ASRock Z68 Extreme4
Based on the P67 Extreme4, the ASRock Z68 Extreme 4 has adopted the same design in general. The card’s PCB is fairly heavily charged, which isn’t a great surprise given that this is one of the best equipped motherboards in this report when it comes to controllers.
In terms of the processor power supply, there’s a relatively standard 10+2 phase regulation circuit, with the spools and regulation circuits covered by a radiator. There’s a CHiL 8328 controller that can run two voltages in parallel with 7+1 phases on each.
Like all the boards in this report, the first two PCI Express 16x slots share the 16 lanes from the processor between them, which gives you the choice between a single active slot in 16x mode or two in 8x. ASRock uses PCI Express ASMedia ASM1440 switches. Note that these ports support CrossfireX and SLI, once again a spec that is common to all our cards. A particularity with this board however is the molex connector to give extra oomph to the PCI Express power supply.
There's also a third PCI Express 16x port wired electrically at 4x, as well as two at 1x either side of the main graphics port. The Z68 chipset itself only supports 8 PCI Express lanes, which must be divided between these ports and the different on-board controllers (USB 3.0, drives…). For this purpose ASRock uses a PLX 8-lane PCI Express switch, the 8608. The 8 lanes can be configured as ins or outs and allow you to extend the number of controllers supported.
First of all there’s a PCIe to PCI bridge for the two PCI ports on the card. ASRock has used the ASMedia 1083 (which supports up to three ports natively). For the USBs, ASRock has gone for two EtronTech EJ168A controllers, each of which can support two USB 3.0 ports.
An original feature here, ASRock has introduced fixture holes for the Socket 775 coolers
Looking at storage, a Marvell 88SE9120 controller adds two Serial ATA 6 Gb/s ports as well as an eSATA port. In practice however the 9120 can only support two ports at any one time: one SATA port is therefore shared with the eSATA port, which isn’t really very practical.
In terms of networkwing capability, ASRock stands out from the rest for its Broadcom 57781 network controller connected in PCI Express 1x mode.
Looking at the ports at the rear panel, there are a few particularities. Apart from a PS/2 port, Gigabit Ethernet and four USB 2.0 ports, there’s a FireWire port (VIA controller connected at PCI Express 1.1), the previously mentioned eSATA port and the two USB 3.0 ports (one of the two EtronTech controllers). On the audio side there are five assignable jacks in place of the usual six as well as an S/PDIF out. A Realtek ALC 892 controller handles the audio here and is also widely used on the other motherboards in this report. In line with the Z68 spec, there are four video outs: DisplayPort, DVI (single link), VGA and HDMI. Two of the four can be used at the same time.
Note the inclusion of a switch on the back that allows you to reset the BIOS. Overclockers will perhaps appreciate this but those who reset it by mistake when struggling blindly to plug in a USB connector will probably be less enthusiastic.
The reset switch isn’t the only one on the card as you'll also find power and reset buttons, which are once again practical for those who mount their motherboard outside the casing. Note also that there’s an LED which displays a series of codes on start-up to inform you of any errors and allow you to isolate a problem if required. On the positive side, ASRock supplies an exhaustive list of error codes in the motherboard guide (4 pages!). Let’s finish with the connectors you’ll find on the motherboard itself. Firstly, for the fans, there are five connectors, two of which are 4-pin. The five ports can be set in the BIOS, though note that 2 processor cooler ports are linked together.
For the rest, you'll find connectors for six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one Firewire port, an RS-232 port and, more surprisingly, a disk drive port. The Super I/O Nuvoton chip which takes care of monitoring includes a disk controller. This is something ASRock is alone in including.
Lastly, a word on the bundle that comes with the card. It's pretty exhaustive and the guide is impressively thick (320 pages). The content doesn’t impress so much however, with only 45 pages per language. In practice all it covers is the installation and there’s no mention either of the BIOS or any software particularities. Both of these are covered in short leaflets that come with the motherboard.
For the rest the bundle includes four Serial ATA cables, a floppy cable, an SLI bridge, a USB 3.0 bracket with two ports, a flat angle PCI bracket and a 3"1/2 façade, a 3.5 mm audio cable and a 4-pin Molex to Serial ATA power supply adaptor.