So we have survived one of the biggest days of the year for all things computer performance related - the release of Intel's new Ivy Bridge processor.  It replaces Sandy Bridge in the landscape of all things processor related, with Ivy Bridge boasting better single threaded performance at lower power usage when at stock speeds.  Despite Ivy Bridge being in the same socket as Sandy Bridge, we have a new trio of chipsets to tackle.  As in my previous chipset and motherboard preview, AnandTech has a series of boards ready to put through their paces with the glory of Ivy Bridge. Today we begin with the first set of boards - the ASRock Z77 Extreme4, the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro, the Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H, and the MSI Z77A-GD65.  

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 - Overview

In the early reviews of a new chipset, and a new processor, there is often a delay between initial testing and understanding a platform.  In this circumstance, ASRock have the dubious honor of being my first victim for Ivy Bridge.  Typically the lower end Extreme models from ASRock have solid performance, are priced extremely competitively and come with many extras.  In this case, the Z77 Extreme4 board currently retails for $140, but does not come with a lot more than the board itself.

From the results, we notice that ASRock is perhaps a little behind.  However, this is more indicative of a larger issue regarding certain options that motherboard manufacturers are implementing to appear to be better in multithreaded scenarios.  It boils down to how each manufacturer implements turbo modes.  So there is a big chance we will see these ‘tweaks’ being implemented on future BIOSes across all the motherboard manufacturers, including ASRock.

The BIOS and software are ASRock standard, with XFast USB providing faster speeds for an individual USB port, XFast LAN allowing configuration of the network controller, and XFast USB giving RAMDisk options for large memory configurations.  The software is spread across several programs, which perhaps in the future will be integrated into one interface.  I do like the Internet Flash feature in the BIOS though, which downloads the latest BIOS and applies it without ever needing an operating system (as long as the motherboard is connected to the internet via Ethernet).

One 'issue' I had (which I have experienced on the past few ASRock boards I have tested) was that by default the CPU fan speed is set at 100% to minimize temperatures on the CPU.  The downside of this is increased noise, so users should be aware and adjust accordingly.  The fan controls themselves are not very sophisticated compared to other manufacturers, so I hope these will evolve over time. 

Overall, the board is very easy to use, but the package as a whole which backs ASRock’s products has room to grow.

Visual Inspection

ASRock is still insistent with bringing the black gold philosophy to its range, as seen here with the Z77 Extreme4.  The main point you may immediately notice is the size and depth of the heatsinks covering up the power delivery - they are smaller than previous iterations of ASRock boards, and no longer connected via a heatpipe.  This is indicative of quite a few boards in the Z77 range, due to the low power requirements of the new processors and as a result, the lack of heat given away.

The socket area is relatively clean, especially to the south where we have no large intruding heatsink.  The VRM heatsinks however do brush right up against the Intel specifications for the socket area, so users ultimately have only two directions (to the PCIe and towards the memory) in which to play around with big air coolers.  The socket area is adorned with five fan headers - three along the top edge of the board and two chassis headers near the top PCIe x1 slot.  The other header on board is along the bottom next to the two-digit debug.

The board is actually not a full ATX sized board - from left to right, it measures only 21.8 cm, rather than the standard ATX size of 24.4 cm.  As a result, this means ASRock do not have to deal with the far right holes in the motherboard for case mounting, and hence why the SATA ports in the bottom right are neatly tucked away.  In this corner, we have the six SATA ports from the PCH (two SATA 6 Gbps, four SATA 3 Gbps) and another two from an ASMedia ASM1061 controller (SATA3_A1 is shared with an eSATA port, however).  The internal USB 3.0 header is located nearer the 24-pin ATX power connector, perhaps indicating that is for both front case use and rear case use, taking up the space where the first PCIe x1 is.

The chipset heatsink is rather small, compared to Z68 and X79 boards, and is not connected via heatpipe to any other heatsink nearby.  On the south side of the board are the standard array of audio and USB headers, along with a fan header and power/reset buttons.  It is good also to see the two-digit debug on the board as well.

The PCIe layout is indicative of what we will see on many Z77 boards this year, which do not use any form of PCIe lane expansion, such as a PLX chip.  In this case, we have an x1, an x16 (x8 on a dual card setup), a gap, a PCI, an x8, another PCI, and another x1.  This is some smart thinking, as even with a dual GPU setup there is space for two single width PCIe x1 cards and a PCI card (which contrary to what some people think are still used in reasonable numbers).

Despite the stock image from ASRock looking a little bent on the back panel, we have a typical Z77 arrangement for IO.  From left to right, a combination PS/2 port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue), a D-Sub output, a DVI-D output, HDMI, a clear CMOS button, two USB 2.0 ports (black), an eSATA port (red), gigabit Ethernet, two more USB 3.0 ports (blue), and a standard array of audio jacks featuring an optical SPDIF output.

Board Features

ASRock Z77 Extreme4
Price Link
Size ATX
CPU Interface LGA-1155
Chipset Intel Z77
Power Delivery 8 + 4 Phase
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1066-2800 MHz
Video Outputs HDMI 1.4a, DVI-D, D-Sub
Onboard LAN Broadcom BCM57781
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC898
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe x16 Gen3
2 x PCIe x1 Gen2
2 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 2 x SATA 6 Gbps (PCH), Support for RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
2 x SATA 6 Gbps (ASMedia ASM1061)
4 x SATA 3 Gbps (PCH), Support for RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
USB Two USB 3.0 at rear (PCH)
Two USB 3.0 at rear (ASMedia 1042)
One USB 3.0 header (PCH)
Onboard 4 x SATA 6 Gbps
4 x SATA 3 Gbps
1 x IR Header
1 x CIR Header
1 x COM Header
1 x SPDIF Header
Power/Reset Buttons
Two Digit Debug LED
6 x Fan Headers
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)
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX connector
1 x 8-pin 12V connector
Fan Headers 2 x CPU Fan Header (one 4-pin, one 3-pin)
3 x CHA Fan Headers (one 4-pin, two 3-pin)
1 x PWR Fan Headers (3-pin)
IO Panel 1 x Combo PS/2 Port
1 x HDMI 1.4a
1 x DVI-D
1 x D-Sub
1 x Optical SPDIF
2 x USB 2.0
4 x USB 3.0
1 x eSATA 6 Gbps
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
1 x Clear CMOS
Audio Outputs
Warranty Period 3 years from date of purchase
Product Page Link

