Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

The components layout of the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB mainboard is close to classical, although there are a few unique and arguable solutions there.

First of all I would like to point out eight memory DIMM slots. Quad-channel memory access doesn’t speed up LGA 2011 systems. It is primarily intended to allow increasing the supported memory capacity and the mainboard has embraced this platform feature fully. I would also like to point out pretty powerful processor voltage regulator circuitry that works as 12+2 and uses contemporary high-quality electronic components. However, the processor socket has been shifted way down on the PCB that is why even though there are only six expansion card slots onboard, a large processor cooler may prevent you from installing a graphics card into the very top slot. Moreover, a small heatsink on the voltage regulator components heats up during long-term stability tests.

Almost all LGA 2011 mainboards, which we have tested so far, use advanced chipset cooling systems. They use a heatpipe to connect the chipset heatsink with the additional heatsink. It may seem strange that everyone is paying so much attention to cooling the chipset with only 7.8 W thermal envelope, but there is certainly a reasonable explanation. The functionality of the Intel X79 Express chipset, which is practically identical to that of the LGA 1155 Intel P67 Express, was originally planned to be much more advanced. This chipset was supposed to have fourteen SATA ports, nine of which were supposed to support SATA 6 Gbps and eight of which could work with SAS devices. The mainboard makers obviously prepared to accommodate the original functionality of the chipset and ensure its proper cooling that is why they designed cooling systems with heatpipes and additional heatsinks. When they learned that the chipset functionality would be seriously limited, they decided not to change anything. First of all, developing new mainboard design is a very complicated and costly process. Besides, a mainboard loaded with additional components has a much greater effect on potential users.

So, even though Intel X79 Express doesn’t really need additional heatsinks and heatpipes, they do not do any harm either. However, many ASRock mainboards use active chipset cooling, which may be unnecessary in most cases. Back in the days, the transition to finer manufacturing process and use of heatpipes allowed to give up these small but very noisy mainboard fans, and now we are being dragged back in time. Luckily, ASRock X-FAN technology for automatic adjustment of the fans rotation speeds works very aggressively. Since the chipset temperature is not very high, the fan doesn’t rotate at all. In other words, fans on ASRock mainboards perform a purely decorative function, just like heatsinks and heatpipes do on other mainboards. This decorative element is absolutely harmless and affects the mainboard price only slightly, which is hardly noticeable, because the general pricing of LGA 2011 mainboards across the board is pretty high anyway.

Expansion cards may be installed into two PCI slots, one PCU Express 2.0 x1 and three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots/. Two of them work at full PCI Express x16 speed and the third works as PCI-E x8. The mainboard supports AMD Quad CrossFireX, 3-Way CrossFireX and CrossFireX graphics configurations as well as NVIDIA Quad SLI, 3-Way SLI and SLI. There are four SATA 3 Gbps ports on this board provided by the chipset and five SATA 6 Gbps ports. Two of them are also the courtesy of Intel X79 Express, and another two are supported by ASMedia ASM1061 controller. Second controller like that provides support for another internal SATA 6 Gbps port and an external eSATA 6 Gbps.

As a result, the back panel of ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB has the following ports and connectors:

  • PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors;
  • “Clear CMOS” button;
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec;
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via TITUSB7340 controller, ASMedia ASM1042 delivers an internal pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Four USB 2.0 ports, six more are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented with VIA VT6315N controller, a second port like that is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • One eSATA 6 Gbps port implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller, a second internal port, and two additional internal 6 Gbps ports implemented via a second controller like that;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Broadcom BCM57781 network controller).

Contemporary mainboards use all kinds of USB 3.0 controllers. However, it is the first time in our experience that we see a board using one brand of controller for the front panel ports and another brand – for the back panel ports. Among the unique features of this product we should mention 2 oz copper PCB and two processor fan connectors. We have already come across similar solution on other mainboards, however, ASRock mainboards have one four- and one three-pin fan connector. Therefore, today only ASRock mainboards allow adjusting the rotation speed of any processor fans depending on the CPU temperature, while all other mainboards can only adjust the rotation speed of four-pin fans. Among other nice bonus features we should also mention Power On, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons as well as a POST code indicator. We could also point out memory DIMM slots that only feature locks on one side. However, as far as the graphics card slot retention is concerned, here we have a few comments to make.

We saw very diverse designs of the graphics card retention mechanisms offering different levels of convenience, but they all had one similarity: when you install the graphics card into the slot the retention locks automatically and later on you have to apply some effort if you need to remove the card. In this case, however, you have not only to unlock but also to lock the connector sliders. I assume that in many cases graphics cards installed into ASRock mainboards may end up being unsecured, which will cause loss of contact, so we are not particularly happy with this solution.

All major technical specifications of the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB are summed up in the following table:


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