In our series of X79 reviews, the next boards to face scrutiny are a pair of ASRock boards – the X79 Extreme4-M, one of the first mATX solutions to X79, and the X79 Extreme4, a full size ATX model.  The main interesting point to consider starts with whether the power consumption and heat generation are applicable to the Sandy Bridge-E platform in a mATX format.  With the socket and quad channel memory taking up serious PCB real estate, it is interesting to see how ASRock have tackled heat dissipation issues.  We also compare the Extreme4-M to the Extreme4, its bigger brother.  Both boards offer amazing value in X79 land, coming in at a recommended retail of $224.99 and $234.99 respectively. 

In terms of the initial ASRock release into the world of X79, we are promised five boards ranging from the value X79 Extreme3, the mATX Extreme4-M, to the premium Extreme9.  ASRock have never made an ‘Extreme9’ board before – perhaps they are looking at Gigabyte’s UD9 advertising and wanting some of that.  The other aspect is that typical high end ASRock boards (barring the Fatal1ty editions) are usually priced in the mid range area of other SKU lists, with performance and utilities to match.

A simple comparison between the boards gives us the following:

ASRock X79 Series
  Extreme3 Extreme4-M Extreme4 Extreme7 Extreme9
Release Date Dec 2011 Nov 2011 Nov 2011 Soon Nov 2011
Price $216 $225 $235 $294 $355
Size ATX Micro ATX ATX ATX ATX
Power Phase 5+1 6+2 6+2 12+2 16+2
Memory 4 x DDR3 4 x DDR3 4 x DDR3 6 x DDR3 8 x DDR3
PCIe x16/x16/x8 x16/x8/x16 x16/x16/x8 x8/x8/x8/x8/x8
x16/-/x16/-/x8
x8/x8/x8/x8/x8
x16/-/x16/-/x8
CrossfireX 2x, 3x, 4x 2x, 4x 2x, 3x, 4x 2x, 3x, 4x 2x, 3x, 4x
SLI 2x, 3x, 4x 2x, 4x 2x, 3x, 4x 2x, 3x, 4x 2x, 3x, 4x
Audio ALC 898 ALC 898 ALC 898 ALC 898 Creative Sound
Core3D
LAN Single Single Single Dual Dual
SATA 6 Gbps 3 4 5 7 8
USB 3.0 4 4 4 6 8
USB 2.0 12 10 12 12 12
XFast Software Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Digital PWM Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dr. Debug - Yes Yes Yes Yes

There are some interesting points to make from this table.  For a start, the prices of the entry level boards start to resemble something for the mild enthusiast, especially when considering the cheaper processor SKUs due to ship in Q1 2012.  Each of the boards as we go up the scale seems to offer more in the way of features, especially when considering NICs, SATA 6 Gbps ports, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 – even the Audio jumps from a Realtek ALC898 to a Creative solution on the Extreme9.

One thing that may seem a little odd is the X79 Extreme7, and its DDR3 solution.  X79 and Sandy Bridge-E supports quad channel memory, either in terms of one DIMM per channel or two DIMMs per channel, and thus boards would expect to have 4 DIMM slots or 8.  The X79 Extreme7 has six DIMM slots for memory, so I had to ask ASRock for an explanation of the layout and the reasoning.  Essentially, they wanted to make a board for people who are jumping from X58 to X79, who were using six sticks of good tri-channel memory.  The layout is such that two channels are one DIMM per channel, and the other two channels are two DIMMs per channel.  ASRock assures me there are no compatibility or speed issues.

All the boards are sporting black aesthetics, which is a somewhat detour to ASRock’s blue and white philosophy of old.  As expected, all the boards will receive the range of software including XFast USB, XFast LAN, and the new XFast RAM, some of which we have seen before. 

So without further ado, let us get cracking onto the specifics behind the X79 Extreme4-M and X79 Extreme4.

ASRock X79 Extreme4-M Overview and Visual Inspection
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  • DigitalFreak - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    I wish PCI connectors on motherboards would die already, especially on the high end. Reply
  • futurepastnow - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    I agree with you, but I'm sure the three people who still use sound cards will be here shortly to tell you you're wrong. Reply
  • geniekid - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    I would be one of those people. If you're into amateur music production, you're probably going to need a sound card for various inputs/outputs, and a lot of the cheaper options there are going to be PCI.

    Also, my month-old built HTPC uses the PCI for a wireless network adapter.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    I rumaged around the various PCs I have and the best I come up with is a 6 year old RAID card (still a good one) and a 2 year old TV card

    So time for PCI to die

    Can I have a right angled 24 ATX socket as well
    Reply
  • somedude1234 - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    If you're purchasing a new motherboard and CPU, each of which is north of $200, does the additional cost burden of a PCIe sound card or WLAN card really make that big of a difference?

    I understand that every dollar saved somewhere can be used (more memory, bigger SSD, etc.), but PCIe sound cards and WLAN cards aren't exactly bank-breakers.

    I don't do any serious audio work, so are there any technical reasons (latency or otherwise) that make legacy PCI cards better than their PCIe counterparts?
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    No technical reasons, but many audio production cards (i.e. not the latest Soundblaster) are still only available in a PCI format. Reply
  • Flunk - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    The latest soundblaster IS actually available in PCI-E. If the PCI slots went away everything would be available in PCI-E. There really is no reason anymore. Reply
  • Gnarr - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    no-one who's serious about music production uses a soundblaster.. Reply
  • g00ey - Saturday, December 10, 2011 - link

    That is not true at all, most serious brands of professional audio hardware Reply
  • g00ey - Saturday, December 10, 2011 - link

    That is not true at all, most serious brands of professional audio hardware such as RME, UAD, Apogee, or even AVID/Digidesign dominate their product lines with PCIe based expansion cards and not PCI.

    Also, there is a considerable variety of PCIe to PCI adapters and bridgeboards out there that makes it even less justifiable to put PCI slots on a modern motherboard.
    Reply

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