ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 Review

ccokeman - 2012-04-27 22:15:09 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 28, 2012
Price: $134

Introduction:

After looking at a fair selection of Z77-based motherboards, you come to the conclusion pretty quickly that performance curves will be relatively flat between motherboards. That being said, you have to then focus on what brings value to the equation with the feature set. This is where most boards differ from each other. ASRock's Z77 Extreme 4 is part of the Extreme series that begins with the Extreme 3 and is now populated up to version 11. Each model moves up the ladder, including additional features and capabilities, along with a higher price point. The Z77 Extreme 4 includes the company's 555 XFast feature set that allows for performance of up to 5x over competing designs. Add in excellent graphics support with up to 4-way solutions from AMD and NVIDIA with the use of dual-GPU cards or 2-way SLI and CrossFireX with two single GPU cards, and you get a pretty potent little beast. The rest of the feature set includes some pretty unique items, such as the Dehumidifier function, non K-SKU CPU overclocking, and a solid built philosophy using Gold-covered Japanese-made capacitors and an all-digital 8+4 power circuit. Pricing is reasonable at around the $134 mark, which puts the Z77 Extreme 4 at the budget end of the spectrum for a Z77-based motherboard. Having seen what some of the competition is bringing to the table, let's look at ASRock's' Z77 Extreme 4 to see if it's ready to eat with the big boys or slink over to the kiddie table.

Closer Look:

ASRock has delivered a flashy package that stands out from the crowd with the large 555 XFast logo on the front panel. ASRock's logo and motherboard name adorn the front with a flashy Z77 logo splashed across the top right edge. Support for Intel processors, AMD and NVIDIA graphics solutions, and Windows 7 are across the bottom of the panel. The back side of the package goes into detail on the 555 feature set that touts each feature as being 5x faster than competing designs. XFast Ram, XFast Lan, and XFast USB are all key components in this feature set. Further discussion is found on the Digital 8+4 phase power design that utilizes Japanese-made, gold-covered, polymer capacitors, UEFI Browser, Virtu MVP Hybrid graphics support, and more. Internally, the packaging is much like most on the market with the bundle sitting in a compartment over the motherboard. The motherboard is enclosed in an static resistant bag and is securely held in place by the design of the enclosure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bundle of accessories included with the Z77 Extreme 4 is slim, but includes the basics to get the board installed and running with a minimum list of installed components. There are two parts to the bundle: the documentation and the hardware. Documentation includes a user's manual / install guide, software installation guide, a pamphlet for how to set up and use Lucid Logix Virtu MVP software, and information on the 555 feature set. A driver disk includes the software and driver package for the Z77 Extreme 4. On the hardware side, you get a pair of SATA cables, a SLI bridge connection, and an I/O shield. The package is basic and is indicative of the $134 price point of this board.

 

 

The flashy packaging sets the expectation that the Z77 Extreme 4 will be up to the task of delivering high performance to go with the 555 XFast feature set. Will the Z77 Extreme 4 be all flash and no substance? The only way to find out is to put the screws to it.

Closer Look:

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.

Closer Look:

ASRock has included a few specific utilities that offer added functionality and capabilities to the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4. The utilities that I will focus on are the ones that offer the most usability, including XFast USB that improves transfer throughput on attached USB 3.0 storage, XFast LAN to manage network traffic, XFast Ram, Instant Boot, and the company's own overclocking utility AXTU.

Instant Boot:

This utility is used to allow the system to resume instantly from a cold boot. The idea is to give the user an instant-on feel each time the user starts the system, much like you get when starting up your smart phone or tablet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XFast USB:

This little utility works similarly to ASUS USB 3.0 Boost to increase data throughput to attached USB 3.0 storage devices. The software component is powered by technologies from FNet. By enabling the software Turbo Mode, the transfer bandwidth is increased substantially across the board from the 4KB file size all the way up to the 4MB file size.

