ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 Review
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ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 Review

December 16th, 2011 James Leave a comment Go to comments

Overview

 

This is the second ASRock Z68 Extreme4 motherboard that we have tested here at pcGameware but this is the updated version now with support for PCIe 3.0. The original review can be found here. Let’s see if much has changed since the original review…

 

ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - box front ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - box back

 

The motherboard comes in the ASRock standard carry box with all of the major features detailed on the back.

 

ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - box inside

 

Inside the box is a whole host of motherboard paraphernalia, with the motherboard sitting at the bottom in a anti-static bag and a foam tray for protection.

 

ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - box contents/cables/etc ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - box contents paperwork

 

Let’s take a look at what’s inside the box other than the motherboard.

  • A bunch of paper work including a Quick Installation Guide & Software Setup Guide
  • DVD containing (User Manual, Drivers & Utilities)
  • An IDE and Floppy cable (if you are using these then you should be shot! :o )
  • SLI Connector
  • Motherboard back-plate
  • x4 SATA3 6GBs cables (x2 90 degree & x2 straight)
  • USB 3 external face-plate
  • USB 3 back-plate
  • 3.5mm jack lead
  • x2 Molex to SATA power connectors

 

Below you can see the motherboard sporting a mainly all black design, worth noting at this point is the presence of a Molex socket on the board for additional power when SLI or CrossFire is used.

 

ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - packaging ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3

 

  • An important word about PCIe 3.0

The introduction of PCIe 3.0 maximises the bandwidth available for next-gen VGA cards by increasing bandwidth from 16GBs to 32GBs (total bandwidth for x16 slot). The ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 motherboard uses a quick switch IC on-board to support both PCIe 2.0 and PCIe 3.0.

NOTE: To take full advantage of the bandwidth offered by PCIe 3.0 you will need to install an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU. In addition to this you will need to ensure that your graphics card also supports the new PCIe 3.0 standard.

 

Specifications/Features

courtesy of ASRock

  1. Premium Gold Caps (2.5 x longer life time), 100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors
  2. Digi Power, Advanced V8 + 4 Power Phase Design
  3. 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 Slots, 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 Slot, Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ and NVIDIA® Quad SLI™
  4. Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals
  5. Dr. Debug, Smart Switch Design: Power/Reset/Clear CMOS Switch with LED
  6. Support Intel® Smart Response, Lucid Virtu Switchable Graphics
  7. Supports ASRock XFast USB, XFast LAN Technologies
  8. Supports ASRock On/Off Play, Graphical UEFI, ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU)
  9. Combo Cooler Option (C.C.O.)
  10. 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC892 Audio Codec), Supports THX TruStudio™
  11. Free Bundle : 1 x Front USB 3.0 Panel, 1 x 3.5mm Audio Cable, CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5 Trial, ASRock MAGIX Multimedia Suite

 

 

First Impressions

 

ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - features ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - extreme

 

First impressions are that the board looks very understated almost a little boring, but I still prefer it to some of the more ridiculous designs that are out there. It’s actually quite nice really, it looks well made and the quality appears to be of a high standard.

 

ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - CPU socket ASRock Z68 Extreme4 Gen3 - V8

 

Those heatsinks look great, but look like that they are a little tall, not sure that my Zalman CNPS11X is going to fit, I guess there’s only one way to find out…

The bundle seems quite generous and I particularly like the inclusion of both 90 degree and horizontal 6GBs SATA cables (2 of each). The motherboard back-plate is also rather smart being well labelled and colour coded unlike the one on my Asus board. This back-plate is also where you will find the rather handy ‘Clear CMOS’ reset button, very useful…

 

Hardware Installation

 

During installation of the MB no problems were encountered (keep reading!) as I switched from the Asus P8P67 Pro in (my rig) to the ASRock board. Again, as seen before on other ASRock boards, there is an additional motherboard screw (and stand-off) required on the back edge of the board.

I also had to make sure that the additional molex power socket (necessary for SLI/CrossFire) was also powered up as I would be testing this board with the SLI setup found in my default rig load-out. Not sure why this board has it, as others don’t and even ASRocks own Fatal1ty MB doesn’t have one!? Dont like it either… ;-)

The only components that I used from the ones supplied in the bundle were the MB back-plate and one of the 6GBs SATA cables.

Unfortunately I ran into problems fitting my rigs default CPU Cooler a Zalman CNPS11X Extreme. The heatsinks around the CPU were just too tall and fouled the Cooler’s heat-pipes. This meant that I had to source a different CPU Cooler, help came via the trusty old Corsair A50 once found in my rig.

With this issue now resolved it was time to fire up the board for the first time, a moment I always dread even after doing it so many times…

 

ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 - installed

 

I fired the rig up for the first time via the handy power switch on the motherboard. The board fired up first time and I was straight into the BIOS, all looked good so it was time finish up the install and close the side panel up on my Antec 1200 case. On with the testing!

 

Testing Methodology/Setup

 

  • An important word about PCIe 3.0

The introduction of PCIe 3.0 maximises the bandwidth available for next-gen VGA cards by increasing bandwidth from 16GBs to 32GBs (total bandwidth for x16 slot). The ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 motherboard uses a quick switch IC on-board to support both PCIe 2.0 and PCIe 3.0.

