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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

The ASRock Z97 Anniversary is an inexpensive socket LGA1150 motherboard based on the Intel Z97 chipset, supporting the fourth and the forthcoming fifth generation Core i processors. It brings six SATA-600 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. This motherboard was named after the Pentium 20th Anniversary Edition G3258 processor, and we will try to figure out what makes it targeted at this particular CPU.

In order to celebrate the 20 years of the Pentium brand, Intel released the Pentium G3258 processor, a.k.a. Anniversary Edition. What makes this CPU unique is that it has an unlocked clock multiplier, just like the Core i5 and i7 “K” models. So, this processor is targeted at the user who, in the golden ages of overclocking, liked to buy an inexpensive processor and overclock it to achieve clock rates higher than the then available high-end models. The Pentium G3258 has a 3.2 GHz clock but is promised to reach at least 4.5 GHz through overclocking.

Being a motherboard sold as “the best motherboard for the Pentium 20th Anniversary Edition G3258”, you may think this motherboard has all the features overclockers look for, such as a high-end voltage regulator circuit, a clear CMOS buttom, POST status display, voltage monitoring points, etc, but this is not the case. This motherboard is, in fact, a very basic one, as you will see.

The Intel Z97 Express chipset is a Z87 chipset rebranded for marketing reasons. They are identical and, therefore, have the exact same specifications. Most motherboards based on this chipset support the new SATA Express and M.2 (successor to the mSATA) connectors, but these are mechanical features provided by the motherboard, not by the chipset.

Like the Z87, the Z97 supports six USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, 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 Z97 Anniversary motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 7.5” (305 x 190 mm).

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 1: ASRock Z97 Anniversary motherboard

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

The ASRock Z97 Anniversary comes with one PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot, three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots.

Obviously, the motherboard does not support SLI and CrossFireX technologies.

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 2: slots

[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 Z97 Anniversary supports memories up to 3,100 MHz.

The ASRock Z97 Anniversary has four memory sockets. You can install 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. On the ASRock Z97 Anniversary, the first and third memory sockets are blue, while the second and fourth are black. When installing two memory modules, use two sockets with the same color.

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 3: memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]

The Intel Z97 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). The Z97 Anniversary offers those six ports.

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 4: the six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset

The Intel Z97 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z97 Anniversary offers six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are six USB 3.0 ports (four at the rear panel and two available through a header), all controlled by the chipset.

The ASRock Z97 Anniversary does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.

This motherboard supports 7.1 audio format using a Realtek ALC887 codec. This codec has the same specifications as the Realtek ALC892, except that the ALC892 has two extra channels for audio streaming. The main specifications for this codec include 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 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. These specs are good for the mainstream user, but if you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB for the analog inputs.

The analog audio outputs are shared, which means if you want to install a 5.1 analog speaker set, you can not use the microphone and line-in inputs. There is no optical SPDIF output. There is a header labeled “SPDIF_OUT1”, where you can install an adapter to have a coaxial SPDIF output or to connect a cable to older video cards that required a physical connection to have audio on their HDMI outputs.

The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset with the help of an Intel i218V PHY chip.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI output, four USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, and the analog audio jacks.

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 5: motherboard rear panel

In Figure 8, you can see the accessories that come with the ASRock Z97 Anniversary.

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 6: accessories

[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z97 Anniversary has four phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses an ILS9582 controller chip (digital design), and each phase is driven by one PSMN9R1-30YL (“9130AL”) and two PSMN5R8-30LL (“5830DL”) transistors.

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 7: voltage regulator circuit

The ASRock Z97 Anniversary uses solid capacitors and all coils on this motherboard are alloy ones.

If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

The portrayed motherboard has several overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (L1.11 BIOS):

  • CPU Base Clock: From 90.00 MHz to 300.00 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
  • CPU Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.000 V in 0.001 V increments
  • CPU Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
  • CPU Cache Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.000 V in 0.001 V increments
  • CPU Cache Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 increments
  • System Agent Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
  • CPU Analog IO Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
  • CPU Digital IO Offset Voltage: From -1.000 V to +1.000 V in 0.001 V increments
  • CPU Input Voltage: From 1.200 V to 2.300 V in 0.01 V increments
  • CPU Input Voltage Offset: From -0.600 V to +0.400 V in 0.01 V increments
  • Memory Voltage: From 1.200 V to 1.800 V in 0.05 V increments

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 8: overclocking options

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 9: voltage options

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 10: memory timings adjusts

ASRock Z97 AnniversaryFigure 11: memory timings adjusts

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the ASRock Z97 Anniversary include:

  • Socket: LGA1150
  • Chipset: Intel Z97
  • Super I/O: NuvoTon NCT6776D
  • Parallel ATA: none
  • Serial ATA: six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5)
  • External SATA: none
  • USB 2.0: six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
  • USB 3.0: six USB 3.0 ports, four on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header, controlled by the chipset
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
  • Thunderbolt: none
  • On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one HDMI connectors
  • Audio: produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC887 codec (7.1 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 97 dB SNR for the outputs, and 90 dB SNR for the inputs)
  • On-board LAN: one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset using an Intel I218V PHY chip
  • Buzzer: no
  • Infrared interface: no
  • Power supply required: EPS12V
  • Slots: one PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slot, three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and two PCI slots
  • Memory: four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3100, 32 GiB maximum)
  • Fan connectors: one four-pin and one three-pin connectors for the CPU cooler, two four-pin and one three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
  • Extra features: none
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one
  • Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
  • More Information: https://www.asrock.com/
  • Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 85.00

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The Intel Pentium Anniversary Edition G3258 is intended to be inexpensive, yet powerful through overclocking; the ASRock Z97 Anniversary follows the same logic. There is no sense in bulding a computer with a USD 70 CPU if you need to buy a USD 300 motherboard to squeeze its potential. So, the ASRock Z97 Anniversary may seem too plain and weak if compared to high-end overclocking-aimed motherboards, but it is a simple, inexpensive motherboard with good overcloking capabilities for an unlocked, dual-core CPU.

That is why the manufacturer saved on several items (such as ports and audio codec), but kept the ones that count for a sucessful overclocking, such as the high-end chipset (the basic ones do not officially support overclocking) and several overclocking options at the BIOS setup. However, we missed some details that should not increase the price tag, such as on-board clear CMOS, power, and reset buttons. Also, a more extreme overclocking will probably demand a voltage regulator circuit with more phases.

Even if you do not plan to overclock your CPU, the ASRock Z97 Anniversary is a decent motherboard with a good cost/benefit ratio, since its price tag is in line with a value motherboard, being far less expensive than a high-end model.