Articles: Mainboards

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When we talk about the leading mainboard makers we primarily refer to ASUSTeK and Gigabyte. However, lately ASRock’s ambitious plans have been giving us more reasons to believe that this company may eventually join or even defeat them. This company is obviously on the rise these days, which we can clearly notice not only from the continuously increasing production volumes, but also from the aggressive expansion of the mainboard model variety. I have to admit, we somehow missed that breaking point when ASRock mainboards got their second wind, which happened sometime around the arrival of the LGA 1155 platform. Of all the numerous LGA 1155 mainboards, which we have reviewed since then, there has been only one mainboard from ASRock – the miniature ASRock H67M-ITX/HT. However, almost a dozen ASRock’s mainboards on the flagship Intel X79 Express chipset were really hard to miss, so we presented you with reviews of ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional and ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB. Now that the new Intel processors and chipsets have been announced, we are ready to introduce to you two new ASRock mainboards based on Intel Z77 Express chipset – ASRock Z77 Extreme4 and ASRock Z77 Extreme6.

Closer Look at ASRock Z77 Extreme6

ASRock Z77 Extreme6 mainboard ships in a vertical box with a carry handle. The front of the package bears the “XFast 555” logotype promising 5x acceleration when you use XFast RAM, XFast LAN and XFast USB technologies.

We are going to briefly introduce these technologies to you in the part of this review devoted to the company’s proprietary software, which is bundled with ASRock mainboards. In the meanwhile, let’s take a quick look at the back of the box, where we can find the photo of the mainboard and a brief description of its selected features and advantages.

The box contains the board itself, of course, as well as the following additional accessories:

  • Four SATA cables with metal connector locks, half with L-shaped locks and the other half – with straight ones;
  • A bridge for two-way Nvidia SLI graphics configurations;
  • A panel with two USB 3.0 ports;
  • Back panel bracket and a set of retention screws for it;
  • I/O Shield for the back panel;
  • A brochure about the functionality of mainboard BIOS and accompanying software;
  • User manual in multiple languages;
  • DVD disk with software and drivers.

I would like to once again draw your attention to a very convenient panel with two USB 3.0 ports, which ASRock bundles with their mainboards. It is originally intended to fit into the 3-inch system case bay and thus provide two USB 3.0 ports on the front panel. This is the most popular application, because old system cases have no ports like that in the front. If you have one of the new cases, which already have USB 3.0 ports on the front panel, then you will be able to bring two extra USB 3.0 ports to the back panel with the enclosed bracket and set of screws.

Dark PCB textolite and black slot connectors make ASRock Z77 Extreme6 look very dramatic. However, the decorative covers on the cooling system heatsinks and golden-colored capacitors freshen up its dark looks.

As you know the looks is not the priority, and the mainboard’s functionality is the one thing that matters most. This is where ASRock Z77 Extreme6 can boast a few very unique features, which are not that common among contemporary mainboards. The CPU is powered by the digital voltage regulator circuitry designed as 8+4. Its heating components are covered with two large additional heatsinks connected with each other via a heatpipe. All heatsinks, including the chipset one, are installed with screws. Note that there are four additional retention holes around the processor socket, which will allow you to use old coolers, originally designed for LGA 775 platforms. This feature is called Combo Cooler Option (C.C.O.). It was very popular when LGA 11xx processors just came out, but even today it may come in very handy in some cases. However, there is one more unique feature, which currently doesn’t have a name for some reason, which has much more practical value, in my opinion. Namely, out of six fans that can be connected to this mainboard, two are the processor fans. Since one of these connectors is a three-pin connector and another – is a four-pin one, ASRock’s mainboards are currently the only ones that allow adjusting the rotation speed of the processor fan depending on the CPU temperature in either case.

Four DDR3 DIMM slots provide dual-channel access and can accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM. Expansion cards will go into two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots working as 1x16 or 2x8, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot working at x4 speed, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot and one PCI slot. Another distinguishing feature of this mainboard is the availability of a mini-PCI Express connector. We regularly (though not often) come across mainboards equipped with a COM-port, but I can’t recall when the last time was that we saw a mainboard with a floppy-drive connector. ASRock Z77 Extreme6 is equipped with both of these. Intel Z77 Express chipset used for this mainboard delivers four SATA 3 Gbps and two SATA 6 Gbps ports. Two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports are provided by the ASMedia ASM1061 controller. Nothing would seem out of the ordinary, if it hadn’t been for the eSATA port on the back panel, since there are no additional drive controllers besides the ASMedia ASM1061. It turns out that one of the two internal SATA 6 Gbps pin-connectors implemented via this controller has been combined with the back panel eSATA port.

As a result, the back panel of ASRock Z77 Extreme6 has the following ports and connectors:

  • A universal PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors). Two of them have been implemented via EtronTech EJ168A controller, and the functionality of the Intel Z77 Express chipset delivers another two ports and an internal pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • D-Sub, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort video Outs;
  • Glowing “Clear CMOS” button;
  • Two USB 2.0 ports, six more are laid out as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented with VIA VT6308S controller, a second port like that is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • One eSATA 6 Gbps port implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller, which is combined with one of the internal SATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via the same controller;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Broadcom BCM57781 network controller);
  • Optical S/PDIF and five analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec.
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