Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
The Z170 chipset landed recently and with it comes a slew of enticing motherboards. Many brands have done their best to diversify their lineups with unique features and aesthetics to compliment the new chipset and its rich connectivity. ASRock has launched three lines of Z170 motherboards (Gaming, Overclocking, and Extreme), and I took a look at one of their new gaming motherboards a week ago and today I get to look at what they have in store for their Extreme series motherboards. The Z170 chipset is loaded with 26x I/O ports which can be configured as USB 3.0, SATA6G, or PCI-E 3.0. Out of those 26 ports, six must be USB 3.0. Out of the remaining 20 ports, four can be allotted to more USB 3.0 or PCI-E. Out of those leftover 16 ports, there is support for a maximum of six SATA6G ports, which can be configured as SATA6G or PCI-E 3.0.
To take things to a new level, those 16 ports also support three sets of 4x PCI-E lanes with iRST support for M.2 slots which can be used in RAID (each M.2 slot must also have two SATA connections blended in). This means that there will be many motherboards with different configurations catering to the target users of each individual motherboard. With the Z170 chipset it will be harder than ever for manufacturers to differentiate themselves from one another, so let's see what ASRock brings to the table for the new chipset with the Z170 Extreme4 and Z170 Extreme4+.
The only real difference between the Z170 Extreme4 and Z170 Extreme4+ is the front panel USB 3.1 bay device, other than that the boards are identical. ASRock has decided to implement Intel's latest NIC, USB 3.1 type-A and type-C on both the back panel IO and the front panel bay for the Extreme4+. There are 6 SATA ports from Intel and also 3 SATA Express which use the SATA ports. A single Ultra M.2 slot shares one of the SATA Express/two of the SATA ports. ASRock has also provided their latest Purity Sound 3. There are 6 USB 3.0 on the back panel and two through an internal header.
At the time of writing, the Z170 Extreme4+ is $174 on Newegg and the Z170 Extreme4 is $155, which makes the front panel bay about $20, which isn't bad considering it contains another controller and there really aren't any other options for front panel USB 3.1. That being said, this is still one of the most affordable Z170 motherboards, but it does pack all of the Intel PCH features.
Packaging and the Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+
Packaging and the Board
ASRock's box is standard size and the new design is quite appealing. Packaging is well done, the board is on top of anti-static foam inside and anti-static bag protected from the elements.
Accessories include 4x SATA6G cables, IO shield, 2-Way SLI bridge, screw for M.2, driver DVD, case badge, and manuals. If you buy the plus version, you will get the stuff on the right as well including the USB 3.1 front bay and the appropriate connectors.
The ASRock Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+ has 5 fan headers circled in red, and there does seem to be both PWM and dc (voltage mode) fan control for each header, but I am unsure how to change the fan to either PWM or DC mode, it might be automatically done. This is a welcomed upgrade from their X99 motherboards, and ASRock provides a lot of customization options in the UEFI for fan speed. For Z170, ASRock has stepped up the aesthetics of their Z170 motherboards, and the Extreme series has been made over. A plastic shield covers up the IO panel and the audio section of the motherboard while providing a glimpse of the audio hardware as a teaser. I am a big fan of the copper touches to the overall black color scheme. It is refreshing to see a color scheme other than red, blue, and yellow used by the majority of motherboard vendors. The back of the PCB is pretty much bare except for a clock generator and an ASMedia USB 3.1 controller. The PCB divide for the audio is also visible but there are no backside LEDs.
The IO Panel features 6x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, a single NIC, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, PS/2 KB/Mouse, 7.1 audio outputs with TOSLINK, and a clear CMOS button.
The PCI-E layout is pretty simple; for starters all PCI-E slots are PCI-E 3.0. The top PCI-E 16x and second PCI-E 16x (8x electrical) are routed to the CPU. With a single card you use the top slot, but if you use two cards both the first and second PCI-E 16x slots operate at 8x. The last 16x slot is 4x electrical routed to the PCH. The board supports 2-way SLI and 3-way CrossFireX. All three PCI-E 1x slots are routed to the PCH. The Ultra M.2 slot is located below the first 16x slot and supports ultra-long M.2 drives the length of a single PCI-E slot.
The Z170 PCH provides six SATA6Gb/s ports, four of them are right angled and two are straight angled lower on the board. All the SATA ports can also be SATA Express. One of these SATA Express ports (SATA3_0, SATA3_1, and SATA_EXP0) shares bandwidth with the M.2 slot, so if either is in use then the other is disabled. A USB 3.0 internal header is located right below the 24-pin connector as well for an easy reach for front panel USB 3.0 wires.
The Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+ feature power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons, as well as a POST code display which is awesome for a board of this price. Dual BIOS ROMs are also present and a switch is there to change which BIOS you use.
ASRock is now in their third generation of upgraded integrated audio with Purity Sound 3. It features Nichicon fine gold capacitors, dual amplifiers, and PCH isolation.
ASRock has heat sinks on all the MOSFETs for the VRM for the CPU, it's a 6+4+1+1 phase VRM.
The heat sinks make solid contact with the PCB. The shield over the IO panel and audio section is made of plastic, but it looks to be high quality.
Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+ Circuit Analysis
In my opinion motherboards look best when they don't have any heat sinks on them, but I know a lot of you like your heat sinks so I will take them off and do the circuit inspection so you don't have to!
If you count the phases this VRM is a 6+4+1+1 phase VRM. There are four major input rails to the CPU for Z170; VCC (VCore), VCCGT (Graphics core), VCCSA (System Agent), and VCCIO (CPU IO). Counting the phases from the top right to the bottom left. The first four are for the VCCGT, then the next 6 are for the VCore, and single phases for the VCCIO and VCCSA follow. ASRock is using a 4+2 phase PWM which has its phases doubled to 6+4 for the VCore and VCCGT, the VCCIO and VCCSA each have their own single phase PWMs. ASRock is using 12K gold capacitors.
The Intersil ISL95856 is a hybrid digital PWM which has a total of 4+3 phase outputs with three integrated drivers. The CPU VCC (VCore) uses 3 phases of the 4 phase output, two drivers are integrated and a single ISL6625A labeled (5AZ) is used for the 3rd driver. Each driver outputs to set sets of MOSFETs. The VCCGT (integrated graphics) uses 2 phases of the 3 from the PWM and another ISL6625A is used as the second driver. I wasn't able to identify the MOSFETs, but they are of good enough quality to allow for my maximum CPU overclocks.
The VCCSA and VCCIO are each powered by their own Richtek RT8120 single phase PWMs. The memory PWM is also a single phase Richtek RT8120 and the same FETs are used for the memory as are used for the CPU.
A single phase Ricktek PWM is used for the PCH power along with the same FETs as the memory VRM.
Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+ Circuit Analysis Continued
Circuit Analysis Continued
ASRock has upgraded the basic Realtek ALC1150 codec with two Texas Instruments NE5532 which supports up to 600 ohm impedance, and has added nine Nichicon Gold Series electrolytic audio capacitors. ASRock also has divided the audio signals from the rest of the motherboard to reduce noise interference with a physical PCB divide, but there are no back-side LEDs like I have seen on some other boards.
ASRock is using Intel's WGI219V Intel 1GBit NIC which was recently released. An IDT 6V41542NGL is used for the CPU's OC BLCK which is separate from the PCI-E/DMI bus frequency.
For USB 3.1 support on the front panel USB 3.1 bay, ASRock is using an ASMedia ASM1142 for the actual PCI-E to USB 3.1 conversion and an EtronTech EJ179v which supports external power source logic control and up to 15W (5v@3A) of output power to USB 3.1 type-C devices.
The same ICs used for the front panel USB 3.1 bay are used for the back panel IO USB 3.1 ports. The ASM1142 is the USB 3.1 controller and the EJ179V is the type-C switch.
The nuvoTon NCT6791D provides SuperIO functionality such as temperature, voltage, and fan monitoring and control as well as the PS/2 port on the backpanel. To support each fan header and provide all of them with PWM support, ASRock is using a single nuvoTon NCT3943S for each header.
To get DVI/HDMI out of the Skylake iGP, ASRock uses an ASMedia ASM1442K digital video to HDMI/DVI level shifter. Texas Instruments HD3SS3415A (PCI-E 3.0 quick switch) switches bandwidth between the M.2 slot and the two SATA ports (single SATA Express) discussed earlier. Four TI HD3SS3415A switch 8x of bandwidth between the first and second PCI-E 16x slots for SLI/CrossFireX.
BIOS and Software
ASRock has made some refinements to its Z170 UEFI. For starters, there is a new landing page when you enter the UEFI and it actually looks simple yet elegant in nature. It has most everything you need to get started customizing the UEFI, as well as a CPU EZ OC button. I am not sure if ASRock will continue to use this as these images were taken on an early BIOS, but the latest doesn't have the same landing page. While I am not a fan of large panels in my start menu (hint Microsoft), they don't look to bad in the UEFI since they don't waste much space but are rather use as indicators. ASRock's Advanced more is also available by pressing F6.
