ASRock Z77 Extreme4 – BIOS

The ASRock graphical BIOS has evolved from the initial days of Sandy Bridge into a bright blue screen with options we see below.  With a graphical BIOS, there are two things to focus on – presentation and usability.  Not by any great stretch of the imagination, one could design a great BIOS for everyone to use – with an infinite color palette and tools it could look amazing.  However implementing such a system could be tricky, as a BIOS is currently limited to approximately eight megabytes in size.  This has to contain all the initialization parameters for the board, as well as all the BIOS options we get to play with.  I can imagine that should that limit ever increase to 16 or 64 MB, we would have a lot nicer things to look at.

I could wax lyrical about what I want in a BIOS, but as it currently stands, we will never get a work of art or functional awesomeness.  ASRock make a fair attempt, one of the better ones in fact, and it turns out to be easy to use.

The main screen shows the BIOS version, CPU, memory and frequencies.  What would put the cherry on the top would be the CPU voltage and temperatures as well.  If there is room, perhaps some fan speeds (similar to ASUS’ EZ mode) should also be included.  The main screen also has a system browser element, which is a top down view of the board with details on what is plugged in.

Overclocking options are essentially all bunched in one list in the OC Tweaker menu:

Important options like the CPU multiplier and BCLK are plain to see, as well as voltages and load line calibrations.  The ASRock BIOS had no issues in applying the XMP settings on my G.Skill DDR2-2400 kit of memory.

The Internet Flash utility is something new to consumer level BIOSes – ASRock implements this in their Advanced Menu.  If your motherboard is linked via Ethernet to the internet (thus on a network, or via ICS), then it will probe the ASRock servers for the latest BIOS.  It will then be downloaded and applied without hassle.  I really like this feature – it makes my life a lot easier at least!

Fan settings are all controlled in the H/W Monitor screen.  This shows temperatures, voltages and fan speeds, and gives options for the various fan headers on-board.  The main issue I have with ASRock fan options is the fact that they are not clear.  We should have all our options regarding temperatures and target temperatures – instead we get a ‘Level’ system.  This means that ASRock should probably invest in better fan controllers so they can talk back to the system regarding RPM, temperatures and relating these all to sensors on-board.

Software

ASRock’s software has not changed in any major detail since their last outing on X79.  At the heart of the system is ASRock eXtreme Tuning Utility (AXTU), which controls OS overclocking, fan controls, energy saving and XFast RAM.  XFast RAM itself allows 32-bit OS users to unlock memory not found, or 64-bit users to enable a RAMDisk to speed up certain caching utilities in the operating system.

Also from ASRock is the XFast LAN software, which in fact is a licensed version of cFosSpeed with ASRock decals.  This software allows full management of the network facilities on the motherboard – shaping traffic for different functions as well as monitoring tools amongst others.

XFast USB is another of ASRock’s licensed software bundled with each motherboard.  This utility will change the driver from the standard Windows one to one that can implement BOT (Bulk-Only Transfer) protocols.  In reality, this allows for quicker transfers due to less overhead, at the expense of latency.  For bulk transfers, I find that this utility works really well, especially with incompressible transfers.  The downside being that it is only applied to one USB port at a time.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 - Overview, Visual Inspection, Board Features ASRock Z77 Extreme4 - In The Box, Overclocking
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  • DarkRogue - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    First off, thank you for the review.

    I am a bit bummed that the UD5H and the Z77 Deluxe were not reviewed, since those were the two I was looking at. Especially since the UD5H can be had for under $200.

    Anyway, the voltage ripple/stability charts were quite interesting for me.
    But my main concern lies with the Gigabyte's chart. It looks good... but in my eyes, TOO good. It's too perfectly straight. On one hand, I thought, "Wow, this board has awesome VRM or something."

    On the other hand, it made me suspicious about why it was so stable. I have to ask, is it measuring the correct voltage?

    The reason is because I had a similar finding when I was looking at the vcore requried to OC an IVB CPU (or any CPU, really) on the new Z77 mobos.
    Per my thread here: http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=22417...

    We found that Gigabyte mobos were incorrectly reporting its VTT voltage as the vCore, which resulted in "vcore" readings in CPU-Z and other programs reporting the same, or very similar, 1.0xx voltages regardless of what the CPU OC'd to.

    I hope to be able to get some clarification on this.

    Only other suggestion I have is to really test more of the features of each motherboard. (mSATA, firewire, audio, etc; how do they compare with other chipsets, how are their drivers, etc..)
    Thank you, and keep up the good work!
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Hi DarkRogue,

    I have the Deluxe on my test bed right now, so keep your eyes peeled for when I finish the review.

    Regarding the voltage reading charts, it merely reads the OS reported voltage. This is loosely a smoothing of what ripple actually happens on board. After consideration, it only serves to show LLC on board, and how the board reacts to requested load by the processor. It's fairly easy for a manufacturer to override this to make sure only a straight line is reported. But, if it is a messy line, then there could be a problem (e.g. check my 990FX review a little while ago).

    I'd love the kit to test more features on the boards (mSATA etc), if you've got any kit spare! :) Though keep in mind that each test can't take 2 hrs, or we would end up with 1 board a month reviewed (as we do this part time)! I'm open to suggestions regarding tests if anyone has a good one with a simple output I can report and analyse.

    Ian
    Reply
  • DarkRogue - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Thank you for your response, Ian!

    I wish I had the funds to send in spare items, though. Unfortunately, I'm not quite rich enough, haha. We'll have to be bound by the generosity of the various vendors to this site.

