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Intel DQ77KB Motherboard

An ultra-portable solution with good expansion and remote access capabilities

November 30, 1999




Today we shall review Intel DQ77KB Thin Mini-ITX motherboard. In all senses, it represents a narrow segment: Thin Mini-ITX mainboards, which are to be 25 mm height at most, aim at ultra-portable systems, like HTPCs and all-in-one PCs. As for the DQ77KB, it is included into the Intel Executive series, which provides extended management, safety and power-saving capabilities.

Bundle

The mainboard came to us in a simple box, and we weren't surprised, because Intel DQ77KB is unlikely to be shipped to aftermarket directly.

The bundle includes two back panel faceplates (common and low-profile), 2 x SATA data cables, a SATA power cable, a driver CD and a user manual. According to the official site, the bundle should also include an HDMI-to-DVI adapter, Intel utilities for systems integrators, an antivirus and remote management tools (the mainboard supports Intel Desktop Utilities and BIOS Intel Integrator Toolkit for customizing).

Design

Thin Mini-ITX mainboards are definitely not all-purpose: the height limits power, cooling and expansion capabilities. That's the reason why Intel DQ77KB supports only LGA1155 with TDP up to 65 W, however, it's not critical: powerful 3+ GHz Core i7-3770S and Core i5-3570S are still covered, as well as Core i7-2600S and i5-2500S. In our tests we've used Intel Core i3-2120T, i5-2400S and i5-3450S. As for the cooling system, its size is likely to be limited by the case, not the mainboard.

The mainboard has two angled SO-DIMM slots supporting up to 16 GB of DDR3-1333/1600. We've used 2 x 4 GB Hynix DDR3-1333 plates for tests.

The expansion potential suffers from the size as well. Any card installed in a traditional, perpendicular slot, will exceed 25 mm, so only angled slots can be used. Intel DQ77KB could have been equipped with a large PCIe x16 slot, but the mainboard is restricted only to a single PC i-e 3.0 x4 slot, connected to the CPU controller.

For simpler extension cards the mainboard has full- and half-size miniPCIe slots. The former supports mSATA hard drives, so you can save even more space for your setup (for tests we used 32GB Lite-On LMT-32L3M). The specifications say the miniPCIe slots also have USB 2.0 outputs. Besides, there are holes on the backplates to enable installation of larger expansion cards.

In general, the placement of connectors is good: most of them are easily accessible on the edge of the mainboard. The green PCB with power and Intel Management Engine status LEDs is mounted with four screws, standard for Mini-ITX.

The mainboard can be powered by external PSU with 19V output either through a connector similar to the one of business-class HP notebooks of through a two-pin PCB connector. Intel claims 12 A peak consumption, but most configurations will surely consume less. As for the peripherals, the mainboard has a SATA power output providing 12, 5 or 3,3 V from the internal power converter, which can supply up to 25 W of power, enough for an ODD and an HDD, not to speak of an SSD.

The fans are mounted with two 4-pin connectors. The mainboard supports automatic speed control referring to one or two measuring elements chosen by user: processor, chipset, RAM or power system. Also the motherboard includes measuring elements for seven important voltage values.

We measured the temperatures at the open testbed, including Intel DQ77KB mainboard, Intel Core i5-2400S CPU and a bundled cooler: under LinX load the peak temperatures were 63°C for the CPU, 45°C for the chipset and 40°C for the power system. The cooler, operating at 1800 rpm, cooled down only the CPU, but also the chipset and the power system.

Features

Today, Intel Q77 chipset is the high-end solution for business, having all the features of the top Intel Z77, except for SLI/Crossfire X support and CPU overclocking, offering full range of Intel business technologies instead: Intel vPro with Active Management Technology, Small Business Technology, Virtualization, Anti-Theft and many others.

Auxiliary controllers include:

  • 4 x USB 3.0 on the back.
  • 5 x USB 2.0 on board.
  • 2 x SATA 3.0 on board.
  • 2 x SATA 2.0 on board.
  • mSATA 2.0 on board (combined with full-size mini PCIe).
  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet controllers based on Intel 82574L and Intel 82579LM (the red connector supports Intel AMT).
  • COM port based on Nuvoton NCT6776D chip.
  • Integrated audio based on Realtek ALC892 HDA codec with analog input/output and stereo amplifier (7.1 is supported only through digital video outputs).

Intel DQ77KB mainboard has no extra USB or SATA controllers. Hard drives can be connected through 2 x SATA 3.0, 2 x SATA 2.0 or mSATA/full-size-miniPCIe port, handily placed on the edge of the board. As for USB, the mainboard provides 4 x USB 3.0 on the backplate and 5 x USB 2.0 on board (two of them support fast charge). Note, that all the super-speed USB 3.0 ports are placed on the back panel—a good solution, certainly.

The mainboard has extended network capabilities: two Gigabit Ethernet ports based on Intel 82574L and Intel 82579LM controllers. One of them supports Intel AMT to provide system management even when the PC is off. As a result, Intel DQ77KB can become a basis for a portable communication device.

