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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Subsystem Testing

NOTE: For all Subsystem Testing, an Intel Core i7 3770K (3.5GHz) and 2 x 4GB Corsair Vengeance (1600MHz DDR3 9-9-9-24-1T @1.50v) memory modules running at DDR3 1600MHz speeds were used. The CPU was cooled with a home brew water cooling setup consisting of a Swiftech MCR320 triple radiator, 3x120mm fans, Swiftech MCP655-B pump, and a Koolance CPU-370 water block with LGA1156 / LGA1155 mounting hardware.

Sound Hardware

The onboard audio solution of the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 is basic. It uses the same Realtek ALC898 that most boards use these days. Though at the price point this board sits at I’d have bet on the use of the ALC892 instead as it’s cheaper.

The following specifications were taken from the ASRock website:

Realtekآ® ALC898 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC

- 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec)

- Premium Blu-ray audio support

- Supports THX TruStudioآ™

The audio solution sounded flat to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong but I found the sound quality lacking.

Audio آ– Subjective Listening

For subjective listening you want to listen to something that covers a range of sound types. For this portion of the review I went with Five Finger Death Punch’s American Capitalist CD.

CD audio was excellent as usual.

Audio آ– Microphone Port Testing

The onboard audio MIC-IN port was tested using a Logitech Internet Chat Headset. Spoken words were recorded from the Windows Sound Recorder found under the Accessories folder in the start menu within Windows. The recording was using the highest quality settings available in the control panel for the audio device being used to record.

The recording sample was virtually inaudible with the microphone boost option disabled, and severely distorted though audible with it enabled.

Drive Performance

To test the capabilities of the on board USB 2.0 connections, we used an ACOMDATA HD060U2FE-72-USB 2.0/FireWire HDD connected first to the USB port. USB 3.0 functionality was tested using a Super Talent USB 3.0 SuperCrypt 32GB Flash Drive. SATA drive tests were performed using Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX hard drives on all SATA headers. The SATA drives were used for testing in RAID 0 16k block size configurations on all applicable controllers. Testing was also conducted using the same model SATA drives in a stand-alone SATA configuration on all applicable controllers. All drive benchmarks were done using the freely available CrystalDiskMark 3.0 program, run with both 50MB and 100MB sized test sets.

Given that boards are now supporting UASP and various USB 3.0 boost methods on many models, we’ve updated our testing methodology to include a UASP. test. The USB 3.0 implementation that some manufacturers are using does allow for a performance boost with non-UASP compliant hardware as you’ll see using what they call "turbo" mode. Granted the difference isn’t as pronounced as it is when enabling UASP on a device that supports it. The USB 3.0 Flash drive tests are essentially the same as they’ve always been since we started doing them, but with the added turbo mode test to showcase the feature in action. The USB 3.0 SSD UASP Enabled / Disabled tests are utilizing a Corsair Force GT 60GB SATA 3 SSD plugged into a Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking port which uses a USB 3.0 connection. This device was selected due to having UASP compatible firmware.

As Thunderbolt is now offered on a multitude of motherboard models, we've added Thunderbolt testing to our testing methodology. For Thunderbolt testing a LaCie Little Big Disk was used. The model we are using is the 240GB dual SSD model. The goal here is to give you an idea of what you can expect today out of a Thunderbolt enabled storage device and ensure that the implementation of the feature works and won't cause any undesirable surprises.

When it comes to storage the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 is almost an exact copy of many entry level ASUS boards. It features the standard Z77 Express based ports. 4 SATA 3Gb/s ports, 1 of which is also shared with the eSATA connector on the backplane. It has dual SATA 6Gb/s ports which are native to the chipset and two more ports provided by the ASMedia 1061 controller. This chipset does not support RAID of any kind. USB 3.0 implementation also takes a page out of the ASUS playbook utilizing an ASM1042 controller for USB 3.0 support. Externally two ports are connected to the Intel chipset and two via the ASMedia controller. Like ASUS the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 supports turbo mode on both controllers. The software implementation could be better as it always asks you to remove and reconnect any external storage devices to use the turbo feature. ASUS doesn’t do that.

