Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

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

  • ASRock Z87 Extreme4 mainboard (LGA1150, Intel Z87 Express, BIOS version P1.90, P2.30);
  • Intel Core i5-4670K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Haswell, 22nm, 84 W, LGA 1150);
  • 2 x 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM G.Skill TridentX F3-2133C9Q-32GTX (2133 MHz, 9-11-11-31-2N timings, 1.6 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;
  • Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W PSU;
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.2, Build 9200) operating system, Intel Chipset Device Software driver package version, AMD Catalyst 13.4 graphics card driver.

Operational Specifics

As usual, we didn’t have any problems assembling our test system on ASRock Z87 Extreme4 mainboard. While starting up, the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 outputs a simple image that lists all of the active hotkeys.

You can enter the BIOS by pressing F2 or Del. The F6 key will launch the built-in Instant Flash utility to update firmware. F11 will open a menu for choosing an out-of-order boot device. The Tab key removes the startup picture altogether. In this case, the hotkey prompts will still be shown. Besides them, you will see the CPU clock rate (and this information is accurate, unlike with many mainboards from other makers) but the memory frequency is not shown, only its total amount.

You won’t have much time to peruse all the information, however, because ASRock mainboards start up and reboot very fast, even though the Fast Boot option is turned off by default in their BIOS. If set at Fast Mode, the startup time is reduced greatly but the mainboard cannot boot up from USB drives. In the Ultra Fast mode, which is supported by Microsoft Windows 8, the computer is almost instantly ready to work but you can only enter the BIOS by resetting it (with the button or Clear CMOS jumper) or by using the Windows-based Restart to UEFI utility.

After the OS had booted up, the mainboard turned out to ensure standard CPU and memory frequencies but the CPU voltage was about 0.1 volts lower than expected. This must have been due to the Power Saving Mode option which was set at Auto by default. Against our expectations, the mainboard wasn’t economical, however. The computer consumed 44 watts when idle, which was comparable to the power consumption of the earlier-tested ASUS and Gigabyte mainboards that didn’t decrease their CPU voltage in this way. And exactly like with the ASUS and Gigabyte, manually changing all of the power-saving parameters in the CPU Configuration page of the mainboard’s BIOS from Auto to Enabled helped lower the power draw, yet the ASRock was still not as energy-efficient as the previously tested products: 41 W vs. 38 W. For a more accurate comparison of power consumption, we turned off Power Saving Mode but had to face some unwanted effects on the other BIOS parameters. The fan operation mode changed from Silent to Standard. All of the power-saving options switched back to Auto and the memory voltage increased from the standard 1.5 to 1.6 volts.

We must admit that ASRock has improved fan management on their mainboards dramatically. In fact, on previous ASRock mainboards fans rotation speed could not be adjusted at all with the default settings in place. And even when enabled, the automatic adjustment didn’t lower the speed much, so you had to manually adjust the parameters. The system also took a while to respond to changes in CPU utilization and temperature, so the speed of the fans didn’t go up or down immediately when the CPU utilization and temperature increased or dropped. Now all of these problems have been resolved. The fan speed adjustment system is enabled by default and reacts quickly to any changes in CPU temperature. Moreover, you can now manually set up the correlation between fan speed and CPU temperature right in the BIOS using the Customize mode.

Switching the Intel power-saving technologies back to Auto isn’t good, though. As we saw during this test session, not all of them really work in that case.

As for the increase in memory voltage while the memory is working in its nominal mode, we couldn’t find a reasonable explanation to that phenomenon as of yet.

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