 

 

XFast LAN:

This utility is designed to allow the end user to have the ability to shape their online experience by managing how and when the network traffic is sent and received. This tool is part of the XFast test suite and is provided by cFos software. The utility is fully configurable through the settings panel. A small monitoring window will show on the bottom right of the screen that can be expanded to show data trends. This window can be hidden from view so as to not interrupt the end user's view during a fierce online fire fight.

 

 

AXTU Utility:

ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU) is a software application that allows the user to overclock their system, as well as monitor critical system operating temperatures and voltages while in the operating system environment. There are a total of six menus to choose from: Hardware Monitoring, Fan Control, Overclocking, OC DNA, IES, and XFast Ram. Hardware monitoring does just what it says, allowing the user to monitor clock speeds, fan speeds, and temperatures of the CPU and motherboard, as well as system critical voltages. Fan control is used to manage the cooling performance of the attached fans, either by manual control or by temperature. Overclocking allows the user to tune the CPU bclock, clock multiplier, and voltages to deliver the highest stable OC possible before adjusting the settings permanently in the BIOS. OC DNA allows the user to set the saved profiles from the BIOS and load each of them. IES (Intelligent Energy Saver) is used to manage the power consumption and active power phases feeding the CPU. Last is XFast Ram, a tool that is used to set up a RamDisk to improve system responsiveness and disk performance.

 

 

 

 

The utility suite included by ASRock with the Z77 Extreme four is fully functional and offers the user a way to tweak the performance of the installed hardware to get as much as possible from it. Instant Boot was an interesting tool in that the system does respond instantly to a start request. However, the penalty for this is an extended shutdown time of over a minute, as the system reboots and puts the system to sleep.

Closer Look:

ASRock has implemented an UEFI BIOS from AMI with GUI support on the Z77 Extreme 4 that has seven separate areas to explore. The BIOS is contained on a 64Mb IC and supports the "Plug and Play" standards, is ACPI 1.1 Compliance for wake up events, offers SMBIOS 2.3.1 support, and features a full spectrum of voltage adjustments, including those for the CPU core, IGPU, DRAM, PLL, VTT, and VCCSA. Visually, the BIOS on the ASRock Extreme 4 is appealing and laid out with seven separate areas for adjustments to be made. As each section is selected, the selection icon lights up while the remainder are more subdued.

Main:

The Main page contains information on the installed components, the BIOS revision, time and date, access to the system browser, and the OMG tool that can be used to limit access to the internet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OC Tweaker:

This section is where the vast majority of adjustments will be made when tweaking the performance of the system, from the CPU to the memory. At the top of the page are a few preset options that allow the user to overclock the installed CPU and IGP with one click of the mouse. In the description window, there is the obligatory warning that overclocking may damage your processor or installed components. The balance of the page includes the settings that are used to tune both performance and voltagea used to achieve that performance. Running at stock speeds means you can leave the majority of the settings alone. CPU Configuration allows tuning of the bclock and clock multiplier ratio on K-SKU CPUs, enable or disable Intel Turbo Boost and Speedstep, and set power limits and duration. DRAM Timing Configuration allows for basic memory settings, such as setting the DRAM frequency manually or by employing the XMP Profile on your installed modules. DRAM Configuration offers a more granular look at the memory timing configuration. Further down on the page are the voltage and LLC options for the CPU, DRAM, IGP, and associated hardware. Saving profiles is one avenue to return to a specific setting package that can be used as a starting point for an overclocking session or for when you want a little more CPU power over and above what Intel's Turbo Boost 2 feature set allows.

 

 

 

Advanced:

Under this section are a lot of options that affect the functionality of the motherboard and installed hardware. CPU Configuration is another way to get to the specific CPU parameters that govern how the CPU operates, including both power savings and how many cores are active, as well as the bclock muliplier. Northbrdge configuration is to set up the configuration of the IGP and discrete GPU operating parameters. Audio and onboard device configuration is under the South Bridge configuration tab. Storage configuration is where you will configure the method with which the attached storage will operate. USB support is where you can enable or disable support for USB 2.0 and 3.0 connections. At the bottom, under the configuration tabs, are options to flash the BIOS from an attached storage drive or to search the web.

