In years past, ASRock wasn’t a name synonymous with high-end performance. Then they impressed a lot of overclockers with their affordable X58 Extreme series. Today we’ll take a look at their highest-end ‘Extreme’ board (second only to their Fatal1ty), the P67 Extreme 6.
Packaging and First Look
ASRock must have taken some notes on packaging and presentation from ASUS. Except for an orientation change vertical to horizontal on the internal specificat…err… marketing, it looks quite similar to the Crosshair boards I reviewed previously. Not that this is a bad thing; who doesn’t want their purchase presented in a nice looking package?
Ok, so one intriguing item is the “Premium Gold Caps”. Within that paragraph is the important part, which truly does improve the board: “…100% Japan-made solid capacitors…”, but as far as the rest of the sentence, I’m not so sure. The word “luxury” is used, along with the tail end of the sentence quoted earlier, “…sleek, high gloss caps with a premium gold coating representing long life and stable performance.”
There are capacitors that use gold; they also seem to be a bit expensive. My first reaction was to roll my eyes, because it looks like these just have some gold paint on them. But I don’t know for a fact that there is no gold in them, so just color me skeptical.
After pulling it out of the box and away from amusing marketing material, this is more like it. No marketing here, just what looks like a very solid board.
As usual, I can’t resist giving shots from all angles. We’ll delve into the specifics in a bit, but overall it looks like a good enthusaist board. Looks aren’t everything, but they do count for a little something at the higher end, especially for folks that like to show off their builds.
Specifications and Features
Straight from ASRock, here’s the laundry list.
- Premium Gold Caps (2.5 x longer life time), 100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors
- Digi Power, Advanced V16 + 2 Power Phase Design
- Supports Intel® K-Series unlocked CPU
- Supports Dual Channel DDR3 2133(OC)
- Supports ATI™ Quad CrossFireX™, 3-Way CrossFireX™ and CrossFireX™
- Supports NVIDIA® Quad SLI™ and SLI™
- Dual PCIE GLAN with Teaming function
- 2 x Front USB 3.0 ports, 4 x Rear USB 3.0 ports, 6 x SATA3 connectors, 1 x eSATA3 connector, 2 x IEEE 1394 ports
- 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC892 Audio Codec), THX TruStudio PRO™ and Premium Blu-ray audio support
- ErP/EuP Ready
- Combo Cooler Option (C.C.O.)
- Dr. Debug, Smart Switch Design: Power/Reset/Clear CMOS Switch with LED
- Supports ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU), XFast USB, UEFI, Instant Boot, Instant Flash, Good Night LED, APP Charger, SmartView
- Free Bundle : 1 x ASRock SLI_Bridge_2S Card , 1 x Front USB 3.0 Panel, 1 x Rear USB 3.0 Bracket
ASRock XFast USB Technology
ASRock XFast USB Technology redefines the new standard in high performance computing. Proving once again to be the pioneer in motherboard industry, ASRock XFast USB Series Motherboards integrate with the latest XFast USB Technology which delivers the world’s fastest USB data transfer speed. According to the below graph, it shows that the ASRock XFast USB technology can even boost USB 3.0 performance up to 97.7%!
By adopting digital Pulse-width modulation (PWM), the ASRock motherboard can provide CPU Vcore voltage more efficiently and smoothly. Compared to analog PWM, digital PWM can optimize the CPI power solution and provide a proper and stable Vcore for the processor.
Premium Gold Caps
Premium Gold Caps are luxury capacitors. These 100% Japan-made solid capacitors are sleek, high gloss caps with a premium gold coating representing long life and stable performance.
3 PCIE 2.0 slots – Support CrossFireX, SLI
Supporting ATI™ 3-way / Quad CrossFireX™ and NVIDIA® Quad SLI™. 3 PCI Express 2.0 graphics interfaces support both CrossFireX and SLI for ultimate graphics performance.
Advanced V16+2 Power Phase
The advanced V16+2 Power Phase features sturdy components and completely smooth power delivery to the CPU. It offers unmatched overclocking capability and enhanced performance with the lowest temperatures for PC gaming enthusiasts.
