If motherboards were rated purely on appearance, the Asus Sabertooth Z77 would have things completely sewn up.

It's almost entirely clad in air-channeling armour, with gaps allowed for the various slots and sockets. Even the USB headers have little plugs.

OK, the cladding is actually just plastic, but it gives the Sabertooth line of motherboards a completely unique look.

Apart form allowing for more accurately managed airflow, we reckon the protective shell will help dust and dirt from building up on the board's surface, which has to be a good thing.

It also makes just about every other motherboard out there look like a mess. But what about the detail specification and, critically, the Asus Sabertooth Z77's actual performance?

Beyond the standard Z77 fare, you get multiple fan configurations and Asus's Fan Xpert 2, which now extends to operation after the PC has powered down, the better to expunge hot air. Asus has also upped the SATA 6Gbps ante by adding a pair of ports to go with the two provided by the Z77 chipset.

The remaining four ports are 3Gbps.

Then there's support for both quad SLI or quad Crossfire graphics (in triple-card configs) and LucidLogix Virtu MVP, so you can have your discrete graphics and eat your Intel QuickSync video transcode cake too.

Performance wise, it's a tale of two halves.

It's nothing special at default settings, but it's spectacular overclocked, pushing our Intel Core i7 2600K to a spectacular 5GHz with nothing more than a battered old fan doing the cooling duties. Remarkable.

All motherboards should look like the Asus Sabertooth Z77. Everything else seems bitty, dated and messy by comparison. We reckon the cladding should help with longevity, to boot. It certainly doesn't harm the Sabertooth's overclocking potential.

This is the highest clocking LGA1155 board yet.

Leading up to the release of the Z77, we'd an inkling it might deliver improved performance for existing Intel processors at default settings. So it proves for the Sabertooth's Asus Maximus V Gene sibling. But not, more's the pity, for the Asus Sabertooth Z77 itself.

Now we've had a chance to stick the Intel Ivy Bridge silicon in Asus' top gaming board, here with the Intel Core i7 3770K, it hasn't let us down.

It's one of the top overclocking Z77 boards we've seen with the Ivy Bridge chip, and it's stock performance trades blows with the excellent Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H. The Gigabyte board only takes top honours for us because of its slightly cheaper price.

We liked

The most incredible thing about the Asus Sabertooth Z77 is that overclocking performance with the existing silicon. Sadly it cannot manage the same feats with the new Ivy Bridge silicon which seems stuck just a shade under the 5GHz mark on air.

The plasticky 'armour' covering the board itself may seem a little gimmicky, but it does have a certain amount of aesthetic appeal, and should channel airflow across the major mobo components too.

It also gives it more of a consumer-class feel than just a serious chunk of PCB.

We disliked

As much as we have to applaud the Sabertooth Z77 and it's overclocking credentials that still only makes up for a small number of users actually taking advantage of such things.

Verdict

An overclocking beast and a fine physical specimen. A top Z77 motherboard for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge chips alike.