03/22/2012 | 10:01 AM
It is quite logical that we started getting to know the new mainboards for LGA 2011 platform with the products from Asus, Gigabyte and Intel. The first two Taiwanese makers have been leaders in the mainboard market for a while. As for the Intel boards, things are a little bit more complex here, however, it was very interesting to check out the vision of an ideal mainboard in the eyes of the chipset and CPU maker. The next product we are going to talk about is a board from ASRock, which is truly unique in several different ways.
Unlike most computer companies, which were founded in the previous century, ASRock is relatively young, however, over a period of 10 years they managed to occupy their market niche and take some of the market share away from their competitors. I have to remind you that this company was established in that challenging time when we lost a lot of good brands: Abit, DFI, EPoX all became history and ASRock mainboards continue selling quite successfully ever since. In the beginning ASRock mainboards attracted attention due to some unusual engineering implementations. For example, there could be two different processor sockets on the same PCB. However, as time went on, there was less exotics like that, and ASRock mainboards won their fans by offering very appealing combination of functionality and price.
Having shaped up a successful business model, ASRock, however, felt that it wouldn't be enough. The company started to shift the focus more towards the high-end and enthusiast products and was determined to change the public perception of them and their image as a budget mainboard manufacturer. Among other things they revived the “Fatal1ty” mainboard series, which was first introduced by Abit. It was named after a successful professional gamer and implied that the products branded with this name boasted extended functionality compared with the regular models. So, our today’s goal will be to find out what are the key trumps of the new ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard.
ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard ships is a pretty large box with a carry handle. The front panel of the box can be flipped open to reveal the mainboard inside through a large clear window. The back of the box bears the photo of the mainboard and its major technical specifications.
Numerous bundled accessories are inside a separate smaller box and include the following:
The bracket with two USB 3.0 ports allows bringing them to the system case front panel. But if you wish, you can use a rear case bracket to move the same two ports to the back panel. Until now only some Elitegroup mainboards were bundled with similar expansion options. By combining multiple bridges you can build Nvidia SLI graphics configurations from up to four graphics cards.
ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard doesn’t look unusual and its PCB layout is in general very close to classical, but the mainboard has an entire list of various peculiarities.
We would like to start with its powerful voltage regulator circuitry, which works as 16+2 and is built with tantalum capacitors. The board uses a lot of high-quality Japanese solid-state “gold” capacitors (Premium Gold Caps). The heating parts of the processor voltage regulator circuitry are covered with two large heatsinks, which are connected with one another via a heatpipe. They smooth out perfectly short heat outbursts, but their fin profile is pretty low, so they do heat up substantially under heavy operational load. All heatsinks, including the chipset one use reliable screw-on retention. By the way, the board is very heavy not only because of the solid heatsinks. Just like the mainboards from Gigabyte, it uses 2 oz copper layering in the PCB.
Four memory DIMM slots provide quad-channel memory access and can accommodate up to 32 GB of RAM. Just like Asus mainboards, the DIMM slots have latches only on one side, which is a bare necessity these days. In order to fit all expansion card slots onto the PCB, the first graphics card slot had to be moved very close to the processor socket. Therefore, if you are using a large CPU cooler, then installing a graphics card into the first slot may be challenging. In terms of expansion functionality, there are two PC slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot and four PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots. The graphics card slots work according to the same algorithms as those on Asus Rampage IV Formula: the first slot will always work at its full speed (X16; x16/x16; x16/x8/x16 or x16/x8/x8/x8). By the way, the slot latches on the graphics card slots are just as wide and convenient as on Asus mainboards.
The Power On and Reset buttons add additional convenience for work in an open testbed environment. POST-code indicator will help identify the problem during startup. Intel X79 Express chipset delivers support for two SATA 6 Gbps ports and four SATA 3 Gbps ports, and two Marvell 88SE9172 controllers provide another two SATA 6 Gbps ports. The third Marvell controller like that is used to implement eSATA 6 Gbps on the back panel. USB 3.0 support is provided by two four-port TITUSB7340 controllers, which allows to have four USB 3.0 ports on the back panel and add four more ports on the front panel using two onboard pin-connectors.
As a result, the back panel of ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional has the following ports and connectors:
I would like to mention that there is a special USB 2.0 connector below the IEEE1394 (FireWire) port, which is called “Fatal1ty Mouse Port”. It differs from all the rest by special software that allows increasing the polling rate for this port.