6 USB 3.0 (2 x Front, 4 x Back) + 6 SATA3
Coupled with six USB 3.0 and six SATA3 ports, the ASRock motherboard offers plenty of storage options. Based on the concept of customization, this board is specially equipped with six USB 3.0 ports (two from external Front USB 3.0 panel, four from real I/O) and six SATA 3 connectors to satisfy PC DIYer’s various needs.
Dual LAN – Teaming
Dual LAN with Teaming function enabled on this motherboard allows two single connections to act as one single connection for twice the transmission bandwidth, making data transmission more effective.
C.C.O. (Combo Cooler Option)
C.C.O., stands for Combo Cooler Option, is another exclusive hardware design on ASRock boards. C.C.O. provides the flexible options to adopt different CPU cooler types and matches your socket LGA775, LGA1155 / LGA1156 CPU cooler in the respective holes. Once again, ASRock has successfully expanded the utilization of PCB by the exclusive C.C.O. design.
THX TruStudio PRO™
THX TruStudio PRO™ solution ensures you the premium audio quality, effects and features for PC systems equipped with onboard audio. For instance, the TruStudio Surround technology expands your stereo content into surround sound; the TruStudio Crystalizer technology restores the compressed sound source and can let you hear every detail in riveting surround sound. Combined with the THX TruStudio PRO and the ASRock high performance HTPC system, you will be assured to enjoy a rich variety of PRO gramming and be entertained by a better way!
Front USB 3.0 Panel
The Front USB 3.0 Panel supports 2 x USB 3.0 ports and provides a 2.5” SSD/HDD rack.
AXTU – The All-in-1 Tuning Software
ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU) is an all-in-one software to fine-tune different features in an user-friendly interface, which includes Hardware Monitor, Fan Control, Overclocking, OC DNA and IES. In Hardware Monitor, it shows the major readings of your system. In Fan Control, it shows the fan speed and temperature for you to adjust. In Overclocking, you are allowed to adjust the CPU frequency, ratio and some voltages for optimal system performance. In OC DNA, you can save your OC settings as a profile and share with your friends. Your friends then can load the OC profile to their own system to get the same OC settings. In IES (Intelligent Energy Saver), the voltage regulator can reduce the number of output phases to improve efficiency when the CPU cores are idle without sacrificing computing performance.
UEFI – The Revolutionary BIOS Interface
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a revolutionary BIOS utility which offers tweak-friendly options in an advanced viewing interface. Compared with traditional BIOS design, the latest UEFI utility provides lots improved functions. The major features of UEFI include:
1. Graphical Visual Experience – UEFI provides an improved visual interface with colorful icons and makes your computing environment more versatile to replace the traditional dull BIOS page.
2. Mouse Enabling – Besides keyboard control, you can freely use mouse to select your ideal settings in UEFI as well.
3. Support bootable HDD over than 2TB – UEFI breaks the limitation of 2TB bootable HDD on traditional BIOS. With UEFI, you can enjoy the bootable HDD size over than 2TB!*
*Windows® Vista™ 64bit or Windows® 7 64bit OS is required.
It is the smart start page for IE that combines your most visited web sites, your history, your Facebook friends and your real-time newsfeed into an enhanced view for a more personal Internet experience. ASRock motherboards are exclusively equipped with the SmartView utility that helps you keep in touch with friends on-the-go.
ASRock Software Suite
ASRock software suite is designed with the customer-oriented concept, delivers the best possible experience for today’s most demanding users.
Quite the list there. Overclockers will appreciate the solid caps and the stout power section. Gamers and overclockers both like the tri-SLI / tri-Fire ability.
The accessories are contained in a separate box that abuts the motherboard box.
Decently documented, it comes with a quick installation guide in more languages than you can shake a stick at and a UEFI setup guide (English only in this case), driver CD and random selection of USB 3.0 devices they recommend (huh?).
The rest is a solid accessory package. The SATA cables are all SATA 6Gb/s, and as you can see, it also comes with an SLI bridge, which is nice to have.
