The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 is a top mid-range socket LGA1150 motherboard targeted for the “Haswell” processors (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what this motherboard has to offer.
The new Intel Z87 chipset provides two important upgrades compared to its predecessor, the Z77: six USB 3.0 ports instead of four, and six SATA-600 ports instead of only two. Another important difference between the two chipsets is where the video outputs of the motherboard are connected. While with both chipsets the video is generated by the CPU, on the Z77 the video signal was routed to the chipset, and the video outputs were connected to the chipset. On the Z87 chipset, the video outputs are connected directly to the processor. Both chipsets support up to three independent video monitors. The Z87 supports all other features provided by the Z77, such as Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the ASRock Z87 Extreme6 motherboard in Figure 1.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, two standard PCI slots, and one Mini PCI Express slot.
The three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is installed, the first two working at x8 when two video cards are installed, and the first working at x8 and the other two working at x4 when three video cards are installed.
This configuration is somewhat different from what we’ve seen in competing products, where the third PCI Express x16 slot is 2.0, controlled by the chipset, and works at x1, x2, or x4 speed.
All three PCI Express x16 slots support the CrossFireX technology. SLI is supported only on the first two slots. The motherboard requires the installation of an auxiliary power connector from the power supply when you install more than one video card.
If you plan to install a dual-slot video card in the third PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot, you will have to buy a case with at least eight slots. (Computer cases usually have seven.)
Since the Intel Z87 chipset does not support standard PCI slots, the motherboard uses an ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip to connect the standard PCI slot to a PCI Express x1 lane.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of a Mini PCI Express slot, allowing you to install a Wi-Fi card that uses this format. This slot is not compatible with mSATA devices.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1150 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 LGA1150 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz. According to ASRock, the Z87 Extreme6 supports memories up to 2,933 MHz.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GiB, you can have up to 32 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. Unfortunately, on the ASRock Z87 Extreme6 all memory sockets are black. In order to enable dual-channel mode and achieve the highest performance possible when installing two memory modules, you must install the first module in the first socket and the second module in the third socket (i.e., you must skip one socket).
[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z87 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). This motherboard has four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips. Unfortunately, the manufacturer did not use different colors to indicate which chip controls which SATA ports. The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them.
One eSATA-600 port is located on the motherboard’s rear panel. This port shares the SATA3_A4 port (which is controlled by one of the ASMedia chips), so both cannot be used at the same time.
The Intel Z87 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 offers seven USB 2.0 ports, four located on the motherboard’s rear panel, two available through a header located on the motherboard, and one USB 2.0 soldered vertically near the POST diagnostics display. There are eight USB 3.0 ports, four located on the motherboard’s rear panel and four available through two headers. The four USB 3.0 ports located on the motherboard’s rear panel are connected to a single USB 3.0 port of the chipset by way of an ASMedia ASM1074 hub chip.
The motherboard comes with an adapter with two USB 3.0 ports for you to use one of the motherboard’s USB 3.0 headers.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 does not 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 ALC1150 codec, which is the best audio codec available today, providing an impressive 115 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.
Besides having a high-end audio codec, the audio section of the ASRock Z87 Extreme6 is physically separated from the rest of the motherboard, and there is a metallic shield around the audio section. This ensures that the theoretical signal-to-noise ratios can be achieved. See Figure 6.
Additionally, the Z87 Extreme6 has a two-channel amplifier for analog headphones, provided by two Texas Instruments NE5532 chips.
The analog audio outputs are independent if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you use an analog 7.1 speaker set, you must use either the “line in” (blue) or the “mic in” (pink) jacks for the two additional speakers.
The motherboard comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output. Differently from most motherboards, there is no SPDIF header for you to install a coaxial SPDIF output.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I211-AT chip and the other controlled by an Intel I127-V chip.
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard’s rear panel with two USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 connector for keyboard, DVI-I output, external “clear CMOS” button, eSATA-600 port, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, HDMI input, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 3.0 ports, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 has an HDMI input.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 has two BIOS chips, so if the main BIOS chip is corrupted by a virus or a bad BIOS upgrade, you can still recover the motherboard.
This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display, so you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on.
The 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), and a legacy serial port, available through a header labeled “COM1,” but it does not come with the necessary adapter.
In Figure 9, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z87 Extreme6.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z87 Extreme6 has 12 phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator is controlled by an ISL6379 chip, which uses a digital design. This controller, however, provides only six phases. Each of these phases is connected to one ISL6611A phase-doubler chip, creating the 12 phases that are available. Each phase is driven by a single CSD87350Q5D chip that has the two required MOSFETs (“low side” and “high side”) inside.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 uses solid capacitors and ferrite-core coils. If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Z87 Extreme6 include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z87 Express
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6776D
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) and four SATA-600 ports controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 port shared with one of the ports controlled by one of the ASMedia ASM1061 chips
- USB 2.0: Seven USB 2.0 ports, two on the motherboard’s rear panel, four available through two headers on the motherboard, and one vertical port
- USB 3.0: Eight USB 3.0 ports, four available through two headers on the motherboard and four available on the motherboard’s rear panel and connected to one port controlled by the chipset by the way of an ASMedia ASM1074 hub chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- Thunderbolt: None
- On-board video: Controlled by the CPU; DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI-I connectors
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC1150 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 115 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output, and audio amplifier for analog headphones (two Texas Instruments NE5532 chips)
- On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I217-V chip and one controlled by an Intel I211-AT chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4), one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot, two PCI slots (ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip), and one Mini PCI Express slot
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2933, 32 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one three-pin connector for the CPU cooler, one four-pin connector for an auxiliary fan, and three three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: HDMI input, two BIOS chips, 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 190.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASRock Z87 Extreme6 is clearly targeted to the savvy user who wants to build an above-the-average computer using one of the new LGA1150 CPUs.
One of the main highlights of this motherboard is its audio section, which uses the best codec available today, the Realtek ALC1150, which provides signal-to-noise ratios above 100 dB. The audio section is physically separated from the rest of the motherboard, so its theoretical signal-to-noise ratio can be achieved. And the motherboard comes with an amplifier for analog headphones.
The third PCI Express x16 slot of the Z87 Extreme6 is controlled by the CPU and therefore follows the 3.0 specification and can be used to build CrossFireX arrays (the other two slots are also compatible with SLI). Other highlights include a 12-phase voltage regulator circuit; an HDMI input; 10 SATA ports; eight USB 3.0 ports; one eSATA-600 port (but shared with one of the SATA-600 ports); two BIOS chips; and a Mini PCI Express slot for the installation of a Wi-Fi card (not compatible with mSATA devices).
The only drawback with this motherboard is the way the external USB 3.0 ports are configured: they are connected to a single USB 3.0 port of the chipset, by way of a hub chip. If you use two or more of these ports at the same time, the performance will drop.