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ASRock has released seven motherboard models for the new socket LGA2011 platform, heavily betting that this platform will become more mainstream after Intel releases cheaper LGA2011 processors during this year. This time we will take a look at the X79 Extreme9, which is the most high-end (and most expensive) socket LGA2011 motherboard offered by ASRock at this time, with five PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, eight SATA-600 ports, eight USB 3.0 ports, and a high-end, add-on sound card called “Game Blaster.”
To better understand the differences between the several socket LGA2011 motherboards released by ASRock, we compiled the table below. The X79 Fatal1ty hasn’t been released yet. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article. “Game Blaster” is a PCI Express x1 add-on sound card featuring a Creative Sound Core3D audio chip and a Broadcom networking chip.
|X79 Fatal1ty||X79 Extreme9||X79 Extreme7||X79 Extreme6/GB||X79 Extreme6||X79 Extreme4-M||X79 Extreme4||X79 Extreme3|
|PCI Express x16||4 (x16/x8/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8)||5 (x16/x0/x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8/x8)||5 (x16/x0/x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8/x8)||3 (x16/x16/x8)||3 (x16/x16/x8)||3 (x16/x16/x8)||3 (x16/x16/x8)||3 (x16/x16/x8)|
|PCI Express x1||1||1||1||1||1||0||2||1|
|Audio||ALC898||Game Blaster||ALC898||Game Blaster||ALC898||ALC898||ALC898||ALC898|
|Price||NA||USD 345||USD 260||USD 280||USD 250||USD 219||USD 215||USD 215|
In Figure 1, you see the ASRock X79 Extreme9 motherboard.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 comes with five PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots and one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot. Socket LGA2011 processors have a total of 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes for video cards. This allows a very high-end configuration for the PCI Express x16 slots, but the exact configuration used will depend on the motherboard model.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 allows two configurations for its PCI Express x16 slots: x16/x0/x16/x0/x8, if up to three video cards are installed, or all slots running at x8, if four or five video cards are installed.
If you are going to install only two video cards, install the second video card in the third PCI Express x16 slot (labeled “PCIE4”), and not in the second one, in order for you to achieve the best performance.
When installing dual-slot video cards, you “kill” the slot immediately to the left (looking at the motherboard with its rear connectors facing up) of the slot being used. This means that you can only install three dual-slot video cards with this motherboard, and you will need a case with at least eight expansion slots to be able to install the third video card.
All PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA2011 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, which 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 LGA2011 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz officially, but they actually support memories up to 2,133 MHz. According to ASRock, the X79 Extreme9 supports memories up to 2,400 MHz.
One of the most important features of the socket LGA2011 processors is the support for the new quad-channel memory architecture, which allows the memory to be accessed in 256-bit mode for higher performance. Since each memory module is a 64-bit entity, four memory modules are needed to enable this architecture. If only two or three memory modules are installed, the memory will be accessed under dual- or triple-channel architecture, respectively.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 has eight memory sockets (four at each side of the CPU socket) and, since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 64 GB with this motherboard if you use eight 8 GB modules.
In order to enable the quad-channel mode, you must install four or eight identical memory modules. When installing four memory modules, you will have to “skip” one memory socket. Unfortunately, ASRock used the same color for all memory sockets (black) instead of using two different colors, which would certainly help users detect which sockets to use. Installation must start from the bottom-most socket, i.e., the socket closest to the main power supply connector.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The Intel X79 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5).
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 has another six SATA-600 port
s, controlled by two Marvell 88SE9172 chips and one Marvell 88SE9220 chip. Even though the chips are different, they all support RAID 0 and 1.
One drawback is that the manufacturer used only two colors to identify the SATA ports: black for the SATA-300 and gray for the SATA-600. The manufacturer should have used different colors to identify to where each port is connected. We think they should have used one color for the SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (which are the ones to the immediate left of the SATA-300 ports) and another color for the ports controlled by the additional chips.
All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 4.
This motherboard also has two eSATA-600 ports, controlled by another Marvell 88SE9172 chip.
The Intel X79 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports. Unfortunately, support for USB 3.0 ports isn’t integrated in the chipset yet. The ASRock X79 Extreme9 offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also supports eight USB 3.0 ports, the four located on the motherboard rear panel controlled by a Texas Instruments TUSB7340 chip and the four available on two headers controlled by another Texas Instruments TUSB7340 chip. The motherboard comes with a 3.5” panel containing two USB 3.0 ports for you to use on the motherboard USB 3.0 header if your computer case doesn’t have USB 3.0 ports with an internal connector.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 has two FireWire ports, one soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header. These ports are controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
In order to accommodate the high number of PCI Express devices (eight SATA-600 ports, two eSATA-600 ports and eight USB 3.0 ports), the ASRock X79 Extreme9 uses a PLX PEX8605 switch chip.
