ASRock Z68 Pro3 LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

It’s easy to get hung up on the high end boards. Despite the flare, the coverage, and the amazing features, the bulk of the population and even the bulk of the enthusiast community rarely buys such boards. It is with this in mind that we examine a budget solution in the form of the ASRock Z68 Pro3. Low budget, low expectations?

Introduction

ASRock isn’t a brand we’ve covered much at all. Many [H]'ers have been asking us to cover these in the HardForum, and as a result, we are taking a look at the Z68 Pro3. This is the second ASRock board we have reviewed, the first being the ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 motherboard last month.

As a company, ASRock is a division of Pegatron which is a spinoff of ASUSTek more commonly known to all of you as "ASUS." From what I can tell, despite the company’s pedigree, actual motherboard designs can differ quite a bit. Despite some overlap ASRock's goals seem to be different as it caters to slightly different markets. Certainly ASRock has gotten more attention as an enthusiast brand, at least that is what our readers tell us.

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The ASRock Z68 Pro3 is a fairly stripped down board. It has only the built in chipset SATA controller, no eSATA ports, single NIC interface, no IEEE1394, or support for multi-GPU technologies. We purchased the motherboard from Newegg for about $100. The board is short on frills which allow it to reach a more affordable price point for those on a budget. At about $100 at the time of this writing it’s one of the cheaper Z68 chipset based boards out there. One thing the board does have is UEFI support instead of the more traditional BIOS. It’s identical to the UEFI found on other ASRock boards I’ve worked with. On a technical level there isn’t much else to say about the ASRock Z68 Pro3 beyond the standard comments on the use of all solid-electrolytic capacitors and a 4-phase power design. Aside from those things it’s basically a "WYSIWYG" motherboard.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The ASRock board came shipped in a very thin cardboard box which has been done up to look like stainless steel. Our board arrived damage free with all accessories intact. The packaging is as basic as I’ve ever seen and comes with the least amount of accessories I’ve ever seen with a motherboard. I’m not knocking ASRock for that, just pointing this out. This is after all a budget oriented offering. Just keep in mind you may not have everything you need in the box should you add more than two SATA devices to your machine.

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Packaged with the ASRock Z68 Pro3 are the following accessories: One of the biggest user guide’s I’ve ever seen, quick start guide, driver DVD, two SATA cables and an I/O shield. Like I said, this is about the least amount of accessories I’ve ever seen packaged with a motherboard in recent years.

Board Layout

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The board’s layout isn’t terribly bad. There really isn’t much going on as it’s so stripped down and basic. However I’ve got a couple of complaints. The placement of the CPU fan headers isn’t to my taste. I’d rather see these up at the board’s top most edge. Granted this could be a mixed blessing depending on how your case it setup, so this is going to be subjective and something to deal with on a case by case basis. No pun intended. The final gripe I’ve got is with the placement or rather the type of SATA headers used. These straight mounted, tightly grouped, alternating key ports piss me off. It’s really annoying to deal with these when you swap out drive cables as much as I do for testing. I almost wish these ports were not of the locking variety as getting them pulled out of the socket was tough given clearance issues among the ports themselves.

Aside from these two complaints there aren’t any real layout issues. The board is stripped down so there isn’t a lot of hardware onboard forcing additional design concessions. Version 1.03 of the PCB is what we had to work with.

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The CPU socket area is barren. It’s virtually devoid of the MOSFET cooling we are used to seeing on most enthusiast motherboards. It does have an aluminum heatsinks on the MOSFETs, but we don’t have the L-shaped bracket of these wrapping around the CPU socket area. So installation of virtually any cooler should be OK, though the RAM slots are a bit closer to the CPU than I’d like. Your mileage may vary on this.

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ASRock did OK by the DIMM slots using a white and blue color coding scheme. However ASRock did something that annoys me. It used two different style locking tabs. It’s an aesthetic thing but I think this mix-matching of styles looks poorly planned, and ASRock is not the first manufacturer we have seen do this. It makes me think if only ASRock had a certain amount of each style part in the bin and just said; "what the hell, this will work." The fact that this is most likely some type of deliberate choice is even more unsettling.

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ASRock chose to use a very basic and passive flat aluminum heatsink with a giant V on it. Like some of its other boards, it’s vaguely reminiscent of a V8 engine’s top profile. I guess it’s more tasteful than having Chinese dragons, samurai, alien space ships, or faux HK USP .45’s on it though. So I certainly won’t complain about the styling on this part. Off to the right are the horrid SATA ports I dislike so much. Normally these bother me even more than I’ve made it sound, but these are at least clear of being in the area where a larger GPU / Video card might go.

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The expansion slot area is one thing that was done close to right. Though lacking in Crossfire or SLI support of any kind, I’m less concerned about this than I normally would be. Still the slots are placed well enough to avoid any major headaches. The lack of dual PCIe x16 slots, even in form factor sends a clear message to anyone looking at this board letting them know it is in no way shape or form going to support multiple GPUs.

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The rear I/O panel area could have been better than it is. There is a ton of wasted space. On higher end Z68 boards with onboard video we have space eaten up by display connectivity options and that remains the case here. The difference is that higher end boards make use of what’s left adding in the USB ports, eSATA, and even IEEE1394a ports one might expect or require. The Z68 Express chipset supports 14 USB ports but even when counting the board’s internal header connections only 8 are actually accounted for. A total of two of these USB ports are USB 3.0 ports, but again we are still left with many ports unaccounted for that the chipset already gives us. I realize this is a budget solution but they could have made better use of this space and given us more USB ports.