ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer Motherboard Review
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard marks the welcome return of ASRock to the pcG review pages. It’s been a while (almost 2 years) since I tested one of my favourite motherboards, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z77 Professional, hopefully this new Z97 Fatal1ty branded board from ASRock’s Super Alloy Series will be just as good.
This time around the motherboard is based upon the new Z97 chipset supporting the latest Haswell refresh CPUs and of course Devils Canyon.
The ATX Form Factor ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard came well packaged in a rather flash looking box, with so much on the front it’s best you just take a look at the images above, as it will save me a lot of typing!
If you thought the front of the box looked busy, then you should take a look at the back. The back of the box is plastered in features of Fatal1ty Z97X Killer, some of the highlights are: Killer Networking, Purity Sound 2 and M.2 socket. For more details see Specifications/Features below.
Opening the box we can see that the ASRock Z97X Killer ships with a fair amount of accessories and paperwork. What’s nice to see here is also the inclusion of a specific guide exclusively for reviewers, this 15 page guide should help me sleep at night! 😉
Also what’s really good to see here is the level of packaging that ASRock has gone to. With the motherboard actually cable tied in four corners to a soft-cell foam tray, impressive!
In the box in addition to the motherboard itself we also find the following:
- 4 x Serial ATA (SATA) Data Cables
- I/O Panel Shield
- HDD Saver Cable
- Screw for M.2 SSD (NGFF) Socket 3
- NVIDIA SLI Bridge
- Quick Installation Guide
- Software Setup Guide
- ASRock Cloud
- Support CD
At the time of writing the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer is retailing for approximately £125 and comes with a 3 year warranty.
courtesy of ASRock
There’s no doubt it my mind that the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard is one good looking motherboard, obviously red is a good choice of colour for most of us, but this red seems to have a little extra to it. The whole motherboard really pops, from the heat-sinks to the colour coding of the connections, everything looks like it belongs. No silly designs here (no dragons, no bullets, no fans…), it’s almost subtle, yet cool…
Looking at the right side of the board first, this area is dominated by what is effectively the south bridge heat-sink and the four DIMM slots, with the DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB with support for Overclocked memory up to 3000MHz. Tucked just above the memory slots is a 4-pin CPU fan header (CPU_FAN1). Below the memory slots we see the main 24-pin ATX connector (in its normal place) and the single USB 3.0 connector (USB3_4_5). To the left of the memory slots on the edge of the board we see ASRock’s HDD Saver connector (covered with a sticker). This connector allows you to take control of the On/Off state of your HDDs via software allowing you to both save power and also disable drives for security reasons. While a good thing, I’m not sure it’s needed on what is undeniably a Gaming motherboard. To the left of this we see the main six SATA 6GBs ports all controlled by the Intel Chipset. Next to this we also find a SATA Express interface that is shared with two of the SATA sockets and the M.2 socket (more on this later). Selection for this is made via the UEFI. In the far left corner we find the internal Speaker jumper, Clear CMOS jumper and the only 4-pin Chassis Fan header (CHA_FAN1).
Looking at the bottom of the board again we see the board dominated by the south bridge heat-sink and additionally the PCIe slots. In the far right corner we have the BIOS selection jumper and the main front panel header, followed by the two BIOS chips. Note that the BIOS chips are removable meaning that if both end up corrupt you can get a replacement (Genius idea!). ASRock are one of the only manufacturers in the world to offer this facility. Next to this (running right to left) we find two USB 2.0 ports and a Serial port, closely followed by a PCIe power connector (this is required to be connected if you’re installing more that two GPUs). To the left of this we find the HD Front Panel Audio header.
Taking a look at the PCIe slots from top to bottom we have the following setup:
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 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x8 lane width graphics cards.
PCIE5 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIE6 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x14 lane width graphics cards.
Tucked neatly between PCIe slots 2 and 3 we find the single M.2 or New Generation Form Factor (NGFF) connector, this new slot is effectively a replacement for mPCIe and mSATA.
Looking at the left side of the board we see the Purity Sound 2 heat-sink on the right supported by way of a Realtek ALC1150 audio codec featuring 7.1 CH HD Audio. Next to this we find a Killer (hence the name!) E2200 controller, providing an Intelligent Neworking Platform. Beyond this we find the main IO Panel, that is covered in more detail below.
The top of the board is dominated by the Intel 1150 socket and the CPU power phase heat-sinks, nice the look too! In the centre we can see two of the Chassis Fan headers (CHA_FAN2 & CHA_FAN3), this time only a 3-pin headers though. To the right of the main CPU heat-sink and on the edge of the board we find the main 8-pin CPU power connector and next to this we find another CPU fan header (CPU_FAN2) and a Power Fan header header (PWR_FAN1), both of the 3-pin variety.
Above are some shots showing of the great aesthetics of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer Motherboard, the first image showing off that large, smart South Bridge heat-sink, and its associated six Intel controlled SATA 6GB/s ports.
In addition to that we have the main power phase all alloy heat-sinks around the CPU socket. All the red heat-sinks give the Fatal1ty Z97X Killer, a somewhat killer look (sorry couldn’t resist!). 😉
Looking at the underside of the board there’s not much to see but we can appreciate the Sapphire black PCB.
Also you can see from the IO Shield the position of the Fatal1ty mouse port, there’s also a bit of colour coding which is also always nice to see, better than plain black or silver.
The Purity Sound 2 (Realtek AlC1150) ASRock implementation features a 115db SNR DAC with differential amplifier, Cap less Direct Drive technology, EMI shielding cover, PCB isolation and DTS Connect, utilising Nichicon Fine Gold audio caps aiding the overall noise reduction. Next to this we find the E2200 Killer LAN chipset built for maximum networking performance for online games. This controller has been seen in the past and it’s good to see it again on the Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard.
The Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard only supports SSD based drives via its M.2 slot (above right), but both M.2 SATA (6 GB/s) and M.2 PCI Express Gen 2 (10 GB/s) formats are supported.
|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 Z97X Killer motherboard and the Haswell 4670K CPU. The following components were used:
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair AX760i|
|Motherboard||ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer||CPU||Intel Core i7-4670K|
|CPU Cooler||Corsair H105||RAM||Kingston HyperX Beast 8GB 2400MHz|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 770 GAMING OC Edition||SSD (M.2)||Kingston M.2 (SM2280S3/120G)|
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers (see below) 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).
* 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) (126.96.36.1991)
- ASMedia USB3.0 Driver (188.8.131.52)
- NVIDIA Graphics (337.88 WHQL)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer fired up on the first press of the power button (the external one, as there’s no MB based button), with the first job being to update the BIOS. This was extremely easy via ASRock’s Internet Flash facility that updated the BIOS to version 1.3 in a matter of a couple minutes.
ASRock’s UEFI BIOS interface is easy to use and navigate and with stability proven at the Load Optimized Defaults setting (CPU: 3.4GHZ and RAM: 1333MHz), it was time to overclock the CPU and dial in some memory XMP settings.
After playing around with the ASRock Load Optimized CPU OC Settings (see below), I found that I could get our test CPU (Intel Core i5-4670K) stable at 4.8GHz albeit at a hefty 1.380 volts, which to be fair is a little too high for everyday use. Although it proves that not only is the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard a good overclocker it’s pretty darn easy to do!
Also by selecting Profile 1 in the UEFI the Kingston Beast was able to run at its XMP setting of 2400MHz.
For testing purposes I ran the motherboard at both its stock speed of 3.4 (3.8GHz Turbo) and an overclocked setting (inc XMP @ 2400MHz) at 4.5GHz, which is fine for everyday use at a voltage of 1.25 volts.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.4GHz (1.040v) : RAM @ 1333MHz) with NVIDIA GTX 770
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||57.33|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||976|
As you can see from the two sets of data there’s not much of a performance difference in the scores when looking at both Stock (3.4GHz – 3.8GHz Turbo) and 4.5GHz, but the additional performance is there, even if it’s negligible. Of course some of this performance can be attributed to the Kingston Beast memory that’s now running at its XMP setting of 2400MHz.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ 4.5GHz (1.250v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with NVIDIA GTX 770
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||59.33|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||990|
- Additional Software/Features
Of course the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer is packed full of other features that will excite the Gamer, let’s take a look at some of the more Gamer centric ones:
The F-Stream Utility (download here) has come a long way since I last saw it, all of the options you would expect are still here such as the ability, to monitor and overclock the system. But what’s also rather cool are apps that support the Gamer!
Such as the Key Master App found within the Tools menu. The application allows you to activate macros from both your keyboard and your mouse, implement Sniper Mode, change scroll speed, even key repeats and key delays. That’s pretty cool that all of these options for modifying your Gaming Peripherals is via software supplied by your motherboard. Nice! In addition to this there’s the old favourite, the Fatal1ty mouse port giving you full control over the Polling Rate.
To say that the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard was a great motherboard, would probably be an understatement. Not because it’s equipped with more features than you can shake a stick at, but because it’s got pretty much all of the features a Gamer needs.
The motherboard came really well packaged, it’s nice to see the motherboard not only in a foam tray, but secured by way of some cable ties. The box admittedly is far from subtle, looking at the back gives you some idea of the level of hardware and software features that the Fatal1ty Z97X Killer supports. The board was easy to install (requiring an extra stand-off) and the layout is good, although I would have liked to have seen a few more PWM fan headers, as there are only two out of six.
The Fatal1ty Z97X Killer booted first time and the BIOS was extremely easy to update via the UEFI based Internet Flash utility (updates the BIOS directly from the web!). This is made all the safer by the boards two BIOS chips, that not only provide some redundancy, but can also be replaced should both fail! This I think is a brilliant idea, as we have known boards have to go back due to corrupt BIOS’s.
Once the board had been updated and tested it was on to some overcloking and while there may be no on-board button there are some simple OC options (from 4.0GHz to 4.8GHz) in the UEFI. I was easily able to overclock our Intel Core i5-4670K to 4.8GHz using this feature while still running our test RAM (Kingston Beast) at its 2400MHz XMP setting, impressive stuff. The voltage at this setting though is a little too high for my liking at 1.38 volts. We opted for a far more silicon friendly overclock of 4.5GHz at 1.25 volts.
Throughout testing the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard was both stable and performed well, and as you can see from above, overclocking was easy too. I would have liked to have seen a debug LED and a dedicated BIOS reset switch though (but to be fair I can level this complaint at many boards), maybe some of the other features (eg HDD Saver, eSATA) that are less Gamer and less important, could be dropped in favour of this, as they are far more valuable IMHO.
So it seems that ASRock have created the perfect Gaming motherboard!? Well, yes, I think they have! All of what most Gamers would want is here, a truly great looking board with easy to activate overclocking features. Killer LAN, Purity 2 Sound (via Realtek ALC1150), coupled with CrossFire and SLI support. Add to this its great stability, the replaceable BIOS chips (should things go wrong), great software features like the Key-Master and Fatal1ty Mouse Port applications. And to top it all off a very reasonable price, especially when you consider how new this board and its chipset is…
Therefore the the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard becomes only the third component to receive our top accolade, a pcGameware Platinum Award!
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Many thanks to ASRock for providing this sample for review