ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 Motherboard Review

Several people on our forums wanted to see a little more brand diversity when it comes to motherboard reviews. Ask and you shall receive. We take our first look at one of ASRock’s "finest" motherboards. The Z68 Extreme4 Gen3. Long name, lots of features, and a big steaming bowl of disappointment.

Introduction

ASRock is a name many of you have probably heard of on other sites and not so much from us. There had been a lot of talk on the forums about the brand so with that we are going to take a look at our first ASRock board. Specifically their Z68 Extreme4 Gen3. The name is a bit of a mouthful and sounds a little goofy but this is a full feature rich board and should be interesting to say the least. ASRock itself has been around for a little while and is actually part of Pegatron which itself was spun off ASUSTEK, more commonly known as ASUS. This is of course good pedigree but after spending a little time with this board, I’m not sure how much if anything these boards have in common with their ASUS counterparts. Some designs seem to be relatively similar, but the PCB design is clearly different than any of the current ASUS models I’ve seen.

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The ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 is a feature rich solution based on Intel’s Z68 Express chipset. This model has onboard GPU support. This of course means that the board supports Intel’s Quicksync feature and Lucid’s Virtu feature. In addition we’ve got SLI / CrossFireX support along with SATA 6G and USB 3.0 support. Like many boards coming out now the Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 claims PCIe 3.0 support. Though this support requires Intel’s upcoming Ivy Bridge processors. Upon the release of Ivy Bridge you should be able to drop one of these CPUs into your motherboard and have full PCIe 3.0 support. As it stands right now we can’t actually test this as we have neither the Ivy Bridge CPUs or PCIe 3.0 compatible cards in hand to try the feature out. The board also comes with another UEFI implementation which is a nice touch.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The ASRock board came shipped in a nice stainless steel looking package. Our board arrived damage free from Newegg with all accessories intact. The packaging isn’t as basic as it is with ASRock's lower end boards, but isn’t as elaborate as it sometimes is with more expensive boards.

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Packaged with the ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 are the following accessories: The biggest manual I’ve ever seen for a motherboard in my life, quick start guide, driver DVD, some other literature, USB 3.0 front panel which has an interchangeable bracket for use with the rear expansion area, I/O shield, SLI bridge, floppy cable, SATA data and 4 pin Molex to SATA power adapters.

Board Layout

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I’m not going to say the layout totally sucks because it doesn't, but ASRock didn’t bring its "A-game" to the design of the Z68 Extreme4 Gen3. First there is the problem of a 4-pin auxiliary power connector being positioned above the first PCIe x1 slot. I’ve seen a lot of nice boards with this connector placed here. Motherboard manufacturers need to stop that. The proper place for this is down at the bottom at a right angle where the archaic floppy connector actually resides. (Which for the blind is near the bottom or left side edge below the last PCIe slot.)

Speaking of which, the expansion slot area could be configured more sensibly. I’d also like to have seen the power and reset buttons located on the board’s edge near the 24-pin ATX connector or at the bottom edge like these are on most other boards with this feature.

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The CPU socket area is OK. The MOSFET heat sinks are massive and quite blocky. These worked OK for me but some coolers could have fitment issues as a result of this configuration. There are two CPU fan headers which is a nice touch for users of a push-pull setup. However, these are badly placed. So getting a larger cooler, RAM and the fans plugged in could be challenging for some.

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ASRock didn’t bother to color code the DIMM slots. I’m not sure if it did this for purely aesthetic reasons, or if it is copying Gigabyte’s new color scheme, or what. But this is what ASRock did. Not a huge deal, but not what I like to see. Something needs to be there to denote correct dual channel mode operation for noobies.

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ASRock went with a very basic south bridge cooler. It has "V8" written on it. I think the goal here was to have it vaguely resemble an engine. It doesn’t really but I think that’s what it was going for. The heat sink is flat enough to avoid causing any significant issues with using the expansion slot area.

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The expansion slot area isn’t what I’d call top notch. Oh there are no serious problems, but it could have been better laid out. Because of the location of the top most PCI slot pushing the PCIe slots down we have a less than optimal configuration for 3-Way SLI, or CrossFireX. Though the board’s specifications actually only include support for 3-Way CrossfireX rather than 3-Way SLI. Still the use of the last PCIe x16 (x4 electrical) slot for video cards is dubious at best because many cases won’t allow for it. The last card is forced to hang off the edge of the board unless you can convert it to a single slot solution through water cooling. Fortunately none of the PCIe x1 slots are blocked by some giant heatsink or other structure on the board which is the more common problem. Still this is less than ideal for anyone seriously considering a multi-GPU setup beyond 2 cards. Though you can argue that without an nForce 200 MCP the ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 is less than ideal anyway.

I suppose I’d agree with that. Still this seems like a less than sensible configuration for what is supposedly a high end offering from ASRock.

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The rear I/O panel of the Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 has a lot of wasted space for onboard video connectivity as is typical of Z68 Express chipset based boards. There are 4 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 RJ-45 LAN port, 1 DSUB / SVGA connector, 1 HDMI connector, 1 display port connector, 1 PS/2 keyboard or mouse connector, a clear CMOS / RTC button, 1 optical output, six mini-stereo jacks for audio and one eSATA port which is connected to the Marvell controller.


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