ASRock, a company that was spun-off from Asustek Group to act as a ‘second’ fiddle to the Godzilla of motherboard manufacturers, (ASUS) now occasionally bites the hand that once fed it. Famous for, among others, for its fatal1ty line of boards, ASRock provides top of the line features for a very reasonable price. Today we have for review one of its latest offering based on the new Z77 PCH, the Extreme 6.
Motherboard: Quick Facts
|Processor Support||All current LGA 1155 processors|
|Memory||DDR3 4 Slots/ 32GBSupports speeds of up to 2800 MHz (with 22nm CPUs)|
|Features||‘Gold’ Caps8 + 4 Power regulationDual Gigabit LANAbility to use LGA 775 CoolersASRock ‘X’ series software enhancements
Onboard Power/ Reset Buttons
Onboard LED Diagnostic Display
2x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots @x16 speed / x8 speed
1x PCIe 2.0 x16 slot @x4 speed
1x PCIe 2.0 x1 slot
Supports XFire as well as SLI
|Over-clocking||Yes (Both Processor and Graphics Core)|
|I/O||1x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard PortSPDIF 1x D-Sub Port
DVI-D Port, HDMI Port
2x USB 2.0 Ports
1x eSATA3 Connector
1x RJ-45 LAN
1x IEEE 1394 Port
1x Clear CMOS Switch with LED7.1 Channel Audio
We have extensively covered the features of the Z77 PCH here and here. To recap, Z77 is essentially a Z68 with integrated USB 3.0 controller and support for up to 3 independent displays. The provision of higher speed memory and PCIe-3.0 might require a Z77 board but are features that are based on the new 22nm 2nd generation core processors (nee: Ivy Bridge). The diagram visually shows the Z77 PCH and its various input outputs.
Packaging & Accessories
The board comes in a slightly redesigned box (as compared to the 6 series offerings). Various logos; Z77; Extreme6 and XFast are prominently displayed on the box.
The back of the box details the XFast components, Virtu MVP as well as pictorially displaying gold caps, PCI-e 3.0 support as well as support for high(er) speed memory.
Inside the box is a set of goodies; not extensive, yet not completely sparse either. You not only get a front panel USB 3.0 box, but also a USB 3.0 rear panel plate. The regular disk, SATA cables, IO plate, manual and a large foldout map are also in the package. The manual weighs in at 256 pages as it covers international languages and contains a list of LED diagnostic codes.
Given that this is a top-of-the line Extreme series board, the package does seem a little bare –no molex to SATA cables, no FDD cable (despite FDD interface), no Wifi (like the Intel board), no Blue tooth (ditto). But then those are features that have limited utility to begin with.
Yes, the PCB is black which is ubiquitous among 6 and 7 series boards. But what sets this board apart from the monotonous crowd is the use of gold coloring and ‘gold’ capacitors. They do tend to stand out nicely against the black PCB.
Four DDR3 memory (all black) are located in the usual position. These are not color coded.
The 24 pin power connector is in its usual place, flanked on the side by USB 3.0 port (powered by Etron). Continuing along the front edge we have the SATA ports -4 SATA 6 Gbps (blue) & 4 SATA 3 Gbps (black); extra SATA 6 ports are powered by ASMedia controller (1061). The onboard power and reset buttons are located right next to the SATA ports near the left edge.
While these are better placed as compared to Intel’s Z77 board, the left edge of the board (I believe) is still the best place for all buttons and LEDS.
There are a total of 5 fan connectors on the board, two of these are 4 pin PWM type, while the rest are your usual 3 pin type. As the board follows a strict black/ gold color coding, all the connectors are black.
The Z77 PCH lies under a low profile ‘skull capped’ heatsink which should not interfere with long GPUs. The diagnostic LED display is right next to the PCH.
The board features two PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots one at full and other at half speed (i.e. X16 and X8 electrical). They can be used as x16 and x8 or as x8/x8. There is a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot which runs at x4 speeds as well. Two legacy PCI slots as well as a solitary PCie 2.0 x1 slot complete the expansion set. The two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots are well spaced out so that two GPU’s running together will not kill each other. The extra space is due to the provision of m-SATA slot between the first PCI-e 3.0 x16 and PCI slot, which are all in-between the two PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots. There is a 4 pin molex connector to provide extra power to the PCI-e x16 ports as well.
The board uses a PLX chip to automatically switch PCI-e 3.0 lanes between x16 and split x8/x8 modes.
The left edge of the board features front panel, USB 2.0 (4), FireWire and HD Audio headers. There is a floppy disk drive (3.5”) as well as a COM port header located here as well. Why? I have no idea. A board that offers internet EFI flash options as well as the traditional flash drive and OS options has no need of a floppy connector at all. Also I really see no device that has been developed in the last couple of years that an enthusiast can connect to the COM port.
The rear IO area offers VGA, DVI, HDMI and Display port video out puts. This is as complete as set as any. Considering it is possible to do tri-def with the integrated GPU these might eventually come in handy. Though one has to have the appropriate connectors on the display panels as there is only one of each kind. Though it might be possible to convert HDMI or DVI ports with dongles. A EFI clear switch is also handily provided in the rear IO area.