This motherboard doesn’t come with on-board audio, as audio is produced by the “Game Blaster” add-on sound card. We will talk about this card on the next page.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Broadcom BCM57781 chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a PS/2 keyboard connector, six USB 2.0 ports, a clear CMOS button, one FireWire port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 3.0 ports, and two eSATA-600 ports.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code which component is preventing the computer from turning on.
It has a legacy serial port, which is available through a header labeled “COM1.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port. It 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).
Of course, the highlight of this motherboard is its add-on sound card, shown in Figures 7 and 8. It must be connected to the PCI Express x1 slot.
This sound card is based on a Creative Sound Core3D chip (making it similar to the Sound Blaster Recon3D PCIe sound card from Creative that retails for USD 100), which 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 (SNR) for its outputs and 101 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs, with a 192 kHz sampling rate and 24-bit resolution.
Additionally, this card provides a second Gigabit Ethernet port, which is controlled by another Broadcom BCM57781 chip. This chip supports the “teaming” function, allowing you to combine the two Gigabit Ethernet ports for doubling the networking transfer rate to 2 Gbps.
It offers four gold-plated jacks for analog audio connection, optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an internal header for the front audio connection (you must install the audio connector from your case on this header, since the on-board audio is disabled when this card is installed), and an SPDIF header if your video card needs a physical connection in order to provide digital audio on its HDMI output.
In Figure 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock X79 Extreme9.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock X79 Extreme9 has 16 phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and two for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “16+2+2” configuration. The voltage regulator is controlled by a CHiL CHL8328 integrated circuit, using a digital design.
This motherboard comes with two EPS12V connectors. The motherboard manual doesn’t say when the second connector is required.
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 uses SMD (a.k.a. highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c) electrolytic capacitors in its main voltage regulator circuit. All coils on this motherboard are ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency. The rest of the electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are solid, manufactured in Japan.
If you want to learn more about the v
oltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The ASRock X79 Extreme9 has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.10 BIOS):
- Clock multiplier: From x12 to x60 (for unlocked CPUs)
- Base clock: From 90 MHz to 300 MHz in 1 MHz increments
- CPU core voltage: From -0.300 V to +0.500 V in 0.005 V increments
- Memory controller (“System Agent,” VSA) voltage: From -0.300 mV to +0.500 mV in 0.005 V increments
- CPU VTT (“I/O”) voltage: From 0.860 V to 1.709 V in 0.013 V increments
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.466 V to 2.535 V in 0.058 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) 1.1 V voltage: From 0.726 V to 1.907 V in 0.063 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) 1.5 V voltage: From 1.500 V to 1.850 V in 0.050 V increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.200 V to 1.800 V in 0.015 V increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock X79 Extreme9 include:
- Socket: 2011
- Chipset: Intel X79 Express
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6776F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports, two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5), and six SATA-600 ports controlled by two Marvell 88SE9172 chips and one Marvell 88SE9220 chip, all supporting RAID 0 and 1
- External SATA: Two eSATA-600 ports controlled by another Marvel 88SE9172 chip (RAID 0 and 1)
- USB 2.0: 10 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Eight USB 3.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard, controlled by two Texas Instruments TUSB7340 chips
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available on a motherboard header, controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip
- On-board video: No
- On-board audio: No
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Broadcom BCM57781 chip, an additional Gigabit Ethernet port on the Game Blaster sound card
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Five PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (x16/x0/x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8/x8, supporting SLI and CrossFireX) and one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, PLX PEX8605 switch chip
- Memory: Eight DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2400, 64 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and three three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: POST diagnostics display, legacy serial port, Game Blaster sound card
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- Average price in the U.S.*: USD 345.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
It is clear to us that ASRock is working hard to improve the quality of its products. We were glad to see the voltage regulator circuit of the X79 Extreme9 using a high-end design with SMD capacitors, and Japanese solid capacitors throughout the motherboard.
The X79 Extreme9 it the most loaded socket LGA2011 motherboard we’ve seen to date, with five PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots supporting SLI and CrossFireX, eight SATA-600 ports, two eSATA-600 ports, eight USB 3.0 ports, two FireWire ports, and an add-on “Game Blaster” sound card, which provides a digital signal processor (DSP) to improve audio quality and an additional Gigabit Ethernet port. A comparable sound card retails for USD 100, providing an outstanding value to this motherboard.
Keep in mind that even though this motherboard has five PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, you can only install up to three dual-slot video cards on this motherboard, and you will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots to install the third card.
If you are looking for a socket LGA2011 motherboard with all features money can buy, the ASRock X79 Extreme9 is a good option.