I stopped by my local Micro Center on April 9, 2012, and I noticed that they had just received their first shipment of ASUS Z77-based motherboards. They were still on the warehouse cart, not even on the shelves yet. There were a number of Micro Center sales people reading the specifications on the boxes, so it was a little geek love fest going on! As you may know, the new Intel Z77 chipset is designed to support the upcoming Intel 22nm Ivy Bridge processor family (it will also support the 32nm Sandy Bridge processor family). If you have an older Intel Z68, P67, or H67 chipset motherboard, it may support an Ivy Bridge processor with a BIOS update, so you should check with your motherboard vendor. Anandtech has a pretty decent preview of several Z77 motherboards from several different vendors.
Unfortunately, the actual Ivy Bridge processors are not available until probably the last week of April. Normally, this would cause me to hold off on buying the components for a new system until then, but I gave in and went back to Micro Center on Tuesday, (dragging my very patient girlfriend with me), and bought some of the parts for the system so I could start putting it together in a leisurely fashion. I ended up getting an ASUS SABERTOOTH Z77 LGA 1155 Z77 ATX Intel Motherboard , an Antec 302 case, a Seasonic X-Series SS-400FL fan-less power supply, an an OEM LG 22X DVD burner.
I still need to get an Ivy Bridge processor (probably a Core i7-3770K), some DDR3 RAM, and a 180GB Intel 520 SSD. I am planning on running off of the Intel HD4000 integrated graphics, which have much better performance than the HD3000 integrated graphics in the Sandy Bridge processors. This is because I want to build a fast, quiet system that uses the least amount of power possible. Using integrated graphics saves both power and noise (unless you get a lower-end, fan-less discrete video card).
I really like the looks of the ASUS Sabertooth Z77, with the plastic Thermal Armor that looks like military non-skid plating, and it comes with dust covers for all of the PCI-E slots. More importantly, it has four SATA-III ports, a USB 3.0 header that works with the front USB 3.0 ports on the Antec 302 case, and an Intel Gigabit Ethernet port (instead of some other brand). The Antec 302 is a decent, no-nonsense case with front panel USB 3.0 ports, and a well thought out interior with six 3.5” drive bays that makes good cable routing pretty easy. It does not have any silly gaming features, like LED illuminated fans, clear side windows, etc.
I have built several systems in the past with the Seasonic X-Series SS-400FL power supply. It has an 80 Plus Gold efficiency rating, is modular, and is fan-less (so it is completely quiet). I purposely picked this 400 watt power supply instead of a larger 600-1000 watt power supply for several reasons. First, with the components I will be using, 400 watts is more than enough for the peak usage of the system. Power supplies are much less efficient when they are only putting out a very small fraction of their rated output, so getting a 600+ watt power supply is actually counter productive unless you really need that much power. I expect this system to draw less than 30 watts at idle, perhaps closer to 20 watts. It is modular, so I would not have the extra cable clutter you get from a cheaper non-modular power supply. Finally, it is a Seasonic power supply. Seasonic probably makes the best power supplies, in my opinion, and a number of hard-core hardware review sites seem to share this opinion.
I installed the motherboard in the case last night, along with the power supply, and all of the wiring that I could do until I get the rest of the parts. Once I get the entire system assembled, I will have couple more blog posts, with a number of benchmarks and some power usage data.
Figure 1: ASUS Sabertooth Z77 Motherboard