Especially of note is the USB 3.0 front panel unit. This is a solid addition to give you some extra connectivity for those with not-brand-new cases that only come with USB 2.0 headers. Even better, there are holes drilled in the metal you can use to mount an SSD.
Closeup of the Features
Getting up close and personal with the board, it’s time to take the photo tour.
Here we can see overclocker’s and benchmarker’s friends, on-board power and reset buttons. These things are so much more preferable than the screwdriver power ‘switch’ from back in the day. It’s nice to see more and more boards coming with them.
Moving to the left a little bit, you see the oodles of connectivity on this board. There are four USB 2.0 headers, a USB 3.0 header (yay for these finally propagating to internal headers), the HD audio connector and…wait for it…a floppy drive connector.
But wait, there’s one more. A com port connector. Now, I’m not 100% sure, but I think they actually mean a com port. The kind of thing I haven’t even seen in almost a decade. I didn’t even know they made internal headers for those things, much less still make them! Regardless, if you need to connect it to your PC, this board probably has a connector for it.
Here you can see the PCH heatsink (upper left) and the PLX chip heatsink (lower right). What’s nice in this photo for overclockers is what comes in between them – a removable BIOS chip. So if you bork your BIOS overclocking, all you have to is replace it with a new one.
This board has no less than ten SATA ports. The four blue ones use the P67’s native SATA II controller and the two white ports next to them use the P67’s native SATA 6Gb/s controller. Those four on the left are controlled by a third party solution. As you can see, booting off the third-party controlled ports isn’t recommended.
This was a very nice touch – dual CPU fan headers. Not many boards give you these right next to each other for easy use and wire management. Considering how many high-end air coolers there are that benefit from push-pull fan configurations, this is a great addition.
Not too much on the back of the board. You can see the LOTES back plate. The soldering is clean and the board was cleaned up nicely after manufacturing.
The rear I/O panel has a plethora of connectivity. There are both keyboard and mouse PS/2 ports. On the USB side, there are four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports. For external storage, there are three eSATA ports. On the networking front we’re treated to dual Realtec-controlled LAN ports. Audio is also handled by a Realtec chip.
Last, and arguably farthest from least for overclockers is the clear CMOS button, allowing you to clear CMOS without opening up your case (there is also a jumper on the board in case this fails for some reason).
Under the Hood
What review is complete without seeing how the factory-applied TIM looks (and more importantly, replacing it)?
The PLX chip that gives the necessary extra PCIe lanes for Tri-Fire / Tri-SLI is housed under a standalone heatsink. Without much in the way of dissipating fins, the heatsink itself is more a heat repository than anything. Thankfully this chip doesn’t get very warm and that’s all it needs.
The TIM application was ok but did miss a little of the chip to the lower left. It was nice to see actual TIM used instead of a thermal pad.
The main heatpipe / heatsink assembly shows good contact throughout. As many MOSFETs as there are on here, that’s pretty telling for their manufacturing tolerances.
The biggest drawback is the TIM used on the P67 chipset. It was practically solid and had to be scraped off both the chip and the heatsink with a fingernail. Isopropyl didn’t do much until it was already almost gone.
Power on this board is supplied by a digital 16+2 PWM, as evidenced by the somewhat crazy 18 chokes around the CPU socket. It seems like overkill for Sandy Bridge but the added voltage stability of that overkill is key for clocking as high as your CPU will allow.
On the right, you can see the PCH did end up cleaning up nicely.
The UEFI, or The Interface Formerly Known as BIOS
UEFI, or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface is the new BIOS. Let’s face it, text-only keyboard-controlled BIOSes haven’t changed much in the last decade plus. They were sorely in need of a redesign. Even if you discount the UI improvement, manufacturers were simply running out of space to use on BIOS chips. That all changes with UEFI. This board’s BIOS chip has a capacity of 64MB, loads over what it used to be (according to Wiki, the former max was 16MB).
Now BIOS engineers have plenty of space to do as they please for improving your experience. UEFI has been rumored for a while and is now a reality with several of the new P67 boards. When you boot, you are met with the home screen showing the system details and UEFI version.
