ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 Reviewccokeman -
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ASRock's Z77 Extreme 4 is an ATX form factor board that measures 12.0 x 8.6 inches in size. This smaller size PCB with fewer mounting points would be perfect for a mid tower performance build. ASRock's Z77 Extreme 4 is built around Intel's Z77 Panther Point PCH and is designed for use with Intel second and third generation socket 1155 Core series processors, including i3, i5 and i7 models. ASRock used a dark theme on this board with both silver and gold effects. The gold part of the theme is by way of the accents on the cooling solution and on the "100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Gold Capacitors". The layout seems pretty much standard for the form factor, with plenty of space around the socket for large cooling solutions. Where just about all the Z77 boards I have looked at have had the VRM and PCH heat sinks mounted with screws, ASRock has used push pins to hold the cooling solution in place. Screw-mounted solutions deliver a more secure mount, but a push pin system isn't necessarily a bad design, as it works on plenty of builder series boards chugging away in workstations around the world.
The I/O panel has a majority of the external connectivity on the Z77 Extreme 4. Starting at the left are two of the four USB 3.0 ports and a multi-function PS/2 port that can be used with either a keyboard or a mouse. Graphics output options include one each of D-Sub, DVI-D, and HDMI 1.4a that can be used with Lucid Logix Virtu MVP software. Following the HDMI port is an LED-lit Clear CMOS button, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port (in red), another pair of USB 3.0 ports, a single Gigabit RJ-45 LAN port, and the digital and analog connections for the 7.1 CH HD Audio Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec, which supports THX TruStudio. Expansion capabilities include two 16x PCIe 3.0 slots that support multi GPU configurations including Quad SLI and Quad CrossFireX using dual-GPU cards. These slots run at 16x with a single discrete card and at 8x8x with a pair installed, be it GTX 690s or GTX 670s. Additionally, you get a pair of PCI and a pair of 1x PCIe 2,0 slots for use with add-in cards.
Along the bottom edge of the PCB is where the majority of the internally accessed connectivity lies. First up is the front panel audio header, IR, COM port, CIR connection, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, one of the two PWM controlled fan headers, Debug LED, front panel connections, and the LED-lit onboard power and reset buttons. Just above the onboard power button and left of a pair of the gold capacitors is the onboard Clear CMOS jumper, if using the button on the I/O panel does not complete the job.
Along the right hand side is the drive connectivity with a total of eight ports. The four black ports are SATA 3Gb/s ports controlled by the Intel PCH, with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, Intel Rapid Storage and Smart Response Technology, NCQ, AHCI, and Hot Plug functions. The four gray ports are the SATA 6Gb/s ports with the left two being controlled by the Intel Z77 PCH, offering up the same RAID functionality as the SATA 3Gb/s Intel-controlled ports. The right hand SATA 6Gb/s ports are ASMedia ASM1061-controlled and support NCQ, AHCI, and Hot Plug functions. Moving up the right side is the USB 3.0 header that adds support for another pair of USB 3.0 ports connected to a rear I/O bracket, front drive bay adapter, or the chassis front panel. Memory support on the Z77 Extreme 4 includes four DIMM sockets supporting a maximum capacity of up to 32GB in a dual-channel configuration with speeds from 1066MHz to 2800MHhz (OC), offering up the possibility that the board has the capability of reaching that high even if the CPU memory controller is the limitation. Beside the USB 3.0 header is the 24-pin ATX power connection.
Across the top of the PCB there is not a lot going on. There are three fan headers, two for the CPU (one PWM-controlled 4-pin and one 3-pin) and one more 3-pin power fan connection. The 8-pin auxiliary CPU power connection is easily accessed with the locking mechanism facing upward. Just behind the D-Sub/DVI-D output stack is the ASMedia ASM1042 controller for the top two USB 3.0 ports on the I/O panel. The CPU socket is the main feature toward the top of the PCB and is surrounded by the VRM heat sinks and Digital VRM circuit. ASRock is using an 8+4 phase digital power design on this board. Foxconn is the maker of the CPU retention mechanism.
ASRock is using a three-part cooling solution on the Z77 Extreme 4 to keep the 8+4 phase power circuit and Z77 PCH cool. While small in size, the heat sinks around the socket seem to be effective at pulling heat from the VRM circuit. Discharging it effectively is a matter of airflow and this design seems to work. The heat sink over the Z77 chipset has the ribs facing away from the most likely direction of the airflow in the chassis, as it would most likely flow from the front of the chassis.
Performance-wise, the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 should deliver stock performance within a specific envelope based on the installed hardware. At that point, feature set and overclocking will make the difference in how well the board does for each person's budget and performance needs.