The mainboard features a basic ALC892 sound controller with one analog input and one analog output on the backplate. The outstanding feature here is the onboard stereo amplifier, allowing to connect low-power passive speakers directly. Also, the mainboard includes a connector for digital microphone.

Along with eDP and LVDS interfaces, the mainboard provide HDMI 1.0 and DisplayPort 1.1a video outputs for integrated GPU. Analog outputs were expectably rejected.

Overall, despite the height limitations, the mainboard has a good range of controllers—enough to build an HTPC, a home server or a router. Of course, home users could be short of a Wi-Fi controller, but the target audience of Intel DQ77KB is different.

BIOS

In our tests we've used BIOS 0042. It includes standard settings for Intel-based systems, with EFI and mouse support.

The functions are divided into 6 groups:

  • Main: information about the mainboard, the CPU, the RAM, setting date and time.
  • Configuration: managing auxiliary controllers, hard drive ports, integrated GPU, fans; monitoring the measuring indicators.
  • Performance: changing some CPU, integrated GPU and RAM parameters.
  • Security: setting passwords for the system and the hard drive.
  • Power: managing power system profiles.
  • Boot: choosing boot devices and boot options.

The easiest way to update BIOS is using the built-in utility, though you can use other tools as well.

Intel AMT and vPro for home users

The mainboard supports business-aimed Intel Active Management Technology and other vPro instruments. Let's see if home users can also benefit from them, and how.

First, we should launch Intel Management Engine and set passwords and functions. The easiest way to do it is launching its own BIOS setting tool by pressing Ctrl+P during system boot. Then we should install the tool to operate with AMT configurations, and create a client AMT profile, including the necessary interfaces, passwords and other information. Then we should connect the created profile with the current system. To do this, we've recorded the profile on USB drive with the same tool and restarted the system. During the boot the system found the profile and offered its import.

After the import we were able to manage the system remotely. Note, this function is available through the red Gigabit Ethernet port only. Another way to configure remote management is ACU Wizard utility from Intel Setup and Configuration Software suite.

To provide compatibility of the OS and Intel Management Engine you are to install Intel ME drivers—the full 5M, not the basic 1.5M edition.

The first results are already here: we can manage the PC through a browser. Just type in http://<PC_name>:16992, then default login ("admin") and the password. You can also use "https" if you have set the server for working with certificates beforehand and toggled on this option. With the help of the AMT-based server you can see the system configuration, the list of system events, turn on/off the PC, reboot it, choose the boot device and change network settings, even when the computer is shut down. Unfortunately, the information from onboard measuring units is not provided.

A good range of automation functions is featured by Intel vPro technology module for Microsoft Windows Power Shell, available for free on Intel site. For details, refer to Take Intel vPro Technology For a Test Drive document.

For Intel-based systems you can also use Manageability Developer Tool Kit, including simple GUI for managing AMT systems remotely—for example, changing BIOS setting and mounting bootable media after you redirect console and boot in BIOS access mode.

The widest range of functions is provided if your CPU supports vPro, though such processor may be hard to find, taking into account the TDP limitations of the mainboard, but if you manage to, you'll be rewarded with the full set of remote KVM management capabilities, including mouse, keyboard and display redirect. This tool uses AMT, therefore, it's independent of CPU anytime, whether setting BIOS or booting OS.

It operates without engaging OS, but becomes inaccessible in certain modes—for example, when setting Intel Management Engine in BIOS—or asks for the remote management password, shown to the user and then told by him to the administrator.

The process uses standard TCP/IP protocol (port 16994), therefore, establishing Internet access is easy: you just need to buy a shared-access tool, e.g. Real VNC Viewer Plus. Note: when a remote access is active, a special icon is shown on the client's screen, so he can always monitor the connections.

With KVM and ISO-mounting functions user can install OS. as well as launch trouble-shooting and restore utilities without any help from the client-PC user.

As a result, Intel DQ77KB (or any other mainboard supporting vPro/AMT) with an appropriate CPU can from a solid alternative to IPMI interfaces.

Final Thoughts

Certainly, Intel DQ77KB is not a mass-market product. However, in narrow Thin Mini-ITX segment it seems to be a reasonable choice, with last-generation chipset, supporting SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0, some expansion slots and external power.

With this mainboard, a power-saving CPU, a slim cooling system and an mSATA storage device you can surely build a good HTPC, though rather big, but having extended performance and capabilities, in comparison to ready-made mediaplayers. If you have an Ivy Bridge CPU installed, the recent XBMC edition for this mainboard will easily provide a playback of any HD video in 24p quality, with original soundtracks streaming to the receiver. Stereo-BD is also supported, according to the specifications.

Thanks to the pair of Gigabit Ethernet controllers, the mainboard can be used for building communication systems, both having extended capabilities and handling with increased load. Moreover, AMT and vPro provide you with very broad system management capabilities from anywhere.

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