Featuring The Intel Core i5 7600K
The launch of the Kaby Lake CPUs and the 200 Series platform allows Intel to stirs up the mainstream desktop PC platform yet again. This ushers system builders and gamers to gather their wits and think about upgrade options – to make the break into the DDR4 territory or not? Now if this new chipset made you interested to make the jump, the ASRock Z270 Extreme4 appears as one solid option, at 8, 300 PHP (Int’l MSRP @ ~149 USD). A mighty fine value that could be easily combined with the Intel Core i5 7600K that should be priced around the 239 USD league. ASRock Z270 Extreme4 Motherboard Review.
The ASRock Z270 Extreme4 is a feature rich upper mainstream board that offers all the best of the Z270 chipset. And when we say all the best, ASRock made sure to make use of those extra PCI-E lanes – distributing them across the available ATX surface via the PCI-E slots, M.2 sockets, and other connectivity options. ASRock is particularly fond of adding spice into their boards and this iteration of the Extreme4 is no different. You’ll get a souped up audio solution with a 120dB SNR DAC, Nichicon audio capacitors, and a dedicated Texas Intruments TNE5532 headset amplifier for the front panel header with support for 600 Ω head gears under the ALC1220 codec’s banner.
Update: Power Phase Count is officially at 10 according to ASRock’s engineers.
Expansion looks fine and mighty with 6 PCI-E slots, 8 SATAIII slots, 4 DIMM slots, and 3 M.2 slots. USB headers are looking good too with 2x USB 3.0 internal headers and 3x USB 2.0 headers populating the lower half of the board. You’d also get a support for an add-in Thunderbolt device via the built-in TB headers, and a steel support for the main and secondary full length PCI-E slots. This board also lights up in RGB fashion, and features an LED strip header. Learn more HERE.
THE INTEL 200 SERIES PLATFORM:
The Intel 200 Series Platform, specifically the Intel Z270 chipset is all about connectivity. While it isn’t much different compared to the Z170, it features an upgraded Intel Rapid Storage Technology (IRST) version 15, native support for the Intel Optane Technology, and Four additional downstream PCI-E 3.0 lanes compared to the last generation. Those down stream lanes could be configured by the board partner to either support additional storage, audio, or even networking options.
The platform is the official chipset for the Kaby Lake CPUs, but it will still support the Sky Lake CPUs. That said, system builders who are still using Windows 7 and the 6th Generation Intel CPUs wanting to go with the latest platform are not required to upgrade to the latest OS Microsoft has to offer. That’s right, Kaby Lake will officially end Intel’s support for Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS.
THE INTEL KABY LAKE PROCESSORS:
The Intel Kaby Lake Family of processors is the 9th generation of Intel’s Core Series CPUs. The Kaby Lake Family is practically identical to the Sky Lake architecture wise with small underlying differences. It is still based on the 14nm node, has the same Instructions Per Clock, and is just basically a repacked Sky Lake.
Now the differences, while not astounding are just proper for Intel to refresh their annual product line-up. Intel is able to put a 12% maximum performance gain via an improved design process, which basically means that they are able to push higher frequency envelope without touching the TDP. The Intel Core i5 7600K for example, features a 91W TDP with a 3.8GHz Base Clock and a 4.2GHz Turbo Clock. That is 300 MHz higher over the Core i5 6600K’s base and turbo.
Another thing worth noting is the updated Intel Speed Shift technology. It allows the Kaby lake CPUs to jump at Turbo Clocks faster than older generations. That, together with a new video decode unit, the Intel HD 630 IGP, is why Intel is marketing the Kaby Lake as a 14nm+ micro-architecture. The “+” is just too important for them to state that this is indeed a flushed 14nm package.
PACKAGING AND BUNDLED ACCESSORIES:
The ASRock Z270 Extreme4 comes in a fairly simple packaging. It is a huge departure over their Z170 color box designs, and I welcome this change due to the cleaner look. Now the back is full of graphical feature sets together with the image of the board itself. I am surprised that ASRock is not marketing their RGB feature up front. It should be included for extra kicks.
Inside, you’ll find manuals, a software DVD, a case badge, and a few accessories. These accessories are the back panel I/O shield, 4x SATAIII cables, 3x screw sets for the M.2 ports, and a HB SLI bridge required by the GTX 1070 and the GTX 1080 for proper HB-SLI functionality.
The packaging is made up of two parts. A flimsy outer color box, and a thick internal box with two segments separating the board and the bundles. The board is even foam padded and secured via zip ties. Nothing to worry about.
DESIGN LAYOUT & CONNECTIVITY:
The ASRock Z270 Extreme4 is by no means a direct descendant of the Extreme4 series when it comes to aesthetics. This is an all new design, built from the ground up – swaying away from the usual Black and Bronze beauty we used to see from ASRock. This is a standard ATX form factor motherboard with a hefty feel to boot. And yes, that’s an I/O shroud that goes all the way down to the Purity Sound 4 audio solution. The thing lights up too.
The back of the board is as clean as a matte-Black airfield if that makes any sense. Solder joints are on-point – with no visible cold joints, or insufficient wetting. The M.2 mounting stand-offs can be seen here, together with the PCB area separating the audio components from the rest of board. You can even see the PCI-E slot’s electrical properties here.
The board features a marketed 10 phase power design. Not sure about the configuration, but I am sure that it is controlled by an Intersil ISL95856 PWM IC which is a certified controller for Intel’s 6th Generation desktop CPUs. Chokes counts to 12, with each rated at 45A. Now the memory slots counts to Four, with a native 2400MHz frequency support via the Z270 chipset. The slots features a single latch design, and could support up to 16GB of memory per slot for a maximum of 64GB full bank capacity. One of the Ultra M.2 slots, and a PWM fan header are also located here.
Going down and below allows us to check out the PCI-E area of the board. We’ve got Three full sized PCI-E slots here configured at x16, x8, and x4 electrically, and Three more PCI-E slots in a x1 package. The PCI-E x1 slots are branded as Flexible PCI-E by ASRock, and it basically means that you could install a full size expansion card via its open ended construct. Two of the full length PCI-E slots features a steel brace to aid rigidity, by the way.
Bottom end headers from left to right are as follows: HD Audio, CMOS jumper, the AURA RGB header, 2x Thunderbolt AIC, 3x USB 2.0 headers, a TPM header, COM Port, PWM fan header, the power + speaker header, and the front panel header.
The right most side of the board houses the Ultra M.2 slot, the 8 SATA III ports configured in 2+6 with the first Two powered up by the ASMedia ASM1061 controller while the remaining Six are from the Intel chipset. Do note that using both the Ultra M.2 slots will disable Two of your native SATA III slots. As for the rest of the board’s components on this area, we’ve got the 2x USB 3.0 headers perfectly lined up here, together with a PWM fan header.
Going back up north are the remaining PWM fans, and right next to the 8-pin power connector lies the M.2 slot for the WiFi and BT module. There’s even a mounting kit provided for the module’s antenna.
Now the back panel features 4x USB 3.0 ports, a DVI+VGA combo, plus a full sized HDMI 2.0b port for the display. A USB 3.1 Type C & A are also situated here. Network connectivity is provided by a single Gigabit LAN port featuring the Intel I219V. As for audio, you’d get an optical SPDIF out, an a slew of HD audio jacks under the ALC1120 banner. A combo PS/2 port is also included.
Overall, the ASRock Z270 Extreme4 is full to the brim with goodies that you should expect from an upper mainstream motherboard with nothing major to complain about its layout, design, and features. The only thing I could see missing here are the debug LED disply, and the onboard power, and reset switches. And yes, that’s a VGA out this side of 2016.
ASRock revamped the UEFI of the Z270 Extreme4 to better suit the next generation chipset, but it isn’t much different to their older Z170 motherboard UEFIs at best. That said, if you’re coming from the likes of ASRock boards based on the Intel 100 chipsets, chances are, you’re going to feel right at home with this one. For an instance, the EZ Mode still houses all the necessary tools to get you started, with a simple toggle switch for easy overclocking and system status.
The tool sub menu built within the EZ Mode allows you to flash the board’s firmware via the internet or any USB devices which is helpful if you require an update. The system browser on the other hand reveals your chipset features and allows you to browse which devices uses the ports scattered on the board. The FAN-Tastic Tuning allows you to set the fan curve of the various fans attached to the motherboard’s PWM fan header.
The OC Tweaker is where you’d probably stay put inside the UEFI since this is where you could manually overclock both your CPU and memory. With the Z270 Extreme4, you could overclock your CPU via the ratio, the cache ratio, and even BCLK as expected. You can even adjust the FCLK which basically relates to PCI-E’s base clock.