ASRock has a decent GUI for fan control and offers many performance settings and a decent amount of customization. The advanced UEFI mode is much like ASRock's previous UEFIs and is organized the same way. For LLC, I prefer level 2 and by my manual measurements it works pretty well. That being said, I found overclocking to be easy; the UEFI does need some polishing. There are minor bugs here and there that will be fixed as the platform matures, but as you will see in the overclocking section, I was able to overclock pretty high on both the CPU and memory.
ASRock has their APP shop which will update your drivers and software and offers a few free programs and games. ASRock has also upgraded the looks of their XFast LAN networking application, which is now a small little box, but adequate directions are given to use it well.
ASRock also provides their basic software suite including A-Tuning for on-the-fly overclocking and other system tuning.
Test System Setup
A big thanks to Corsair for sponsoring the case, fans, SSD, USB drive, and PSU!
A big thanks to Bitfenix for sponsoring the white Alchemy power and SATA cable extensions!
A big thanks to Kingston for sponsoring the HyperX Predator M.2 Drive and USB 3.1 USB drivers for drivers and benchmarks!
This is the new test bench, and it is designed to test every aspect of the motherboard and IO. I have designed it so that the motherboard sits in a case and is cooled by fans always on at a constant rate to keep the conditions similar for all tests. I have cut out part of the case behind the motherboard so I can get thermal images of the back of the PCB where the VRM heat spreads. System and CPU power measurements are now digitally logged.
I am also using a Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2350 for our network (including wireless AC) tests. The latest M.2, SSD, and USB technologies are also being utilized to test the maximum potential of the motherboards that are being tested.
In this section, I will go through overclocking this board.
Max CPU Overclock is found by setting the VCore/cache to 1.5v, CPU ratio to 45x and disabling any features that would result in CPU frequency fluctuation. I then proceed into Windows and use software to increase the multiplier; in this case I opted to use F-Stream.
5.2GHz is the maximum of our CPU on this board with ambient cooling. Maximum AIDA64 Stable Overclock (BIOS settings below for this):
I was easily able to pull off 4.8GHz on the CPU with 4.1GHz cache and a 2666MHz (XMP) on my memory manually tuning the UEFI. This was quick and dirty because of time constraints, but I could go higher on cache and memory frequency.
CPU, Memory, and System Benchmarks
AIDA64 AES and HASH
PCMark8 Home Test
3DMark: Cloud Gate
3DMark: Fire Strike
Resident Evil 6
ASRock has an option in their UEFI called multi-core enhancement which overrides Intel's standard Turbo procedures in favor of that of the manufacturer, it is enabled in these benchmark tests. Some motherboard reviewers put a lot of weight into motherboard benchmarks, but for me benchmarks on motherboards should be more about finding anomalies and I do that at standard settings (4G in graphs).
Looking at the 4G results, ASRock has tuned the motherboard to perform well across the board, on average it is a pretty good motherboard; not the fastest, but definitely not the slowest.
System IO Benchmarks
DiskBench USB 3.0:
ixChariot Network Throughput:
IO Performance is excellent, especially SATA and M.2 performance. ASRock has always focused on storage performance, and the Z170 Extreme4 is no exception.
Audio RMAA 5.5:
I disable all audio features, set the correct bitrates, and then test the audio with a loopback test.
Sound Judgment by Ear: Very good audio capabilities, the audio is clear and the highs and lows are pretty evident, almost like a discrete card. There are 5 ratings for audio: 1. Problems, 2. Okay, 3. Acceptable, 4. Very good, 5. Excellent
Thermal Imaging and Power Consumption
System power usage is measured at the AC/DC PSU (the Corsair AX1200i) which I have connected to another system to measure the test system and as a backup I have a wall meter to verify. The CPU power is measured through the 8-pin connector which is hooked up to a hall effect IC which measures current and puts out a voltage in proportion to the current. That voltage is logged by a National Instruments ADC which logs the DC voltage level, which I then convert into current.
Note on Thermal Images: In the temperature section, we use our Seek thermal imaging camera to capture the surface temperatures of major components on the board; I look at the VRM and then all other things that light up the screen. If there is something to worry about then I will state it, otherwise I will just show the hotter running parts of the board for fun. Unless some component is over 80-90C then there really isn't anything to worry about.