 

 

 

 

H/W Monitor:

In this section, one can observe the operating temperatures of the installed processor and motherboard as it sits in the BIOS. Voltages can be monitored for the 12V, 5V and 3.3V lines to give the user an indication that something may be wrong on the supply side. Fan speeds can be monitored in this tab, along with setting up a fan profile for each of the fans attached to the fan headers. The next to last option is the temperature protection setting for the CPU, which is a way to prevent the system from overheating by setting a defined temperature that will shut down the system to prevent damage to the installed components. The last option in this tab is where the Dehumidifier function is set up. This enables the system to power up to reduce the impact of being in a humid environment where the relative humidity can cause system corrosion reducing the useful lifespan of the system board.

 

 

Boot:

In this section you set the boot order of the attached storage devices and in which order the devices are polled. Enabling or disabling the full screen manufacturer's logo in place of the POST screen is also an option, as is enabling boot from LAN.

 

 

Security & Exit:

The Security tab is used to set both a user and administrator password for access to the BIOS – use full for those of us with kids who think they know everything about computers. The Exit function tab is where you can revert back to factory default settings should your chosen settings prove a little aggressive.

 

 

I found this implementation from ASRock to be easy to work through with little to hinder the experience. While not as granular as some BIOS on the market, it allows you to tweak and tune enough options to improve system response and performance.

Specifications:

General
CPU
Supports 3rd and 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i7 / i5 / i3 in LGA1155 Package
Digi Power Design
8 + 4 Power Phase Design
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology
Supports Intel® K-Series unlocked CPU
Supports Hyper-Threading Technology
Chipset               
Intel® Z77
Supports Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Smart Connect Technology
 
*Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Smart Connect Technology are only supported under Windows® 7 OS or later versions.
Memory
Dual Channel DDR3 memory technology
4 x DDR3 DIMM slots
Supports DDR3 2800+(OC)/2400(OC)/2133(OC)/1866(OC)/1600/1333/1066 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Max. capacity of system memory: 32GB*
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 1.3 / 1.2
 
*Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS. For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.
BIOS
64Mb AMI UEFI Legal BIOS with GUI support
Supports "Plug and Play"
ACPI 1.1 Compliance Wake Up Events
Supports jumperfree
SMBIOS 2.3.1 Support
CPU Core, IGPU, DRAM, 1.8V PLL, VTT, VCCSA Voltage Multi-adjustment
Audio, Video and Networking
Graphics
 Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals : Intel® Quick Sync Video 2.0, Intel® InTru™ 3D, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel® Insider™, Intel® HD Graphics 2500/4000 with Intel® Ivy Bridge CPU
 Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals : Intel® Quick Sync Video, Intel® InTru™ 3D, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel® HD Graphics 2000/3000, Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) with Intel® Sandy Bridge CPU
 Pixel Shader 5.0, DirectX 11 with Intel® Ivy Bridge CPU. Pixel Shader 4.1, DirectX 10.1 with Intel® Sandy Bridge CPU
 Max. shared memory 1760MB with Intel® Ivy Bridge CPU. Max. shared memory 1759MB with Intel® Sandy Bridge CPU
 Multi VGA Output options: D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI
 Supports HDMI 1.4a Technology with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @ 60Hz
 Supports DVI with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @ 60Hz
 Supports D-Sub with max. resolution up to 2048x1536 @ 75Hz
 Supports Auto Lip Sync, Deep Color (12bpc), xvYCC and HBR (High Bit Rate Audio) with HDMI (Compliant HDMI monitor is required)
 Supports HDCP function with DVI and HDMI ports
 Supports Full HD 1080p Blu-ray (BD) / HD-DVD playback with DVI and HDMI ports
 
*Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals and the VGA outputs can be supported only with processors which are GPU integrated.
 
**Due to chipset limitation, the Blu-ray playback of Intel® HD Graphics is only supported under Windows® Vista™ and Windows® 7.
 
