Overview

I was not too sure what to expect from the X79 Extreme4-M.  One of the biggest LGA2011 features, 40 PCIe lanes, would not be fully exploited by the mATX layout.  I then looked at the retail price, and compared to other boards we have looked at, could come in at quite a steal.  For users who want pure CPU/memory throughput and are not too concerned with the PCIe layout could pick up a cheap mATX board and an LGA2011 CPU to get the best performance in minimal space.

However, all is not as it seems with the X79 Extreme4-M.  To be honest, I only had two major issues with the board – the first being the overclocking.  ASRock usually cater users well in this department, offering a wide range of choices in BIOS for a user to select.  However, Intel has a feature whereby if a user requires a Turbo mode for a substantial period of time, in order to preserve life and reduce heat, the CPU will clock back.  In previous experience on other motherboards, this is automatically disabled on any sort of overclock.  However, there is not an option here, and the CPU will go back to below stock CPU frequency at high stresses.  I will explain in more detail later.  The second point is the default fan speed, which is at 100% for the CPU, potentially causing noise issues.

Feature wise, the user is well catered for at this price range – there are a SATA 6 Gbps controller and a USB 3.0 controller are added on top of the default chipset, six fan headers onboard, and the range of software provided under the ASRock banner is quite good.  XFast USB is a nice technology to boost a single USB socket throughput (as tested in the review), XFast LAN allows the user to manipulate packet priority and monitor network usage, and a new addition to the scene, XFast RAM, which allows users to create a RAMDisk for quick temporary file storage.

At $224.99, we are starting to see more agreeable prices for X79 motherboards, which can only be a good thing as long as we are getting as much of the benefit of the new platform as possible.  The ASRock X79 Extreme4-M has a few teething issues to begin with, especially at any sort of significant full CPU load plus overclock, which could put a dampener on prospective sales.

Visual Inspection

If ASRock were going for the ‘black gold’ metaphor of valuable commodities, they have at least got the styling right, with all black ports (bar two grey SATA) and gold caps everywhere, splashed with gold writing on the heatsinks.  In order to save space, we have only got 4 DIMMs here, which equates to one per channel.  Despite this extra ‘room’, there is a lack of significant extra features on board, such as beefier heatsinks or extra ports.  The 6+2 phase power solution is behind the very small (13/16ths of an inch x 3.5 inch) heatsink which gets extremely hot to touch under full load even at stock – it may have been wise for ASRock to extend this heatsink via a heatpipe to take advantage of the extra space.

One thing we can enjoy though is the abundance of fan headers for a mATX board – the X79 Extreme4-M has six of them.  There are two CPU fan headers north of the right bank of memory slots, along with a power header.  Two of the three chassis headers are beside the 24-pin ATX power connector (presumably for front chassis fans), and the other is on the bottom end of the board next to the power/reset switches.  Control of these is through the BIOS, or the ASRock eXtreme Tuning Utility (AXTU) software in the operating system.

Alongside the 24-pin ATX power connector is a USB 3.0 header, and a seventh SATA port from an ASMedia controller.  This controller also gives an eSATA 6 Gbps port at the back of the IO panel.  Beside these are the six SATA ports from the PCH, four SATA 3 Gbps (black) and two SATA 6 Gbps (grey).  These are all shadowed by the chipset cooler, also in black and gold livery, sporting a small ‘X-Fan’.  This is more substantial than other chipset coolers we have seen (which often use a heatpipe to transfer heat to another heatsink), and the default setting is that the fan only turns on when it reaches 50ºC.  Personally, I didn’t hear it, because the CPU fan defaults at maximum speed.

The bottom end of the board sports the power/reset/debug LED trio I love, alongside headers for the Clear CMOS, COM and IEEE 1394.  Above these is the PCIe layout, which tries to maximize the 40 PCIe lanes as much as possible.  In order, we have an x16, x8 and x16, and PCI, but in reality dual GPU users will populate slots one and three to get their maximum throughput.  The layout does bode well for users of one GPU and another PCIe device, though probably at the expense of cooling – ideally the PCIe device would be in the first slot and the GPU in the second or third slots for optimum efficiency.  Users will also note the additional 4-pin molex power connector on board to aid in power to the PCIe slots.  I was able to run dual GTX580s, without issue, with having nothing plugged into the molex connector.  This raises some issues – a) is it really necessary and b) if it is, are other power connectors not suitable?  A 4-pin molex is quite substantial to put into the board over other components, especially when devices typically using 4-pin molex connectors are not anywhere near this part of the board. 

The IO panel is pretty standard, especially in comparison to most of the Cougar Point chipset motherboards we have seen this year.  From left to right, we see two PS/2 connectors, a clear CMOS button, a coaxial SPDIF out, an optical SPDIF out, two USB 3.0 ports, six USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet (Broadcom BCM57781), eSATA 6 Gbps, FireWire, and audio headers.  For a board this price and on X79, we do not see much extra from what we would expect to be the standard.

The ASRock Range: Extreme3, 4-M, 4, 7 and 9 ASRock X79 Extreme4-M In the Box, Board Features, and Overclocking
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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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