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The ASRock Extreme4-M is a microATX motherboard based on the Z77 chipset and targeted to current Intel processors. Let’s check it out.
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 Extreme4-M 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 14 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 OC Formula||Z77 Professional||Z77 Performance||Z77 Extreme9||Z77 Extreme6||Z77 Extreme4||Z77 Extreme3|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (x16)||5 (x16/x16/x0/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or 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)||1 (x4)||0||1 (x4)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||2||1||1||1||1||2||1|
|Mini PCI Express||0||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Price||USD 240||USD 220||USD 140||USD 300||USD 180||USD 135||USD 120|
|Specification||Z77 Pro4||Z77 Pro3||Z77 Professional-M||Z77 Extreme4-M||Z77 Pro4-M||Z77M||Z77E-ITX|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||1 (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)||1 (x4)||2 (x1/x4)||1 (x4)||0|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||1||1||1||1||1||0||0|
|Mini PCI Express||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Price||USD 95||USD 95||USD 155||USD 140||USD 110||USD 90||USD 150|
In Figure 1, you see the ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M motherboard. It is based on the microATX form factor (9.6 x 9.6 inches or 244 x 244 mm).
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4), and one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot.
The two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is installed, and with both working at x8 when two video cards are installed. 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 third PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE4) is controlled by the chipset, always works at x4 speed, and uses 2.0 bandwidth. You won’t be able to use this slot if you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slot.
The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
[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 Extreme4-M supports memories up to 2,800 MHz.
The ASRock Z77 OC Extreme4-M has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with 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. Unfortunately, on the ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M, all of them use the same color (black). For you to enable the dual-channel mode when installing two memory modules, you will have to install the first module in the first socket and the second module in the third socket (not in the second).
[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). The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M has two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip.
Most of the SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them, but two of them are not installed rotated, and the installation of an expansion card on the third PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE4) may block them. See Figure 4.
This motherboard has an eSATA-600 port, which is shared with the SATA3_A1 connector, so both can’t be used at the same time.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and four USB 3.0 ports, two located on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a header located on the motherboard, near the main power supply connector.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M doesn’t have FireWire ports.
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 one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL81111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard connector, four USB 2.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, eSATA-600 port, Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, an optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The portrayed motherboard has a legacy serial port, which is available through a header labeled “COM1.” The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M also has a legacy parallel port, which is available through a header labeled “LPT1.” You will need to buy adapters if you want to use these ports. 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).
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M supports the installation of CPU cool
ers originally developed for the LGA775 platform. See Figure 6.
In Figure 7, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Extreme4-M has four phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), one for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and one for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “4+1+1” configuration, which is incorrectly advertised by the manufacturer as “4+2.” The voltage regulator is controlled by an L6718 integrated circuit, using a digital design, which is superior to the hybrid design usually seen on motherboards from ASRock.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M uses solid electrolytic capacitors and ferrite coils.
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 (1.30 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 -100 mV to +100 mV in 50 mV 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 2.349 V in 0.008 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) voltage: From 0.780 V to 1.646 V in 0.009 V increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.165 V to 1.800 V in 0.005 V increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M include:
- 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 two SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 port, shared with the SATA3_A1 connector
- USB 2.0: 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Four USB 3.0 ports, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by the chipset
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): No
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU; VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI connectors
- 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: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (x16/x0 or x8/x8), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4, all supporting SLI and CrossFireX), and one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2800, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and three three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: Legacy serial and parallel ports and support for LGA775 CPU coolers
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 140.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme4-M provides a somewhat high-end configuration, allowing you to build a powerful yet small PC. Some of the highlights of this motherboard include the support for SLI and CrossFireX configurations (support for SLI is not too common among microATX motherboards), a very high-end audio codec, four SATA-600 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, and an eSATA-600 port. The price for this motherboard is just right, making it a perfect product for those looking for the features it brings.