The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 is a top mid-range socket LGA1150 motherboard based on the new Intel Z97 chipset, supporting the fourth and the forthcoming fifth generation Core i processors. It brings a high-end audio codec, eight SATA-600 ports (allowing one SATA Express connection), and eight USB 3.0 ports. Let’s take a good look at it.
The “new” Intel Z97 Express chipset is a Z87 chipset rebranded for marketing reasons. They are identical and, therefore, have the exact same specifications. Most motherboards based on this chipset support the new SATA Express and M.2 (successor to the mSATA) connectors, but these are mechanical features provided by the motherboard, not by the chipset.
Like the Z87, the Z97 supports six USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, 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 in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the ASRock Z97 Extreme4 motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 9.6” (305 x 244 mm).
The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
The second and the third PCI Express x16 slots (PCIE5 and PCIE6) share bandwidth with the first one (PCIE2), which means that the first slot works at x16 speed if the other two are not used, but at x8 if either one of them is populated. They also share bandwidth among themselves, so if you install three video cards, the first one will work at x8 and the other two will work at x4. So, the possible slot configurations are x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, and x8/x4/x4.
All the PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
There is also a M.2 slot, supporting one SATA-600 or PCI Express x2 SSD module.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
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 Z97 Extreme4 supports memories up to 3,200 MHz.
The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 has four memory sockets. You can install 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. On the ASRock Z97 Extreme4, the first and third memory sockets are blue, while the second and fourth are black. When installing two memory modules, use two sockets with the same color.
[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z97 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). The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 comes with two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip (no RAID support). The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them.
Two of the available SATA-600 ports (the ones at the lower left) can be used as two standard SATA ports or as one SATA Express port. Unfortunately, the manufacturer used the same color for the eight ports, as shown in Figure 4.
The Intel Z97 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 offers six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are eight USB 3.0 ports (six at the rear panel and two available through a header), six controlled by the chipset and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042AE chip.
The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1 audio format, i.e., eight channels. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC1150 codec, which is an excellent audio codec, providing 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. These specifications are good even for the user who wants to work professionally by capturing and editing analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.)
The codec chip is shielded against electromagnetic interference, and the audio interface is equipped with a TI NE5532 amplifier for the frontal headphone output. 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 the “line in” jack.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset with the help of an Intel i218V PHY chip.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, two USB 2.0 ports, DVI-I output, VGA (D-SUB) output, HDMI output, six USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort output, Gigabit Ethernet port, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
This motherboard comes with a POST diagnostics display, so you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on. There are also a clear CMOS, reset, and power buttons. The motherboard also brings two BIOS chips, selectable via a small switch.
In Figure 8, you can see the accessories that come with the ASRock Z97 Extreme4.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z97 Extreme4 has 12 phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses an Intersil ILS6379 controller chip (digital design), and each phase uses one “Dual-Stack” NexFET MOSFET.
The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 uses high-end Japanese Nichicon “12K” capacitors and all coils on this motherboard are aluminum alloy ones.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The portrayed motherboard has several overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.30 BIOS):
- CPU Base Clock: From 90.00 MHz to 300.00 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
- CPU Adaptive Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.000 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Cache Adaptive Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.000 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Cache Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 increments
- System Agent Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Analog IO Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Digital IO Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU I/O Voltage Offset: From -0.600 V to +0.400 V in 0.001 V increments
- Memory Voltage: From 1.165 V to 1.800 V in 0.005 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) 1.05 V Voltage: From 0.977 V to 1.322 V in 0.005 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) 1.5 V Voltage: From 1.338 V to 1.859V in 0.006 V increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Z97 Extreme4 include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z97
- Super I/O: NuvoTon NCT6791D
- Parallel ATA: none
- Serial ATA: six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) supporting one SATA Express connector; and two SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- External SATA: none
- USB 2.0: eight USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: eight USB 3.0 ports, six on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header; six ports controlled by the chipset and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042A chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
- Thunderbolt: none
- On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one VGA (D-Sub), one DVI-D, one DisplayPort, and one HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC1150 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 115 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset using an Intel I218V PHY chip
- Buzzer: no
- Infrared interface: no
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4), and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and one M.2 slot
- Memory: four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3200, 32 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: one four-pin and one three-pin connectors for the CPU cooler, one four-pin and three three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: two BIOS chips, POST diagnostics display, clear CMOS, power, and reset buttons
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one
- Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
- More Information: http://www.asrock.com/
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 144.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASRock Z97 Extreme4 is an good top mid-range motherboard, targeted to the cost-conscious user who is building a computer using a “Haswell” CPU (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors) and wants it to be compatible with the future “Devil’s Canyon” (enhanced fourth-generation) and “Broadwell” (fifth-generation) “Core i” processors.
The highlights of this motherboard include the high-end audio interface, the support for M.2 modules and SATA Express devices, and the high-end voltage regulator.
The voltage regulator circuit with 12 phases and high-end components, in addition to the great number of overclocking and tuning options in the setup, makes the Z97 Extreme4 a great choice for those who are into overclocking.
The biggest limitation of this motherboard is the basic slot configuration. Although it supports SLI and CrossFireX with up to three video cards, the absence of a switching chip does not allow the video cards to reach their maximum theoretical bandwidth when more than one video card is installed.
If you will build a computer based on a Haswell CPU, with only one video card, and want to try some overclocking, the ASRock Z97 Extreme4 motherboard is a great choice.