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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  • LauRoman - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    Considering that inserting a pcie expansion card in a x16 (x8) slot could, on old chipsets/moterboards screw around with your 2/3/4 way sli/x-fire bandwith let's not kill it just yet. Reply
  • ckryan - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link


    Intel chipsets don't have native PCI support anymore. You have to use a PCIe to PCI PLX chip on the motherboard to get the support. That means you're giving up PCIe bandwidth (probably not a big deal), but also PCI support is spotty. I have one SB board (an Intel DP67BG) that doesn't really work with any PCI soundcard (they've not been able to fix this with UEFI updates).

    But at some point you just have to decide that you're going to not use PCI anymore, and people who refuse to replace their old busted sound card or bunk networking device are holding us all back. PCI is terrible, and I'd much have a PCIe x1 slot or no slot at all.

    Wireless adapters are just as cheap in PCIe x1 as PCI, and gigabit ethernet is hamstrung by PCI as it's just not very fast. Soundcards are available from Asus and Creative in PCIe for cheap. I've got a Asus Essence STX PCIe which was more expensive, but why the hell would you buy the PCI version (which was more expensive) in 2011?
    Reply
  • sylar365 - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    My "old, busted" soundcard.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Got something that sounds better without bloatware available in PCIe? Besides, most audio chips currently being produced and placed on PCIe sound cards still require a PLX chip in order to convert from the PCI standard to use the PCIe form factor.

    IMHO i wish they would kill PCI - AND THEN - make decent sound hardware available for PCIe slots. Admittedly there have been a couple of products in the past couple of months starting to emerge, but FFS it is time to go mainstream with some high quality PCIe sound hardware already!
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    Agreed. I have a Creative X-Fi myself, wish I'd gotten the HT Omega instead but it either wasn't out yet or I wasn't that informed on sound cards at the time. PCI slots are still very much needed. I have network cards both GB ethernet and wireless that utilize the old PCI slot too. Reply
  • yk - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    What about HT | OMEGA eClaro 7.1 Channels 24-bit 192KHz PCI Express x1 Interface Sound Card? Reply
  • Siorus - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    Useless. Only one socketed opamp and the surround channels look to be handled by JRC garbage (at least it's a step up from the tin-can-telephone-on-a-chip stuff that Creative dumps on people). I think one of the Asus Xonar PCI-E cards has swappable opamps for every channel but I'm not positive.

    Either way, until I can get that on a PCI-E card, I'll need to keep my PCI stuff.
    Reply
  • twoBitBasher - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    For now I'm still happy that Asrock is sticking with the PCI and the best part is that you can populate the whole board with dual slot graphics and still use the PCI! Most boards have already dumped PCI or implemented it so that if you go SLI or Xfire you are out of luck.

    Try to find decent cards with balanced 1/4" jack outputs and not go external!
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    PCI is what makes a PC. There are hundreds of thousands of different PCI products, and most of them have no reason or need to be migrated to a different form factor. Reply
  • Chubblez - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    The same thing has been said about ISA, EISA, and VLB. Where are they now? Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    They are more dated. PCI came after, and is a variant of ISA. Things are shifting, but many would argue that the slot is still needed. Besides, its cheap as hell to add one. If anything needs to die its PS2. Reply

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