With UEFI you can actually use a mouse, which is a long way from keyboard-only BIOSes of the past. It’s not the fastest responder and some will inevitably stick to using their keyboards, but the option is there.
Next to the home screen, we’re met with the OC Tweaker. This is where almost anything having to do with system performance is set. Except for detailed CPU controls (turning off cores / C-states / etc), it’s a one-stop-shop for overclock tweaking.
As you can see, everything is there from multipliers, to memory timings to voltages. At the bottom there are even three slots to save setting presets. Do take note that these do not remain after clearing CMOS, so it’s still a good idea to write everything down in case you push it just a little too far.
This is where you locate the aforementioned CPU controls. This is the only menu outside OC Tweaker I frequent, other than the storage configuration menu to set AHCI. The items in this menu (and the storage menu for that matter) are pretty much all set-it-and-forget-it.
Qualifying for a brief mention is the H/W Monitor. There aren’t many temperature sensors on this board, one for the CPU and the other presumably for the MOSFETs, as there is no way ambient was 39 degrees at that time. The fan controls are not automatic and are not fine-grained. For better fan control, you’ll have to use ASRock’s software from within windows. In BIOS, you can select a speed but that’s about it.
The remaining UEFI screens are run-of-the-mill settings that don’t really need much description. All of the ones not mentioned above are in this chart, so feel free to peruse them at your leisure.
ASRock includes their Extreme Tuning Utility for tuning within Windows. The first two screens are self-explanatory; a hardware monitor showing your system’s vitals and the software fan control. There is also an Intelligent Energy Saver that presumably works in tangent with EIST and C-states to keep energy consumption down.
Now we get to the important part, the overclocking section. You get bclk, multiplier and voltage controls. Unfortunately, the most important of these controls -BCLK adjustment- does not operate properly when using BIOS 1.33A (or 1.30 for that matter). They only work with 1.40. This is doubly unfortunate considering 1.33A is the only one that gives you voltage control in excess of 1.52 V.
So, with further UEFI releases that actually function with the software’s BCLK adjustment, combined with high enough Vcore selections, this could be a nice boon to help tweak the board at the limits. As it is though, the software gets a big ‘meh’ because it’s no help with either the best 24/7 UEFI (1.30) or the higher voltage UEFI (1.33A). There is a newer version, 0.1.54 available here but it seems to give the same results.
Today’s comparison numbers come courtesy an Intel DP67BG motherboard from the initial review of the Sandy Bridge platform. Unfortunately, the BIOS did not allow RAM operation at the DDR3-2133 setting (and it was tested with RAM capable of DDR3-2400).
The UEFI on this board did, so that’s how it was tested. In the end, the RAM speed and timings were the most significant differences in settings at stock. The loosened timings at speed likely offset the increased speed a bit. The other difference was the amount of RAM, 4 GB previously and 8 GB this time around.
|Processor||i7 2600K||i7 2600K|
|Stock / Overclocked Speeds (GHz)||3.4 / 4.3||3.4 / 4.6|
|Motherboard||Intel DP67BG||ASRock P67 Extreme 6|
|RAM||Patriot DDR3-2400||G.Skill DDR3-2133|
|GPU (for total 3DMark Score Only)||ASUS Matrix 5870 Platinum||ASUS Matrix 5870 Platinum|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64||Windows 7 x64|
I toyed with testing them at the same speed, but the board had an inherent advantage and it seemed fair to test it to its ability.
Speaking of ability, you’ll notice the overclocked speed differs between the two setups. As my first 2600K is now dearly departed (RIP), this is a different chip with -thankfully- more, well, ability.
Clocking this board was a breeze, just like the Intel before it. Sandy Bridge chips just like to clock, with low voltages and low temperatures to boot. The UEFI was at least as easy to work with as a BIOS and gave quite the 24/7 overclock, coming in at 4.6 GHz with only 1.256 Vcore loaded.
But wait, there’s more. I prefer to keep a 32nm chip under 1.3 V for 24/7 operation because I’m paranoid like that. For those of you more daring and with a capable CPU, I managed 4.8 GHz stable at a mere 1.32 Vcore loaded.
