We have seen a number of ASRocks Fatal1ty products here at Hardware Heaven over the past year or so and the Z68 board sticks to the same box design, focusing heavily on Johnathan Wendel and listing a few key specifications on the front. Inside we get a good bundle of extras that include a front panel USB 3.0 bracket, drive cables, SLI bridge, HDMI to DVI adapter, software disc and plenty of detailed product documentation.
As with previous Fatal1ty boards ASRock have gone with a black PCB on the Z68 Gen3, mixing it with red, black and gold components which looks great. A large heatsink runs around the CPU socket, cooling the V12+6 power components and ASRock advertise the board as having Japan-made conductive polymer capacitors which have a 2.5x longer lifetime when compared to cheaper alternatives. A digital PWM design also ensures efficient and stable delivery of power to the CPU.
As this is a Z68 board it features support for all socket 1155 CPUs, including the high end i7-2600K with the ability to select multipliers in the BIOS and like many other ASRock boards heatsink holes for 775 and 1155 coolers are present. The CPU support for this board is one of the key features as ASRock state that future Ivy Bridge based CPUs can be installed. Why is this important? The PCIe slots area explains...
Down at the bottom left of the board we find the add-in card slots and running between them and the CPU are a selection of NXP L04083B Quick Switch IC's. These provide the PCIe 3.0 functionality on the board side with the Ivy Bridge CPU giving us the PCIe 3.0 lanes themselves. The two PCIe 3.0 slots present here are of course backwards compatible with current 2.0 devices.
So, the slot layout is PCIe 1x, PCIe 16x
(2.0/3.0), PCI, PCIe 1x, PCIe 8x
(2.0/3.0), PCI, PCIe 4x and clearly based on this the products which get the most benefit are likely to be multi-GPU cards based on a single PCB/PCIe 3.0 16x slot as the main graphics connector will have full access to the 8GT/s and 1GB/s speed of the slot (compared to 5GT/s and 500MB/s on gen 2).
ASRock also enhance the PCIe performance by adding a PLX PEX8608 controller to their board, ensuring the PCIe slots and GB LAN function and maximum speed.
Over at the bottom right are six SATA ports which are split into six SATA 6Gb/s (red Intel/black ASMedia) and four SATA 3Gb/s (left most reds) with the Intel connectors supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.
Further up the board we find four dual channel memory slots which sit alongside our USB 3.0 and IDE headers. These are capable of holding 32GB of memory with official support hitting 2133MHz. These slots sit alongside a standard 24-pin power connector and the board also features an 8-pin socket.
Round on the back panel we find there is a single PS/2 socket which sits below 2x USB 2.0. Beside this are VGA, dual HDMI and a Clear CMOS button. Then we have 2x USB 3.0 (ASMedia), Realtek GB LAN, 2x USB 2.0, firewire, eSATA 6Gb/s, 2x USB 3.0 (ASMedia), a 2nd Realtek GB LAN and 3.5mm audio in/out with optical port which use the Reaktek 892 chipset. It is also worth noting that this is another ASRock board which features On/Off audio allowing us to share our PC speakers with a portable device, even when the PC has been shut down (ACPI S5 mode).
One of the key benefits of moving to an ASRock Z68 based system is the option of choosing a board with the new and improved UEFI BIOS with GUI support.
The BIOS GUI is best shown in video form (above) and as demonstrated it has full mouse/keyboard functionality and an improved look and feel over previous BIOS versions. This makes changing settings much easier, even for novice users.
The majority of our time in the bios will be spent in the OC Tweaker screen where we can enhance the performance of the system through minor bus speed increases and full multiplier control (on compatible CPUs). A USB based BIOS flashing tool is also available to make that process quick and easy, again even for novice users.
ASRock also supply a huge amount of software with the Z68 Gen3 board and this includes their standard tools suchg as F-Stream for Windows based monitoring and tweaking, X-Fast USB for enhanced performance of devices, X-Fast LAN to maximise our network traffic, THX software for audio configuration, fast charging drivers for portable devices and 3TB unlock drivers which add compatibility for drives above 2.2TB.
In addition to this ASRock have also made a selection of media software available to their users. The Magix Multimedia suite has content creation, management and sharing potential and is shown above.