ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer Motherboard Review
Whilst James was beavering away with his review of the new ASRock Z97X Killer motherboard, I managed to persuade him to let me have a look at another in the ASRock Killer series, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer (better yet, no beer bribery was involved! ). With a slightly different PCB layout which drops SLI, but retains CrossFire and gains the addition of Thunderbolt, how will this compare to the recently reviewed board that also happens to be one of only a select few that has received the rare and prestigious pcG Platinum award?
Or in brief by ASRock.
‘Hide Your Kids and Hide Your Wife! Four ASRock Killer Series Motherboards are Coming!
While tossing and turning in bed, great minds often stumble upon the same philosophical questions of life. Are you there God? What is love? And what are the definitive attributes that differentiate a gaming motherboard from regular motherboards? Now ASRock elaborates the definition of real gaming motherboards with their new Killer Series – Z97 Fatal1ty Professional, Fatal1ty Z97X Killer, Fatal1ty Z97 Killer and Fatal1ty H97 Killer!
No Lag, Just Frag!
ASRock Killer Series features the Killer™ E2200 Intelligent Networking Platform is built for maximum networking performance for online games and high-quality streaming media. Featuring Advanced Stream Detect™, Killer E2200 automatically detects and accelerates game traffic ahead of other network traffic for smoother, stutter-free in-game performance and the competitive edge. With this exclusive, automatic traffic prioritization, games and real-time chat get priority over low-level system chatter, giving you the lowest latency for game data on the most controllable network hardware available.’
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer sports the new Z97 chipset supporting the latest Haswell refresh CPUs and of course Devils Canyon.
The ASRock Z97 Killer motherboard arrived well packaged in a cool looking box much like the Fatal1ty Z97X, with a huge Fatal1ty logo in the background (Johnathen Wendel would be proud). To be fair it is busy, but looks great, so instead of listing everything I’m going to let you take a closer look yourselves.
Then when you flip over of the box, the back is so feature packed it is difficult to know where to start (mind blown!). The back of the box is plastered in features of Z97 Killer (luckily the board doesn’t seem to have any additional features, or they’d need a much bigger box!). The key highlights of which include:
- Killer E2200 Game Networking
- ASRock App Shop
- Purity Sound 2
- M.2 Socket
- ASRock Cloud (Orbweb ME)
- Key Master
- Fatal1ty Mouse Port
- HDD Saver
Opening the box we can see that the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer ships with a plethora of accessories and guides.
Rather nicely ASRock have also gone that ‘extra mile’ with the packaging. As you can see, not only is the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer shipped in an anti static bag, but it’s also cable tied in four corners to a soft-cell foam tray (should help to prevent any damage from THAT haphazard delivery man!).
The box contects include:
- ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer Motherboard
- 4 x Serial ATA (SATA) Data Cables (2 x straight and 2 x right angled)
- I/O Panel Shield
- Driver and Utilities disk
- Screw for M.2 SSD (NGFF) Socket 3
- Quick Installation Guide
- Software Setup Guide
- ASRock Cloud (Orbweb ME) Setup Guide
Sadly at the time of writing, many vendors aren’t currently listing the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer, but it can be found on Amazon retailing for approximately £110 and comes with a 3 year warranty.
courtesy of ASRock
As you can see from our previous review for the ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional and by looking at the Z87 range, ASRock have had a huge shuffle in re-design. Gone are a multitude of different heat sinks for the north and south bridge, in comes a more generic heat sink style with a rather lovely anodized finish to seperate the the motherboard classes (yellow for OC Formula, blue for Extreme and red for Fatal1ty). Could this be a small move to reduce production costs? Possibly. Does it cheapen or lessen the look of the motherboards? Hell no! Just look at it!
The bright red and simple styling of both the north and south bridge heat sinks look great, even more so against the sapphire black PCB. Better yet, given the size and simplicity of the southbridge, you’ll even be able to see it with a GPU or two installed! Maybe it’s because it’s new or maybe I’m getting a little tired of all the gimmicky designs from other motherboard manufacturers, but I think this is best looking motherboard I’ve seen in a while.
If you take a quick look under the northbridge, you’ll also notice two two 3 pin fan headers. Strange placement you may think? Not really, this is ideal for anyone with a 120/140mm AIO mounted at the case exhaust port wanting to use push/pull fan config.
Taking a quick glance over the board in a clockwise direction, starting in the top left. We see the Fatal1ty Mouse Port (exclusive to the Fatal1ty range). This is conjunction with F-Stream (included on the utilities disk) will allow the user to adjust the polling rate of their chosen mouse (adjustable from 125Hz to 100Hz, or you could cgo for Fatal1ty’s choice of 500Hz). Then we have the bit and beautiful northbridge heat sink, 8 pin power socket, PWR FAN, CPU FAN2, CPU FAN1 headers (CPU1 is also a 4 pin PWM header) and of course the 1150 socket.
