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ASRock Z97 Extreme6 PCIe Ultra M.2 Storage Performance Overview

By: Chris Ramseyer | m.2 SSDs in Storage | Posted: Jun 2, 2014 1:00 pm

ASRock Extreme6


Before we get started, I want to point out this editorial isn't a full review of the ASRock Extreme6. Today, we're just looking at the storage capabilities of this impressive motherboard. TweakTown's own Shawn Baker will have a full review of the Extreme6 shortly that covers CPU, GPU, multi GPU, audio, and other performance data.




The Extreme6 uses Intel's latest Z97 chipset with Haswell LGA1150 processors. On the storage side, this motherboard gives users a total of ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, an M.2 PCIe 2.0 x2, an Ultra M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4, one SATA Express (shared with two SATA 6Gb/s), one eSATA external port, ten USB 3.0 ports, and five USB 2.0 ports (one vertical Type A onboard).




As far as we are concerned, the star of the show is the Ultra M.2 slot shown above. The Extreme6 is the only motherboard at the launch of Z97 to even have one despite a plethora of Z97 and H97 products released. To put it simply, the Extreme6 has it and nothing else does. Further increasing the exclusivity, the Ultra M.2 slot connects straight to the CPU and does not use the PCIe lanes coming off of the chipset.




ASRock didn't stop with Ultra M.2, a spec standard M.2 slot is also on the Extreme6. The standard M.2 slot with PCIe 2.0 x2 is capable of delivering up to 10Gb/s, the same as SATA Express.


Both the M.2 and Ultra M.2 slots support SSDs up to 110mm long, also called 22110. Brass tabs in the motherboard serve as the mounting point for a single screw in a standoff that provides support for the SSD. If you happen to have a 2280 form factor drive like the Samsung XP941, you just move the standoff to the proper location.


Both the Ultra M.2 and standard M.2 slots are set for M Key or sometimes called M Card type. PCIe based M.2 SSDs use M Key, while SATA based M.2 SSDs use B Key or have notches cut out for both M and B Keys.




Although it's difficult to see in the other image, all of the brass tabs have covers over them except for the 2280 tab that comes with the standoff inserted inside from the factory.




Here we see the PCIe arrangement with the storage PCIe slots located between where you would normally install video cards or other normal PCIe devices. The M.2 SSDs rest under the video card heat sinks (if you have dual height cards). A third card based PCIe slot sits under the Ultra M.2 port for Wi-Fi cards. The Ultra M.2 actually sits high enough off of the motherboard to where you could install a Wi-Fi PCIe card, an M.2 SSD, and then a video card on top of it all. The density is amazing, but users should be mindful of the large amount of heat generated by a trio of PCIe devices in such a small area. Good airflow from the case fans can remedy any hot spots, though.


As you can see, there are four PCIe slots and several components that use PCIe lanes. As usual, Intel delivered a consumer desktop platform that doesn't supply enough PCIe lanes to run everything from the processor's CPU direct PCIe lanes. Even with PCIe switches, using an M.2 SSD in the Ultra M.2 slot means your traditional PCIe allocation drops to x8/x4.


With just eight lanes to the top PCIe slot and four lanes to the middle, SLI from NVIDIA is off the table. Crossfire from AMD is not an issue since AMD has not disabled the feature on 4-lane PCIe slots.




Moving away from M.2 for a moment, we see the SATA 6Gb/s and SATA Express connectors. There are ten SATA 6Gb/s ports total. Six come off of the Intel Z97 chipset and support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 with Intel's new Rapid Storage Technology 13 driver. Four additional SATA 6Gb/s ports come from an ASMedia ASM1061 that supports Hot Plug and ASRock's HDD Saver Technology. One port is shared with a rear-mounted eSATA port.


The Extreme6 also has a single SATA Express slot on the bottom left side of the cluster. SATA Express, or SATAe for the short version, carries two PCIe 2.0 lanes to upcoming SATAe SSDs. We should be able to show you several examples in our Computex coverage in less than a week.




HDD Saver is a new technology introduced by ASRock that allows a user to physically power down HDDs in a user's system. The 4-pin connector next to the BIOS A / B switch provides power to secondary drives. Through a software interface, users can choose to power down non-boot drives for power savings and security. ASRock supplies a special cable that routes power from the onboard header to HDD drives.


In this image, we also see the Type A onboard USB 2.0 port. Type A onboard connectors are usually found in servers for operating system USB drives, a common occurrence in Linux-based systems built for specific uses, like PFSense. We've also seen Type A connectors on expensive workstation motherboards to hold key dongles for software like Cubase and other professional applications. Dongle keys are expensive to replace and fragile in most cases.




The back panel is just as impressive as the rest of the board. The only option not available is 10GbE and VGA. An eSATA port (shared with an ASMedia SATA 6Gb/s) port is on the back as well as six USB 3.0 ports. Dual gigabit Ethernet provides connectivity to the network, while DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort feed monitors from the CPU's onboard video system.


You may assume since the price is so low that ASRock found ways to cut corners, but that isn't the case. The audio on the Extreme6 uses what ASRock called Purity Sound 2, a premium onboard sound system. Also, a feature often found on premium overclocking systems, the back panel also has a BIOS reset button recessed behind the plate.

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