PCB Design and Functionality
You can clearly see some similarities in the exterior and functionality of the ASRock Z77 Extreme3 and ASRock Z77 Extreme4 mainboards, but they are mostly the results of both mainboard being made by the same manufacturer. It is totally unfair to say that ASRock Z77 Extreme3 is a simplified version of ASRock Z77 Extreme4, because it has its own unique layout.
Both mainboards support all contemporary LGA 1155 processors, and additional retention holes around the processor socket allow using coolers originally designed for LGA 775 CPUs. This feature is called Combo Cooler Option (C.C.O.). The digital processor voltage regulator circuitry on ASRock Z77 Extreme3 works as 8+3, while the higher model has an 8+4 circuitry. The cooling system on both mainboards consists of three heatsinks fastened with plastic push-pins with springs, but the chipset heatsink on ASRock Z77 Extreme3 doesn’t have a decorative plastic plate on top. Both mainboards are built with solid state capacitors, but the higher model used premium “golden” capacitors, while the lower model uses regular ones. However, they are not so ordinary after all: these high-quality ASRock DuraCap capacitors are made in Japan and boast almost 2.5 times longer MTBF.
ASRock Z77 Extreme4 has two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two PCI slots. ASRock Z77 Extreme3 also has two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots. The first slot will work at full speed if only one graphics accelerator is installed, while in case of two graphics cards the slots will work at half the speed each (1x16 or 2x8). The board supports AMD CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI. Moreover, you can use the third PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot that uses the chipset PCI-E lanes and can deliver maximum speed of x4. Besides, expansion cards can be installed into the PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot and two PCI slots. As you may remember from our previous review, the Extreme4 model had two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports and two additional USB 3.0 ports implemented via two ASMedia controllers. ASRock Z77 Extreme3 works with the functionality of the chipset, and unlike mainboards from some other makers, uses convenient color coding to easily distinguish between four black SATA 3 Gbps ports and two gray SATA 6 Gbps ports.
The back panel of ASRock Z77 Extreme3 has the following ports and connectors:
- PS/2 keyboard connector;
- Four USB 2.0 ports, another four are laid out as two onboard pin-connectors;
- D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI video outs;
- Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) and one onboard pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports supported by the Intel Z77 Express chipset;
- A local network port (network adapter is built on Realtek RTL8111E Gigabit network controller);
- Optical S/PDIF and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec.
Unlike the Extreme4 model, the PS/2 port on ASRock Z77 Extreme3 is not universal any more, but can only be used for a keyboard. Instead of four USB 3.0 ports, there are two, but the total number of USB ports is the same, because instead of two USB 2.0 ports, there are four. There is no “Clear CMOS” button and no eSATA port, instead of a Broadcom network controller they use Realtek RTL8111E, and Realtek ALC898 sound codec has been replaced with ALC892.
The distinguishing feature of contemporary ASRock mainboards is the use of two fan connectors for CPU fans. One of them is a four-pin connector, and another – a three-pin one, which makes it possible to adjust the rotation speed of the processor fan for any fan type. Almost all mainboards from other makers no longer support rotation speed adjustment for three-pin CPU fans, only some Gigabyte mainboards can boast this feature. This is a very important advantage, worth keeping in mind. As for the drawbacks, I have to say that I am not a big fan of the slot locks on graphics card slots of most ASRock mainboards. Other manufacturers may use convenient wide or inconvenient small latches, but all of them lock automatically when you install the graphics card into the slot. The only way to determine how convenient or inconvenient they are is when you have to actually remove the card from the slot. ASRock mainboards use small sliders, which must be moved not only when you attempts to remove the graphics card, but also when you intend to secure the card inside the slot. Compared with the Extreme4 model, ASRock Z77 Extreme3 doesn’t have the buttons or the POST-code indicator, while the PCB dimensions remained the same – 305x218 mm. As you can see, the length of both boards is standard, but the width is smaller than the ATX standard of 244 mm.
We summed up all the major technical details about ASRock Z77 Extreme3 in the following table for your convenience: