ASRock X79 Extreme4-M Review

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At this point most everyone has become familiar or at least heard of the Sandy Bridge-E CPU’s and X79 platform and most board partners have come out with their full lineup of motherboards. ASRock has produced a Micro-ATX (mATX) sized board in the X79 flavor, the X79 Extreme4-M, which looks to pack a punch. Let’s take a closer look.

Packaging and First Look

ASRock has stuck with what I consider a brushed aluminum look on their lineup, for the X79 Extreme4-M. On the front, you can see the model name of the board inside and a couple of features. On the backside it displays a lot more detail about some major features on the board. Opening up the box you will see a typical divider between the motherboard and accessories. There was seemingly a minimalistic approach with accessories here, but what was needed, such as a manual, driver disc, SATA cables, I/O plate, and SLI/CrossFireX bridge, was present and accounted for. Of course, below the accessories is the board sitting in a foam protector and of course an anti-static bag.

Retail Packaging - Front

Retail Packaging - Front

Retail Packaging - Rear

Retail Packaging - Rear

Retail Packaging - Inside (accessories)

Retail Packaging - Inside (accessories)

Tour de Board

Below you are seeing the first shots of the board. It’s sporting a black/brown PCB, with black memory slots (4), PCIe/PCI slot, and of course the premium gold caps. On the chipset area is a heatsink with a small 40 mm fan on it. This fan is normally powered off unless there is a large load on it and temperatures reach a certain point (can be set in the BIOS).

Extreme4-M - Front

Extreme4-M - Front

Extreme4-M - Rear

Extreme4-M - Rear

Looking at the socket area of the board, you can see the large size of the socket in general compared to past generation CPUs/sockets, gold caps, and the 6+2 DigiVRM configuration, and the double latch system for the CPU. This model only uses 4 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB of memory which should be plenty for even power users.

The heatsink above the CPU socket gets pretty warm even at default clock speeds if you leave all 6 phases running (can be changed with AXTU software). It’s not that you need a fan specifically for the unit at stock speeds, but good case airflow would be a plus to keep temperatures low, especially when overclocking. When pushing to the extreme, I needed a fan on it to maintain 4.7 GHz clocks. That sucker got HOT in an open air bench!

Socket area

Socket area

Looking at the PCIe area of the board you can see three PCIe slots available as well as a legacy PCI slot. The PCIe slots will allow CrossFireX or SLI configurations. Also pictured is the power on and reset switches as well as the usually helpful debug LED which glow a bright red color. You will also notice a molex connector above to top PCIe slot which is to add additional power to the PCIe slots/cards.

PCIe, Debug LED, Power on Reset Buttons

PCIe, Debug LED, Power on Reset Buttons

The next picture shows the chipset heatsink and fan. This is set to spin up upon load/temperature so its passive (off) most of the time. When it does spin up, its surprisingly quiet in the testing I have completed so far. I have only seen this feature once on a MUCH more expensive competitors board.

Chipset cooler

Chipset cooler

As listed in the ‘dry’ specifications below, you have three (3) available SATA3 ports. Two of those are letting Intel drive (grey), and the other oriented vertically on the board is driven by Asmedia. Last, but not least, four SATA2 ports round out your HDD/SSD connectivity.

SATA ports

SATA ports

Looking at the rear I/O panel you will see the typical options available in USB3 ports (2), USB2 ports (6), optical and digital outputs for audio, reset CMOS button, NIC, audio ports, and eSATA3 rounding things out. What’s a bit odd to see is the inclusion of legacy PS/2 ports for they keyboard and mouse. I have to wonder if it would be cheaper for motherboard manufacturers to remove these options on the board simply and include a male USB to PS/2 adapter? Regardless of legacy support (which isn’t a bad thing), there are plenty of places to plug in your peripherals.

The bottom (and side) I/O areas show your typical front panel headers such as audio/mic/USB3/power/reset. In this picture, it again shows the power on reset buttons as well as the debug LED. On the side is also a front USB3 port (internal – no running a wire outside the case)

Rear I/O

Rear I/O

Bottom I/O area.

Bottom I/O area.

Specifications and Features

Usually with a new ‘generation’ of CPU’s and chipsets come new features which need added to boards. PCIe 3.0 with double the theoretical bandwidth and quad channel RAM are two major differences between Socket 1155 and the Sandy Bridge CPU’s.

Let’s take a look at some of the other major features (from ASRock website):

Digi Power

More Precise, More Efficient
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 CPU power solution and provide a proper and stable Vcore for the processor.

Advanced 6+2 Power Phase

The advanced 6+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.

Premium Gold Caps

Top-Class Quality Guaranteed

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.

Next-Gen PCI-E 3.0 Support

The ASRock motherboards support the Next-Gen PCI-E 3.0! PCI Express 3.0 can maximize the bandwidth for the next-gen PCI Express 3.0 VGA cards, provide ultimate graphics performance.

Get PCI-E 3.0 Benefits
• Higher bit rate – 8.0GT/s
• Higher bandwidth per lane – 1GB/s
• Higher efficiency – 98.5% encoding efficiency
• 100% backward compatible with previous PCI-E 2.0 / 1.0 standard

Graphical 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. Supports 3TB bootable HDD – UEFI breaks the limitations of 2TB bootable HDD on traditional BIOS. With UEFI, you can enjoy 3TB bootable HDD size.*

UEFI System Browser

UEFI system browser is a useful tool included in graphical UEFI. It can detect the devices and configurations that users are currently using in their PC. With the UEFI system browser, you can easily examine the current system configuration in UEFI setup.

Crashless BIOS

ASRock Crashless BIOS allows users to update their BIOS without fear of failing. If power loss occurs during the BIOS update process, ASRock Crashless BIOS will automatically finish the BIOS update procedure after regaining power. Please note that BIOS files need to be placed in the root directory of your USB disk. Only USB 2.0 ports support this feature.

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, IES and XFast RAM. 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. In XFast RAM, it fully utilizes the memory space that cannot be used under Windows® OS 32-bit CPU.

Below are the more ‘dry’ specifications from the Asrock website:

CPU – Supports Intel® Core™ i7 processor family for the LGA 2011 Socket
– Digi Power Design
– Advanced 6 + 2 Power Phase Design
– Supports Intel® Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology
– Supports Hyper-Threading Technology
– Supports Untied Overclocking Technology
Chipset – Intel® X79
Memory – Quad Channel DDR3 memory technology
– 4 x DDR3 DIMM slots
– Supports DDR3 2400+(OC)/1600/1333/1066/800 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
– Supports DDR3 ECC, un-buffered memory with Intel® Workstation 1S Xeon® processors E5 16xx/26xx/46xx series in socket LGA 2011
– Max. capacity of system memory: 32GB*
– Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 1.3 / 1.2

*Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS. For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.
BIOS – 64Mb AMI UEFI Legal BIOS with GUI support
– Supports “Plug and Play”
– ACPI 1.1 Compliance Wake Up Events
– Supports jumperfree
– SMBIOS 2.3.1 Support
– CPU, VCCSA, DRAM, VTT, CPU PLL, PCH1.1V, PCH1.5V Voltage Multi-adjustment
 Audio, Video and Networking
Graphics – n/a
Audio – 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec)
– Premium Blu-ray audio support
– Supports THX TruStudio™
LAN – PCIE x1 Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
– Broadcom BCM57781
– Supports Wake-On-LAN
– Supports Energy Efficient Ethernet 802.3az
– Supports PXE
 Expansion / Connectivity
Slots – 3 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (PCIE1/PCIE3: x16 mode; PCIE2: x8 mode)
– 1 x PCI slot
– Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX™ and CrossFireX™
– Supports NVIDIA® Quad SLI™ and SLI™
SATA3 – 2 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by Intel® X79, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10 and Intel® Rapid Storage 3.0), NCQ, AHCI and “Hot Plug” functions
– 1 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connector by ASMedia ASM1061, supports NCQ, AHCI and “Hot Plug” functions
USB 3.0 – 2 x Rear USB 3.0 ports by ASMedia ASM1042, support USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
– 1 x Front USB 3.0 header (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports) by ASMedia ASM1042, supports USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
Connector – 4 x SATA2 3.0 Gb/s connectors, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10 and Intel® Rapid Storage 3.0), NCQ, AHCI and Hot Plug functions
– 3 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors
– 1 x IR header
– 1 x CIR header
– 1 x COM port header
– 1 x HDMI_SPDIF header
– 1 x IEEE 1394 header
– 1 x Power LED header
– CPU/Chassis/Power/SB FAN connector
– 24 pin ATX power connector
– 8 pin 12V power connector
– SLI/XFire power connector
– Front panel audio connector
– 2 x USB 2.0 headers (support 4 USB 2.0 ports)
– 1 x USB 3.0 header (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports)
– 1 x Dr. Debug with LED
Rear Panel I/O I/O Panel
– 1 x PS/2 Mouse Port
– 1 x PS/2 Keyboard Port
– 1 x Coaxial SPDIF Out Port
– 1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
– 6 x Ready-to-Use USB 2.0 Ports
– 1 x eSATA3 Connector
– 2 x Ready-to-Use USB 3.0 Ports
– 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)
– 1 x IEEE 1394 Port
– 1 x Clear CMOS Switch with LED
– HD Audio Jack: Side Speaker / Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone
 Other Features / Miscellaneous
Unique Feature – ASRock Extreme Tuning Utility (AXTU)
– ASRock Instant Boot
– ASRock Instant Flash
– ASRock APP Charger
– ASRock SmartView
– ASRock XFast USB
– ASRock XFast LAN
– ASRock XFast Charger
– ASRock XFast RAM
– ASRock X-FAN
– ASRock Crashless BIOS
– Hybrid Booster:
– CPU Frequency Stepless Control
– ASRock U-COP
– Boot Failure Guard (B.F.G.)
– Good Night LED
Smart Switch – 1 x Power Switch with LED
– 1 x Reset Switch with LED
– 1 x Clear CMOS Switch with LED
Support CD – Drivers, Utilities, AntiVirus Software (Trial Version), CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5 Trial, ASRock Software Suite (ASRock MAGIX Multimedia Suite – OEM)
Accessories – 1 x ASRock SLI_Bridge Card
– Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield
– 2 x SATA Data Cables (optional)
Hardware Monitor – CPU Temperature Sensing
– Chassis Temperature Sensing
– CPU/Chassis/Power/SB Fan Tachometer
– CPU/Chassis Quiet Fan (Allow Chassis Fan Speed Auto-Adjust by CPU Temperature)
– CPU/Chassis/SB Fan Multi-Speed Control
– Voltage Monitoring: +12V, +5V, +3.3V, CPU Vcore
Form Factor – Micro ATX Form Factor: 9.6-in x 9.6-in, 24.4 cm x 24.4 cm
– Premium Gold Capacitor design (100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors)

BIOS

Jumping on in to the bios. You can see Asrock has worked on their UEFI setup and it seems to have paid off. At first glance there are the major sections such as Overclock Tweaker, Boot, and Hardware monitor, in icons and type right across the top of the screen. You can also click in to the System Browser to pop up a top down shot of your board and select a couple of components to see a brief description/status. These are the CPU, RAM, and PCIe slot. Its a nice looking feature to give you some high level system information.

Bios Main

BIOS Main

Bios Main - System Broswer

BIOS Main - System Browser

Moving on to the OC Tweaker section you can see all major features needed to overclock are present and accounted for. Multiplier, BCLK, PLL Override (though its looking less and less needed with SB-E), DRAM timing control, voltages, and you can even save (and most important to me) name your profiles. With voltages you have access to change Vcore, LLC, VccSA, VTT, DRAM, PCH, as well as the ability to disable/enable VRM protection if you really feel like pushing the envelope. Moving into the memory timing area there is the full array (and then some) of major timings and sub-timings available to tweak to your heart’s content.

Bios Overclock Tweaker Main

BIOS Overclock Tweaker Main

Bios Overclock Tweaker Main (bottom)

BIOS Overclock Tweaker Main (bottom)

Bios Overclock Tweaker Voltage

BIOS Overclock Tweaker Voltage

BIOS Overclock Tweaker DRAM Timings

Bios Overclock Tweaker DRAM Timings (bottom)

BIOS Overclock Tweaker DRAM Timings (bottom)

In the ‘Advanced’ section of the BIOS, one can change CPU, NB/SB, Storage, USB, and I/O configurations to name a few. Its in this section as well where you can flash the bios using the Instant Flash function which can read the BIOS file off of a USB stick for updating. I updated to the latest BIOS version with no problems. I hoped it would be able to resolve the memory compatibility issues I had with a Patriot Quad channel kit, but it didn’t. Those sticks just do not want to play nice in this board.

Bios: Advanced - Main

BIOS: Advanced - Main

Bios: Advanced - CPU Configuration

BIOS: Advanced - CPU Configuration

Bios: Advanced - Main

BIOS: Advanced - CPU Config - CPU Power

Bios: Advanced - Main

BIOS: Advanced - Storage Configuration

Bios: Advanced - Main

BIOS: Advanced - Northbridge Configuration

Overall this is a good looking and functional BIOS. All the options you need to tweak your system, be it overclocking or just maintenance, are there at your fingertips. There wasn’t a delay in typing in this UEFI like was experienced on a competitor’s board as well as it being seemingly faster to click around and select. So good job on part as well ASRock.

