Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We performed all our tests on a testbed built with the following components:

  • Mainboard: ASRock Z77 Extreme3 (LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version P1.20);
  • Intel Core i5-3570K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Ivy Bridge rev.E1, 22nm, 77 W, 1.05 V, LGA 1155);
  • 2 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage);
  • Gigabyte GV-T797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100) CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • Enermax NANX ENM850EWT PSU;
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version, AMD Catalyst graphics card driver version 12.4.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

As usual, the testbed assembly on ASRock Z77 Extreme3 went smoothly and without any problems. Later on, we also had absolutely no problems with the board. I can say that it was a very easy, relaxed and positive experience. First we quickly and easily updated the BIOS with the latest version available at the time of the review – BIOS P1.20. We used the integrated “Internet Flash” utility for that. When we start the system, we see a start-up image with a list of available “hot” keys.

You may turn off the start-up image in the BIOS, but the hints about the hot keys will remain on the screen. Besides, we will also see the correct processor clock frequency, which most other manufacturers’ mainboards cannot display. As for the memory, the board will only display its total size, but not the modules frequency. I would also like to point out that ASRock mainboards start-up and reboot very quickly.

Once the operating system booted, we checked that the board has correct nominal settings for the processor and memory and that processor power-saving technologies were up and running without restrictions. Although not all of them were, actually. Most BIOS parameters related to power-saving were set to “Auto”, and if we changed them to “Enabled”, the system power consumption in idle mode lowered a little bit. You can notice it even without any power tests: while at first the processor Vcore in idle mode was just a little over 1 V, then it dropped a little. On the diagram below this mode is marked as “eco”. Power consumption lowers only in idle mode, and remains the same under load, and most energy savings occur if we enabled “Power Saving Mode” parameter. In this case the processor Vcore is lowered by 0.1 V. you can also change this value manually, if you want to.

Once again we have some comments about the adjustment modes for the CPU fan rotation speed. This adjustment is completely disabled by default, which is wrong, in our opinion. Moreover, enabling this adjustment mode is not enough: you must fine-tune it properly. Once it is on, the rotation speed does drop a little bit, but the difference is insignificant, although the adjustment level in the BIOS is set at a much lower level. Moreover, the system’s response to the changes in CPU temperature and utilization levels is delayed. As these two parameters increase, the fan speeds up very slowly and then slows down just as slowly, long after the tests have been completed and the CPU temperature has dropped. Unfortunately, there is no parameter in the BIOS, which could allow us to adjust the fan reaction time to the temperature changes. In our ASRock Z77 OC Formula review we used the parameters in the “Fan-tasting Tuning” tab of the multi-functional “Formula Drive” utility, in order to configure the desired adjustment mode. Namely, in idle mode the rotation speed was low and the system was practically silent, but responded immediately to any changes in the operational load levels. However, there are no fan calibration tools in the multi-functional “ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility”, which is recommended for us with ASRock Z77 Extreme3 mainboard.

Despite the small shortcomings in the fan rotation speed control system, ASRock Z77 Extreme3 managed to successfully overclock our test Intel Core i5-3570K to 4.6 GHz. You may have noticed that over the past several reviews different mainboards from different manufacturers couldn’t get beyond 4.5 GHz CPU frequency. Therefore, some of our readers suspected that our processor had degraded and was simply unable to speed up to the former maximum frequency of 4.6 GHz. As you can see, it wasn’t the CPU, but the mainboard used for overclocking that mattered. When we overclocked the processor, we also increased the memory frequency and adjusted its timings accordingly.

Now I just have to remind you that we always overclock mainboards in such a way that they could be used permanently in this mode. Therefore we do not try to make our life easier by disabling any of the mainboard’s features, e.g. onboard controllers, and try to keep the CPU’s power-saving features up and running. This time we did exactly the same thing. All Intel power-saving technologies remained up and running and automatically lowered the processor Vcore as well as clock frequency multiplier in idle mode.


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