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Roundup: Z77 Express motherboards from AsRock, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI
by Guillaume Louel
Published on July 2, 2012

ASRock Z77 Extreme6

With ten models at the time of writing, the ASRock Z77 range has gone from being quite spare to very rich.


Click to enlarge

The Z77 Extreme6 comes just below the two very high end models from which it has taken some aspects of its spec. For example, it has the same power stage as the Extreme9. In terms of additional chips, note that ASRock has almost entirely gone with Broadcom chips for the network controller. In addition – and this isn’t something that is only an ASRock policy – Asmedia (an Asus subsidiary) components are very widely used right across the range.


Let’s look more particularly at the model we’re testing today, namely the Z77 Extreme6. For the power supply, there’s an 8+4 phase circuit covered with two radiators linked by a heatpipe. ASRock has gone for an Intersil 6367 controller, which isn't yet listed on the manufacturer site.


The ASRock has additional fixture holes for the LGA 775 cooler.

There are three PCI Express x16 ports on the card. The first two are separated by two slots (allowing the use of tri-slot graphics cards) and are linked directly to the processor. They can function in 16/0 and 8/8 mode using NXP L04083B switches. These ports provide Crossfire and SLI support.


The two main PCI Express x16 slots are linked to the processor and the third to the chipset. Note the mini PCI Express between these two slots!

A third PCI Express x16 is available lower down on the board but cabled to the Z77 chipset (PCI Express 2.0) at x4. ASRock uses a 4-lane PLX PEX8605 switch to increase the number of chipset lanes (8 in total remember). Thus there’s a PCIe x1 port at the top of the card, along with a mini PCI Express slot that can for example be used for a wi-fi controller. The port isn’t described as being mSATA compatible (this standard uses a mini PCI Express connector to route an SATA signal). Two standard PCI slots complete the list of extension ports and run off the PCIe/PCI Asmedia ASM1083 bridge.


The PLX switch only adds four additional lanes.

Apart from this mini PCI Express port, another particularity of the ASRock motherboards is the inclusion of a four-pin molex connector to strengthen the power supply of the PCI Express graphics ports.

Controller wise, Asmedia has (once again) supplied the 1061, a Serial ATA 6 Gb/s controller that has two ports running off it. One of these is shared here with an eSATA connector on the panel. The EtronTech EJ168A controller has been added for USB 3.0 and there’s a Broadcom 57781 chip for the network. The 57781 was already used on ASRock's Z68.

I/O panel

There are few original implementations when it comes to the ports on the I/O panel at the back of the motherboard. The single PS/2 port is still there on the left of the panel and there are two USB 3.0 ports underneath it… running off the EtronTech controller! Note, these ports cannot be accessed in Windows without the installation of a driver beforehand. To connect a keyboard and mouse (and for them to remain accessible to the boot and during the installation and configuration of an OS), you’re therefore strongly advised to use the native Intel USB 2.0 ports. There are two of these on the panel, in red. These ports should perhaps have been placed under the USB 2.0 to facilitate mounting for newbies. As we'll see, ASRock isn’t alone in using this type of incongruous configuration.


There are also two ‘native’ Z77 USB 3.0 ports on the right of the panel, something that Intel hasn’t highlighted which makes us think that the preliminary performance of the Intel controller didn't match up to motherboard manufacturers’ expectations. As we’ll see, other manufacturers have made the same choice. The fact that the two blue ports run at different speeds (and with different drivers) is somewhat perturbing, the EtronTech not being, historically, the fastest USB 3.0 controller we’ve tested.

The rest of the panel is much more conventional with four video outs (DVI single link, VGA, DP and HDMI, two of four usable), a Firewire port that runs off the VIA 6308S (PCI interconnect) and the previously mentioned eSATA port. This port shares one of the two ASM1061 controller ports which then becomes inaccessible.

In addition to the Gigabit Ethernet connector there are five configurable audio jacks and an S/PDIF port. A Realtek ALC898 controller is used for the audio. Finally, there’s a CLR_CMOS button, the utility and placement of which are debatable.

Headers, particularities

ASRock also includes the two switches on the bottom of the card for the Power and Reset functions that so delight users who mount their motherboards out of the box. Just beside these there's also an LED diagnostics display with two digits showing the boot phase, an exhaustive list of the codes being supplied – on four pages – in the manual, a relatively rare feature that other manufactures would do well to imitate (often just a limited list of error codes is supplied). Note that there are six fan connectors on the card (two four-pin and four three-pin).


ASRock has included the standard internal connectors, such as the floppy and serial port headers. There are also connectors for six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports (Intel) and a firewire. There are two infrared ports (IR and CIR).

Bundle


We’ll finish our rundown with the bundle that comes with the card. It includes a particularly thick manual - 256 pages – with just 50 pages for each language. In practice it only covers the spec and installation. There’s an additional 28-page manual covering the BIOS and two A4 pages for the software (Xfast, which we’ll come back to, and Lucid Virtu MVP, which we have covered in a separate article).


The accessories include a dual port USB 3.0 bracket, that can be fixed via a 3"1/2 bracket or a flat angle PCI bracket. Four Serial ATA cables and an SLI bridge make up the rest of the offer.

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