All systems will act differently, so I will look for commonalities, such as how far from the VRM the heat spreads through the PCB and the difference in temperature between the front side and backside of the PCB. Keep in mind that the majority of the heat from the VRM goes into the PCB as it is a giant soldered on copper heat sink. A larger difference in temperature between the back and front of the PCB points towards a more effective heat sink.
Thermal Testing at Stock Speeds:
The image on the left is always at idle and the image on the right is at load.
During ALL TESTs Fans above the VRM that cool the CPU cooler's (H110i GT) radiator are turned on to high (12v).
Up-close of the front of the VRM.
Up-close of the back of the VRM.
Thermal Testing at 4.5GHz Overclocked Speeds:
Up-close of the front of the VRM.
Up-close of the back of the VRM.
For the price of the Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+, you can't expect the best voltage regulator, and even though the temperatures might look high, they are still under the "great" range. The PWMs that run the VCCIO and VCCSA both have integrated drivers and that is why they look like hot spots, their temperatures don't increase with increased current. The VRM for the CPU is decent, it will get the job done, but I do recommend that you use active airflow over the VRM.
Anything under 60C is great, 60-80C is acceptable, and anything above 80C is a bit worrisome (if at stock).
What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts
This is where you can fast forward to the final section of the review, and get a quick recap and points on the ASRock Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+.
GPU PCI-E Layout: For starters, the PCI-E layout on this motherboard allows for two triple slotted GPUs in either SLI or CrossFireX and a dedicated add-in PCI-E 1x card above the first card slot. The CMOS battery is located above all the PCI-E slots allowing for its removal without having to remove any video cards (which can be a pain if you installed hard tube water cooling). The board also offers 3-way CrossFireX at 8x/8x/4x since the last slot is routed to the PCH.
Improved Fan Control: For many generations now, ASRock has maintained only 1 or 2 PWM headers while the rest were either voltage controlled (works with both type of fans) or had no control. With Z170, ASRock has provided PWM control for all the headers as well as voltage control, and has increased header count and optimized header placement above the PCI-E area so that video cards won't block header insertion.
OC Features: I was very surprised to find out that ASRock kept the POST code display as well as rear ClearCMOS on the Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+, which is awesome considering these two features are quite useful even if you aren't an overclocker. The dual BIOS ROMs also have a manual switch instead of a jumper, so you can easily change BIOS ROMs if needed.
Aesthetics: Aesthetics are very important these days, especially if you decide to use one of the new open air cases or one with a window. I have always been a fan of copper themed builds, and ASRock provides some great copper themed aesthetics. That being said, if you want to build an all-black build, or need the motherboard to fade into the background, ASRock has used only a little copper color, making it easy to let the board fade into the background.
Very Basic: This board's connectivity includes everything from the PCH and nothing more. Even though it is basic, the PCH is loaded with tons of features and connectivity. While ASRock does offer dual AMPs to compliment the audio codec, almost all boards in this price range have upgraded audio. The VRM is also very basic, but it does make the cut for high ambient temperature overclocks. Since the board is quite basic, if you use the M.2 slot, you will lose two of the SATA ports only leaving you with four, and while that is enough for most people, if you also use the front panel USB 3.1 bay, you are only left with two SATA internal SATA ports.
The ASRock Z170 Extreme4/Extreme4+ is a solid motherboard that performs as advertised. For starters, the board offers all of the Z170 PCH features, and ASRock's decision to use 8x USB 3.0 ports from the PCH is a sound one. The choice not to use an extra SATA controller might be a little troublesome if you use an M.2 drive with more than two SATA devices, but that only applies to the Z170 Extreme4+ and not the normal Z170 Extreme4. ASRock's storage performance is excellent, some of the best I have seen so far, so if you are looking to use a super-fast M.2 drive with a few SSDs/HDDs as backup storage, the board will provide great performance.
I really like the idea of using SATA Express not for a SATA Express device, but rather as PCI-E over wire, and the USB 3.1 front bay is a useful device. Since USB 3.1 requirements are quite stringent, this is so far the only method of getting USB 3.1 to the front of the PC. ASRock's decision to offer the Z170 Extreme4 and Z170 Extreme4+ as different SKUs is quite good considering many users might not care for USB 3.1, while others will. There are more and more USB 3.1 devices on the market these days and the front bay could be useful.
|Performance (including Overclocking)||90%|
|Quality including Design and Build||87%|
|Bundle and Packaging||85%|
|Value for Money||95%|
The Bottom Line: ASRock's Z170 Extreme4 and Z170 Extreme4+ are solid motherboards with good feature allotment, solid performance, and great value at its price point.
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