***Intel® InTru™ 3D is only supported under Windows® 7 and Windows® 7 x64.
Audio
 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec)
 Premium Blu-ray audio support
 Supports THX TruStudio™
LAN
PCIE x1 Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
Broadcom BCM57781
Supports Wake-On-LAN
Supports Energy Efficient Ethernet 802.3az
Supports PXE
Expansion / Connectivity
Slots
2 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (PCIE2/PCIE3: single at x16 (PCIE2) / x8 (PCIE3) or dual at x8/x8 mode)
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots
2 x PCI slots
Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX™ and CrossFireX™
Supports NVIDIA® Quad SLI™ and SLI™
 
*PCIe Gen3 is supported on 3rd Generation of Intel® Core™ i5 and Core™ i7 CPUs.
Storage
2 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by Intel® Z77, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel® Rapid Storage and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions
2 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by ASMedia ASM1061, support NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions (SATA3_A1 connector is shared with eSATA3 port)
USB 3.0
2 x Rear USB 3.0 ports by Intel® Z77, support USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
2 x Rear USB 3.0 ports by ASMedia ASM1042, support USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
1 x Front USB 3.0 header by Intel® Z77 (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports), supports USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
Connector
4 x SATA2 3.0 Gb/s connectors, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel® Rapid Storage and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and Hot Plug functions
4 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors
1 x IR header
1 x CIR header
1 x COM port header
1 x HDMI_SPDIF header
1 x Power LED header
2 x CPU Fan connectors (1 x 4-pin, 1 x 3-pin)
3 x Chassis Fan connectors (1 x 4-pin, 2 x 3-pin)
1 x Power Fan connector (3-pin)
24-pin ATX power connector
8-pin 12V power connector
Front panel audio connector
3 x USB 2.0 headers (support 6 USB 2.0 ports)
1 x USB 3.0 header (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports)
1 x Dr. Debug with LED
1 x Power Switch with LED
1 x Reset Switch with LED
1 x Clear CMOS Switch with LED
Rear Panel I/O
I/O Panel
1 x PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse Port
1 x D-Sub Port
1 x DVI-D Port
1 x HDMI Port
1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
2 x Ready-to-Use USB 2.0 Ports
1 x eSATA3 Connector
4 x Ready-to-Use USB 3.0 Ports
1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)
1 x Clear CMOS Switch with LED
HD Audio Jack: Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone
Other Features / Miscellaneous
Unique Feature
 ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU)
 ASRock Instant Boot
 ASRock Instant Flash
 ASRock APP Charger
 ASRock XFast USB
 ASRock XFast LAN
 ASRock XFast RAM
 ASRock Crashless BIOS
 ASRock OMG (Online Management Guard)
 ASRock Internet Flash
 ASRock Dehumidifier Function
 ASRock No-K OC Technology
 Lucid Virtu Universal MVP
 Hybrid Booster:
 CPU Frequency Stepless Control
 ASRock U-COP
 Boot Failure Guard (B.F.G.)
 Combo Cooler Option (C.C.O.)
 Good Night LED
 
*Lucid Virtu Universal MVP can be supported only with processors which are GPU integrated.
 
**LucidLogix Virtu MVP only supports Windows® 7 OS or later versions.
Support CD
 Drivers, Utilities, AntiVirus Software (Trial Version), CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5 Trial, ASRock MAGIX Multimedia Suite - OEM
Accessories
 1 x ASRock SLI_Bridge_2S Card
 Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield
 2 x SATA Data Cables
Hardware Monitor
 CPU Temperature Sensing
 Chassis Temperature Sensing
 CPU/Chassis/Power Fan Tachometer
 CPU/Chassis Quiet Fan (Allow Chassis Fan Speed Auto-Adjust by CPU Temperature)
 CPU/Chassis Fan Multi-Speed Control
 Voltage Monitoring: +12V, +5V, +3.3V, CPU Vcore
Form Factor
 ATX Form Factor: 12.0-in x 8.6-in, 30.5 cm x 21.8 cm
 Premium Gold Capacitor design (100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors)
OS
Microsoft® Windows® 7 / 7 64-bit / Vista™ / Vista™ 64-bit / XP / XP 64-bit compliant
Certifications
FCC, CE, WHQL
ErP/EuP Ready (ErP/EuP ready power supply is required)

