04/18/2012 | 07:11 AM
Two largest mainboard makers – Asus and Gigabyte – offer entire families of products for almost every new chipset coming out, each product offering diverse features and functionality. Other mainboard makers are also pretty active, but mostly in respect to the low-end and mainstream chipsets. As far as the flagship chipsets are concerned, most of them usually launch one or two, and rarely three or more mainboard models. However, the situation with LGA 2011 mainboards is not quite typical. For example, Gigabyte, introduced only four mainboard models, while ASRock release as many as eight! It looks like Micro-Star let ASRock take over the third position in the largest mainboard makers ranks for a good reason: everything indicates that ASRock has very massive intentions.
We have already reviewed ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional mainboard, which made a very good overall impression, so it is natural that we are excited about checking out more of their products. We decided to proceed with a mainboard, which is not among the junior ones, but also isn’t the top-of-the-line. However, it would be completely unfair to call ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB a mainstream product. It is a very feature-rich mainboard that tends to be closer to the flagship models. It boasts a few unique features and has more advanced functionality than the similarly named ASRock X79 Extreme6. All in all, it promises an interesting experience.
ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB mainboard is shipped in a vertical box with a carry handle. There is a model name a few logotypes on the front of the box. The back bears a mainboard photo, a brief list of technical specifications and illustrations of selected features.
The mainboard is accompanied with the following accessories:
I would like to once again point out that the mainboard comes with a very convenient universal bracket with two USB 3.0 ports. By default, it is prepared to be installed into the free 3-inch bay in the system case and deliver two USB 3.0 ports to the front of the system case. However, if you have a new case that already comes with USB 3.0 ports on the front panel, or if you do not have an empty 3-inch bay in the front, then you can use an enclosed bracket and screws set to place these ports in the back of the system case.
The previous picture of the accessories included with ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB could be also used to describe the accessories bundled with ASRock X79 Extreme6 mainboard. Both boards are identical, however, ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB also comes with a special small box.
The “GB” letters in the mainboard model name are the abbreviation from “Game Blaster” and you are absolutely right to assume that it is a sound card. This card is built around Creative Sound Core3D, but this isn’t all it can do. It also has an onboard Broadcom BCM57781 Gigabit network controller chip, the same as on the mainboard itself, so you could sue them individually or together in Teaming mode.
I would also like to add that there is a separate page on ASRock’s official web-site dedicated to ASRock Game Blaster card and its features.
The components layout of the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB mainboard is close to classical, although there are a few unique and arguable solutions there.
First of all I would like to point out eight memory DIMM slots. Quad-channel memory access doesn’t speed up LGA 2011 systems. It is primarily intended to allow increasing the supported memory capacity and the mainboard has embraced this platform feature fully. I would also like to point out pretty powerful processor voltage regulator circuitry that works as 12+2 and uses contemporary high-quality electronic components. However, the processor socket has been shifted way down on the PCB that is why even though there are only six expansion card slots onboard, a large processor cooler may prevent you from installing a graphics card into the very top slot. Moreover, a small heatsink on the voltage regulator components heats up during long-term stability tests.
Almost all LGA 2011 mainboards, which we have tested so far, use advanced chipset cooling systems. They use a heatpipe to connect the chipset heatsink with the additional heatsink. It may seem strange that everyone is paying so much attention to cooling the chipset with only 7.8 W thermal envelope, but there is certainly a reasonable explanation. The functionality of the Intel X79 Express chipset, which is practically identical to that of the LGA 1155 Intel P67 Express, was originally planned to be much more advanced. This chipset was supposed to have fourteen SATA ports, nine of which were supposed to support SATA 6 Gbps and eight of which could work with SAS devices. The mainboard makers obviously prepared to accommodate the original functionality of the chipset and ensure its proper cooling that is why they designed cooling systems with heatpipes and additional heatsinks. When they learned that the chipset functionality would be seriously limited, they decided not to change anything. First of all, developing new mainboard design is a very complicated and costly process. Besides, a mainboard loaded with additional components has a much greater effect on potential users.
So, even though Intel X79 Express doesn’t really need additional heatsinks and heatpipes, they do not do any harm either. However, many ASRock mainboards use active chipset cooling, which may be unnecessary in most cases. Back in the days, the transition to finer manufacturing process and use of heatpipes allowed to give up these small but very noisy mainboard fans, and now we are being dragged back in time. Luckily, ASRock X-FAN technology for automatic adjustment of the fans rotation speeds works very aggressively. Since the chipset temperature is not very high, the fan doesn’t rotate at all. In other words, fans on ASRock mainboards perform a purely decorative function, just like heatsinks and heatpipes do on other mainboards. This decorative element is absolutely harmless and affects the mainboard price only slightly, which is hardly noticeable, because the general pricing of LGA 2011 mainboards across the board is pretty high anyway.
