ASRock Z77 Extreme9 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on June 8, 2012


Introduction

The Z77 Extreme9 is the most high-end socket LGA1155 motherboard from ASRock targeted to the “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what the ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has to offer.

The Intel Z77 is an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It also includes the addition of two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).

In addition, the ASRock Z77 Extreme9 supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.

ASRock has launched 11 different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article, except for the Z77 Extreme9, which is the MSRP. The Z77 Professional, the Z77 Professional-M, and the Z77 Performance are part of the “Fatal1ty” series, coming with a special USB port with a higher polling rate for gaming mice.

Feature

Z77 Professional

Z77 Performance

Z77 Extreme9

Z77 Extreme6

Z77 Extreme4

Z77 Pro4

Z77 Pro3

Form Factor

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

Memory Sockets

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

PCI Express x16

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

2 (x16/x4)

6 (x16/x16/x0/x16/x0/x4 or x16/x8/x8/x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)

2 (x16/x4)

2 (x16/x4)

PCI Express x1

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

Mini PCI Express

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

Standard PCI

2

2

0

2

2

3

2

CrossFireX

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

SLI

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

SATA-300

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

SATA-600

6

2

6

4

4

4

2

eSATA-300

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

eSATA-600

1

0

1 (shared)

1

1

0

0

USB 2.0

10

10

8

8

8

10

10

USB 3.0

8

6

12

6

6

4

4

FireWire

2

0

2

2

0

0

0

Bluetooth

No

No

4.0

No

No

No

No

Gigabit Ethernet

2

1

2

1

1

1

1

Wi-Fi

No

No

802.11a/b/g/n

No

No

No

No

VGA

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DVI

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

HDMI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DisplayPort

Yes

No

No

Yes

No

No

No

Audio

ALC898

ALC892

ALC898

ALC898

ALC898

ALC892

ALC892

Voltage Regulator

16+8

8+4

8+4

8+4

8+4

4+2

4+1

Price

USD 230

USD 160

USD 350

USD 160

USD 130

USD 120

USD 110


Feature

Z77 Professional-M

Z77 Extreme4-M

Z77 Pro4-M

Z77E-ITX

Form Factor

microATX

microATX

microATX

Mini-ITX

Memory Sockets

4

4

4

2

PCI Express x16

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4)

3 (x16/x1/x4)

1 (x16)

PCI Express x1

1

1

1

0

Mini PCI Express

0

0

0

1

Standard PCI

0

0

0

0

CrossFireX

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

SLI

Yes

Yes

No

No

SATA-300

4

4

4

2

SATA-600

4

4

4

2

eSATA-300

0

0

0

1

eSATA-600

1

1

1 (shared)

0

USB 2.0

8

10

10

6

USB 3.0

6

4

4

6

FireWire

0

0

0

0

Bluetooth

No

No

No

No

Gigabit Ethernet

1

1

1

1

Wi-Fi

No

No

No

802.11n

VGA

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

DVI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

HDMI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

DisplayPort

Yes

No

No

Yes

Audio

ALC898

ALC898

ALC892

ALC898

Voltage Regulator

8+3

4+2

4+2

6+2

Price

USD 170

USD 130

USD 110

USD 150

In Figure 1, you see the ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 1: ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard

Slots

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 comes with five PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, and one Mini PCI Express slot.

Usually, on motherboards based on the Z77 chipset, only the first two PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU; the other PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the chipset, operating at a lower speed (almost always x4) and only compatible with the 2.0 specification, which offers half of the 3.0 bandwidth. On this motherboard, however, thanks to the use of a PLX PEX8747 switch chip, five of the six PCI Express x16 slots are connected to the CPU, and are, therefore, compatible with the PCI Express 3.0 specification. However, “only” four of those five slots can be used at the same time. Keep in mind that the slots connected directly to the CPU will only offer PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is installed; with a “Sandy Bridge” model they will operate using the 2.0 specification.

The fourth PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE4) is controlled by the chipset, always works at x4 speed, and uses 2.0 bandwidth.

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 supports the configurations listed below.

PCIE1

PCIE2

PCIE3

PCIE4

PCIE5

PCIE7

x16

x4

x16

x4

x16

x8

x8

x4

x16

x8

x8

x4

x8

x8

If you want to install only one video card, you will need to use the second PCI Express x16 slot and not the first one, as it would be the most logical option. In addition, if you want to install two video cards, you must use the first and the fifth slots, so both can work at x16 speed.

When installing dual-slot video cards, you “kill” the slot immediately to the left (looking at the motherboard with its rear connectors facing up) of the slot being used. Even with this limitation, you will be able to install up to four dual-slot video cards on this motherboard. If a fourth dual-slot video is installed (in the sixth, i.e., PCIE7 slot), you will need a case with at least eight expansion slots.

