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ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 Software

For a number of motherboards and motherboard packages, ASRock have stuck to their guns on the software package they include with the product.  The main philosophy behind their software package is plastered over the motherboard box itself in the form of the ‘XFast 555’ methodology.  This relates to the main three parts of the software – XFast USB, XFast LAN and XFast RAM, each of which we will go through.  ASRock claims that each element of the software can increase performance by 5x (hence the 555 nomenclature), however the benchmarks are cherry picked to show a performance gain, and it is arguable if those benchmarks are relevant in a real world context.

The driver install disk is very good – we get a one button option to install the drivers or pick the drivers we want.  Other specific software is included in this ‘install all’, like Google Chrome, Lucid Virtu, and an anti-virus (this anti-virus software is part of a bundling package with a particular virus scan company, which I disable for the purposes of testing).  Other AMD related options like AMD Fusion, AMD Overdrive, Adobe, THX TruStudio and others are found in the Software Suite menu and can be installed individually.

Both the XFast USB and XFast LAN utilities on the disk are actually licensed versions of other software but with an ASRock skin.  For example, the XFast LAN software is a skinned version of cFosSpeed (http://www.cfos.de/en/cfosspeed/cfosspeed.htm), which normally costs 15.90 Euro.  ASRock clearly get it on a bulk licensing deal in order to pass savings onto the user.

XFast USB

The waters of XFast USB have been muddied with the integration of Windows 8.  Simply put, there are multiple ways to talk (protocols) to a USB device, depending on whether the one doing the talking and the USB device supports the protocols.  For Windows 7 there are three main protocols to choose from – normal (from the Windows Drivers), BOT (Bulk Only Transfer, increases speed at the expense of latency) and UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol).  In all usual situations, the normal protocol has priority as it works in any configuration with any device.  The BOT protocol can be achieved by injecting a different driver into the system (this is what XFast USB does) which gives better peak transfer rates by reducing the overhead in talking to the device.  UASP is used by ASUS to get better speeds for low transfer sizes – sometimes up to two orders of magnitude better than normal or BOT protocols.

When I say the waters have been muddied, it means that Windows 8 automatically implements UASP on any device that can support it on any USB 3.0 port.  This makes software like XFast USB on ASRock and the ASUS UASP null except on Window 7 systems.  If Windows 7 is here to stay until Windows 9, then elements like XFast USB will still be included in software packages.

XFast LAN

In my home user experience, there has never been much of a need to monitor and adjust how a machine communicates with the internet.  Living with a substantial broadband speed helps, but even as a student there was no software way of stopping someone abusing the internet of the house without setting up an ICS type system and implementing something like XFast LAN, assuming the ICS could interpret what each machine was doing.  XFast LAN is the ASRock skinned version of cFosSpeed, and allows users to monitor as well as prioritize certain programs over others for network usage.  Thus when gaming and downloading, the game can have priority, or using VOIP over gaming, the VOIP gets ahead of the stack for gaming.

This software is designed to work with any outgoing network implementation – either Realtek, Intel, Atheros, or a WiFi connection.  The downside of software usually consumes some CPU cycles rather than gunning for a NIC with routing options part of the specification, such as Intel server NICs.

ASRock eXtreme Tuning Utility (AXTU)

AXTU has been a part of the ASRock package since before I starting reviewing their motherboards, and not a lot has changed since the inception.  Most manufacturers have an interface for overclock settings and fan controls, and for ASRock, this is AXTU.  Over the months and chipset generations, a couple of new features have been added on to the default framework – Intelligent Energy Saver, XFast RAM, and now the Restart to UEFI option.

The Hardware Monitor for AXTU does a similar job to the HW Monitor in the BIOS – we get lists of speeds, temperatures and voltages.  As you can see above, the version I tested had difficulty multiplying 34 and 100 to make 3.4 GHz for the total CPU Speed.