 

Features:

 

 

 

 

 

All information courtesy of ASRock @  http://www.ASRock.com/mb/Intel/Z77%20Extreme4/

Testing:

Testing the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 7970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages, and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled to make a fair comparison without skewing results.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Boards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking on the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 was a bit more fruitful than I was expecting, with it fully capable of reaching the maximum limits of my Third Generation Core i7 3770K at 4.7GHz. To reach the 4.7GHz level, I used the same tools and settings in the BIOS that you would find in just about any of the boards I have looked at. I bumped the multiplier up to 47, tweaked the voltages to what the CPU and memory wanted, fine tuned the voltages based on how well the LLC worked, and then fired up the system for a few stability runs. This formula works fairly well across different manufacturer's boards. I found I did not need any more than the 1.325V that my speed-challenged Core i7 3770K needed. The BIOS options for overclocking are fairly well laid out and make working within the UEFI BIOS a breeze. Where I had some issues with the Extreme 4 was with how well it handled running my test system memory from Mushkin, part number 993997. No matter what tweaks I used, the memory would fail to post at its rated 2133MHz. Voltage and loosening of the secondary timings nor the latest BIOS would help this situation. Looking at the memory QVL shows that there are plenty of high end sets that should be comparable to the 993997 set I use. Other than that concern, the board was easily able to deliver a solid overclock of 1.2GHz over the baseline 3.50GHz. Tuning through ASRock's AXTU utility allowed for additional bclock and multiplier tweaking from within the OS. As many companies tune and tweak to get their utilities to even work, it's refreshing to get a look at a utility that works.

 

Maximum Overclock:

Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will show the performance increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.

 

Benchmarks:

Scientific & Data:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. HD Tune 5.0
  3. AIDA64 2.50
  4. Sandra 2012 SP6
  5. x264
  6. HandBrake 9.8
  7. ATTO 2.47

Video:

  1. 3DMark 11
  2. DiRT 3
  3. Battlefield 3



 

Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

 

In each of the tests, the Z77 Extreme 4 is outperformed by the comparison board. Part of this discrepancy comes from the fact that the board would not run the test system memory modules at their rated 2133MHz.

Testing:

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch-prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.

 

  

  

  

  

 

Again the trend continues with the Z77 Extreme 4 keeping up with but not exceeding the performance of the comparison board.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Score

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

 

 

HandBrake 9.5 is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is a 4GB full length movie that is reduced in size to a 1.5GB file.

  

  

 

 

The results in the Sandra overall score shows the Extreme 4 delivering a sizable increase in performance over the P8Z77 WS. The balance of the tests are close between the boards.

Testing:

Moving data to and from an external device is something we all do as a means of backing up sensitive data, whether it be family pictures, movies, music, or projects. The speed with which this transfer occurs is measurable and can improve with different tools. I will be using ATTO version 2.47 to measure an external drive's read/write performance through the USB 3.0 interface. The default test algorithm is used for this test. Motherboards that support a boost to the USB spec, such as USB 3.0 Boost on the ASUS offering and XFast USB on the ASRock, will be used as they show the maximum potential speeds.

ATTO:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

The results in this test are interesting, as they show how well each manufacturer's USB 3.0 speed boost technology works. ASUS' implementation has the edge in larger file sizes, while the Extreme 4 does incredibly well using smaller file sizes. Overall, using Turbo Mode in ASRock's XFast LAN software is one way to increase throughput throughout the whole usage range, although if you are transferring data to and from an external drive, you most likely are using larger file sizes. Either way, the boost in performance is a point of difference.

Testing:

3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.

