The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional is a top 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 Fatal1ty Z87 Professional motherboard in Figure 1.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, two standard PCI slots, and one Mini PCI Express slot.
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, 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. The motherboard requires the installation of an auxiliary power connector from the power supply when you install more than one video card.
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.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of a Mini PCI Express slot, allowing you to install a Wi-Fi card that uses this format. (This slot is not compatible with mSATA devices.)
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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 Fatal1ty Z87 Professional supports memories up to 2,933 MHz.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional 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. On the ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are red. When installing two memory modules, use the black sockets.
[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]
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 four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips. 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_A4 port (which is controlled by one of the ASMedia chips), 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 Fatal1ty Z87 Professional offers eight USB 2.0 ports, four located on the motherboard’s rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard, and eight USB 3.0 ports, four located on the motherboard’s rear panel and four available through two headers. Apparently, the four USB 3.0 ports located on the motherboard’s rear panel are connected to a single USB 3.0 port of the chipset by way of an ASMedia ASM1074 hub chip. We say “apparently” because the manufacturer doesn’t explain how the USB 3.0 ports are configured.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional doesn’t support FireWire ports.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is its audio section, which uses a dedicated controller, a Sound Core3D from Creative, making the on-board audio of this product similar to the Sound Blaster Recon3D PCIe sound card, a product that retails for USD 100.00. This chip provides CrystalVoice technology for improving the audio quality during audio chats, and several other technologies for improving audio. Specifications for this chip include 102 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs and 101 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs, with a 192 kHz sampling rate and 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.
Additionally, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional has a high-end amplifier for analog headphones, using an NE5532 operational amplifier chip.
The audio section of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional is physically separated from the rest of the motherboard. This ensures that the theoretical signal-to-noise ratios can be achieved. See Figure 6.
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.
The motherboard comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output. It also has a two-pin header labeled “SPDIF_OUT1”, where you can install an adapter to have a coaxial SPDIF output or to connect a cable to older video cards that required a physical connection to have audio on their HDMI outputs.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I211-AT chip and the other controlled by an Intel I217-V chip.
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard’s rear panel with four USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 connector for keyboard, external clear CMOS button, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, HDMI input, one eSATA-600 port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 3.0 ports, the optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional has an HDMI input.
One of the USB 2.0 ports (the top-most one on the stack containing the eSATA port) is a “Fatal1ty mouse port,” which allows you to manually configure its polling rate between 125 Hz and 1 kHz. As usual, ASRock fails to properly indicate the presence of this port with a label or even to explain this feature in the manual of the product.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional 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. See Figure 8.
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 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional has 12 phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6379 chip, which uses a digital design. This controller provides six phases, an each of them is connected to a phase doubler chip, creating the 12 phases that are available. Each phase is driven by a single chip that has the two required MOSFETs (“low side” and “high side”) inside, however there were no identifying markings on it.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional 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.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z87 Express
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6776D
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) and four SATA-600 ports controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 port shared with one of the ports controlled by one of the ASMedia ASM1061 chips
- USB 2.0: Eight USB 2.0 ports, four on the motherboard’s rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Eight USB 3.0 ports, four available through two headers one the motherboard and four available on the motherboard’s rear panel and connected to one port controlled by the chipset by the way of an ASMedia ASM1074 hub chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- Thunderbolt: None
- On-board video: Controlled by the CPU; DisplayPort and HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: Produced by a Creative Sound Core3D controller (24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 102 dB SNR for the outputs, and 101 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output, and audio amplifier for analog headphones (Texas Instruments NE5532 chip)
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I217-V chip and one controlled by an Intel I211-AT chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- 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), one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, two PCI slots (ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip), and one Mini PCI Express slot
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2933, 32 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and four three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: HDMI input, two BIOS chips, POST diagnostics display, legacy serial port, and “Fatal1ty mouse port”
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 250.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional is clearly targeted to the savvy gamer user who is building a top mid-range computer (or entry high-end, depending on your point of view) 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. This includes a terrific audio section based on the Sound Core3D controller, which provides CrystalVoice technology for improving the audio quality during audio chats and several other technologies for improving audio, with signal-to-noise ratios above 100 dB (i.e., professional-grade). It also has a high-end operational amplifier for analog headphones. The audio section 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 of the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional is controlled by the CPU and therefore follows the 3.0 specification and can be used to build CrossFireX arrays (the other two slots are also compatible with SLI). Other highlights include the presence of a Mini PCI Express slot (not compatible with mSATA devices); a 12-phase voltage regulator circuit (although it has only six “real” phases); the “Fatal1ty mouse port,” which allows you to manually configure its polling rate; an HDMI input; 10 SATA ports; eight USB 3.0 ports; one eSATA-600 port (but shared with one of the SATA-600 ports); and two BIOS chips.
There are two drawbacks with this motherboard. The most serious one is the way the external USB 3.0 ports are configured: they 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.
The second drawback we found on this motherboard is minor: there is no sticker identifying which USB 2.0 port is the “Fatal1ty mouse port,” and information about this important port is virtually non-existent on the product manual or product page on the manufacturer’s website.