The AMD 870 is the current value chipset for AMD processors without integrated video. Let’s see if the ASRock 870iCafe is a good choice for users looking for a value socket AM3 motherboard in the full ATX form factor.
When AMD announced the AMD 870 chipset, they said it was going to use the SB710 south bridge chip, but it seems people at AMD changed their mind, as at AMD’s website the AMD 870 description lists SATA-600 and 14 USB 2.0 ports, and these features are only available with the SB850 south bridge chip (the SB710 only supports SATA-300 ports and 12 USB 2.0 ports). Other differences between the two chips include the native support for Gigabit Ethernet and the support for RAID 5 in the SB850.
The ASRock 870iCafe uses the SB850 south bridge, supporting six SATA-600 ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port.
Actually, the AMD 870 is identical to the AMD 880G chipset. The only difference between the two is the presence of an integrated video controller in the AMD 880G (a DirectX 10.1 engine called Radeon HD 4250).
In Figure 1, you have an overall look at ASRock 870iCafe. Usually motherboards targeted to the value segment use the microATX form factor, but the 870iCafe is a full ATX motherboard, which may please several users. The board comes with passive heatsinks on top of the north bridge, south bridge, and transistors of the voltage regulator circuit. The ASRock 870iCafe has only solid capacitors, a feature really nice to see on a product targeted to the entry-level market.
The AMD 870 chipset has 22 PCI Express x1 lanes controlled by seven engines, which is the same configuration used by the AMD 880G. The AMD 890GX has the same number of PCI Express lanes, but has eight engines to control them, but the high-end 890FX has 42 lanes controlled by 11 engines.
The ASRock 870iCafe comes with one PCI Express x16 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots. This configuration clearly shows that we are dealing with a mainstream motherboard.
The good news is that there is an empty space to the left of the PCI Express x16 slot, so if you install a dual-slot video card it won’t block any of the other expansion slots available.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
At the moment the integrated memory controller from socket AM3 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however ASRock says the 870iCafe supports DDR3 memories up to 1,800 MHz through overclocking. The 870iCafe has four DDR3 sockets and since at the moment each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB each, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.
The first and second sockets are white, while the third and fourth are blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance you should install two or four memory modules in order to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them on sockets with the same color in order to enable this feature.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The AMD 870 chipset is a dual-chip solution, using the SB850 south bridge chip. This chip natively supports six SATA-600 ports (with RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10). These ports are located on the corner of the motherboard, so the video card won’t block them. This motherboard doesn’t come with an ATA-133 port nor with a floppy disk drive controller, features that could make sense in a value product.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard. This motherboard doesn’t have USB 3.0 nor FireWire ports.
The ASRock 870iCafe comes with six-channel audio, a configuration that is only seen on entry-level motherboards nowadays. The audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC662 codec. The technical specifications of this codec include 24-bit resolution for the outputs, 20-bit resolution for the inputs, up to 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs and outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs, and 98 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs. The audio quality is compatible with the market segment this product is located.
Unfortunately the 870iCafe comes with shared analog audio jacks, and you can’t use the rear mic in and line in inputs if you have a 5.1 analog speaker set installed. Once again, this configuration shows that this motherboard is targeted to the value segment.
Another drawback found on the 870iCafe is the absence of an SPDIF header, meaning you can’t have an SPDIF output with this motherboard by simply installing an adapter (you will need to buy an add-on audio card for that), nor you will be able to route digital audio to the HDMI output of your video card. Therefore, this motherboard can’t be used to build home theater PCs (HTPCs).
The ASRock 870iCafe has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111C chip, which is connected to the system using a PCI Express x1 lane and thus not presenting any potential performance issues. This is a nice feature to find on a value motherboard, since products in this category usually have a Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) port.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors, serial port, six USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and shared analog 5.1 audio outputs.
As you can see in Figure 5, this motherboard comes with a legacy serial port, a feature that may be useful for some users that still have old external devices that require this kind of connection.
This motherboard also comes with an infrared interface (“IR1” header), allowing you to easily install an infrared sensor to allow your computer to communicate to other infrared devices (e.g., remote control).
Even though this is an entry-level motherboard, it comes with a POST diagnostics display (see Figure 4), allowing you to discover through a two-digit code what is wrong with your computer, if it doesn&
rsquo;t turn on.
It also has a core unlocking feature (called “UCC” by ASRock), which allows you to unlock hidden cores of certain AMD CPUs.
In Figure 6, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The ASRock 870iCafe comes with a five-phase voltage regulator circuit. From the five available phases, four are used to generate the CPU main voltage (VDD, a.k.a. Vcore), while the other one is used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller, the HyperTransport controller, and the L3 memory cache (VDDNB). Therefore, this motherboard has a “4+1” configuration.
All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid made in Japan and the voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes, which are better than iron chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The new ASRock 870iCafe provides some overclocking options. Below we list only the main ones available in the 1.00 BIOS.
- CPU reference clock: From 150 MHz to 500 Hz in 1 MHz steps
- PCI Express clock: From 75 MHz to 250 MHz in 1 MHz steps
- CPU voltage: From 0.6000 V to 2.000 V in 0.0125 V steps
- Memory controller voltage (VDDNB): From 0.6000 V to 1.5500 V in 0.0125 V steps
- Memory voltage: From 1.30 V to 2.05 V in 0.05 V steps
The number of memory timings settings is impressive for a value product.
As mentioned, this motherboard has a core unlocking feature, available under “ASRock UCC” in the motherboard setup. This function allows you to unlock hidden CPU cores on selected AMD CPUs.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock 870iCafe include:
- Socket: AM3
- Chipset: AMD 870 + SB850
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6771F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10)
- External SATA: None
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: No
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC662 codec (six channels, 24-bit resolution for the outputs, 20-bit resolution for the inputs, up to 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs and outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 98 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs)
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111C chip, connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: One PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-1800 through overclocking)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan, and one three-pin connector for an auxiliary fan
- Extra Features: POST diagnostics display, CPU core unlocking feature, serial port
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: CyberLink Power2Go 6.1 LE OEM, CyberLink MediaShow 4.1 SE OEM, Cyberlink PowerDVD 8.0 DTS Trial, CyberLink PowerDirector 8.0 Trial, CyberLink PowerBackup 2.5 Trial, Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi MB Trial, motherboard drivers, and utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 90.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]
The new ASRock 870iCafe is a typical entry-level motherboard, targeted to users that want to build a mainstream AMD-based PC without integrated graphics, and prefer to have a full ATX motherboard instead of a microATX model. The advantages of the 870iCafe include the presence of six SATA-600 ports with support for RAID, one Gigabit Ethernet port, only solid capacitors, some overclocking options, and a useful core unlocking tool for you to “transform” your CPU in a better one if you bought the right model.
The main disadvantage of the 870iCafe are the shared audio jacks. The presence of only one PCI Express x16 slot may limit your upgrade options, and the absence of USB 3.0 ports may also be seen as a negative point by some users.
The 870iCafe is offered at USD 90, and at this very moment the main problem with this motherboard is that you can buy, for the exact same amount, the 870 Extreme3 from the same manufacturer at Newegg.com, which is based on the same chipset and comes with tons of extra features not present on the 870iCafe, including a second PCI Express x16 slot, two USB 3.0 ports, one eSATA-600 port, one FireWire port, 7.1 audio with independent analog jacks, and on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors. So, it is a no-brainer buying, for the same price, the ASRoc
k 870 Extreme3 instead of the 870iCafe.