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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  • SnowKing - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    I think you are confusing bits per second vs. bytes per second. Do not be alarmed, that is the gimmick of Ethernet.

    10 mbps (megabits per second) = 1.25 MBps (megabytes per second)
    100 mbps (megabits per second) = 12.5 MBps (megabytes per second)
    1 gbps (gigabits per second) = 125 MBps (megabytes per second)

    If you want 1 GBps, you will need an 8 gbps connector i.e. (10gbps nic)...and good luck with that.

    Unit Converter
    http://www.numion.com/calculators/units.html
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    theSeb's (and originally adrien's) point here is that the chart for LAN speeds erroneously list MBps instead of Mbps. Reply
  • HollyDOL - Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - link

    Transfer speed is always measured in bps (bits per second).
    Latin prefixes for kilo-Mega-Giga etc. signify 10^3,10^6 etc. bits

    Capacity volume is always measured in B (bytes).
    Latin prefixes for kilo-Mega-Giga etc. signify 2^10, 2^20 etc. Bytes (ie. 1kB = 1024 Bytes) according to old school rules.
    According to new customs kilo-Mega-Giga signify 10^3,10^6 etc. Bytes, prefixes kB, MB, GB, while alternate prefixes kiB,MiB,GiB signify 2^10,2^20... Bytes. Data storage capacity uses new style kB,MB,GB,TB for long years since it makes their drives look bigger, while on hardware and OS level you are much more likely to see units based on power of two since it is much more natural for binary computer.

    Basically 10Mbps = 1.25MB/s is completely wrong... 10Mbps = 10,000,000bps = 1,250,000 B/s = 1.192 MB/s

    1TB (new style or storage device manufacturers) = 931,32GiB
    Reply
  • Schafdog - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    What is draw of power from GPUs? Reply
  • IanCutress - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    The 7970s should Idle at approx 3W or less each. Reply
  • gorg_graggel - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    the current asus lineup seems to have problems with memory configs that consist of 8GB dimms...
    their list of supported memory modules seems to be made for multiple boards...it contains configurations for e.g. 6x4gb for boards that have only 4 slots...so i guess it`s not only a problem with my board...

    i got myself a sabertooth z77 and a pair of corsair 1600mhz 8gb dimms. no matter how conservative i set the timings the board won`t boot at 1600mhz and freeze after some time at 1333mhz (spd or xmp don`t work either). i can only get them stable at 1066mhz. a single dimm runs fine at the specified clocks and timings.

    could you spare some time and test the boards with a 1600mhz config with 2 8gb dimms? or even with 4 of those? no underclocking of higher specced dimms, as there is a 2x8gb@1866mhz config in the list...
    would be interesting to know if all those boards had problems with ivy brigde`s max specified dram clocks...

    i guess it will be fixed in a future bios update, but maybe beeing pointed out by a respected site, they are gonna hurry it up a bit...i mean c`mon 1600mhz rams at 1066mhz? seriously...
    Reply
  • gorg_graggel - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    so, i got myself another pair of 8gb dimms...
    g.skill ripjaws 1600mhz, cl10...

    those worked from the get go...also not on ovl list...

    the latest bios (1015) made the corsair dimms work better @1333mhz (no more freezing), but still no 1600 (for which they are specified)...

    so if you plan to get 8gb 1600mhz dimms for your asus board, steer clear from corsair vengeance low profile dimms...at least until the bios has matured some more...
    Reply
  • Luay - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    The $225 Asus V Pro has the Realtek ALC892 audio chipset while the $148 Asrock Extreme4 has the 898! Not everyone wants or can install a sound card so what are they thinking?

    GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB Has wireless, 898 audio chip and a third PCI-E 3.0 slot for $219. That's a good reason to pay an extra $70 over the Asrock Extreme4 as I don't really care about auto-over-clocking.

    Only Asrock at budget and Gigabyte at mid-end are in it to win it. Not enough high-end boards to tell who won there.

    I am shocked by what Asus put on the table but I might be missing something here.
    Reply
  • blacksun1234 - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Gigabyte's third PCI-E 3.0 slot cannot work if CPU BCLK OC only 1MHz to 101MHz. It is buggy M/B. Don't buy it. Reply
  • blacksun1234 - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    I mean GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UD5H-WB . GA-Z77X-UD3H is Ok for 3rd PCI-E 2.0. Reply

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