For your convenience, we summed up all the ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional specifications in the following table:
ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional differs from other previously reviewed LGA 2011 mainboards not only by the exotic “Fatal1ty Mouse Port”, but also the presence of the common COM port. Just like some other contemporary mainboards, it has two CPU fan connectors. The unique thing about them is that one of them is a four-pin connector, and another – a three-pin one. As a result, the rotation speed of the processor fan will be adjusted according to the CPU temperature in any case, which is a feature no other LGA 2011 mainboards out there can boast at this time.
Like other mainboard makers, ASRock migrated to UEFI BIOS, with a pretty convenient-looking interface. The first section we see is the “Main” that reports basic information about the system.
You can right away check out the major peculiarity of the ASRock UEFI BIOS – the System Browser. It is designed as a pretty precise schematic layout of the board. By rolling the mouse pointer over any of the mainboard components you can get information about it. For example, when we highlighted one of the memory modules, we learned not only about its nominal settings, but also were able to access the detailed information about it recorded in the module’s X.M.P. profile.
If we are curious about SATA ports or backpanel outs and connectors, we can enlarge the image by clicking on it. After that we can obtain information about any of the ports simply by moving the mouse pointer over it.
Most of the overclocking and fine-tuning options are gathered in “OC Tweaker” section. At the bottom of the page there is an option that allows you to save up to three complete settings profiles and assign each of them a descriptive name.
“CPU EZ OC Settings” parameter allows you to select one of the previously configured overclocking modes.
As usual, some parameters have been relocated into individual sections to unload the main page a little bit. In particular, all the settings for memory timings configuring have been singled out onto a separate page.
All parameters related to voltage adjustment are in a separate section. The voltages can be set above or below the nominal value, you may set them as specific values or just add a certain value to the nominal setting. We were particularly pleased with the demonstration of how the counteraction of the voltage drop under heavy load works, because digital voltage regulator allows not only enabling or disabling this technology, but also select the desired intensity of this counteraction.
We are already very well familiar with the functionality of the “Advanced” section and the names of the parameters in it are pretty self-explanatory, too. I would only like to point out a very convenient tool for updating the BIOS called “Instant Flash”. This utility will analyze the contents of a connected USB flash drive, list all compatible BIOS versions and wait for you to choose the one you like.
The “CPU Configuration” sub-section contains basic information about the processor and offers to configure some processor technologies.
All parameters related to power-saving are singled out on a separate page called “CPU Power Management Configuration”.
We uncovered one very interesting option in the “South Bridge Configuration” sub-section called “Good Night LED” that allows you to turn off the onboard LEDs. I have to say that the LEDs are not too bright and don’t get annoying to begin with, but it is still very nice to feel that the manufacturer cares even about the little things like that.
“H/W Monitor” section allows monitoring temperatures, voltages and fan rotation speeds. The rotation speeds of five fans may be configured to depend on the CPU temperature or set to a certain specific value. Only the “Power FAN” speed can be monitored but cannot be adjusted in any way.
The “Boot” section allows choosing the startup system parameters.
“Security” section will offer to create administrator and user passwords.
The last section called “Exit” allows to apply all changes, reverse them or reset all settings to defaults.
Overall, the new UEFI BIOS from ASRock looks very solid and convenient to work with. It offers everything necessary for system overclocking and fine-tuning.
We performed all our tests on a testbed built with the following components:
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 126.96.36.1999, Nvidia GeForce Driver 285.62 graphics card driver.
The developers managed to fit seven expansion card slots onto the ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard and maintain its dimensions within the ATX standards. It is really impressive, however, they had to move the first graphics card slot too close to the processor socket. As a result, it is the first time in our experience that we had to use one of the farther slots for the graphics card during our test session to avoid any possible interference with a large Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler. Other than that we didn’t have any problems during system assembly, although it would be nice if they had somehow separated the four additional SATA 6 Gbps ports from the two chipset ones and isolated the special Fatal1ty Mouse Port on the back panel.
During startup the board displays a start-up image at the same time reminding about the available “hot” keys.
You can disable the start-up image, if you like, but you won’t get access to any additional useful info by doing so. Like many other LGA 2011 mainboards, ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional displays only the nominal CPU frequency, which is significantly lower than the actual one.
However, later on we discovered that during overclocking the mainboard is able to correctly identify the processor frequency.
However, this happy moment was still ahead of us at that point and at first we couldn’t get the overclocked system to remain stable. The problem was solved when we decided to give up the function that counteracts the processor voltage drop under heavy load. Of course, in this case we had to raise the processor Vcore more than usual to make up for the drop, but the system stayed perfectly stable at 4.5 GHz frequency. This isn’t a record, but still a very decent result. In this mode the memory frequency and timings were the same as on other mainboards.