Now, that note applies to 24/7 operation. For high overclocks, you need to get version 1.33A because it allows Vcore adjustment above 1.52 V, which is necessary for that extra couple hundred MHz.
Getting right to it, up first we’ll look at some real-word comparisons. Please note all the graphs are presented as relative percentages. 100% = the results from the competing Intel motherboard at stock. The actual scores are in parenthesis below the percentage results.
Rendering & Compression
Cinebench R10 is an aging but still solid rendering benchmark. R11.5 is much more consistent, giving very close to identical numbers with each run (varying by a mere hundredth on very rare occasions).
Well, RAM speeds definitely didn’t help out much with rendering, but the extra overclock certainly did.
7zip saw a very slight increase from the RAM bump, but still minuscule. Interestingly, 7zip and both rendering benchmarks all gained 7%, which is exactly what 300 MHz is over the previous 4.3 GHz overclock!
3DMark06 tends to scale quite well with CPU performance.
So not quite the 7% linear improvement with frequency. The CPU score lost a smidgen at stock, but the overall score actually increased; and by a full percent this time.
Increases all around in Vantage, nothing to argue with here. Both obviously responded well to the extra 300 MHz and the Extreme 6 has a slight advantage at stock in 3D benches.
In the 2D category, we’ll start with SuperPi. This one always responds well to RAM speed, so I expected decent increases even at stock.
Neither of them disappointed. The 32M results were surprisingly strong with stock improving almost 3%.
Pifast also responded well to the difference at stock, though not quite as well as 32M.
Wprime was the biggest surprise between the two boards. Not only was it unimpressed with increased RAM speed (which is common knowledge with benchmarkers), it actually lost a little ground. As you’d expect, the increased overclock did help though.
Pushing the Envelope
Sandy Bridge can tear up some benchmarks. The 3D improvements are quite stellar. Unfortunately my OS wasn’t cooperating with the 5870 (corrupted from memory abuse earlier), but I ran a couple earlier with a modest overclock on an HD 6970.
The increases here over those that were run in the HD 6970 review with an i7 870 (P55-based) are absolutely massive. Rest assured, my graphics testing platform is now Sandy Bridge.
Moving on to 2D, WPrime is always a challenge at the bleeding edge of stability. I ran WPrime 1024M at only 5.2 GHz, but there is more potential there. WPrime 32M ran at a decent 5488 MHz.
Last, but not least the simple, single-threaded benchmrks SuperPi 1M and PiFast. both of these completed at 5540 MHz, which is the highest validation this combo manged thus far. It’s not done with every last MHz yet, but it’s close. The CPU doesn’t boot at 56x; so it’s not the best 2600K but thankfully far from the worst.
The best part about these benches, aside from their blazing speed? They were all run on water with this less than elegant looking benching loop (function over form here folks). Temperatures during a follow up 1.55Vcore WPrime 1024M run topped out at 71°C! This platform is just amazing. It does have an upper limit and doesn’t scale at all with cold, but the flip side is superb overclocks and benches with relative ease.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
The P67 Extreme 6 is a very solid board for pushing your Sandy Bridge CPU. Whether you’re after strong 24/7 overclocks or pushing your setup as far as it can go, this is a great board to add to your short list.
Functionally, it not only overclocks very well but it can run very stout tri-SLI or tri-Fire graphics setups for gamers and benchers. It also has more legacy connectivity than you can shake a stick at. If you really love your floppy drive and want to use it on a modern platform, this is the board for you.
There is one drawback in the Extreme Tuning Utility’s BCLK deficiency. It’s still somewhat early in the Sandy Bridge lifespan, so I’d expect a stronger UEFI release to fix that problem soon enough.
Due to the recent P67 recall, I can’t quote a current retail price for you unfortunately. When the come back out, if I recall correctly, they will be priced right around $220. It’s not the cheapest P67 board, but it has as many if not more features than those around that price range.
All in all, everything here ads up to a motherboard that most definitely deserves to be Overclockers Approved.
–Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)