ASRock X79 Extreme4 LGA 2011 Motherboard Review

After the last couple of ASRock boards, I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to see another one. The ASRock X79 Extreme4 not only surpassed my admittedly low expectations, but proved to be the exact opposite of the last two motherboards. Grab a sandwich and read on. You don’t want to miss this one.

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BIOS

At this point I’ve seen ASUS’ UEFI, ASRock’s Gigabyte’s and two iterations of MSI’s Click BIOS. I have to say that ASUS is tops here and the ASRock comes in second. It’s got an appearance which is similar to what MSI and Gigabyte have with regard to the use of color and style, but it’s laid out more functionally like ASUS’ UEFI is. I had some responsiveness oddities with the earlier ASRock boards I worked with but not with this one.

As is the case with all current UEFI based boards I’ve seen, the ASRock X79 Extreme4 uses American Megatrend Inc.’s UEFI BIOS. This company is better known as simply "AMI." Version P1.60 was used for all screenshots and testing. Interestingly enough ASRock tells us the BIOS will resume updating if a power loss occurs during an update. This feature is intriguing as this board is not equipped with dual ROMs as many ASUS and Gigabyte boards are. If this is true that it could make the need for dual BIOS ROMs a thing of the past. I was instructed to put this feature to the test, once EVERYTHING else for the article was done. So I’ll let you know how well this feature worked at the end. I may be 24 hours away from bricking this board at the time I write this particular section of the article.

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The BIOS menu starts off with an informational screen. Like most BIOS or UEFI implementations there is a menu bar at the top which corresponds to various categories which is how your settings are organized. This first screen has our UEFI version, processor type, processor speed, microcode update, cache size, total installed memory and memory channel mode. Installed DIMM information is also provided.

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The next setting is the system browser which brings us to the above images. These are a graphical representation of the boards’ various components and areas. Information about installed items is displayed here. Click on the CPU socket and it tells you what’s installed there. You can even highlight individual ports on the I/O panel and SATA ports in order to find out exactly what’s plugged into them. While this feature probably isn’t of much use or of use very often, I rather like it. It’s nice to see UEFI’s capabilities expanded on beyond the traditional BIOS after all this time.

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The OC Tweaker is the first item of note. The first setting is the CPU EZ OC Setting. These are factory presets for difference CPU overclocks defined by ASRock. These do not all work for everyone so be fair warned. Interestingly enough, ASRock has some very aggressive presets here allowing you to take your system up to 5.2GHz. I’ve yet to see Sandy Bridge-E do this on anything other than LN2 cooling. It’s possible they had that in mind but I can tell you that my test setup was incapable of achieving this. Moving on we have the usual CPU ratio setting, max ratio, internal PLL overvoltage, OS real-time adjust CPU ratio, Intel SpeedStep Technology settings and more. Scrolling down past the XMP setting we have a sub-menu for DRAM timing control and another for voltage configuration. As you can see the major DRAM timings are represented here. tCL, tRCD, tRP, tRAS, tRFC, etc. are all present along with the command rate. Memory mode and channel interleaving settings can also be found here.

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The voltage configuration menu has VRM protection, CPU core voltage, CPU Load-Line calibration, VCCSA voltage, DRAM voltage, VTT voltage, CPU PLL voltage, and two PCH voltage settings available. After moving on from the OC Tweaker, we get into the advanced UEFI options. Like ASUS boards we see a plethora of sub-menus. CPU configuration, north bridge, south bridge, storage, super I/O etc. At the very bottom we can access the built in flash utility called "Instant Flash." Our CPU configuration menu contains a basic information display at the top consisting of CPU speed, 64bit support, ratio status, and ratio limit. We again have our CPU ratio setting, HyperThreading support, active processor cores, No-Execute Memory protection, Virtualization support, and so on. We also have an additional CPU power management sub-menu. This submenu contains all our settings for SpeedStep, thermal throttling, enhanced halt state, C3 and C6 support and so on.

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The north bridge configuration menu is somewhat misleading as there really isn’t one on this board as those duties are now split between the CPU and the south bridge. Anyway, we have a primary graphics adapter setting and link speed information concerning our installed PCIe devices. Intel’s VT-d support can be enabled or disabled at the bottom of this menu. The advanced south bridge configuration menu has the usual restore power on AC power loss setting, deep Sx support, and allows us to enable and disable some of the board’s integrated hardware. Specifically LAN, IEEE1394, and audio. Next we have the Super I/O menu which contains our serial port and infrared port settings.

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Moving on we come to the ACPI configuration menu which has suspend to RAM, check ready bit, and PS/2 keyboard, PCI device and other events which can be setup to trigger a PC wake up event. The advanced USB configuration menu allows us to enable or disable either USB 2.0 or 3.0 controllers as well as legacy support for them. The Intel ME Subsystem configuration menu doesn’t have any actual settings but does show you the ME version. The H/W Monitor is the board’s hardware monitoring feature. This of course shows CPU temperatures, MB and SB temps as well as fan speeds and voltages. From here we can also adjust the fan speed settings to different levels such as full speed, off, and levels in between.

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The boot options menu should be pretty much self-explanatory. You can alter your boot device ordering and adjust POST settings such as disabling the full screen logo and toggling the boot up num-lock function. Scrolling down a little further reveals boot from LAN, and boot failure guard settings. You can set the failure guard count to determine how many failed reboots will cause a recovery of the BIOS/UEFI. We also have the usual security features incorporated into the BIOS as far back as I can remember. Lastly there is always the exit menu.