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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  • DanNeely - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    A lot more of them do have reasons to be migrated than you'd think. Even 5 years ago I started seeing L shaped cards at the low end ( a tiny strip of PCB along the bracked, and a second for the PCI plug); chopping the 2nd half of the L cuts manufacturing costs by an amount that more than pays for the engineering over larger production runs.

    Devices that need larger PCBs but which have minimal bandwidth needs are an ever shrinking segment of the market. Even when total bandwidth isn't an issue the fact that PCIe bandwidth is dedicated instead of being shared means you no longer need to put as much hardware into buffering to avoid latency bursts when something else is using the bus more heavily.

    Finally, once legacy PCI starts disappearing on a non-trivial fraction of boards total collapse from mainstream devices is inevitable. Once supporting PCIe becomes mandatory it's only a matter of time until redesigning the core chip on the card to be native PCIe instead of PCI and using a PCI-PCIe bridge chip becomes the cheaper option (probably with the next scheduled redesign). While they might initially maintain back compatability with a bridge chip going the other direction; however being doublely niche parts AGP gfx cards from 3 or 4 generations ago is probably a good comparison example. nVidia didn't make any at all, and the handful of ATI 3xxx/4xxx cards went at significant price premiums.

    Eventually it'll end up like ISA; if you're willing to pay a large enough price premium (eg because the industrial/lab equiptment you're controlling costs thousands or millions of dollars to replace) there will be a handful of companies willing to sell you semi-custom boards at a large price premium and technology lag. The last time I looked I couldn't find ISA on anything newer than LGA775, until after intel finally pulls the plug on the last 775. That probably won't be for a while; if you look at their CPU database intel hasn't discontinued its embedded p4's yet, and probably won't file a while. IIRC they typically have contractual agreements to keep embedded parts in stock for a decade.
    Reply
  • darckhart - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    nope. still useful for pci graphics cards for troubleshooting video probs. Reply
  • Blibbax - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    The differences in load power consumption might just demonstrate the margin of error on that test. Worth keeping in mind for other comparisons.

    The other possibilities are that the 5850s use a lot more power when they're a little bit hotter, and that the power circuitry on the M-ATX board is just awful under high load.
    Reply
  • Concillian - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    I was reading through the article and thought I had hit back instead of forward since I had read the page I was reading before.

    After finding all my marbles, I noticed that the article has two sets of Page 2 & 3. page order is 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, 5...
    Reply
  • hal74 - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    I am always disappointed to find an article written by Ian. I know that I'll get an article written by someone who fails at plural vs singular when talking about a company and who doesn't come up with interesting comparison charts. Ian chose to throw in an E350 into the mix and didn't even add any comparisons with an x58, or any other core i7. Also, whats with fascination with older video cards in SLI?

    Is this seriously what people want in an article from Anandtech?
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    Usually, I'll let grammar mistakes slide, but when I find multiple mistakes on a single page it really starts distracting me from the material.

    Can we get editors for the articles written by non-native English speakers?
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    And "tenacity" is used incorrectly.

    "...given ASRock’s previous tenacity when it comes to box bundling."

    Does this make sense?

    "...given ASRock's previous stubbornness when it comes to box bundling."
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    Yes. It does. Maybe your reading comprehension is lacking. The sentence means that ASRock will not budge when it comes to box bundling.

    Can we get some editors for the comments written by non-literate English readers?
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    "3.2 GiB limit of 32-bit"

    *scratches head*

    I thought 2^32-1 was 4GiB...
    Reply
  • Aisalem - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    using 32-bit you are able to address 4GB but unfortunately you will not be able to use whole 4GB in most of the 32-bit Windows installations, that also depend on the additional hardware you have.
    Now you shouldn't *scratches head*.
    Reply

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