Overclocking Software

ASRock has its own windows based overclocking software named AXTU. This software is a simple and effective solution to overclocking from within your OS to controlling frequencies, voltages, power phases, to name just a few. As you can see below, the interface is easy to read and manipulate.

The first screenshot shows Hardware Monitoring. It covers all the bases with CPU speed, bclk, temperatures, and main voltages including CPU, DRAM, VCCsa, Vtt, and Pll voltage and monitors the 12 v, 5 v, and 3.3 v on the PSU. Next are the Fan Controls; the AXTU application can control a dual fan CPU (great for push/pull fan setups!) as well as three others and the Southbridge fan.

AXTU - Hardware Monitor

AXTU - Hardware Monitor

AXTU - Fan Control

AXTU - Fan Control

In the Overclocking section, you can see exactly what you need for successfully overclocking from within windows. Voltage control (Vcore, Vtt, DRAM, VccSA, etc) multiplier control (option must be enabled in the bios), bclk control are all available.

In the OC DNA portion of the AXTU software, one can check on the BIOS version as well as save and load overclocking profiles.

AXTU - Overclocking

AXTU - Overclocking

AXTU - Overclock DNA

AXTU - Overclock DNA

The last two screens have to do with power management and XFast RAM options. In the first screen is the IES power off button. When selecting this (turning it on) it will vary the amount of phases that are active depending on the system load. If there is no load to little load, only a couple of phases will be active. If there is a higher load, more will become active. This is a good feature to have available. Not only does it save power, but it can keep that VRM cooler from working so hard.

AXTU - IES

AXTU - IES

AXTU - Xfast Ram

Overclocking

Test Setup

Overclocking was actually pretty easy on this board. I just used the simple method and overclocked via the multiplier instead of the bclk gearing (or both bclk and multi) to get the results in the screenshots below. I was able to take this board to 4.7 GHz without breaking a sweat. 4.8 GHz was achieved, but was unable to complete all benchmarks no matter what settings changed. I do NOT believe this to be a board issue, but more of a temperature issue. When completing this testing I was at a ‘normal’ ambient of around 22 °C (built a fire in the fireplace in the rec/computer room), vs. when I was ran these for another review I was sitting at a chilly 17-18 °C. I experienced this same behavior with a different board as well.

The one thing I noticed on this board was the VRM cooler got VERY warm, almost too hot to the touch with just stock settings. Add a beefy overclock and some voltage to it, and it only gets worse. This was on an open air test bed. So sitting inside a case, which is where I would expect this motherboard to be, I’m sure that will help. I had to put a fan on it though to complete the tests at 4.7 GHz, that’s how warm it got. At least we know it’s making good contact! One way to resolve this issue is to turn on the IES function in AXTU so it will only use the phases needed. If there is zero to light load, it will only use the phases it needs.

Super Pi 1M - X.xx

Super Pi 1M - X.xxx

Super Pi 32 - X:xx:xxx

Super Pi 32 - X:xx:xxx

WPrime 32M/1024M

WPrime 32M/1024M

Pifast - 15.65

Pifast - 15.65

Conclusion

For a mATX board, the ASRock Extreme4-M has most of the features an enthusiast would want in an full ATX board such as solid power delivery area(s) and ample overclocking options in the BIOS/software, and plenty of inputs for various peripherals. You will not be able to use more than 2 physical cards to SLI/CrossFireX (but two dual GPU cards will work for Quad SLI/Quad CrossFireX, however. The ASRock board was able to take my 3930K to within 100 MHz of a MUCH more expensive board. I have confidence had I been in the much cooler ambient temperatures of the other board, this one would have been stable at 4.8 GHz as well.

Pricing for this board at Newegg comes in at $218.99 + SH. That price is one of the lowest on X79 boards bested only by its little brother (in pecking order, not size) the ASRock X79 Extreme3. With the feature set and overclocking ability, this board should not be overlooked, regardless of its mATX ‘stature’.

ASRock has a very solid mATX board in the Extreme4-M. It will allow for significant overclocks, has plenty of features for all users, and it’s in a mATX form factor for those that need to save space but not want to skimp on the quality and performance of the board. So to answer my question from the introduction, yes, this board not only looks like it packs a punch, it does. There is no choice here but to give this board an Overclockers Approved stamp.

~Earthdog

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Discussion
  1. Excellent article Earthdog! I just bought a ASRock X79 Extreme4 and am running an E5 2650 with it, and come accross this article whilst searching for overclocking tips.