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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  • vegemeister - Thursday, May 10, 2012 - link

    Yes, it is a very important feature. The Ivy Bridge IGP can drive 3 monitors. 4 display outputs means 3 of them are digital.

    Discrete GPUs increase idle power consumption, an as of this post none of them have particularly good open source drivers. Some of us just want lots of screens, good compiz performance, and silence.
    Reply
  • philipma1957 - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    I have been building a series of matx htpc/gamer machines.

    I have one with the basic

    Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3H mATX board

    and one with the

    Gigabyte Ga-h77m-d3h mATX board.

    I want to decide between

    the ASUS P8Z77- m pro mobo or

    the ASUS p8z77-m board and

    last but not least the

    Gigabyte Intel Z77 LGA 1155 AMD CrossFireX/NVIDIA SLI DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort Dual UEFI BIOS mATX Motherboard G1.SNIPER M3 .

    I am liking the two builds I did with the lowend gigabyte boards and some intel i5 t2500t cpus I want a better board but I don't have many reviews to go by.
    Reply
  • EnzoFX - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Are most DIY'ers really opting for ATX? Should they? I'd bet most people only plug in a video card and maybe one other card such as wireless or even a tuner. Every other possible need they may have would not only be met by mATX but even ITX is pretty full featured these days.

    You'd think mATX would be what most boards are targeted at, and leaving ATX for extreme builds/bragging rights. It's just like those high end video cards, most people don't buy those, rightfully and importantly so. Those should be the premium prices, and mATX should have a lower price. The focus just feels off.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    You mentioned people want mATX board. There by itself probably means that it can command higher prices, due to higher price tolerance of the purchasers. Reply
  • Caeric - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Enjoyed the review. I still have an old AMD dual core, and I'm considering a new system in the next couple of months so these help a great deal.

    I did find one error in the article, under the ASUS board:

    "The ASUS P8Z77-V Pro retails at $225-$235, essentially $100 less than the ASRock Z77 Extreme4..."

    It should say "...essentially $100 more than the ASRock..."
    Reply
  • Movieman420 - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Curious as to this controllers' performance vs the ever present Marvell controllers. Does it use a pci-e lane or usb3 for it's bandwidth? Reply
  • FozzyofAus - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Great review.

    I'm leaning towards mATX as well for this build as I've never used more than four expansion slots and currently I'm only using 3 (one is USB3 which won't be needed in the new board).

    I'd like to have a bit more room in my current case and the option to reuse this motherboard in a smaller case in future if I upgrade my main rig to Haswell next year.

    Any chance of adding Asrock Extreme4-m to the next motherboard roundup?
    Reply
  • spronkey - Monday, May 07, 2012 - link

    Sorry guys but this review was a bit average. Comment on the various different controllers used by the motherboard manufacturers but don't offer any kind of review on them?

    The good additions: DPC latency and boot time.

    The missing? Well everything else.

    I was especially hoping for a comment on the VIA audio on the UD3H - it's been a while since I've seen VIA codecs on mainstream boards.

    I'm also amazed that you didn't slam the ASUS board for it's price and lack of features. Realtek 892? On a board that's nearing twice the cost of the ASRock? Seriously?

    No comment on the durability of the boards either? Hrm. No separation in testing of the different controllers on each board?

    A bit lacking, sorry.
    Reply
  • ggathagan - Thursday, May 10, 2012 - link

    Perhaps you're commenting on the wrong review.
    As Ian stated multiple times throughout the review, Asus is using Intel NIC's on their boards, in this case, the Intel 82579V.

    Durability is a function of time. Please point out the other motherboard reviews that covered durability.
    Reply
  • spronkey - Thursday, May 10, 2012 - link

    He stated ASUS were using Intel, sure. But didn't get into any details other than stating they exist about the fact that there are multiple USB3 controllers and SATA controllers on each board. No benchmarks comparing them etc.

    In fact does it even mention which controllers were tested?

    And Durability is a function of construction quality and time. It would be nice to see comments on points such as board weight and flex, quality of soldering, quality of components used on the board (according to an electrical minded person on OCN, Gigabyte uses significantly higher rated MOSFETs than other manufacturers), temperatures of chipsets and VRM circuitry. These are things I can't easily find out by reading manuals.
    Reply

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