When AMD brought out the new 8xx series chipset they did things in an odd way. Their first release was the 890GX. This was a high-end version of the chipset, but it had an IGP (internal graphics processor) which is not normally how things work. For some reason, this has been the path that AMD has taken. Not that long after the release of the 890GX (and the later the 890FX) we are down to the 870 flavor of the chipset.
This particular 870 is sitting on an ASRock designed PCB with some intriguing features. According to ASRock, the 870 Extreme3 is the first motherboard to have Core Unlocking available on it. It also has USB 3.0, SATA 3.0, and (if the packaging is accurate) eSATA 3.0. Let's see if this $109.99 (from NewEgg.com at the time of writing) motherboard is up to the title 'Extreme' or not.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The box that this 870 Extreme3 ships in is a little on the ugly side. Although I like the black look, the reflective coating over the entire box is overwhelming and annoying to look at. In my opinion, it needs to go. Let's be honest; there is no need for that type of surface and it only detracts from the box and the information being presented (not to mention it is a pain to photograph).
On the front of the box, if you can see it, we find a large logo that denotes that this product has True 333 (a nice jab at GIGABYTE there). The bottom of the box has a complete row of badges and icons to tell you what kind of support (CPU, GPU etc) you are getting when you buy the 870 Extreme3. There is also a sticker listing the contents of the "free bundle" which we will talk about later.
The back of the box is even more affected by the reflective material. Once your eyes adjust to it you will find additional details about some of the features ASRock feels are of importance to you.
The loot that comes with the 870 Extreme3 is understandably sparse, but it is still pretty much everything you will need to get up and running.
Not that long ago, we had the folks from ASRock stop by the lab and talk to us about what we felt people were looking for in a motherboard. We spent about an hour explaining what we felt was wrong with the current philosophy in motherboard design and it would seem that ASRock listened. Looking at the layout here we can see that the R&D guys have put some thought into the way the 870 Extreme3 is laid out.
Looking at the RAM slots and the CPU space you can see that they have been shifted towards the front edge of the board. This gives a larger area for the power regulation components which translates into a potentially better tracing layout.
The 4-pin Aux header gets a little more room around it as a by-product of the shift.
In this shot you get the best impression of the move. Normally, the area between the power components and the I/O ports is very small. Here we have a large amount of room. We see large solid caps staggered in place instead of stuffed into a row. I hope this layout gamble pays off in cooling and performance later on.
Another area we talked with ASRock about was how often we saw wasted space with the peripheral slots on a motherboard; especially with PCIe x1 and x4 slots. ASRock has managed to put two usable PCIe x1 slots on this board. One is above the primary PCIe x16 slot and the other is right above the secondary PCIe x16 slot. ASRock left more than enough room to use a double height cooling solution and still have access to that second x1 slot.
The area around the Southbridge is very clean, but we have noticed something interesting. There are only five SATA 3.0 ports here. It seems that one of the normal six has been used for the eSATA connection on the back I/O port. ASRock also gives you a set of diagnostic LEDs and on board power and reset switches.
Speaking of the I/O ports, we find a typical set back here including the popular but still scarce USB 3.0. One thing to note is that the single eSATA port back here is apparently SATA 3.0 (6GBps). While that is a good thing, to the best of my knowledge there are very few (if any) eSATA 3.0 enclosures so I am not sure how much value there is in this.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the 870 Extreme3 is an AMI BIOS with some of ASRock's tweaks and features exposed to the end user.
The OC Tweaker Menu is where the average enthusiast will spend the majority of their time. ASRock has not made this board (or BIOS) just for the typical enthusiast; they have also added in a nice feature for the newcomer or the novice. This is the Load Optimized CPU settings option.
As you can see, to get the CPU speed you want all you have to do is select the percentage and CPU speed you are trying to achieve. That is not to say that you will get it, but you can quickly get all of the settings in line with this one selection.
The Memory timings page is typical and does not need much explanation.
The Advanced menu has your options for CPU settings,
Overall, it looks like the 870 Extreme3 has a pretty functional BIOS.
Our overclocking experience with the 870 Extreme3 was not spectacular. We ran into quite a few issues once we pushed past 233MHz. We finally topped out at 240MHz x16 (3.84GHz) for a stable overclock but it was a pain to get there.