Expansion cards may be installed into two PCI slots, one PCU Express 2.0 x1 and three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots/. Two of them work at full PCI Express x16 speed and the third works as PCI-E x8. The mainboard supports AMD Quad CrossFireX, 3-Way CrossFireX and CrossFireX graphics configurations as well as NVIDIA Quad SLI, 3-Way SLI and SLI. There are four SATA 3 Gbps ports on this board provided by the chipset and five SATA 6 Gbps ports. Two of them are also the courtesy of Intel X79 Express, and another two are supported by ASMedia ASM1061 controller. Second controller like that provides support for another internal SATA 6 Gbps port and an external eSATA 6 Gbps.
As a result, the back panel of ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB has the following ports and connectors:
Contemporary mainboards use all kinds of USB 3.0 controllers. However, it is the first time in our experience that we see a board using one brand of controller for the front panel ports and another brand – for the back panel ports. Among the unique features of this product we should mention 2 oz copper PCB and two processor fan connectors. We have already come across similar solution on other mainboards, however, ASRock mainboards have one four- and one three-pin fan connector. Therefore, today only ASRock mainboards allow adjusting the rotation speed of any processor fans depending on the CPU temperature, while all other mainboards can only adjust the rotation speed of four-pin fans. Among other nice bonus features we should also mention Power On, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons as well as a POST code indicator. We could also point out memory DIMM slots that only feature locks on one side. However, as far as the graphics card slot retention is concerned, here we have a few comments to make.
We saw very diverse designs of the graphics card retention mechanisms offering different levels of convenience, but they all had one similarity: when you install the graphics card into the slot the retention locks automatically and later on you have to apply some effort if you need to remove the card. In this case, however, you have not only to unlock but also to lock the connector sliders. I assume that in many cases graphics cards installed into ASRock mainboards may end up being unsecured, which will cause loss of contact, so we are not particularly happy with this solution.
All major technical specifications of the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB are summed up in the following table:
In our ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional Review we have already discussed the new UEFI BIOS from ASRock in detail and found their interface to be very convenient to work with. It turned out that mainstream ASRock mainboards have almost the same exact BIOS, but designed in a different color scheme. The first section e see on accessing the BIOS is called “Main”, which reports the basic information about our 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.
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.
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, too. 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. The digital voltage regulator allows selecting the desired intensity of the voltage drop counteraction.
We are already very well familiar with the functionality of the sub-sections in the “Advanced” section: their names speak for themselves.
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 have to specifically point out a very convenient BIOS updating tool called “Instant Flash”. The unique thing about it is the absence of any type of file manager, though the updating process is still very quick and easy. Upon boot-up the utility will automatically analyze the contents of the connected drives. The system supports devices formatted as FAT16 or FAT32.
After that you get a list of compatible BIOS versions and at that point all you have to do is select the one you need. We are going to show you the BIOS updating procedure performed on ASRock X79 Extreme3 as an example, but it is identical for all mainboards from this maker anyway.
The actual reflashing process doesn’t take long and the new BIOS version is in place after a system reboot. Everything is very simple and quick. The only thing missing is the ability to save the current BIOS version and the support for drives with NTFS file system.
“H/W Monitor” section allows monitoring temperatures, voltages and fan rotation speeds. The rotation speeds of the processor fan, four-pin system fan and chipset fan may be set in dependence on the temperature or locked at a certain fixed value. The rotation speed of the remaining two system fans can only be lowered. 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. The only thing we couldn’t find were the parameters for Turbo mode configuring, namely the options for setting different frequency multipliers depending on the number of utilized cores in unlocked CPUs.
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 220.127.116.119, Nvidia GeForce Driver 285.62 graphics card driver.
When we discussed the layout of the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB we mentioned that the first graphics card slot and the processor socket are located very close to each other. Therefore, we had to install the graphics card into the second slot and it is important to keep this peculiarity in mind if you are planning to use several graphics accelerators in your system. Moreover, we wanted to make a few comments about the ASRock Game Blaster card. The sound ports on the mainboard are color coded that is why it is fairly easy to connect sound devices. However the sound ports on the card are not color coded or marked descriptively: they are simply numbered.
Just like with the fan on the chipset heatsink, we thought it would be an issue, but we were pleasantly surprised. It turned out that all connectors have colored LEDs inside them, so in fact, it is very easy to connect the cables, if you power up the system first. However, we did experience some difficulties at this stage, too, because we installed the ASRock Game Blaster card into the only PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot available right from the start, but only the additional network adapter started working in this case, and not the sound card. It took us a while to find out that the card was supposed to go into the last PCI Express x16 slot working as PCI-E x8. Actually, the manual does mention it, but we wish they made these instructions more obvious by placing an appropriate sticker, for example. Also it is important to keep in mind that with ASRock Game Blaster card installed, you will lose the support of the AMD 3-way CrossFireX and Nvidia 3-way SLI modes for good, because there will be only two graphics card slots left.
Just like with ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional, we didn’t immediately achieve stability in overclocked mode. Once again we had to give up the function enabling counteraction to the CPU core voltage drop under heavy load. Once in this case the system remained stable with the CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz and the memory frequency increased to 1867 MHz.
