The Intel Z77 chipset will be released in April, but we had the privilege of getting the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 for a “first look” article. It will be an entry high-end (or top mid-range, if you will) 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 Extreme6 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 Extreme6 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|
|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|
|Price||USD 235||NA||NA||USD 175||USD 155||NA||USD 130|
In Figure 1, you see the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 motherboard.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, two standard PCI slots, and one mini PCI Express slot.
The two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU. The first slot works at x16 when only one video card is installed; both work 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 2.0 x16 slot is controlled by the chipset that works at x4 speed. You will need a case with at least eight expansion slots if you decide 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.
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.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of a mini PCI Express slot. This slot allows you to install an SSD unit or a wireless network card based on this form factor.
In order to properly accommodate the additional PCI Express devices that are on this motherboard (third PCI Express x16 slot, mini PCI Express slot, and two extra SATA-600 ports), the board makes use of a PLX PEX8605 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.
[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 Brid
ge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to ASRock, the Z77 Extreme6 supports memories up to 2,800 MHz.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 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. 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 determine 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 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 Extreme6 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 5.
This motherboard also has one eSATA-600 port, which is shared with the “SATA3_A2” port, so they can’t be used at the same time.
Surprisingly, this motherboard comes with a floppy disk drive controller.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 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, four 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 EtronTech EJ168A chip. (The two ports controlled by this chip are located on the rear panel. The motherboard comes with a 3.5” panel with two USB 3.0 ports, so you can use the internal USB 3.0 connector if your computer case doesn’t have USB 3.0 ports using this kind of connector.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 has two FireWire ports controlled by a VIA VT6308S chip, one located on the rear panel and the other available as a header on the motherboard.
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. 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 Broadcom BCM57781 chip.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, four USB 3.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-I output, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, clear CMOS button, two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, one eSATA-600 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 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 7.
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).
In Figure 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 Extreme6.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 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.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 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 Extreme6 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 0.091 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
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 Extreme6 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 EtronTech EJ168A chip)
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by a VIA VT6308S chip
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU, VGA, DVI-I, HDMI, and DisplayPort 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), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4, all supporting SLI and CrossFireX), one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, and two standard PCI slots (ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip, PLX PEX8605 switch 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 four three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: POST diagnostics display, legacy serial port, socket LGA775 CPU cooler support
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com
- Average in the U.S.*: USD 175.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on 04/08/2012.
The ASRock Z77 Extreme6 is a motherboard targeted to users who want a product one step above mainstream solutions. While it provides the same basic functionalities of the Z77 Extreme4, it comes with one additional PCI Express x16 slot (which is 2.0 and works at x4 speed, though), allowing you to install up to three video cards in SLI or CrossFireX configuration. Another highlight of this product is the presence of a mini PCI Express slot, allowing you to install an SSD or a wireless network card using this form factor.
Under the hood, however, is where lies one of the most important aspects of this motherboard: the PLX PEX8605 switch chip. Since the chipset doesn’t have enough PCI Express lanes available to connect all the devices that are present on this motherboard, this chip automatically switches PCI Express lanes in order to provide the highest performance possible to the device that is requiring performance at any given moment. On motherboards without this chip, you need to manually disable devices (namely, USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports) that you are not using if you want to achieve the highest possible performance on the ports that are being used.
Also noteworthy is the high-end audio codec used by ASRock on most of its motherboards based on the Intel Z77 chipset, the Realtek ALC898, which provides very high signal-to-noise ratios (110 dB for the outputs and 104 dB for the inputs), allowing you to use the on-board audio from this motherboard for professional tasks, such as audio editing.
If you are a user looking for “something more” but don’t want to buy the most high-end (and most expensive) motherboard around, the Z77 Extreme6 is a good candidate for you. Otherwise, you can pick a more mainstream product, such as the Z77 Extreme4 from the same manufacturer.