ASRock Z87 Extreme4 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on June 18, 2013
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 is a mid-range socket LGA1150 motherboard targeted for the “Haswell” processors (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what this motherboard has to offer.
The new Intel Z87 chipset provides two important upgrades compared to its predecessor, the Z77: six USB 3.0 ports instead of four and six SATA-600 ports instead of only two. Another important difference between the two chipsets is where the video outputs of the motherboard are connected. While with both chipsets the video is generated by the CPU, on the Z77 the video signal was routed to the chipset, and the video outputs were connected to the chipset. On the Z87 chipset, the video outputs are connected directly to the processor. Both chipsets support up to three independent video monitors. The Z87 supports all other features provided by the Z77, such as Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 motherboard in Figure 1.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots.
The three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is installed, the first two working at x8 when two video cards are installed, and with the first working at x8 and the other two working at x4 when three video cards are installed.
This configuration is somewhat different from what we’ve seen in competing products, where the third PCI Express x16 slot is 2.0, is controlled by the chipset, and works at x1, x2, or x4 speed.
All three PCI Express x16 slots support the CrossFireX technology. SLI is supported only on the first two slots.
If you plan to install a dual-slot video card in the third PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot, you will have to buy a case with at least eight slots. (Computer cases usually have seven.)
Since the Intel Z87 chipset doesn’t support standard PCI slots, the motherboard uses an ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip to connect the standard PCI slot to a PCI Express x1 lane.
Intel socket LGA1150 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 LGA1150 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz. According to ASRock, the Z87 Extreme4 supports memories up to 2,933 MHz.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GiB, you can have up to 32 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. Unfortunately, on the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 all memory sockets are black. In order to enable dual-channel mode and achieve the highest performance possible when installing two memory modules, you must install the first module in the first socket and the second module in the third socket (i.e., you must skip one socket).
The Intel Z87 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). This motherboard has two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061. Unfortunately, the manufacturer didn’t use different colors to indicate which chip controls which SATA ports. The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards won’t block them.
One eSATA-600 port is located on the motherboard’s rear panel. This port shares the SATA3_A0 port (one of the two controlled by the ASMedia chip), so both cannot be used at the same time.
The Intel Z87 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 offers eight USB 2.0 ports, two located on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard, and nine USB 3.0 ports. The four USB 3.0 ports and the vertical USB 3.0 port located near the memory sockets are controlled by the chipset, but the four USB 3.0 ports available through two headers are connected to a single USB 3.0 port from the chipset, by way of an ASMedia ASM1074 hub chip.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 doesn’t support FireWire ports.
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 ALC1150 codec, which is the best audio codec available today, providing an impressive 115 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.
Besides having a high-end audio codec, the audio section of the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 is physically separated from the rest of the motherboard and there is a metallic shield around the audio section. This ensures that the theoretical signal-to-noise ratios can be achieved.
Additionally, the Z87 Extreme4 has a two-channel amplifier for analog headphones, provided by a Texas Instruments NE5532 chip.
The analog audio outputs are independent if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you use an analog 7.1 speaker set, you must use either the “line in” (blue) or the “mic in” (pink) jacks for the two additional speakers.
Different from most motherboards, the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 doesn’t have a header with the SPDIF output signal.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by an Intel I217-V chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with two USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 connector for keyboard, VGA output, DVI-D output, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, HDMI input, one eSATA-600 port, four USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, the optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 has an HDMI input, and this is the first motherboard we’ve ever seen with such a feature.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 has two BIOS chips, so if the main BIOS chip is corrupted by a virus or a bad BIOS upgrade, you can still recover the motherboard.
This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display, so you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on.
The 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), and a legacy serial port, available through a header labeled “COM1,” but it doesn’t come with the necessary adapter.
In Figure 8, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z87 Extreme4.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 has 12 phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6379 chip, which uses a digital design. Each phase is driven by one “K03J5” MOSFET and one “K03J4” MOSFET (we weren’t able to decode these part numbers).
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 uses solid capacitors and ferrite-core coils. If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 has several overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.50 BIOS):
The main specifications for the ASRock Z87 Extreme4 include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme4 is a motherboard targeted to the savvy user who is building a mid-range computer using one of the new “Haswell” CPUs (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors) and wants above-average features.
This motherboard has very strong features not present on competing products. This includes the best audio codec available today, which is physically separated from the rest of the motherboard, so its theoretical signal-to-noise ratio can be achieved; the third PCI Express x16 slot is controlled by the CPU and therefore follows the 3.0 specification and can be used to build CrossFireX arrays; a 12-phase voltage regulator circuit; and an HDMI input – this is the first motherboard we’ve seen with this feature.
Other highlights include the presence of nine USB 3.0 ports, eight SATA-600 ports, one eSATA-600 port (but shared with one of the SATA-600 ports), two BIOS chips, and a two-channel amplifier for analog headphones.
The only drawback we see with this motherboard is the way the internal USB 3.0 ports are configured. The Z87 chipset supports six USB 3.0 ports, but the manufacturer wanted this motherboard to have nine USB 3.0 ports. While the four USB 3.0 ports located on the motherboard’s rear panel and the USB 3.0 port located near the memory sockets are connected independently to the chipset, the other four, which are available through two headers, are connected to a single USB 3.0 port of the chipset, by way of a hub chip. If you use two or more of these ports at the same time, the performance will drop.