This is not the highest frequency for our specific CPU sample, however, we were concerned about the heating of the processor voltage regulator circuitry during long-term stability tests under heavy load. We do not always report the CPU temperature in our reviews, but we always monitor it during overclocking experiments. We usually record the maximum temperature of the hottest processor core, as there are six cores and their temperatures are slightly different. However, in case of ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB all six CPU cores were running at the same 75°C after a one-hour run of Prime95. It is the first time in our experience that all six cores are showing identical temperatures. According to ASRock, the new BIOS should address the heating issue and as soon as we complete our additional testing we will provide an update regarding this matter.
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.
ASRock mainboards are bundled with a lot of diverse software tools and utilities. We could mention a trial version of Cyberlink MediaEspresso 6.5 and an entire MAGIX Multimedia Suite. It includes muffin audio player, Music Maker Silver program for sound editing and recording, Video easy SE for the same work with video and Photo Manager 10 for editing photographs. Moreover, there appeared a series of new proprietary utilities called XFast. XFast Charger will help you charge your mobile devices quickly, XFast USB will accelerate work with USB 3.0 devices, XFast LAN will help manage network traffic, and XFast RAM will boost the performance by creating a virtual drive in the system memory. Today, we are going to take a closer look at ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU) – a multifunctional tool for the company’s mainboards.
The startup screen shows the operational system parameters. The next tab allows adjusting the rotation speed of the processor system case fans.
The next tab allows changing the base clock, processor frequency multiplier and different voltages.
“OC DNA” tap allows saving and exchanging the BISO settings profiles.
By setting the power-saving to 0.035 V you can lower the nominal processor Vcore, but you should be careful, as it might even increase your power consumption, because you may enable “Load Power Saving Mode” parameter in the BIOS, which will lower the Vcore and VCCSA voltages by 0.05 V. However, this function will prove that dynamic adjustment of the active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry depending on the CPU utilization works even during overclocking.
XFast RAM tab will help you create a virtual RAM-drive and use it accordingly.
The appearance apart, ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility is almost identical to Fatal1ty F-Stream. Only the “Fatal1ty Mouse Port” tab has been replaced with “OC DNA”, which makes it a real pity that ASRock Fatal1ty boards do not allow exchanging BISO settings profiles, unlike the company’s mainstream products.
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 ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional, Asus Rampage IV Formula, Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3, Intel DX79SI and MSI Big Bang-XPower II mainboards. The results on the diagrams are sorted out in descending order and ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB is marked with a darker color for your convenience.
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. Only in Resident Evil 5 both ASRock mainboards are a little behind the others, but it is barely noticeable.
The performance results in overclocked mode are given in the following table:
We know right from the start that the mainboards order on the diagrams will be determined by the processor frequency during overclocking. Asus Rampage IV Formula and Intel DX79SI will be ahead of others, MSI Big Bang-XPower II will be the slowest. However, we can take a closer look at the results of ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional, ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB and Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3, which overclocked the CPU to the same frequency.
Overall the results of all three mainboards are fairly close, and the two ASRock mainboards are almost identical. However, both mainboards are very slow in Resident Evil 5 game. it seem that this game doesn’t favor them at all, or the other way around :)
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 X79 Extreme6/GB it is determined by the enabled “Load Power Saving Mode” parameter in the BIOS. In this case the Vcore and VCCSA voltages are lowered by 0.05 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 X79 Extreme6/GB will not really stand out that much and will maintain the average power consumption level.
However, if we enable all existing power-saving technologies then the power consumption of most mainboards will drop. However, Intel mainboard is so incredibly energy-efficient right from the start that it remains an unattainable winner, and the most energy-hungry product in this pack will be the Gigabyte one, which proprietary power-saving technologies do not work.
During overclocking the most energy-efficient solution will be MSI Big Bang-XPower II, because it overclocked the processor without increasing its core voltage. The resulting CPU frequency on this mainboard is the lowest of all that is why it is not surprising that its power consumption in overclocked mode is also the lowest. However, as for ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB, it consumes less than ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional under any type of operational load, even though the latter overclocked the processor to the same exact frequency. In comparison with Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3, ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB is just a little bit behind.
Throughout this review we pointed out several minor issues we uncovered with the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB mainboard. However, in conclusion I would like to once again stress its indisputable advantages. This mainboard comes with sufficient accessories bundle including a universal panel that provides two additional USB 3.0 ports. The PCB layout is overall good; it offers eight memory DIMM slots, two processor fan connectors supporting rotation speed adjustment, additional SATA and USB 3.0 controllers, buttons and POST-code indicator. The digital processor voltage regulator circuitry is built with high-quality components including tantalum capacitors. It works as 12+2 and supports dynamic adjustment of the number of active phases depending on the processor load even during overclocking. Three graphics card slots allow building AMD Quad CrossFireX, 3-Way CrossFireX and CrossFireX, as well as NVIDIA Quad SLI, 3-Way SLI and SLI configurations. The mainboard has pretty convenient BIOS that offers everything necessary for system configuring and fine-tuning. Everything we have just said can also be applied to a similar ASRock X79 Extreme6 mainboard, but the “SB” model comes with additional expansion card featuring a second Broadcom network controller and Creative Sound Core3D Audio processor. This is a unique distinguishing feature of the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB mainboard, because there are not that many other products that come bundled with a Creative sound solution.