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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  • Paapaa125 - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Article: "With a lot more controllers to initialise on board, the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro requires at default 20.47 seconds to reach the windows loading screen. By disabling controllers that aren't used, a time more like the ASRock could be achieved."

    Did you actually test this?

    And a suggestion: please test Intel DZ77BH-55K motherboard. It is the only board besides MSI to use the better ACL898 and Intel LAN chip but without other useless bulk (like secondary LAN etc). It seems to have superior BIOS to many others.
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Hi Paapaa125,

    I should have an Intel Z77 board inbound to test. I have about 5 others to test as well, and some ITX. Currently reviewing boards in my spare time, so please bear with me as I get through them all! :)

    Ian
    Reply
  • Paapaa125 - Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - link

    Great to hear that! And no need to rush, I can wait :) I hope you test these things:

    Boot time. Fan control settings. Power consumption. Lan speed/CPU util. Audio quality. And check if the Turbo Boost settings actually are identical. Otherwise the benchmark results are unbiased.

    I'm actually more interested in other features than pure computational speed and benchmark scores. The differences are usually insignificant, but the differences in other areas might be big.
    Reply
  • althaz - Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - link

    Somebody further down the thread posted a message that they configured their Asus 'board to POST much quicker than above.

    I second request for Intel board reviews! I am particularly interested in the DZ77GA70K as well as the 55K mentioned by Paapaa125. I've been hearing good things about the GA70K but I'm hesitant to commit without finding out about POST times and I'd also like to see if performance is the same between the 55K and 70K.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Can you give us realistic power supply measurements? I am interested in building a fairly fast system that is pretty much always on. So the idle power needs to be as low as possible. I would use a smaller power supply that is at least 85% efficient @ 50 Watts. And no video card. With just one SSD and one optical drive. My best napkin-guess would be an idle power of 40-45 watts. Reply
  • Silenus - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    That's a fair guess for idle. The problem you will have is that ideally you will want a high efficiency supply that at idle is at least 20% loaded. For you 40-45 idle that means you would need a supply probably not more than 200 watts. It is hard to find a 80+ supply at those lower powers. You might consider a small form factor supply. This is just about fits your requirement:
    http://www.neweggbusiness.com/Product/Product.aspx...
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    That might be a good choice. I wonder if I would still be able to hit 4.3GHz with that supply. I would definitely keep it at stock volts. Reply
  • haakon_k - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    ..or try the 80+ gold alternative from seasonic, if you can find a shop that sells it, 300 or 350W - optionally modular.
    http://www.seasonic.com/product/pc_tfx.jsp
    Unfortunately without any PCIe 6 pin power connector, if you so should get tempted...
    Reply
  • Avalon - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Well that review went as expected. MSI underperformed, Asus was needlessly expensive, Gigabyte had memory issues, and Asrock OC'd with lower voltages. That;s mirrored my experiences in the past few years. Reply
  • goldie.lin - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the nice benchmarks, USB, SATA, LAN, Power Consumption, ...
    Especially, I appreciate the "DPC Latency" and "Boot Times" tests.
    It very useful and practical!!!
    Keep working, AnandTech.
    Reply

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