Fan control is also similar to the BIOS options, giving the CPU fans and the first chassis fan an option to set a target temperature then a target speed (from Level 1 to Level 10 which makes little sense).  It would not be too hard to offer a multi-scale graphing system so users can accurately change the fan speed in relation to temperature, given that ASRock have control over what PWM value they set for each fan header.

XFast RAM is part of the 555 software package, although it simply is a glorified RAM Disk generator with some simple options for adjusting temporary files to the RAM Disk.  There are situations where this is useful – making 16 GB RAMdisk if you have 64 GB of memory could provide the perfect solution in the read/write speeds of your array are the limiting factor in production.

The new feature starting to crop up on motherboards is an option to go straight to the BIOS on the next boot.  This is handy for overclockers or tweakers, and usually comes in the form of a button on the board itself (Intel DX79SI, MSI Z77 MPower).  ASRock have decided to make this an option in AXTU, despite the fact that overclockers or tweakers may not want to install the AXTU software to reduce system bloat.  It is a nice idea, but it should be offered as a simple .exe which can be double clicked from the desktop.

ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 BIOS ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 In The Box, Overclocking
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  • ivica - Monday, December 03, 2012 - link

    is there for another reason. There are 3 options to set fast boot on ASrock motherboards, and fastest one disables "entering bios"... so, you can't access bios unless you clear CMOS or through that specific option in AXTU. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, December 03, 2012 - link

    This seems like an odd feature for a midrange board as opposed to one targeted at the sub-ambient cooling crowd.

    That aside, I'm curious how it works. Does it just periodically spin the fans up long enough to cycle the air in the case; or is their a humidity sensor that detects when it needs to be cycled.
    Reply
  • automaticgiant - Monday, December 03, 2012 - link

    I looked at the Realtek website and the feature list for each chip but was unable to determine why one is better other than the power saving. It sounds like "The ASUS gives us another USB 3.0 controller, the ALC892 audio codec and the 8111F NIC - in turn, the ASRock board gives an ASMedia USB 3.0 controller, the better ALC898 audio codec but the 8111E NIC" is saying that the E is crap, but I might be reading into it too much. Reply
  • Merlyn2220 - Monday, December 03, 2012 - link

    "Firstly, the amount of components on the top left of the motherboard is insane." This and the following statements are completely wrong. The extra components are likely tuned values of capacitors, resistors and ferrite beads intended to soften clock edges (reducing EMI) and improve high speed stability. As an engineer handling moderate-speed (sub-1GHz) clocks I can say with authority that these components are likely critical to the board's stability and performance. To say that having fewer components helps overclocking is pretty ignorant. /end rant. Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Tuesday, December 04, 2012 - link

    Most of those will be VRM related components. The amount of decoupling that needs to be used depends on the circuit. Generally, better VRM controllers and FETs need fewer output capacitors. The amount of surrounding circuitry for pulling legs of the buck controller down or up varies also - some buck controllers don't need a lot of external hardware to function. Reply
  • cosmotic - Monday, December 03, 2012 - link

    In that last product shot, is that on glass or what? Reply
  • Wardrop - Tuesday, December 04, 2012 - link

    No. It's the official ASRock product shot. You can tell it's two images layered one on top of the other. They've just added a very rough reflection and shadow effect in Photoshop. Reply
  • abianand - Tuesday, December 04, 2012 - link

    What is AMD A10-4800K?
    - Power Consumption and Post Times page
    Reply
  • cyrusfox - Tuesday, December 04, 2012 - link

    Well it is obvious he meant the 5800k from the other pages but yes that is a typo in that table there. Reply
  • slacr - Tuesday, December 04, 2012 - link

    I wish there were high end FM1-2 motherboards that include more than the standard 6-7 SATA ports. For a HTPC/storage solution with lower power consumption than my current P45/Q6600 setup, having to go really high end Z77 or similar in order to get to the 9-10 SATA port cards, or buying separate (expensive) sata controllers is not great. Reply

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