ASRock Z77 Extreme4 LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

While ASRock is a well known new comer in the motherboard market, we’ve not exactly been fans of ASRock products based on past experiences. ASRock’s popularity grows and as a result we are taking another look at a motherboard from in the hope of understanding this popularity. Is it just price, or is there more to ASRock’s offerings?

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ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility

Like many other board makers, ASRock includes software for overclocking and monitoring the system’s health within the Windows operating system. The ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility or AXTU ships with all ASRock boards to facilitate this purpose. This utility is lightweight and easy to use. While not as comprehensive as some other utilities the straight forward nature of it appeals to me. The utility also works. You’d think that would be a bullet point on every board maker’s agenda for these things but sadly it doesn’t seem to be.

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The utility basically has two window panes. The selection menu is on the left hand side and the information and settings corresponding to those selections are on the right. The hardware monitor is the first thing we see when launching the application. The CPU clock, ratio, BCLK/PCIE frequency and GT frequencies are all shown here. Below that we have fan speeds, temperatures and voltages. Fan control is rudimentary but it works. You can set fan target speeds by level and CPU and chassis fans have temperature target options.

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The overclocking menu is also simple. BCLK, CPU ratio and GT frequency are controlled via sliders at the top. Voltage offset and other voltages are controlled from sliders at the bottom. There is a decent range of adjustable options but it has fewer adjustments available than some other software packages I’ve used often do. OC DNA is a fancy name for profile management. You can save and load performance profiles as you desire. The model, BIOS version and BIOS build date are at the top of the menu.

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The IES is the intelligent energy saver. Essentially this reduces the number of active power phases to the minimal amount needed. This not only reduces power consumption of the board, but prolongs component life as the active phases are switched to level the heat and wear on them. XFast RAM is the last menu option and this is perhaps the coolest thing offered by the software. It allows for the creation of a RAM drive for loading your favorite programs in for faster execution. There is also a check box at the bottom to backup the RAM drive.

BIOS

ASRock uses a UEFI menu rather than the traditional BIOS. This has become the defacto standard for all major brands at this point. The board uses a standard 64Mbit American Megatrends Inc. UEFI BIOS ROM. One thing I touched on before is the use of a socketed BIOS ROM chip. This is more expensive for the board maker to use vs. soldered ROMs but it has the advantage of being replaceable if it fails. Also ASRock boards have the ability to continue to flash the BIOS in the event of a power loss. They will pick up right where they left off. It’s a nice feature that we have tested successfully more than once.

One of the pluses about BIOS was that the interface was pretty much standardized between all the board makers. It was similar whether you were looking at Award, Phoenix, or AMI BIOS ROMs. Even boards of vastly different generations, chipsets and hardware configurations were similar. Unfortunately UEFI is the opposite of that as everyone tends to reinvent the wheel where that’s concerned. Fortunately ASRock didn’t try to go too far with this and their UEFI menus are actually quite similar to those employed by ASUS although ASRock’s version is simplified in comparison. The UEFI of the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 has a navigation bar at the top. This has your main, OC tweaker, advanced, H/W monitor, boot, and security and exit icons on it. For the sake of keeping things more interesting we will only be covering the tweaking pages of the BIOS.

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The main page has your UEFI version, processor type, speed, microcode version and cache size information at the top. Information concerning the total installed memory and location of the physical DIMMs by slot is also provided. The system browser is one feature that does set it apart from ASUS, and a similar feature is actually found on Gigabyte boards. When clicked there are roll over’s which tell you a bit about each section you’ve highlighted. On the Gigabyte board this can be used for navigation but not here.

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The OC Tweaker menu is where all your performance tuning gets done. Starting at the top you can set the advanced turbo 30 mode option, or load optimized CPU and GPU OC settings. Under CPU configuration we have the target CPU clock speed followed by some actual settings. All the usual bases are covered including CPU ratio, host clock override (BCLK), spread spectrum, SpeedStep, turbo boost, internal PLL overvoltage, short duration power limit and primary plane current limit etc. Moving down from that you have DRAM timing configuration settings among other things. The current XMP version and timings are provided at the top of this section for informational purposes.

The voltage configuration menu has all your adjustments for various voltage options. CPU voltage, CPU load-line calibration, iGPU voltage, DRAM voltage, VTT, PCH, and so on. At the very bottom of this menu are options to save the current settings as a default profile. You can also set a second profile and load either one from previously created definitions.

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The DRAM configuration is where all your timings are set. These include CAS latencies and command rates. There are three pages of settings here to choose from. Anyone familiar with ASUS boards will see a strong resemblance to the DRAM timing menus on those boards. Next we have our advanced CPU configuration menu. This has some processor model and configuration information at the top with feature settings below. HyperThreading, C1E, C-state support, thermal throttling and other options are controlled from here.

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Lastly we have our hardware monitor. This shows us CPU and motherboard temperatures, fan speeds, voltage readings for our voltage rails, and offer some basic fan control.