You can see the validation for the ASRock 870 Extreme3 here.
ASRock does include an overclocking utility called OC Tuner. However, this was not the cleanest or most precise software we have used. Looking at it, you get the impression that it is not quite done yet. The colors and shapes seem to be unfinished. That does not stop you from using it, bu it is a consideration.
There are pages for all of the normal overclocking needs and for the most part they work well. We did notice that at times the software had a hard time figuring out what was going on with the system. It would hang and all of the information would be blank. We ended up staying away from the OC Tuner and just using the settings in the BIOS.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
As we are using new equipment in the lab, we will also be starting off with a fresh set of data. We will be working on getting some of the older products run back through (to get more data for you) but in the meantime we will keep pushing on.
The ASRock 870 Extreme was a simple board to set up. The drivers went in without a hitch and things ran pretty well from there.
The software bundle that ASRock talks about is not exactly what it would seem. Most of the better products are only trials, so even though they are on the DVD, they are not much use in the long run.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic and real-world testing. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems, slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Buy It Here
The memory performance here should be pretty good. It is about where it needs to be with the memory we have switched to. Unfortunately, we did have to drop the memory speed to get the higher clock.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Everest shows us the same thing; again we lose memory performance as we had to drop the memory speeds to maintain the higher clock.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Not much to see here. The HyperPi Times are what we saw with our other test setup; maybe a little faster but not any slower.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
This is a little different. The older hardware was up in the mid-240s to 250s, so we can see that the new SSDs will be a little slower (although still fast). This is more than likely not a reflection on the motherboard, though. We will continue to test to find out.
Interesting; it seems that with the new Corsair SSDs we are seeing much higher CPU utilization rate than we did before. This could point to a performance issue with CPU heavy tests like LightWave.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
Now this is different. The new test gear appears to give us much better PCMark scores. Even at stock, we are much higher than what we saw with the older test gear. Much of this we cannot attribute to just the new test hardware which means the 870 Extreme3 is showing us some good performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we use 3DMark Vantage; the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. FutureMark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card), you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
Again we see some very nice numbers; we will have to figure out what the delta is between the older test gear to be sure but we are seeing some good numbers with the 870 Extreme3.
Cinebench R11. x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
The Cinebench scores are right where they should be even compared to our old test setup. The 870 Extreme does not have any issues with rendering Cinema 4D scenes.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
This is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
Here we see some more impressive performance from the 870 Extreme.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The 870 Extreme3 is a little slower than we expected. This could possibly be from the slower SSD performance we have seen (which is more than likely due to the SSD and not the board).
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose uses multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frame per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test; ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small but occasionally, because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2, it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
Nice numbers here for the 870 Extreme3 with the HD5870. Looks like gaming could be a good option.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal; unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Again the numbers here are good, you would not have an issue with gaming from the board. Of course if you went with a lower end GPU you would not get the same results.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Even Bad Company 2 is not a problem with minimum frame rates in the high 40s.
The 870 Extreme3 dose a good job at gaming. We were impressed with the fluid game play we saw. The audio was not too bad either. You will need to make sure you have a decent gaming GPU, but in the end you will not be hindered by this motherboard if you are interested in gaming.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind that it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
The power consumption was not bad on the 870 Extreme3; one of the things that was very nice was that the power draw difference between stock and overclocked was almost nothing. Granted, our overclock was not a big one.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Heat was also not an issue we the temperatures were very close between stock and overclocked as well as idle and load.
We liked the ASRock 870 Extreme3. It is fast, clean, easy to use and only $89.99 from NewEgg.com. At this price you can probably grab more RAM, a better GPU, or even pay for the full versions of the trail software included.
Our gaming experience was also great, but our overclocking experience was not that great. We are pretty sure that ASRock will correct this with a future BIOS; after all, they did put a ton of overclocking tools into the current one. We did not get a chance to try out the Core Unlocker function, as that is for another article, but it can also lower your overall cost if you can pick up a tri or dual core CPU and kick it up to a quad.
We think that this board could be one of the best AMD based motherboards in terms of bang for the buck that we have tested.