Looking to the left we see the four DIMM slots, two red and two black (not just aesthetic, they also pair up with your dual channel DDR3 sticks), theses support up to 32GB of up to 3200MHz+(OC) DDR3, +24 pin power socket and USB 3.0 (USB 3_4_5) header.
Down to the lower right is the big red ASRock Fatal1ty southbridge heat sink (it’s worth noting that the lettering on both sinks are of a mirror finish metal of some sort, we all like shiny things), beneath which lives six SATA 3 sockets (the two dark grey two are shared by the SATA Express and M.2 socket) all of which are controlled by an Intel Chipset, then the CHA FAN1 (4 pin PWM header).
To the lower left lives the two USB 2.0 sockets, front IO panel header, PLED1 (for cases with 3 pin POWERLED cables or even some third party LED), Internal Speaker, COM1 and HD audio header. Just above the last of which a not too widely used Thunderbolt AIC connector is also situated.
Also down in the left corner (in case you hadn’t noticed ) are a variety of PCI slots. These are listed from top to bottom as follows:
PCIE1 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIE2 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width graphics cards.
PCIE3 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIE4 (PCIe 2.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x4 lane width graphics cards.
PCIE5 (PCI1 2.0 x8 slots) is used for PCI Express.
PCIE6 (PCI2 2.0 x8 slots) is used for PCI Express.
Which may also seem a little odd as if your going to be using the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer in a CrossFire setup, because the secondary GPU slot only uses four lanes.
Neatly sitting between the PCIE slots 2 and 3 is the single M.2 or NGFF (New Generation Form Factor) connector, this is new to the Z97 range and effectively replaces mSATA or mPCIe. Looking to the left of the connector are five mounting holes (with support for 30, 42, 60, 80 & 1100mm M.2 devices). ASRock supports M.2 SATA3 6.0Gb/s modules and M.2 PCI Express modules up to Gen2 x2 10Gb/s, which is twice as fast as M.2 Gen2 x1 alternatives that are limited to 5Gb/s.
Just beneath the M.2 socket are CLRMOS1 and BIOS_SEL1 jumpers and two BIOS chips (given my recent history with motherboards this is certainly not a bad thing). So if you do have a BIOS issue you can simply switch to the secondary BIOS, break either or both and you can simply swap out the chip/s. Brilliant idea for heavy handed people like me!
You may have also noticed the Killer name liberally spread across the back end of the mobo. That’d be because the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer Motherboard uses the increasingly popular Killer E2200 (hence the motherboard name) NPU (Network Processing Unit), which can boost networking performance up to five times for UDP (User Datagram Protocol) applications (Games!). Then a little lower the Purity Sound 2 SPU (Sound Processing Unit). This SPU is supported by the Realtek ALC1150 audio codec which features 7.1+2 Channel HD Audio with Content Protection. This also features EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference) shielding and PCB (Printed Circuit Board) isolated shielding (both of which should help prevent any unwanted electrical background noise), Cap less Direct Drive technology, with a TI NE5532 differential amplifier and TI NE5532 headset amplifier, both of which should help provide a better bass level and a little more noise.
Then moving to the rear of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer motherboard and the IO panel, we have the following inputs/outputs.
On the dark side of the motherboard (the back bit you’ll never see), there’s not a lot to see, but it does allow us to see the rather nice Sapphire black PCB.
The IO shield is clearly marked with colour coding (red for Fatal1ty mouse port, grey for USB 2.0, blue for USB3.0).
|As the new Devil’s Canyon CPUs were not available at the time of review (and to be fair there’s very little (in fact almost nothing!) between a Haswell and a Haswell Devil’s Canyon anyway!), our testing was performed with an Intel Core i5-4670K.|
A new build was put together to house the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer Motherboard and the Haswell 4670K CPU. The following components were used:
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair AX760i|
|Motherboard||ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer||CPU||Intel Core i7-4670K|
|CPU Cooler||Raijintek Themis||RAM||Kingston HyperX Beast 8GB 2400MHz|
|Graphics Card||MSI R9 290 GAMING 4G||SSD||Kingston 3K 120GB|
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were then installed. The latest ASRock Drivers were used and can been obtained here (it’s always best practice to use the latest drivers).
* The latest BIOS version (1.3) was downloaded and installed . This was done via ASRock’s internet Flash utility accessed directly within the UEFI. It worked like a dream, and this is the first time I have seen this feature work so well.
- Intel Chipset Driver (INF driver ver: 10.0.13.PC)
- Realtek High Definition Audio Driver (v7004)
- LAN (Atheros) (18.104.22.1681)
- ASMedia USB3.0 Driver (22.214.171.124)
- AMD Catalyst 14.6 (9.14.10.01044)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 didn’t power up first time as being in a hurry/stupid I’d hooked up the case IO cables to the motherboard header in the wrong order…………
After putting my ‘user error’ right, the board fired up without a hitch. So first up was the easy task of updating the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 BIOS using the ASRock Internet Flash facility within the UEFI (this was surprisingly fast and I didn’t even have a chance to make a cuppa!), of course you’ll need an internet connection to do it this way, or you can go down the tried and tested USB memory stick approach.