We always overclock mainboards in such a way that they could be used for a prolonged period of time in this mode. We do not try to make our life easier by disabling any of the mainboard features, such as onboard controllers, for example. We also try to keep the CPU's power-saving technologies up and running normally to the best of our ability. And this time all power-saving technologies remained up and running even in overclocked mode lowering the CPU voltage and frequency multiplier in idle mode.
I have to mention that we performed all tests even before the official launch of the ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard that is why we first used a beta BIOS version L1.06 and then reflashed it with L1.07. The final official BIOS version at launch was 1.10. We also checked it out later on, but didn’t uncover any serious difference from the versions we used during the test session.
ASRock mainboards now have a number of brand-name utilities presented as part of the XFast series. XFast Charger will allow you to charge mobile devices much faster, XFast USB will accelerate work with USB 3.0 devices, XFast LAN will offer options for network traffic management and XFast RAM will boost the performance by creating a virtual storage drive. Today we are going to dwell on Fatal1ty F-Stream program – a multifunctional unities for ASRock Fatal1ty series mainboards.
The startup screen displays some information about the operational parameters of your system. The next page allows you to adjust the rotation speed of processor and case fans.
Next tab allows changing the base clock, CPU clock frequency multiplier and different voltages.
“Fatal1ty Mouse Port” tab offers you to adjust the polling rate of this special USB 2.0 port.
Enabling power-saving will lower the nominal processor core voltage by 0.035 V.
“XFast RAM” tab allows creating a virtual drive and use it accordingly.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. For comparison purposes we will also include the results of the previously reviewed Asus Rampage IV Formula and Intel DX79SI mainboards. The results on the diagrams are sorted out in descending order.
We used Cinebench 11.5. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score. This score is obtained in a special physics test that emulates the behavior of a complex gaming system working with numerous objects:
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
We see a great illustration of the known fact that related mainboards working in identical testing conditions demonstrate about the same performance.
The performance results in overclocked mode are given in the following table:
Unfortunately, we do not see the same close results in the overclocked mode because ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional overclocked the processor to 4.5 GHz, while the Intel DX79SI board managed to conquer 4.6 GHz frequency. As for Asus Rampage IV Formula, here the same processor overclocked to 4.7 GHz that is why the outcome in the following tests is predictable.
We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX (both at the default and overclocked system settings). The mainboards on the diagrams are sorted out in alphabetical order.
We often point out that on many mainboards certain power-saving technologies are disabled by default. Therefore, besides power consumption in nominal mode with all default settings, we also measured the power consumption of test systems with all power-saving technologies (including the proprietary ones) manually enabled. The difference between these two tests is usually quite obvious, but in case of ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional we detected a very slight lowering of the power consumption in idle mode. That is why we enabled “Load Power Saving Mode” parameter in the BIOS, which lowered the CPU Vcore and VCCSA by 0.5 V, which indeed produced certain power consumption lowering in all operational modes.
As a result, if we compare the power consumption of our testing participants in nominal mode, then ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional will be the least energy-efficient.
However, if we enabled all existing power-saving technologies then the power consumption of all mainboards will drop. However, Intel mainboard is so incredibly energy-efficient right from the start that it remains an unattainable winner.
Of course, Asus quite logically consumes more power during overclocking, because it managed to reach higher CPU clocks than any other mainboard in this test session.
During the detailed discussion of the features and functionality of the new ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard we often compared it to competitor products: memory and graphics card slots – like on Asus mainboards, 2 oz copper layer PCB – like in Gigabyte mainboards, USB 3.0 transformer-bracket – like on ECS mainboards. It is a perfectly normal situation, because all competitors carefully watch one another and try to adopt the best features and solutions in their own products. Therefore, it is certainly understandable that ASRock did their best to ensure that their flagship model will have the best of the best in it. As a result, they came up with a truly unique product, which also boasts a number of exclusive unique features such as System Browser and Fatal1ty Mouse Port. The mainboard still has a few design concerns, its power consumption could have been lower than we saw in our tests, and the CPU didn’t reach its maximum frequency during overclocking. However, let’s not forget that the mainboard was officially launched in the end of February, so there is high possibility that the issues will be fixed in the upcoming BIOS updates.
All in all ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional made a very positive impression. And considering the company’s traditionally attractive pricing policy, we expect it to be available at a lower price than the competitors with comparable features and functionality.