Rather than dump a Realtek NIC/Audio combination on this board, ASRock has gone for a Broadcom NIC.  This means either they have struck a deal with Broadcom, or it works a lot better for their ASRock LAN software.  ASRock is the only motherboard manufacturer to state they support HDMI 1.4a on their website specifications as well.  As one of the cheaper boards of this roundup, the Z77 Extreme4 actually comes away pretty well in terms of features.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 - BIOS and Software
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  • bojaka - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Hi,

    On Gigabyte's homepage it says:

    4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory

    regarding supported/recommended memory for this mainboard...

    How come 1.65V memory is used and what are the (possible) consequences?

    Should 1.5 or 1.65V memory be used?

    Best regards // BoJaKa
    Reply
  • Neoprimal - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Builders with more than a keyboard and mouse may have some issues with the UD3H. I recently got one because of some good reviews I read and the price/value of the board and I was on the cusp of exchanging it for something else because the board was just so unfriendly re: the VIA USB 3 ports.

    You need to populate the Intel ones before the VIA ones - not an issue. But the second you start populating the VIA ones you stand to get pretty frustrated. Each BIOS revision seems to fix the problem little by little (the saving grace thus far).

    The board also doesn't seem to like Sandforce. I am hearing Everest 2 is giving some folks problems as well. After the long term, I had a Solid 3 that kept causing issues. Granted, most folks would say that this is because the Solid 3 is simply a 'crappy SSD', but it did work on other systems so crappy or not there's something to be said about the pairing of it and the UD3H.

    The VIA audio didn't play well with my G930 headset. It would literally keep dropping out whenever I reboot and what this in turn did was set the G930 as default...that got annoying fast as I'd have to set the VIA back to default every, single, time. My fix was to unplug the USB key for the G930, a less than elegant response.

    Before unscrewing and repackaging the board for return to Newegg since everyone was telling me it was defective, I decided to try one more thing (based on how well things seemed to work when my G19 was on the front USB 2 port); I purchased a USB 2 bracket (4 port) and attached it to the 2 USB headers I had left. I then plugged my 2 hubs (housing my printer, gamepad, flash drives, etc) on the USB 2 ports, put my G19 keyboard on a VIA USB 3 port (as these are the only ports that work 100% pre-boot) and put my 2 USB 3 hard drives on the Intel USB 3 ports where I pretty much leave them. This is the only way I have been able to run the board stable.

    It was a lot to go through but things now work. If this were my first board I'd have been in trouble. Initially you don't experience the issues. It's when you move beyond a keyboard and mouse that you start seeing problems.
    I wish reviewers did more than just stuck a keyboard and mouse on these boards. I get that the review process can be grueling but most people nowadays have more than a KB and Mouse and a review should put a board through more paces than just overclocking. These manufacturers put so much into 'tweaking' the boards for OCing they are getting lazy with the rest of stuff. It seems a lot of boards experience USB problems, despite the various chips they use.
    I don't know if I'll ever use all of the onboard ports, I know that I don't DARE change anything, lest I go back to the reboots and crashes that occurred before I found my fix.
    Reply
  • xs7v3n - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    So i see almost everyone here is dealing with the slow post time.
    Most of the time my post time is around 8 seconds (sometimes its around 4 seconds), while Dr. Debug lcd on mobo is showing a "99" post then it loads up the windows 7 loading screen (but sometimes after the post a blank screen with that "_" [underscore] appearance like when u open cmd which takes like at least 8 seconds also).. I have a Corsair Force GT 240gb and i want to get the most speed out of this system on boot up.
    Reply
  • xs7v3n - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    Actually it wasn't 8sec it was more like 24seconds LOL and so sometimes its 8 seconds... Why is that taking that post so long to disappear? Reply
  • Raikku - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    Why I don't have that auto-oc option in my Ext4's bios/oc-tweaker screen? Reply
  • Nanology - Monday, September 17, 2012 - link

    Great review, it's cleared up a lot for me.
    It's been around 5yrs since I have updated my gaming rig.
    I would like to be able to run a variety of games at med. settings and also stream games!
    Also use a lot of Adobe products, video editing etc, and some 3d level design, but nothing to crazy!

    Budget upgrade:
    Intel i5-3570k
    G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB DDR3 2133

    Can't decide on one of these motherboards...
    I currently have a CM Gemini II LGA 775 heat sink, which the ASRock board supports = saves money!
    Do all these boards support a LGA 775 heat sink?
    I was looking at the ASRock z77 pro4 for around $109, but really like the ASRock ex4
    The 555 is nice and I would actually use it.

    Can someone please help me sway my decision?!?!??!?!?!?
    Reply
  • jonjonjonj - Saturday, November 17, 2012 - link

    im seriously thinking about thie asrock extreme4 but the 2 PCI slots bother me. PCI-e came out in 2004. its 2012 time to ditch the PCI slots. if your getting a Z77 board and still use a PCI card its either time to upgrade that card or since you insist on using a 10 year old card stick with your old board. Reply

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