Date: Thursday , February 09, 2012
ASRock is a brand that conjures mixed emotions with HardOCP editors. The first two boards we reviewed in ASRock’s Z68 line up pretty much sucked. The quality was bad, the overclocking was nothing special, and stability wasn’t anything to write home about. Then we looked at ASRock’s X79 Extreme4 which was a good board. While not perfect, it was solid in almost all areas. This time we’ve got the Extreme9 to evaluate. We thought this board would basically be the Extreme4 LGA 2011 motherboard with some added features. This is not the case.
ASRock, for those of you who may not know, is a subsidiary of Pegatron, which was spun off of ASUS some time ago. ASRock is a brand that many readers champion in the HardForum, and subsequently asked us to review. Again our experiences continue to be mixed bag at best. Some of the boards we’ve seen aren’t the worst, but some are a far cry from being good either. The first two boards (ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 Motherboard Review / ASRock Z68 Pro3 LGA 1155 Motherboard Review ) had some of the worst build quality we’ve ever seen and the ASRock X79 Extreme4 was on the surface at least on par with most of what’s out there from MSI, Gigabyte, etc. The ASRock X79 Extreme9 should be the pinnacle of what ASRock has to offer and we expect it to be at least everything the Extreme4 was. It should be more considering it is one of ASRock’s flagship motherboards priced at $345.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 is based off Intel’s X79 Express chipset. The X79 Express chipset is Intel’s latest offering and the only chipset supporting Intel’s socket LGA2011 Sandy Bridge-E CPUs. The chipset itself sounds awesome when you talk about 40 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes, quad-channel memory support, support for up to 64GB of RAM and then you get to the depressing fact that the chipset still doesn’t support more than 2 SATA III / 6Gb/s devices natively and there is still no native support for USB 3.0.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 uses a 16+2 power phase design and all "gold" solid electrolytic capacitors. In addition to the usual chipset supported features, the ASRock X79 Extreme9 is a feature rich solution which supports the more popular multi-GPU solutions including, SLI, 3-Way SLI, Quad-SLI, and CrossFireX in varying configurations. The board also supports an astounding 12 SATA ports, 2 eSATA ports, 6 USB 3.0 ports, (2 via USB 3.0 headers) and of course dual Gigabit Ethernet.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The board ships in a faux stainless steel themed box and has a more substantial bundle included than I’ve seen with other ASRock boards in the past. Inside you’ll find the following accessories: Software setup guide, quick installation guide, driver disc, SATA cables, I/O shield, screws, SLI bridge, 3-Way SLI bridge, Molex to SATA power adapters, USB front panel bracket, with rear conversion bracket, Game Blaster audio / NIC combo card, and I/O shield.
Like the Extreme4, the Extreme9 has a solid layout with a couple of exceptions. I do not like where ASRock placed the auxiliary power connector. I wish motherboard manufacturers would stop doing this as ASRock is not alone in its placement. Aside from that the location of the CMOS battery is terrible.
The CPU socket area is as good as it gets with LGA2011 and X79. With memory modules flanking two sides of the CPU socket, your options for air cooling may be a bit constrained depending on how much RAM you install. I don’t like it but there isn’t anything any designer can do about it. At least nothing we’ve seen yet.
As usual the board’s 8 DIMM slots flank the CPU socket. There is no color coding which honestly bothers me. I prefer to know what slots to use at a glance when setting up the system. I hate getting out the manual for something like that. You can of course guess that the correct installation pattern is staggered and you’d be right, but still. I understand they chose to do this to make the board look nicer, but I’m a function over form kind of guy.
Being unified, the X79 chipset consists of a single chip which resides where the south bridge would have been placed in days past. It is cooled with a flat heatsink with an inset fan which annoys the crap out of me. Seriously, the cooling fan is fairly loud. I prefer passive solutions when possible because tiny fans like this are known to sometimes be problematic. It doesn’t help that ASRock went "EXTREME" with the marketing here putting an "X" wherever an empty spot was on the board. It seems as though ASRock is still in its infancy in these marketing areas while we are seeing MSI and Gigabyte somewhat rejoining those ranks when it comes to idiotic marketing efforts here North America.
The expansion slot area is a prime example of what I like to see. Legacy free, and lots of PCIe x16 slots. Even if they are only 8x electrically speaking. The ASRock X79 Extreme supports either a 16x0x16x0 or an 8x8x8x8 configuration for multi-GPU configurations. Of course actually installing four video cards means one or more of them would have to be a single slot solution and that most likely means water cooling. And for 3-Way SLI or CrossFire X with stock air cooling, your chassis would need to allow the bottom most card to hang over the edge of the motherboard. More and more are being built to allow it, but this may cause issues for some of you. This isn’t a deal breaker, just something you should be aware of upfront.
The rear I/O panel actually isn’t as packed as you’d imagine. Partly because the second Broadcom NIC and the audio hardware are on the Game Blaster card included with the board, and aren’t integrated into the actual X79 Extreme9 at all. We have 6 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 eSATA ports, 1 IEEE1394a port, 1 PS/2 port and finally one RJ-45 port. There is a clear CMOS button as well. Good thing because the location of the CMOS battery is inconvenient; let’s hope the button or watchdog work well.
The ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility or AXTU comes with all the ASRock boards I’ve seen to date. It’s a simple utility which generally gets the job done.
When the application is launched, it gives us the hardware monitor first. From here we can see our current CPU speed, BCLK/PCIE frequency, CPU ratio, CPU temperature, SB temperature, fan speeds and even our motherboard’s voltages. Next is the fan control which allows us to adjust our target fan speeds, and target temperatures to either allow us to maximize cooling or minimize fan noise. As you can see we have several controllable fan headers here that we can manipulate. Next we have the fairly rudimentary overclocking utility. This allows us to alter our BCLK, CPU ratio, and many of our voltages. I’ve seen utilities that offer a far more robust choice of settings, but this one actually does cover all the basics.
The OC DNA menu is a profile system. With this you can create, save and load profiles at any time. There are three slots with which to store presets. At the top of this screen we have our board model, BIOS version and BIOS date shown. The IES menu is the Intelligent Energy Saver. With this we can set the board for power savings, or we can turn this off to enhance overclockability by enabling all the power phases. The number of active phases is shown to the right. The XFast RAM feature is something added recently. It’s a tweaking tool for the OS. From here we can adjust page file, temporary file, browser cache file settings and more.
It’s a solid utility. I’ve seen some that I liked better and some I seriously disliked. When all is said and done I never allow software to dictate what hardware I’ll purchase save for drivers.