for Turbo Boost, but that doesn't sound like what you are looking for.

Posted on 2012-06-28 21:27:49
Guest

Slightly off topic, but have you had any power supply problems running 65W CPUs (like a 3770S) in the ISK-110?
 
Also, have you looked at the Scythe Kozuti 1.5U heatsink?  It is a perfect fit for the ISK-110 (it almost seems like it was built for it) (http://www.silentpcreview.com/....

Posted on 2012-08-05 14:27:07

65W CPUs should run perfectly fine in the Antec ISK-110. They are the highest wattage CPUs we allow on our systems, but it should work just fine.

As for that CPU cooler, it certainly looks like a great cooler. We'll definitely take a close look at it to see if it will work in our product line. Thanks for the recommendation!

Posted on 2012-08-06 20:18:51

I'm building a system with this board and i7-3770s and stock cpu fan. I plan to buy a $2-300 video card too, which seems to take 2 slots in most cases due to the big GPU fan. What case and power supply do you advise to use? Thanks, and thanks for the great review.

Posted on 2012-08-17 17:18:37

The size of your PSU is going to depend on the video card. If you go to either NVIDIA.com or AMD.com and find your card, there should be a specification for "Minimum System Power Requirement", "Recommended Power Supply Wattage", or something along those lines. Just pick a PSU that is slightly above that to be safe and you're good to go. Likely this will be around the 450-600watt range

As for the chassis, a lot of that is personal preference. If you don't mind the size, the BitFenix Prodigy is pretty good (we just did a review on it if you check out our recent articles). If you want small, the Silverstone SG01-F, SG05, SG06 or SG07 are all decent choices. The Lian-Li PC-Q08 is also one we have used in the past that is decent. I've heard good things about the Fractal Design Array R2 as well, although I don't have any personal experience with it.

Much of it will come down to if you are OK with using a SFX PSU (smaller than a standard PSU, generally not as high wattage), how much cooling you want, and simply what looks good to you. You also have to worry about whether all the other components you want will physically fit. Often the hardest part about building a Mini-ITX system is just getting everything to fit right in a small space.

Posted on 2012-08-17 18:49:29
chw2

Hi, is it just me, or will installing a full-length mini-PCIe card block the USB 3.0 header?

Even Intel's own "integration guide" for this board would seem to show this to be the case (see step 8):
http://downloadmirror.intel.co...

Posted on 2012-09-05 07:11:42

I couldn't tell from our pictures, and the document you linked sure makes it look like a full-length mini-PCIe card would block the USB 3.0 header, so I got out a board and full-length mini-PCIe card to see for myself. Thankfully, that document must just have terrible scale as it fits fine. It's certainly close (like everything else on a mini-ITX motherboard) but no standard mini-PCIe card should cause any conflicts with the USB 3.0 header.
https://www.pugetsystems.com/p...

Posted on 2012-09-05 19:18:28
chw2

Thank you! Nothing like good ol' empirical evidence ...

Posted on 2012-09-06 00:50:31
Jay

I am looking at this motherboard and saw a post elsewhere that says the USB 3 ports are only available with an Ivy Bridge Processor. Is that True? My 10 month old Sandy Bridge can't be moved over if I want USB 3.0?

Posted on 2012-09-21 22:25:52

The USB 3.0 controller is built into the "Panther Point" chipset, so the CPU should not matter when it comes to USB 3.0 support. Any chance you have a link to that post? I'm curious as to why they are saying that USB 3.0 requires an Ivy Bridge CPU.

The only connectivity difference between Sandy Bridge and Ivy bridge is one onboard video display (SB can do two displays, IVB can do three) and PCIe 3.0 support (SB only has PCIe 2.0)

Posted on 2012-09-21 22:41:01
Daniel Chamorro

Is Intel's Rapid Start Technology compatible with Windows 8.1? It was working fine in Windows 7 but after I installed W8.1 the RST utility doesnt let me activate the msata drive :(

Posted on 2014-10-21 09:27:31