NOTE: To take full advantage of the bandwidth offered by PCIe 3.0 you will need to install an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU. In addition to this you will need to ensure that your graphics card also supports the new PCIe 3.0 standard.

 

Before installing any OS the following features were disabled in the BIOS as this is a Gaming Rig they won’t get used and I hate all those exclamation errors showing up in the Device Manager window.

Disabled the following in the BIOS (version 1.10):

Onboard 1394
Front Panel Audio
Marvell SATA3 Operation Mode
Onboard Floppy
Serial Port

A new installation of Windows Home Premium (service pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were then installed. The latest ASRock drivers were used and can been obtained here (I did not use the ones on the disc as I wanted to be using the latest).

Drivers installed:

Intel Chipset (INF driver ver:9.2.0.1021)
NVIDIA Graphics (285.62)
Realtek high definition audio driver (6.0.1.6392)
Broadcom Lan driver (14.6.1.0)
ROCCAT Kone[+] driver (drv 1.45 / fw 1.40)

 

Hardware Performance

 

First the board was tested with the BIOS defaults giving a CPU speed of 3.4GHz (the BIOS seems to apply a default overclock by using a x34 multiplier) with my RAM (G.Skill RipjawX 1600MHz 6-8-6-24) running at 1600MHz 9-9-9-28. Once the boards stability was proven (this was done by running multiple passes of 3DMark 11, Unigine Heaven & Metro 2033), it was time to move on and see how far we could push this new Gen3 edition of the ASRock Extreme4.

The CPU in my rig, a 2500K, is known to be good for 4.8GHz (@ 1.45v) and I have had it stable at 4.9GHz in another ASRock board the ASRock Fatal1ty Z68 Professional Gen3.

Using the Load Optimized CPU OC Setting in the OC Tweaker section of the BIOS I enabled Turbo 4.0GHz and went about testing once more. I managed to repeat these steps through 4.2GHz & 4.4GHz, then at 4.6GHz I hit a wall.

Now this is not uncommon, especially on ASRock boards, as I have seen this in the past. So from here on in it was going to be back to manual mode. With some manual settings dialled in I was up and running (Stable!) at 4.5GHz. The settings for this can be seen below:

 

BIOS Settings 4.5GHz - 1 BIOS Settings 4.5GHz - 2

 

But try as I might I could not get the board stable at 4.6GHz, so it was time to call in the big guns! I contacted ASRock for some help and advice and lots of help and advice was what I got, so kudos to ASRock (Taiwan) for helping out! With some slight tweaking via a fixed CPU Voltage and some changes to the Load Line Calibration I was up and running in Windows and benchmarking, but unfortunately the board was still not fully stable, shame…

It would appear that the Extreme4 is not capable of delivering the high power required by my ageing 2500K to push it beyond 4.5GHz, something the ASRock Fatal1ty Z68 Professional Gen3 is capable of, but the Fatal1ty MB is £50+ more! The annoying thing is that my default Asus P8P67 Pro is also capable of pushing my CPU to 4.8GHz without issue (but then that board suffers the now common Asus double/multi boot issue).

With my memory now running at its optimum speed of 6-8-6-24 (and the MB stable @ 4.5GHz) it was time for the benchmarks.

 

  • MY RIG with CPU @ 4.5GHz / Memory @ 1600MHz (6-8-6-24 1T)
Motherboard 3DMark 11 Unigine Heaven Metro 2033
ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 @4.5GHz 12202 1619 55.00

 

  • Additional Features

There are a lot of features found on the this board that I will not be looking at in this review, but more information on them can be found here. The overclcocking software (AXTU) that came with the Extreme4 Gen3 was nice to use and deserves a special mention here.

 

AXTU - 1 AXTU - 2 AXTU - 3 AXTU - 4 AXTU - 5

 

The AXTU software allowed the same tweaks to be made as I made in the BIOS to get to the 4.5GHz overclock. Although I did find that the Intelligent Energy Saver (IES) Option seemed to crash the machine (BSOD) at times, which was VERY strange!

 

Final Thoughts

 

So I get to the Final Thoughts of the review for the ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 with mixed thoughts. I can’t help but think that this board could/should have been more stable than it was when venturing beyond 4.5GHz. But even with good help from ASRock themselves I was not able to go beyond 4.5Ghz. Although, worth noting, that this is a similar result to the non Gen3 version of the Extreme4, where the maximum OC was 4.6GHz (that review can be seen here).

It seems that if your CPU requires a large chunk of power (1.4v+) to OC beyond 4.5GHz the ASRock board can’t deliver, although 4.5GHz is not a bad overclock by any standards and we have already proven that much beyond 4.3GHz is not going to help you in the way of gaming performance (see here). Also if you want a better motherboard for extreme overclocking ASRock have the Fatal1ty Z68 Professional Gen3, which somewhat logically costs more!

At a current cost of approximately £145 the ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 offers a lot of features by way of its Z68 chip-set and is good value, it looks good and it’s well made. But if your planning on running above 4.5Ghz then maybe you should dig a little deeper and get the Fatal1ty Z68 Professional Gen3!

 

Verdict

 

  Design/Quality pcGameware awards the ASRock Extreme4 Gen3 a Bronze
Performance
Value
Overall

 


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