Date: Wednesday, February 06, 2013
ASRock has become a very popular brand over the last few years and it seems there is always a buzz on our forums every time a new ASRock motherboard is about to be released or just hits shelves. We’ve reviewed four of these popular models over the last year or so and found these to be seriously lacking in the quality department. None of these were awful buy any means but these were certainly subpar compared to offerings from all the other major players in the industry. All but one model out of the four we looked at was quirky and had potential hardware problems. While motherboard component selection and soldering quality seems to be generally good, ASRock’s PCBs are mostly thin and weak. This is typically not the hallmark of a well built motherboard but rather the telltale sign of a low quality budget board which should be avoided by all but the most frugal.
We caught some flak for this but the fact of the matter is that only one of the ASRock boards we looked at was truly a solid offering. We were so surprised by the stark contrast between the ASRock X79 Extreme4 and previous boards we looked at that we decided to sample two boards just to make sure the good one wasn’t a fluke. That article can be found here. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that all motherboard manufacturers put out good boards and bad ones. Some do so more consistently that others in either case but one motherboard, or even several shouldn’t necessarily put you off to a given brand forever. Brands can and do change its spots for better or for worse when it comes to quality.
It is with this in mind that we take another look at an ASRock board and see if there is anything more to ASRock popularity than just a low price tag. The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 we are reviewing here today was purchased from Amazon for $127.99. ASRock no longer responds to review sample requests since our reviews last year.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 is based on the Intel Z77 Express chipset. It sports an 8+4 phase power design and all gold Japanese manufactured conductive polymer capacitors. The board features all the usual necessary bullet points for a modern enthusiast’s board including SATA 6Gb/s support, USB 3.0, CrossFire and SLI / Quad-SLI support. All the standard features supported by the chipset are represented here such as PCI-Express 3.0, native USB 3.0, LucidLogix Virtu MVP, Intelآ® Rapid Start Technology and Smart Connect Technology.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 ships in a basic box. Our board arrived damage free with all accessories accounted for. Included are the following items: 1 x ASRock SLI_Bridge_2S Card, Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield, and 2 x SATA Data Cables. As this is a budget oriented offering the bundle is lean to cut costs.
The layout of the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 is definitely good. Previous boards I’ve looked at from ASRock definitely didn’t show the same level of design expertise I’m used to seeing. This motherboard on the other hand does show a lot of forethought. The only real complaint I have about this one is the location of the CMOS battery. A lot of manufacturers are doing this for whatever reason and though I think it needs to stop; however it isn’t a deal breaker. If the need to reach this was frequent then I’d find it to be a larger issue. One other thing I noticed while looking at this board was the fact that ASRock uses a socketed BIOS ROM. As far as I know only ASUS and ASRock do this. So that’s definitely a point in ASRock’s favor.
The CPU socket area is about as clear as it can be all things considered. The DIMM slot proximity to the socket is closer than I’d like but unavoidable as this is the case by necessity. The MOSFETs are cooled via somewhat large heat sinks. These don’t interfere with the installation of most CPU coolers so that shouldn’t be an issue. With all in one cooling units like the Corsair Hxx series becoming more common any clearance issues are avoidable without spending a lot of money.
There are four DIMM slots. These are not color coded; most likely for aesthetic reasons. These are placed far enough away from the expansion slot area as to avoid any clearance issues with installation of modules while a larger video card is installed.
As is normally the case, the chipset itself is located directly in front of the expansion slot area. It is cooled by a small passive heat sink. In front of that and slightly offset left is the multitude of SATA ports. These are color coded gray for 6Gb/s speeds and black for standard 3Gb/s ports.
The expansion slot area is well thought out. The board does not feature a PLX chip and therefore is limited in terms of SLI and CrossFire capabilities. However it is still capable of 8x/x8 PCIe lane operation with two cards installed. For operation with dual cards this is perfectly fine. As the Z77 Express chipset lacks PCI support for legacy devices, ASRock had to use a bridge chip to allow for this. The Z77 Extreme4 has two legacy PCI slots onboard as a result. Though I would think that a single one would be more than sufficient in cases were legacy hardware may be needed. I can’t see much reason at all for PCI compatibility out of motherboards which have everything but data drives, PSUs, and CPUs built in.
The I/O panel has all our connectivity options. We have a single PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 4 USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, DSub, DVI-D, eSATA (which is shared with an Intel 3Gb/s port), one RJ-45 port, five-mini stereo jacks and an optical output. Lastly you’ll find a clear CMOS button on the back panel as well.