ASRock X79 Extreme9 Motherboard Review
ASRock package their Extreme9 in a familiar looking box which has minimal branding, just a few features are mentioned on the front. The panel does lift up to reveal the board through a window along with more detailed feature information though. Inside we find a decent bundle which includes plenty of drive power and data cables, IO shield, SLI bridges, USB 3.0 brackets, software disc, audio cable and product documentation.
Added to the bundle is the GameBlaster PCIe card. This device provides us with Broadcom Gigabit LAN and advanced audio functionality. Powered by the latest Creative processor, the Core3D. This is a quad core processor with the ability to split time and frequency processing as well as offering support for EAX, Blu-Ray 2.0 and 7.1channel 192KHz/24-Bit audio. Added to this is support for Crystalvoice, THX TruStudio Pro and Scout Mode, the latter allowing us to hear other players from futher away. The Game blaster also includes a premium headset amplifier for the front audio ports which offers wider bandwidth, higher slew rate, and less distortion than other solutions with support for 250 Ohm headsets also present.
The board uses an ATX PCB which is black with grey and gold components standing out. Attached to it are three heatsinks and two are connected by a heatpipe with enhanced cooling offered by the chipset fan which only activates when a predefined temperature is hit. ASRock use and a Digi Power design with 16+2 Phase layout which provides precise power to the CPU for additional stability and greater overclocking. Elsewhere we find premium gold solid capacitors which are made in Japan.
Looking down at the bottom left corner of our board are the add-in card slots with PCIe 3.0 supported when an appropriate CPU is installed. For the layout we have 16x, 8x, 1x, 16x, 8x, 8x and 4 way/quad SLI as well as Crossfire are supported. Should we install 3-4 cards the four slots would all run at 8x.
Down at the right hand corner we have twelve SATA ports, six use the Intel chipset (2x SATA 3.0) and offer RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 as well as AHCI and hot-plugging. The other six ports use the Marvell 9172 and 9220 SATA 6GB/s controllers and support RAID 0/1 with caching technology for SSD/Mechanical combined drives. USB 3.0 front panel connectors are also present, two providing four ports between them and each uses the Texas Instruments controller. Also visible at the bottom left of the board are power/reset buttons and a debug LED to assist in fault finding.
Further up the board is a standard 24-pin power socket this combines with two 8pin connectors on the top edge as well as a 4pin Molex to ensure the board has maximum power available to it when multiple high end components are installed.
Next to the 24-pin connector are four of our eight memory slots, these are of course split into a quad channel configuration and ASRock support DDR3 speeds well in excess of 2000MHz, officially quoting 2400MHz with compatibility for all socket 2011 CPUs and 64GB of memory.
Our back panel connectivity is thorough and includes PS/2, 6x USB 2.0 (Intel), Firewire, a 2nd GB LAN, 4x USB 3.0 (Texas Instruments) with the final connectors dual eSATA. A clear CMOS button is also present here.
BIOS and Software
ASRock use a GUI BIOS and it is split into two areas. The first allows us to configure the board with our main settings being found in the OC Tweaker screen. In here we can set profiles, tweak our clock speeds and even run pre-set overclocking profiles to enhance performance. The second area lets us browse an image of the board and view information on the installed components. In addition to the main screens we also have a tool which allows us to update the BIOS from a USB drive for quick and easy flashes. Should that process fail, for example due to a power cut, as long as we have the BIOS on the root of our USB drive it will continue to flash, and recover, once power is restored.
ASRock also offer a suite of software and our main application is AXTU which allows us to monitor and tweak the board from within windows. XFast technology also makes an appearance here and adds the ability to enhance USB speed, fast charge USB devices, reduce LAN latency and optimise memory use, for example enhancing the speed of Photoshop by creating a virtual disk from a portion of our free memory.
Also bundled with the board is a suite of media tools from Magix and a trial of Cyberlink MediaExpresso.
On our test bench today is the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE which looks to deliver many of the features of the competition such as enhanced audio and M.2. support but at a more aggressive price point.
Last month Intel launched their Z97 chipset, essentially an evolution of Z87, which in many cases brought new features such as SATA Express and M.2 compatibility to the mainstream desktop market. There was of course no new CPU at that time with the existing socket 1150 processors working without issue in the new boards. Since then though Intel launched (along with some lower spec models) the Core i7-4790K, a model which sits at the top of their mainstream platform. Today we see how it compares to various other models when installed on Gigabytes Z97X Gaming 5 and paired with PowerColors new dual core 290X Devil 13.
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