50MB Test Set

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In the 50MB sequential read tests we see predictable performance out of all controllers. The Z77 6Gb/s controller is definitely the fastest here with a significant lead over the 3Gb/s ports and the ASM1061 controller. RAID performance is no help here in the grand scheme of things. USB performance is interesting as we see the turbo mode behavior mimic that of an ASUS board. The ASM1042 doesn’t quite match the raw bandwidth of the Intel controller, but turbo mode does provide significant performance over the standard BOT protocol USB normally uses. The 50MB sequential write performance is also without any surprises as we quickly hit the performance wall of our attached devices. In other words we are limited by their write speeds rather than the transfer rates of the bus. Turbo mode does nothing for us, but RAID0 gives us nearly 100% scaling over standalone AHCI results.

100MB Test Set

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In the 100MB sequential read tests the USB 3.0 controller actually has the bandwidth advantage with turbo mode enabled. This can be altered with changes to the stripe set, but that skews other results as we lose potential read / write performance in other tests. RAID 0 benefits us here but not to the degree it does in write tests. The Intel controller also shows superior numbers compared to 3Gb/s ports and the ASM1061 controller. It’s also interesting to note that the Intel 3Gb/s tests aren’t that far off the ASM1061 results. And again the 100MB write tests are virtually identical to the 50MB write results. We’ve again hit the performance wall with regard to the write speeds of each test device. This at least indicates that all is working as it should.

Network Utilization Tests

Hagel Technologies’ DU Meter software was used with Windows Task Manager to determine the performance levels of the onboard network interface. DU Meter was used to measure bandwidth and transfer speeds, while Windows Task Manager monitored CPU utilization on the test system. For the testing, a 750MB Archive file consisting of several compressed WMA/MP3 files was used for the large file transfer, and 750MB worth of MP3/WMA files were used ranging in sizes from 3 to 30MB was used for the small files transfer test. The test was performed using a plenum rated category 5e crossover cable to bypass any traffic, routing or other transfer issues and possible packet loss or corruption that can be caused by a router/switch or hub. The cables were connected between two test machines, one using the onboard NIC(s) of the board being reviewed and the other is an Intel EXPI9400PT 10/100/1000Mbps PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet adapter installed into a test machine using an Intel D5400XS motherboard.

Wireless network testing, if applicable was performed using an AdHoc connection between the review system and my own machine based on equipped with an Atheros AR9002WB-1NG wireless adapter which is integrated into my ASUS Rampage III Black Edition . The control panel used all the default settings save for the AdHoc 11N setting which was enabled on both systems.

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 uses a Broadcom BCM57781 Gigabit Ethernet controller. It is capable of 10/100/1000Mbit speeds.

LAN1

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The small files download test showed us a maximum transfer rate of 94.2MB/s and an average of 77.6MB/s. CPU usage in this test was a fairly consistent 2%. The small files upload test gave us an average transfer speed of 87.8MB/s while peaking at 116MB/s. CPU usage was only 1% in this test.

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The large files download test averaged 86.7MB/s and maxed out at 100MB/s. CPU usage clocked in at 1%. The large files upload test gave us the best results of all with an average of 97.6MB/s and a high transfer rate of 118MB/s. CPU usage was once again a fairly steady 1%.

Test Systems

The following system configurations were used for the Sandra memory benchmark graph, as well as all graphs listed under the Application and Gaming Benchmarks sections:

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Graphs are labeled as follows: Motherboard - CPU Clock - Memory Clock

SiSoft Sandra 2011

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Note that all results above were obtained running the installed memory in dual channel mode with one exception The ASUS Rampage IV Extreme test was run in quad-channel mode.

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 takes top honors among LGA1155 test systems in this test.

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In the CPU test the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 begins a trend by doing the same once again.

Hiper Pi

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And again we see more of the same.

wPrime

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As I said it was a trend as the last test in this category again goes to the ASRock Z77 Extreme4.