Having gotten perhaps a little too over familiar with Click BIOS 4 on our test motherboard the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING , the ASRock UEFI BIOS interface took a little while to get used to. It is easy enough to navigate and looks clean (it’s also fully viewable on a 1080p tv when used in combination with an AMD GPU, something that can’t be said for the MSI board).
The default setting for Intel I5 4670k is a typical stock speed of 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) and for the HyperX Beast 1333MHz. Of course we wouldn’t be happy with just that would we? .
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 3.4GHz (1.0367v) : RAM @ 1333MHz) with MSI R9 290 GAMING 4G
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||71.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1256|
So after a few select benchmarks it’s back to BIOS time for a little overclock. Firstly by switching the HyperX Beast up to its recognised speed of 2400MHz by selecting XMP profile 1, then by playing around with the UEFI optimized CPU settings. Each of the five settings step the Turbo up by 0.2GHz, the lowest setting being 4.0GHz and the highest 4.8GHz, all of these work fine, but also knock a lot of volts through the CPU which of course also means more heat (at 4.8GHz the profile uses 1.378v and a 15 minute run on Prime95 gave me a toasty 93°, not exactly ideal for day to day use). So I settled on an easily attainable 4.5GHz and dropped the volts to 1.229v (the results are shown below).
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 4.5GHz (1.229v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with MSI R9 290 GAMING 4G
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||74.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1341|
As you can see, there is a performance increase even if only small. Is the benefit really worthwhile? That’s something you’ll have to judge for yourselves.
- Additional Software/Features
Of course being Fatal1ty branded, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer is packed full of many features for Gamers, let’s take a look at some of them now.
Gaming Audio is something that is often wrongly overlooked (how can you fully immerse yourself without it?!?). Luckily the the Realtek ALC1150 chipset used by ASRock Purity Sound 2 is good, with no background noise and good clarity, despite on-board audio coming on in strides in recent years, it really isn’t a replacement for a dedicated SPU such as the Creative Sound Blaster or Asus Xonar range.
Purity Sound™ 2 includes 7.1 CH HD audio with Realtek ALC1150 audio codec, 115dB SNR DAC with Differential Amplifier, TI® NE5532 Premium Headset Amplifier, cap less Direct Drive technology, EMI shielding cover, PCB isolate shielding and DTS Connect. As Nichicon audio capacitors are what every audiophile has been longing for on a PC, ASRock applied these high quality capacitors for Purity Sound™ 2.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer Motherboard also provides a Killer utilities suite in the form of the F-Stream Utility. This not only allows you to monitor and overclock your system whilst in windows, but also allows to to play around with XFast RAM, XFast LAN, Fast Boot, OMG (Online Management Guard), Good Night LED (this allows you to turn of your case front panel LED), FAN-Tastic Tuning, Dehumidifier, Key Master (Macros for any keyboard), Fatal1ty Mouse Port, USB Key (this allows you to use a USB device instead of having to type in your password to gain entry to windows), OC DNA (to save or send OC profiles), DISK Health Report and a Live Update service. There really is so much that you could do a review on the software alone!
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer came very well packaged within a box that not only looks the part, but lists every little feature of the board and its utilities. Inside the box the mobo was very well protected in an anti-static bag and cable tied to a foam tray and all the contents you would expect. The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer with its Sapphire black PCB and its big and beautiful metallic red heat sinks, is honestly one of the best looking boards I’ve seen in a long time and with a build quality to match.
The board is as easy as any other ATX motherboard to install (providing you install the system panel pins correctly ) and having the additional PCIE stand-off is a good thing for those of slightly heavy hand. The UEFI based Internet Flash utility for updating the BIOS is a welcome and surprisingly fast addition, as is the additional BIOS chip (ok, I hold my hands up, I tend to kill BIOS’), better still both BIOS chips are replaceable should you (I) manage to kill both!
Using either the UEFI or F-Stream utility, overclocking our Intel i5-4670K was a very simple task using the EZ OC settings (4.0GHz, 4.2GHz, 4.4GHz, 4.6GHz or 4.8GHz), although when using the higher settings a lot more voltage is pushed through the CPU (1.378v) which leads to more heat. If you have a high end cooling solution, this may be a good trade off, but given the performance benefits is it really worthwhile over a 4.5GHz OC (1.229v)?
Despite its good layout, I personally would have preferred to have right angled SATA ports coming off the board, more lanes on the secondary GPU slot (PCIE4) as I don’t really think 4 lanes is enough to take full advantage of CrossFire and SLI or a de-bug LED would have been nice too.
After a few minor grievances, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer has proven rock solid throughout its two week testing period, very easy to use, overclock and the utilities and software is great. It’s a good motherboard. Would I be happy to buy one for approximately £110.00? Maybe, but if I can get the slightly better ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer for just a few pounds more, well…
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Many thanks to ASRock for providing this sample for review