The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 2: Slots

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 3: The PLX PEX8747 chip

The Mini PCI Express slot comes with a Wi-Fi card supporting the IEEE 802.11b/g/n standards installed.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 4: Mini PCI Express slot with the Wi-Fi card

In order to properly accommodate the additional PCI Express devices that are on this motherboard (the second Gigabit Ethernet port, the eight additional USB 3.0 ports, the four additional SATA-600 ports, the Wi-Fi card, etc.), the board makes use of a PLX PEX8608 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 5: The PLX PEX8608 chip

Memory Support

Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to ASRock, the Z77 Extreme9 supports memories up to 3,000 MHz.

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.

In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. When installing two memory modules, you will have to “skip” one memory socket. Unfortunately, the manufacturer used the same color for all memory sockets. So, when installing two memory modules, use the first and the third sockets, counting from the main power connector.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 6: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

On-Board Peripherals

The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution that is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5).

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips (no RAID support).

One drawback is that the manufacturer used only two colors to identify the SATA ports: black for the SATA-300 and gray for the SATA-600. The manufacturer should have used different colors to identify to where each port is connected. The gray ports closer to the black ports are the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset.

All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 7.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 7: SATA-300 (black) and SATA-600 (gray) ports

This motherboard also has one eSATA-600 port, which is shared with the “SATA3_A4” port, so they can’t be used at the same time.

The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 offers eight USB 2.0 ports, two soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and 12 USB 3.0 ports, eight located on the motherboard rear panel and four available on two headers located on the motherboard, near the main power supply connector. The eight additional USB 3.0 ports are controlled by two EtronTech EJ188H chips (one of the chips controls the four ports available on the two headers and the other chip controls four of the eight ports available on the rear panel). The motherboard comes with a 3.5” panel containing two USB 3.0 ports for you to use on one of the motherboard’s USB 3.0 headers if your computer case doesn’t have four USB 3.0 ports with internal connectors. It is very important to understand that this box comes with the antennas for the Wi-Fi card, so you must install it.

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has two FireWire ports controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip, one located on the motherboard rear panel and the other available through a header.

This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the new Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.

The motherboard has on-board optical SPDIF output. A header labeled “HDMI_SPDIF1” also provides SPDIF output for you to install a coaxial SPDIF output or to route digital audio to older video cards that require this physical connection in order to have digital audio output in their HDMI connectors.

The analog audio outputs are independent only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use either the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks.

The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Broadcom BCM57781 chips. These ports support the “teaming” function, which allows the two ports to be combined as one 2 Gbps port, if your network hardware supports this configuration.

In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, eight USB 3.0 ports, clear CMOS button, HDMI output, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, one eSATA-600 port, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 8: Motherboard rear panel

Other Features

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code which component is preventing the computer from turning on.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 9: POST diagnostics display

The portrayed motherboard has a legacy serial port, which is available through a header labeled “COM1.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port. The portrayed motherboard also has an infrared interface, making it inexpensive for you to add an infrared sensor to be able to use a remote control or to connect devices using infrared technology (IrDA).

In Figure 10, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 Extreme9.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 10: Accessories

Voltage Regulator

The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and two for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses an “8+2+2” configuration, which is incorrectly advertised by the manufacturer as “8+4.” The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6367 integrated circuit, using a hybrid design.

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
click to enlarge
Figure 10: Voltage regulator circuit

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 uses solid electrolytic capacitors manufactured in Japan. All coils on this motherboard are solid, ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.

If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.

Overclocking Options

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.10 BIOS):

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 12: Overclocking options

ASRock Z77 Extreme9 motherboard
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Figure 13: Voltage options

Main Specifications

The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 Extreme9 include:

Conclusions

The ASRock Z77 Extreme9 is targeted to the sophisticated enthusiast, who wants to build a system based on an “Ivy Bridge” CPU with three or four video cards in SLI or CrossFireX mode and want all video cards to have the highest bandwidth with the CPU possible, i.e., accessed using the PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth, not the 2.0, and using at least x8 speed. This is possible thanks to the use of the high-end PLX8747 switch chip.

In addition, this motherboard is targeted to the user who understands the importance of the PEX8608 chip, another switch circuit from PLX. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time. This is especially important on this motherboard, as it has eight additional USB 3.0 ports, for a total of 12.

By the way, this is the first time we’ve seen a motherboard using both PLX8747 and PEX8608 chips at the same time.

Also noteworthy is the high-end audio codec used by this motherboard, the Realtek ALC898, which provides very high signal-to-noise ratios (110 dB for the outputs and 104 dB for the inputs), allowing you to use the on-board audio from this motherboard for professional tasks, such as audio editing.

In summary, if you are an enthusiast looking for the most “loaded” motherboard available for building the most high-end LGA1155 gaming machine possible, the Z77 Extreme9 is for you.

Of course, if you want to build a high-end system but are not obsessed with the actual bandwidth of the PCI Express x16 slots, you can pick a more affordable product.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ASRock-Z77-Extreme9-Motherboard/1569


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