Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

Black-and-red color scheme is a distinguishing feature of the Fatal1ty mainboards, which found its way not only onto the packaging but also into the ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional mainboard. At first glance the mainboard may seem quite common, but the better you get to know it, the more impressed you get with the ASRock engineers’ skills and ability to load this mainboard with an unprecedented number of features.

The first thing we would like to point out is the digital processor voltage regulator circuitry designed as 16 + 8. The components of the regulator that tend to warm up during work are covered with two heatsinks, and the heatpipe connects them with the third additional heatsink in the middle of the board. This third heatsink doesn’t cool anything beneath, but serves as an expansion of the heat dissipating surface. All heatsinks including the fourth on top of the chipset are fastened with screws. There is a set of additional retention holes around the processor socket, which should allow using coolers originally designed for LGA 775 processors. This technology has a name of its own – ASRock Combo Cooler Option. There are six fan connectors onboard, two of which are dedicated to the CPU (one four-pin and one three-pin connector). This way the rotation speed of the processor fan can be adjusted in case of either connection type, which is a unique feature currently supported only by ASRock mainboards.

Four DIMM slots for DDR3 SDRAM can accommodate up to 32 GB of memory. The memory frequency range for Ivy Bridge processors stretches from 1066 to 2800 MHz. Note that the memory slots have single-sided latches. The latches on the graphics card slots are also very wide and convenient. The board has two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots operating as 1x16 or 2x8. The third PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot works at x4 speed. The board supports AMD Quad CrossFireX, 3-Way CrossFireX, CrossFireX, NVIDIA Quad SLI and SLI graphics configurations. Besides three graphics card slots, there are two PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two PCI slots for expansion cards. Intel Z77 Express chipset equips the board with two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four SATA 3 Gbps ports, while two additional ASMedia ASM1061 controllers add another four SATA 6 Gbps ports. One of these additional connectors is combined with an eSATA 6 Gbps port on the back panel.

Overall, the back panel of ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional has the following:

  • Universal PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Six USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), four of which are implemented via EtronTech EJ188H controller, and another two ports and an onboard pin-connector are supported by the Intel Z77 Express chipset;
  • HDMI and DisplayPort video outs;
  • Six USB 2.0 ports, four more are laid out as two onboard pin-connectors;
  •  “Clear CMOS” button;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Broadcom BCM57781 network controllers);
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented with VIA VT6330 controller, a second port like that is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • One eSATA 6 Gbps port implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller and combined with one of the internal SATA 6 Gbps ports also implemented through the same controller;
  • Optical S/PDIF and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec.

The very top red USB 2.0 port is a special port called “Fatal1ty Mouse Port”. It differs from the other ports because it uses special software to raise the mouse polling rate and responsiveness in games. Note that the IEEE1394 (FireWire) interface is implemented via a combination VIA VT6330 controller, which also provides PATA support. Moreover, the board also has a few other legacy interfaces, such as a COM-port and a floppy connector. Intel Z77 Express chipset provides a limited number of PCI Express lanes, therefore there is a PLX PEX 8608 hub on the board, which provides eight more PCI-E 2.0 lanes thus allowing all numerous connectors and controllers to work simultaneously. We should also point out a POST-code indicator and glowing Power On and Reset buttons. The buttons are also unique: besides the “Power” and “Reset” words, they also bear “Fatal1ty” logo.

All technical specifications of the new ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional mainboard are summed up in the table below:

I would like to specifically point out that the board PCB hasn’t been increased and fits into the ATX form-factor standards although the board features an unprecedented number of functions and additional controllers. However, the components are so densely packed onto the PCB that VIA VT6330 and EtronTech EJ188H controllers had to be relocated to the bottom of the PCB.

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