ASRock P55 Extreme4 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on August 5, 2010
ASRock right now has eight different socket LGA1156 motherboards based on the Intel P55 chipset. Let’s take a look at their latest release, the P55 Extreme4, a mainstream model with four USB 3.0 and four SATA-600 ports.
Other features available on the P55 Extreme4 include support for SLI, a 10-phase voltage regulator circuit with ferrite chokes, solid capacitors, and a POST diagnostics display.
One of the main new features from socket LGA1156 processors is the presence of an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller inside the CPU. This controller supports one x16 connection or two x8 connections. ASRock P55 Extreme4 has two PCI Express x16 slots using this configuration. They support both CrossFireX and SLI modes, bringing a great advantage over P55 motherboards without support for SLI.
The other PCI Express slots are controlled by the chipset, which has a total of eight PCI Express x1 lanes.
The only drawback we see on this product is that it doesn’t use a PCI Express switch chip (e.g., the PLX PEX8608). When motherboards have USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports, performance may drop when you use the USB 3.0 ports, the SATA-600 ports and the PCI Express x16 slots all at the same time.
This motherboard has three PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots. Unfortunately you automatically “kill” one of the PCI Express x1 slots whenever you install a dual-slot video card in the first PCI Express x16 slot.
Socket LGA1156 CPUs, like socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) of the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs, the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.
Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what memory technologies and maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
At the moment the integrated memory controller in socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz in a dual-channel architecture, however, ASRock says the P55 Extreme4 supports DDR3 memories up to 2600 MHz through overclocking. The P55 Extreme4 has four DDR3 sockets and since at the moment, each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.
The first and third sockets are white, while the second and fourth are blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance you should install two or four memory modules in order to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, make sure to install them in the white sockets. If you install them in the white ones, the computer won’t turn on.
The Intel P55 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (RAID support is optional), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 14 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, an embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control), and eight x1 PCI Express lanes.
The ASRock P55 Extreme4 provides all six SATA-300 ports with support for Intel Matrix Storage,which provides RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 (these ports are blue). This product comes with four white SATA-600 (a.k.a. SATA 6G) ports, and each pair is controlled by a different chip, and you must pay attention because the chips are different and provide different features.
The ports labeled “SATA3_1” and “SATA3_2” are controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip that provides support for RAID 0 and 1. The ports labeled “SATA3_3” and “SATA3_4” are controlled by a Marvell 88SE9120 chip, which doesn’t support RAID. So if you want to build a RAID array with your SATA-600 hard drives or SSDs, you must use the first two SATA-600 ports.
The P55 Extreme4 also has an eSATA-600 port on the rear panel. This port shares the “SATA3_4” connector, so if you install an eSATA device you can’t use the fourth SATA-600 port.
This motherboard has one ATA-133 port. Only this port is placed on the motherboard edge rotated 90°. All SATA ports are placed where expansion cards won’t block them.
A floppy disk drive controller is present, a feature most manufacturers are dropping.
From the 14 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, the P55 Extreme4 offers 12 of them, six soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of four USB 3.0 ports, controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips. Two of them are placed on the motherboard rear panel, but the other two are available through a header on the motherboard (see Figure 6). The motherboard comes with a nice aluminum-made adapter for you to install these two ports on the front panel of your computer. But since it uses a 3.5” frame, you must have a case with an external 3.5” bay (or with a 5.25”-to-3.5” adapter) in order to use it.
No FireWire (IEEE1394) port is provided.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec, which is an eight-channel solution supporting THX TrueStudio Pro. Unfortunately Realtek doesn’t publish technical details about this codec. This motherboard comes with on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. The board also has an SPDIF-out header (labeled “HDMI_SPDIF1”), which can be used to route sound to the video card HDMI output in order for you to have an HDMI output with digital audio on a single connector. As you can see in Figure 8, this motherboard has fully independent analog outputs for all eight audio channels.
The ASRock P55 Extreme4 has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by one Realtek RTL8111E chip, which is connected to the system using one PCI Express x1 lane, and thus not presenting any potential performance issues.
In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, a clear CMOS button, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, six USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA-600 port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), one Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
Other smaller features are available. This motherboard has an infrared interface (header labeled “IR1”), so you can add infrared devices to this motherboard by simply buying an infrared sensor. The motherboard comes with one legacy serial port (see Figure 6), but you will need an adapter to use it. And it comes with a POST diagnostics display (see Figure 4), which shows, through a two-digit code, why your computer is not turning on.
Another smaller but very interesting feature is the presence of holes for socket LGA775 CPU coolers, allowing you to install CPU coolers that are not officially compatible with socket LGA1156 CPUs.
The ASRock P55 Extreme4 comes with a ten-phase voltage regulator circuit, with eight of them in charge of the main CPU voltage (Vcc, a.k.a. Vcore) and two of them in charge of the VTT rail, which is used by the integrated memory controller, L3 memory cache and other circuits.
This motherboard comes with two passive heatsinks on top of the transistors of the voltage regulator circuit, but they are not connected together by a heatpipe.
All capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit and on the rest of the motherboard are solid, and all chokes are ferrite models, which are better than iron chokes.
Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
The main overclocking options we could see in the ASRock P55 Extreme4 setup (1.10 BIOS) were:
This motherboard allows you to save your overclocking profile.
The main specifications for the ASRock P55 Extreme4 are:
The new ASRock P55 Extreme4 is a nice option if you are looking for a mainstream socket LGA1156 motherboard and want to buy a model with four SATA-600 ports, one eSATA-600 port and four USB 3.0 ports. The front panel adapter with two USB 3.0 ports is definitely a really nice touch. Other nice features of this motherboard include support for SLI (remember, not all P55-based motherboards come with SLI support), on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors, a POST diagnostics display, support for socket LGA775 CPU coolers, decent overclocking options, and a decent voltage regulator circuit.
Of course if you are a high-end user that demands only “the best in class,” you will find some flaws in this product, such as the absence of a PCI Express switching chip for improving performance when all SATA-600 ports and USB 3.0 ports are used at the same time, the absence of FireWire ports, the ability of running a RAID array only on the first two SATA-600 ports, the eSATA-600 port that is shared with the last internal SATA-600 port, and the absence of more advanced overclocking options. For the Average Joe, however, these “flaws” are not apparent and you will be doing a good deal picking this motherboard.