    As far as tests go, I imagine some people would be interested in a quick RMAA test of the various audio chipsets. It's of no concern to me, since I insist onboard solutions are never going to be as good as a dedicated external DAC+amp, but it should be good for a lot of people.

    I'd also be interested in how the eSATA and Firewire performs, as I'm of the camp that says anything firewire related that isn't Texas Instruments is not worthwhile. The eSATA, mainly it's to see if there are any quirks with the drivers from each manufacturer allowing hotswap properly or not, and whether it causes DPC latency issues. My friend's ASUS board was plagued with problems related to eSATA not allowing him to eject drives, BSOD'ing on resuming from sleep, causing massive DPC latency when a drive was connected, etc. It's these little things that really make or break the experience of a board.

    I'd also like to see how well the fan controls are on each motherboard. ASUS' Fan Xpert 2 really drew me in, as it seems no one else can match the level of customization for fans. I dug a bit and found out that Gigabyte's boards not only cannot do this, but it even struggles to stay consistent between its various headers. (One header runs straight +12v no matter what, while the others make the fans spin at different speeds with the same settings.)

    ANYWAY, back to the issue at hand - Gigabyte's voltage readings.
    As I found in my thread linked above, Gigabyte appears to be reporting the wrong voltage, for some unknown reason. This to me seems to invalidate the test result for the Gigabyte board, because it's incomparable to the others.

    I know that the purpose of the test is to test for variation in the voltage to the CPU, not necessarily the exact ripples, but the VTT supplies voltage to a completely different segment than the vcore, unless I'm mistaken. I wouldn't think that the voltage supplied toward the IMC would vary as much when the CPU ramps up and down.

    Is there a way to force that program to probe a specific/different voltage reading, or have you already done this and the chart actually does represent Gigabyte's handling of vcore voltage? I wasn't able to figure that out from the article.

    Thank you again!
    Reply
  • UltraWide - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    Thank you so much for covering the fan control features on each board! I truly appreciate this as it is often left out in other reviews.

    Keep up the great work!
    Reply
  • AeroRob - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    I don't know about anyone else, but I'm really sick of seeing VGA and PS/2 ports wasting space on new motherboads.

    I know some gamers might think that PS/2 does the job better than USB, and I can appreciate that, but VGA? Who even uses VGA connections anymore? They should be avoided like the plague.

    And even if you do insist on using a VGA connection, what's the point of putting a DVI-D connector and a VGA together? Chances are you won't be using both, so just make it a DVI-I connector and throw in one of the cheap DVI>VGA adapters, and use the newly freed up space for a connector that isn't an ancient piece of garbage. Let's see HDMI or DP up there. Move things around so you can perhaps throw an eSATA connector on the back, or more USB ports--you can never have too many USB ports!
    Reply
  • Paapaa125 - Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - link

    PS/2 has one single thing that makes it superior to USB: you can turn your computer on by clicking space bar on a PS/2 keyboard or clicking mouse button on a PS/2 mouse. USB does not have this feature which is a big problem if your computer case is not easily reachable.

    Agree about VGA ports. Nobody uses them anymore. Nobody.
    Reply
  • AeroRob - Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - link

    As I understand it, gamers feel there's an issue with USB's polling rate, and prefer PS/2 for that reason.

    As for turning on your computer, I never heard about that. I rarely shut my computer completely off, and my wireless USB keyboard can wake it up from sleep just fine. Hell, my computer's so sensitive to any change, just flipping my monitor back on wakes it up (probably due to the built-in USB hub).
    Reply
  • mcquade181 - Thursday, May 10, 2012 - link

    I know whole organizations that still use VGA, and there are tons of KVM switch boxes in development and testing centres everywhere that only support VGA. Yes I know you can get HDMI and DVI KVM's but most places won't have them yet.
    I still use VGA occasionally and would be annoyed if it wasn't there.
    Reply
  • Paapaa125 - Friday, May 11, 2012 - link

    And how many of those organizations are switching to Z77 boards and still keeping their VGA? Reply
  • Ramon Zarat - Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - link

    The latest AXTU version does not include XFastRAM anymore. XFastRAM is a stand alone utility now. Also, XFastRAM is much more than a 32bit 4GB RAM limitation extender. It's in fact a RAM disk on steroid, valid for both 32 and 64bit system. It can do the following:

    1- "Recycle" unused memory beyond 4GB on a 32bit OS into a RAM disk. A RAM disk of up to 32GB can be created on a 32bit OS.

    2- RAM disk of up to 8GB on a 64bit OS. Asrock is working on extending that limit on 64bit OS.

    3- Can choose any available driver letter to assign to your RAM disk

    4- Use part of the RAM disk as a Readyboost drive to accelerate your magnetic boot drive!

    5- Easy transfer of either or both the "user" and "system" temp file to RAM disk. No fooling around with Windows configuration.

    6- Easy transfer of IE and Firefox cache to RAM disk. XFastRAM take care of everything straight from its interface.

    7- Easy transfer of the page file to RAM disk. Again, directly from XFastRAM interface.

    8- Possibility to save the RAM disk to hard drive before shutting the PC down.

    It's fast (10 000MB/s with CrystalDiskMark on a 2500K @ 4.7 and 8GB of 1866 RAM) , it's free, it's amazingly flexible and can both accelerate your PC and prevent premature wear on your SSD by redirecting a lots of small writes to the temp folders and web cache! You can apparently gain 5X performance in some Photoshop operations when you configure it so use the RAM disk as the temp folder!
    Reply

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