The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins, with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

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DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

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Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

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In the gaming tests, the video card is going to be the limiting factor in the vast majority of scenarios. Both boards compare well with the other in terms of gaming performance, with the Extreme 4 pulling slightly ahead in the 3DMark11 testing and running dead even with the P8Z77 WS in both DiRT 3 and Battlefield 3.

Conclusion:

ASRock has been making a case for its products over the past few years, pushing out of the OEM mold much the way ECS has been doing with innovative products and a rabid fan base. Just reading the comments online about ASRock show the company is definitely on the right path to winning the hearts of overclockers. By putting together a strong feature set with increased reliability at a value price point of $134, ASRock is going to gain a lot of traction on price alone. Couple that with strong performance, features and overclocking, and you have a recipe for success. As far as looks go, the Z77 Extreme 4 is a good looking board that is a bit smallish in size at 12x8.6 inches. The layout used on the board works and did not contribute to any fitting issues during installation. ASRock used a black and gold theme that is executed well. Under the lights, the PCB looks brown instead of a jet black that is currently popular, but when tucked away in a chassis it wont be noticed. The signature feature set ASRock brings to the table with this board is its XFast 555 technology that promises that each 5x technology will deliver a 5x gain over boards that do not use the technology. These include XFast RAM, XFast LAN, and XFast USB. XFast Ram creates a RAMDisk to speed up the system. XFast Lan is a network management suite that allows you to set the access priority of programs that access the web, resulting in lower latency for your games and programs. XFast USB is a software tool that can speed up the USB 3.0 performance for attached storage devices significantly, as seen in the ATTO USB 3.0 testing. When run in Turbo mode similar to ASUS USB 3.0 Boost, the read and write speeds take a significant jump in performance, delivering a tangible benefit when transferring large files to an external drive.

Looking at the rest of the feature set, you get much of what comes standard on just about every Z77-based motherboard, from switchable graphics via Lucid Logix Virtu MVP software, Hyper performance and Virtual Vsync, Intel's Smart Response, Rapid Start and Smart Connect technologies, and PCIe Gen 3.0, as well as a few more of ASRock's own goodies. ASRock specific features include a Dehumidifier function for use in humid locations that allows the system to power up from an S4/S5 state to keep the components dry, Online Management Guard used to set time boundaries and lock out internet access to users at set times, Internet Flash to search for and install the latest BIOS updates, No-K OC technology that allows a non K-spec CPU to be overclocked with the push of a button (sadly a lack of non K CPUs prevented testing), an all new UEFI BIOS and Browser, and its AXTU overclocking utility. For the Gamer, you get Quad SLI and CrossFireX support, only by way of dual-GPU cards such as the GTX 690, HD 7990 or last gen models, such as the HD 6990 and GTX 590. That being said, if you are spending two grand on graphics cards, you may not be looking at this motherboard.

When it came time to overclock with ASRock's E77 Extreme 4, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it could pull off the same overclocks as some if the high end boards I have used. It easily delivered a nice 1.2GHz overclock on my Core i7 3770K without any real voltage challenges, with the use of ASRock's Digi Power VRM design and 8+4phase power circuit. Overclocking via AXTU was uneventful in that the utility worked to allow overclocking from within the operating system. Where I had some concerns was with the inability to run my test system memory at its native 2133MHz or even as low as 2000MHz. Voltages, timings, and the latest BIOS did not alleviate the problem. I understand memory incompatibilities and see them from time to time, but with plenty of modules with similar specifications and memory ICs on the QVL list, it is still a surprise. Other than that small hiccup, the board delivered performance to go with its good looks.

All in all, the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4 offers a significant value at $134 when you are looking for a new board for that socket 1155 build. It has a unique set of features that offer a point of difference when making comparisons. Each manufacturer has its own set list and it comes down to how well that list of features is implemented. ASRock did a fine job in implementing its feature set and integrating it with the Z77 standard feature list. Couple that feature set with the good looks and overclocking, and you have a board that would be just as at home in a stock-clocked daily driver as it would in an enthusiast or gaming rig.

 

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