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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

The Intel Z77 chipset will be released in April, but we had the privilege of getting the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 for a “first look” article. It will be a mainstream socket LGA1155 motherboard targeted to the forthcoming “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors) and also supporting the current “Sandy Bridge” models (second-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 will have to offer.

The Intel Z77 will be 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 will also include 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 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.

ASRock has already announced seven different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the table below, we compare their main specifications.

Specification Fatal1ty Z77 Professional Fatal1ty Z77 Professional-M Fatal1ty Z77 Performance Z77 Extreme6 Z77 Extreme4 Z77 Extreme4-M Z77 Pro4
Form Factor ATX microATX ATX ATX ATX microATX ATX
Memory Sockets 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
PCI Express x16 3 x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4) 3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4) 2 (x16/x4) 3 (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4) 2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8) 3 x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4) 2 (x16/x4)
PCI Express x1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1
Mini PCI Express 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Standard PCI 2 0 2 2 2 0 3
SATA-300 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
SATA-600 6 4 2 4 4 4 4
eSATA-300 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
eSATA-600 1 1 0 1 1 1 0
USB 2.0 10 8 10 8 8 10 10
USB 3.0 8 6 6 6 6 4 4
FireWire 2 0 0 2 0 0 0
Gigabit Ethernet 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
VGA No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
DVI No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
HDMI Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
DisplayPort Yes Yes No Yes No No No
Audio ALC898 ALC898 ALC892 ALC898 ALC898 ALC898 ALC892
Voltage Regulator 16+8 8+3 8+4 8+4 8+4 4+2 4+2
Price USD 235 NA NA USD 175 USD 155 NA USD 130

In Figure 1, you see the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboard.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 1: ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboard

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots.

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 PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.

Since the Z77 chipset doesn’t support standard PCI slots, these slots are connected to PCI Express x1 lanes using an ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 2: Slots

[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Intel socket 1155 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 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 supports memories up to 2,800 MHz.

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 has four memory sockets, and 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. When installing two 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.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 3: 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, 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 Z77
Extreme4 has another two SATA-600 ports, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip (no RAID support).

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 right of the SATA-300 ports) and another color for the ports controlled by the additional chip.

All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 4.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 4: SATA-300 (black) and SATA-600 (gray) ports

This motherboard also has one eSATA-600 port, which is shared with the “SATA3_A1” port, so they 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 offers eight USB 2.0 ports, two soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard, and six 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 two additional USB 3.0 ports are controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip. (The two ports controlled by this chip are located on the rear panel.)

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 doesn’t support 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 new 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. 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 Broadcom BCM57781 chip.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, four USB 3.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, clear CMOS button, two USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA-600 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 5: Motherboard rear panel

[nextpage title=”Other Features”]

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 allows you to install CPU coolers that were originally designed for socket LGA775 CPUs, as it has installation holes that match the retention mechanism of socket LGA775 CPU coolers. See Figure 6.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 6: Motherboard supports socket LGA775 CPU coolers

This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code which component is preventing the computer from turning on.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 7: POST diagnostics display

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).

In Figure 8, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 Extreme4.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 8: Accessories

[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 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 a “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.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 9: Voltage regulator circuit

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 uses solid electrolytic capacitors, manufactured in Japan. All coils on this motherboard are ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.

If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 has a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.20 BIOS):

  • Base clock: From 95 MHz to 150 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
  • CPU core voltage: From -0.300 V to +0.600 V in 0.005 V increments
  • Integrated graphics processor (IGPU) 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 0.081 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 0.009 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

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 10: Overclocking options

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 motherboardFigure 11: Voltage options

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 Extreme4 include:

  • Socket: 1155
  • 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 one of the SATA-600 ports controlled by the ASMedia chip
  • USB 2.0: Eight USB 2.0 ports, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
  • USB 3.0: Six USB 3.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header on the motherboard, four controlled by the chipset and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
  • 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 Broadcom BCM57781 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, supporting SLI and CrossFireX), two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots (ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip)
  • Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2800, 32 GB maximum)
  • Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan, and two three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
  • Extra features: POST diagnostics display, legacy serial port, support for socket 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 155.00

* Researched at Newegg.com on 04/08/2012.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The ASRock Z77 Extreme4 is a motherboard targeted to the average user who wants all technologies currently available and some room for future expansion (e.g., adding a second video card), but doesn’t want to spend more money on a motherboard that has even more features that he or she won’t probably use anyway. If you fit this description, the Z77 Extreme4 is a motherboard for you. Of course, if you are sure that you need more USB 3.0 ports, SATA-600 ports, and PCI Express x16 slots, you will need to pick a more expensive model. Conversely, if you are building a very basic PC and are sure you won’t need six USB 3.0 ports and four SATA-600 ports, you can save some money by buying an entry-level product. In fact, if you are not even going to use the additional technologies provided by this motherboard (e.g., Intel Smart Response Technology), you can pick a product based on the coming Z75 chipset and save some bucks.