The Z77 Extreme11 is the most expensive motherboard targeted to “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors) from ASRock. Let’s see what this motherboard has to offer.
The Intel Z77 is an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It also includes the addition of two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).
In addition, the ASRock Z77 Extreme11 supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.
To date, ASRock has launched 17 different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the tables below, we compare their main specifications. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article. The Z77 Professional, the Z77 Professional-M, and the Z77 Performance are part of the “Fatal1ty” series, coming with a special USB port with a higher polling rate for gaming mice.
|Specification||Z77 Extreme11||Z77 Extreme9||Z77 WS||Z77 OC Formula||Z77 Extreme6/TB4|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||3 (x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8)||5 (x16/x16/x0/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8/x8)||5 (x16/x16/x0/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||0|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||3||1||1||2||2|
|Mini PCI Express||1||1||0||0||0|
|eSATA-600||1 (shared)||1 (shared)||1 (shared)||0||1 (shared)|
|Price||USD 400||USD 370||USD 300||USD 240||NA|
|Specification||Z77 Extreme6||Z77 Professional||Z77 Performance||Z77 Extreme4||Z77 Extreme3||Z77 Pro4|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (x16)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (x16)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||0||1 (x4)||1 (x4)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||1||1||1||2||1||1|
|Mini PCI Express||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Price||USD 160||USD 145||USD 130||USD 125||USD 120||USD 110|
|Specification||Z77 Pro3||Z77 Professional-M||Z77 Extreme4-M||Z77 Pro4-M||Z77M||Z77E-ITX|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||1 (x16)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (x16)||1 (x16)||1 (x16)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||2 (x1/x4)||1 (x4)||0|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||1||1||1||1||0||0|
|Mini PCI Express||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Price||USD 95||USD 210||USD 140||USD 110||USD 90||USD 150|
Figure 1 shows the ASRock Z77 Extreme11 motherboard. It is based on the CEB form factor (12 x 10.5 inches or 305 x 267 mm), which is a little bit deeper than the ATX form factor (12 x 9.6 inches or 305 x 244 mm).
Figure 1: ASRock Z77 Extreme11 motherboard
The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 comes with three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4), and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
Usually, on motherboards based on the Z77 chipset, there are only two PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, as these slots are controlled by the CPU, not by the chipset. On this motherboard, however, there are three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots. This is accomplished by the presence of a PLX 8747 switch chip. This chip also allows the first PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot to work at x16 speed when two video cards are installed; usually, when two video cards are installed, the first slot drops its speed to x8. When three video cards are installed, the first slot works at x8. See the table below. Since these slots are controlled by the CPU, they will offer PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth (8 GB/s at x16) when a “Sandy Bridge” CPU is installed, but PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth (16 GB/s at x16) when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used.
The fourth PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE7) is controlled by the chipset, always works at x4 speed, and uses 2.0 bandwidth. You will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots if you want to install a dual-slot video card in this slot. (Computer cases usually have seven expansion slots.)
The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
Figure 3: The PLX PEX8747 chip
The ASRock Extreme11 also has a Mini PCI Express slot, which comes with a dual-band Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n card with Bluetooth 4.0 capability.
Figure 4: Mini PCI Express with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth card
In order to properly accommodate the additional PCI Express devices that are on this motherboard (the additional SATA/SAS and USB 3.0 ports), the board makes use of a PLX PEX8608 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time.
Figure 5: The PLX PEX8608 chip
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1155 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 LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to ASRock, the Z77 Extreme11 supports memories up to 3,000 MHz.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB wit
h this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the ASRock Z77 Extreme11, all memory sockets are black. So, when installing two memory modules, you must install the first module in the first socket and the second module in the third socket, skipping the second socket. Otherwise, you won’t enable the dual-channel mode.
Figure 6: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution that 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).
One of the highlights of the ASRock Z77 Extreme11 is the presence of an LSI SAS2308 chip, which offers eight SATA-600/SAS-600 ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 1E, and 10. This chip is connected to the system using a PCI Express 3.0 x8 connection, meaning that it offers the highest performance possible when several devices are using the ports at the same time; usually, SATA/SAS chips use a PCI Express 2.0 x1 connection.
All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 7.
Figure 7: SATA-600/SAS-600 ports (gray), SATA-300 ports (black), and SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (gray)
This motherboard has an eSATA-600 port, which is connected to the SATA3_1 connector, so these two ports cannot be used simultaneously.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 offers nine USB 2.0 ports, two soldered on the rear panel, one soldered on one of the edges of the motherboard, and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and 12 USB 3.0 ports, eight located on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard, near the main power supply connector. The eight additional USB 3.0 ports are controlled by two EtronTech EJ188H chips.