Four USB 3.0 ports (two off Etron controller), two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, combo USB/ ESATA port, Gigabit LAN (Broadcom) port and the traditional audio jacks (including SP/DIF) complete the rear IO area. Oh the legacy PS/2 combo port is also included.
The processor area is flanked by power regulation circuitry covered by a two piece heat-sinks setup connected by a heat pipe. This setup is more elaborate than on the Intel board as is the power regulators they help cool (8 to CPU 4 to system agenThe processor area offers enough space to use the largest of heat sinks (the board easily accomodates a Noctua NH-D14 with low profile memory). The 8 pin CPU power connector is at the located on the right edge next to the CPU socket.
The board has a very nice layout, though it does seem to offer too many legacy components (PCI, COM, FDD, PS/2). ASRock could have brought the cost down a bit or imporved the goodies bundle (Q-connectors for frotn panel please!). The black/ gold color scheme, a standard for ASRock does make this board look discrete from just about everyother board. Though this does mean that all connectors do look alike which can be a teeny weeny bit confusing for some (espcically first time users).
EFI/ Bundled Software
The system browser in the EFI is a nice touch. It offers a mouse hover look over key motherboard components and attachments. There are tons of tweaking options for both processor and memory.
The main screen features the basic processor and system information as well as the link to system browser. This is akin to Intel’s ‘basic’ EFI information for the novices.
The OC Tweaker provides a one-stop solution to all your over-clocking needs control memory, CPU and GPU parameters. There are tons of options enough to satisfy the most demanding of users.
The advanced tab allows control over processor (EIST, HT, C-States, VT) and board parameters including onboard peripherals.
The hardware monitor provides a snap shot of board temperature, voltages and offers protection against over-heating. While not as good as Intel’s Visual BIOS implementation it does provide adequate information.
The board is certified for Virtu MVP which means you have access to Hyperformance feature. This might have limited utility for some in some products (games) where it works. You also get a very useful Magix software suite and Muffin player in addition to the XFast applications.
CPU-Z & Overclocking
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 offered us the best over-clocking experience of the three Z77 boards that we have tested.
We were easily able to achieve an over-clock of 4.8GHz with 100% stability during testing.
Testing motherboards is not an easy task. No matter what types of test are done the CPU’s performance does come into play. Testing IO is basically only testing the ability of the PCH. Thus what separates motherboards these days is their ability to provide functionality you need (read over clocking potential, RAID, multi GPU setup etc). But as the saying goes; when in Rome do as Romans do; we’ll put up some numbers to prove that we did spend time testing the board to dissect the ‘quantum’ difference between it and its peers!
|Motherboard||MSI Z77A-G43ASRock Z77 Extreme6
|Processor||Intel Core i7 3770K|
|Memory||G.Skill Sniper 2X4GB (1600 MHz CL9 @ 1.25V)|
|Hard Disk||Seagate Baracuda 7200.11 1TB|
|Power Supply||Thermaltake Tough Power XT 775W|
|OS||Windows 7 SP1|
|Synthetic||Sandra 2011 X264 Benchmark (HD V4)
3D Mark 11: Physics Test
Far Cry 2
|IO Performance||SATA – HD TuneUSB – Crystal Mark 3|
|AS||ASRock Z77 Extreme6|
Sandra is a very competent stress testing and benchmarking suite.
The results are fairly close to one another to call this a tie!
X264 HD V3 & Cinebench R11.5
This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance. We are using the CPU performance numbers for our comparison.
Try as you might, you will not be able to tell the boards apart if we were to remove the legend! The CPU determines performance.
3D Mark 11: Physics Test & Games
This is the latest incarnation of one of the oldest graphics benchmarking suites. The latest incarnation supports DirectX 11. It has a physics test that emulates physics on the processor.
Yawn…. They are (nearly) all the same.
The base line for all tests is a Core i7-2600K processor running at its default speed (100%)
Far Cry 2
|Far Cry 2||1680x1050|
|Benchmark||Inbuilt ‘Ranch Small’ CPU|
|Rendering Path||DX 9 –Medium|
|Rendering Path||DX 9; Physics Set to Enthusiast|
The situation does not change when testing games.
Some might argue against using 7-zip’s compression and decompression benchmark as a ‘real world’ test. But if you try and think about it for a minute, the benchmark does show how fast the program will either compress or decompress, while negating the impact of disk transfers.
Wow… this close!
IO Tests: Storage
USB performance was compared between boards. Crystal Mark V3 was used in conjunction with a USB 3.0 compliant Kingston Data Traveler (Ultimate 16 GB). As all 3 USB 3.0 controllers used in the boards are integrated in the PCH we don’t expect to see major performance deltas (between boards).
Again, as they all are the same, they behave the same!
HD Tune was used to assess SATA performance.
Minor differences separate all of the board that have been tested so far.
What sets this board apart from the flock is its over-clocking and the bundled goodies. The software bundle is better than most offerings and more useful as well. It over-clocks well and at US$175 it won’t break the bank either. If you are looking towards the Z77 platform with the intent to upgrade/ purchase you don’t have to look further than the Z77 Extreme 6.