The motherboard comes with a 5.25” panel containing two USB 3.0 ports and the Wi-Fi antenna.
Figure 8: Panel with two USB 3.0 ports and Wi-Fi antenna
The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 has two FireWire ports, one soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard. These ports are controlled by a VIA 6315N chip.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 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.
The motherboard has on-board optical SPDIF output. A header labeled “HDMI_SPDIF1” also provides SPDIF output for you to install a coaxial SPDIF output or to route digital audio to older video cards that require this physical connection in order to have digital audio output in their HDMI connectors.
The analog audio outputs are independent only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use either the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer and one controlled by an Intel WG82583V chip.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 comes with a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module. See Figure 3. The Wi-Fi module supports the IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n standards and is a dual-band component, which allows it to achieve higher speeds than Wi-Fi cards that are single-band. The Bluetooth portion of the card operates under the 4.0 specification.
In Figure 9, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, eight USB 3.0 ports, a clear CMOS button, HDMI output, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, one eSATA-600 port, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
Figure 9: Motherboard rear panel
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The motherboard has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code the component that is preventing the computer from turning on.
Figure 10: POST diagnostics display
The portrayed motherboard 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. The portrayed 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).
In Figure 11, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 Extreme11.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z77 Extreme11 has eight 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 an “8+2+2” configuration, which is incorrectly advertised by the manufacturer as “8+4.” The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6367 integrated circuit, using a hybrid design.
Figure 12: Voltage regulator circuit
The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 uses solid capacitors and ferrit
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
Below, we list the most important overclocking options available at the motherboard’s setup (1.10 BIOS):
- Base clock: From 95 MHz to 150 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
- CPU voltage: From -0.300 V to +0.600 V in 0.005 V increments
- Integrated graphics processor (“IGPU,” VAXG) voltage: From -0.300 V to +0.600 V in 0.005 V increments
- Memory controller (“System Agent,” VCCSA) voltage: From 0.925 V to 1.200 V in 0.092 V increments
- CPU VTT (“I/O”) voltage: From 0.768 V to 1.634 V in 0.009 V increments
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.586 V to 2.345 V in 0.008 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) voltage: From 0.726 V to 1.907 V in 0.013 V increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.165 V to 1.800 V in 0.005 V increments
Figure 13: Overclocking options
Figure 14: Overclocking options
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 Extreme11 include:
- Form Factor: SSI CEB
- Socket: LGA1155
- Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6776D
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports, two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5), and eight SATA-600/SAS-600 ports controlled by an LSI SAS2308 chip (RAID 0, 1, 1E, and 10)
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 shared with the SATA3_1 connector
- USB 2.0: Nine USB 2.0 ports, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel, one soldered on the motherboard edge, and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: 12 USB 3.0 ports, eight soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard (four controlled by the chipset and eight controlled by two EtronTech EJ188H chips)
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header, controlled by a VIA VT6215N chip
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU, HDMI connector
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC898 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 110 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer and one controlled by an Intel WG82583V chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4, all supporting SLI and CrossFireX), three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and one Mini PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot (PLX PEX8608 and PEX8747 switch chips)
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3000, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan, and four three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: Wi-Fi card supporting dual-band IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, POST diagnostics display, and legacy serial port
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 400.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]
The ASRock Z77 Extreme11 is probably the most complete motherboard for “Ivy Bridge” processors that money can buy. However, it is not just a matter of coming with lots of features; this motherboard is targeted to users who understand how these features were implemented.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots––not only two like most motherboards based on the Z77 chipset. Also, because of the PLX8747 switch chip, they support x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8 configurations.
The presence of eight additional SATA-600/SAS-600 ports is another highlight of this motherboard. Most importantly, the chip used, an LSI SAS2308, is connected to the system using a PCI Express 3.0 x8 connection, allowing all storage devices to achieve high performance even when they are accessed at the same time.
This motherboard also comes with a dual-band Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n card, which achieves higher performance than single-band models. The motherboard also supports Bluetooth 4.0.
In addition, the motherboard has 12 USB 3.0 ports.
In order to properly accommodate the additional devices, the board makes use of a PLX PEX8608 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time.
Also noteworthy is the high-end audio codec used by this motherboard, the Realtek ALC898, which provides very high signal-to-noise ratios (110 dB for the outputs and 104 dB for the inputs), i.e., non-noticeable background noise.
The only negatives we see with this motherboard are the voltage regulator circuit, which uses a hybrid design instead of a digital one, and its price. Costing USD 400, it isn’t for the average user.
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