The UEFI of the motherboard is snappy, and hiccup free. It is locked at 1024 x 768 (4:3 aspect ratio) though so we’d love to see a proper 16:9 support in the near future.
The ASRock A-Tuning, AURA RGB LED software, APP Charger and XFast LAN are the default softwares that will come with the Z270 Extreme4 and a lot more could be obtained via the Live Update & App Shop.
The A-Tuning is your Intel XTU equivalent from ASRock, allowing you to play with your board’s settings much like inside the UEFI.
Now this board is among the first ASRock boards to receive the RGB treatment. Basically, this software lets you play with the LEDs found at the 4 main lighting areas. The LED at the shroud of the audio chip, the I/O panel, the chipset heat-sink, and the AURA RGB LED header. You can set those areas to display separate lighting options, colors, and what not.
TEST SETUP & METHODOLOGY:
The motherboard’s performance will be evaluated by various benchmarking tools, and applications with the CPU, memory, storage, and audio performance being the focus of the tests. We are testing this motherboard with the high performance settings enabled at the OS, with the default UEFI configuration, and XMP enabled if possible. No extra softwares or applications are installed and running during the benchmarking process. The test system specifications are laid out below:
Please do note that we are in the process of rebuilding our motherboard benchmark database. The charts that you will see here will be updated from time to time.
POWER REGULATION & THERMALS:
The AIDA64 Extreme Edition’s System Stability Test is used to stress the system to gauge its overall power draw. We selected all the the stability test options available with a 15 minute run time. Sleep (S3) and soft-off (S5) states are also tested.
Thermal results of the VRM and the PCH are also monitored during those tests. Do note that this represents the VRM and PCH’s heat-sink temperature during idle and at load.
The Intel Core i5 7600K follows a familiar overclocking procedure with the Sky Lake CPUs. With that said, a little nudge over the core voltage at 1.248v and the CPU’s multiplier at x44 are enough to bring this CPU at 4.4 GHz. That’s just it. There’s basically nothing to separate this CPU over the older generation’s Core i5 6600K when it comes to overclocking – at least on our end.
We did go as far as 4.8 GHz (vCore @ 1.312v + LLC @ Level 1) but things are getting a little hotter around that region. Temperature hovers around 69°C even when idling so it really is uncomfortable. This sample is from ASRock so I do not want to go geronimo with it. You can check our CPU-Z validation HERE though for reference.
CPU & MEMORY PERFORMANCE:
Super PI is a single-threaded benchmark that calculates pi to a specific number of digits. The 32M calculation is used to to gauge the system performance.
wPrime is a multi-threaded benchmarking application designed to measure the raw computational power of a CPU. The 32M and 1024M calculations are used to to gauge the system performance.
AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software. We are going to use the built-in memory benchmark tool to gauge the system performance.
3DMark 2013 is a suite of benchmarks catered for the gamers and enthusiasts. It features benchmark presets suitable for wide range of systems. The total system scores from the FireStrike presets is used for comparison.
CINEBENCH R15 is used to test the system’s performance under OpenGL load. The graphics card has to display a huge amount of geometry and textures, as well as a variety of effects.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an action RPG set in an open world environment, developed by CD Projekt RED. It runs on the REDengine 3 utilizing the 64-bit precision of modern personal computing, and DirectX 11, allowing for better quality computer graphics via high dynamic range rendering.
GIMP is a free and open-source raster graphics editor used for image retouching, drawing, editing, and conversion. A 7 MB worth of images will be processed, and converted to gauge the system performance.
HandBrake is a free video encoding tool that supports a wide variety of media codecs. A 150MB worth MP4 video will be converted using the H.264 codec to gauge the system performance.
WinRAR is a file archive utility for Windows. It can create, view archives in RAR or ZIP file formats, and unpack numerous archive file formats. We are going to use the software’s built in benchmark tool to gauge the system performance.
Crystal Disk Mark is a storage benchmarking software widely used through the industry. We are going to use the software’s sequential read and write benchmark to test the system I/O performance.
RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA) is a suite designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio devices. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A high quality 3.5mm stereo male to male audio cable is used to loop both the line-in and line-out of the system with a sample rate of 24-bit at 48 kHz. The recording level should be around -1dB if possible, with software audio enhancements disabled.
|Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB|
|Noise level, dB (A)|
|Dynamic range, dB (A)|
|THD + Noise, dB (A)|
|IMD + Noise, %|
|Stereo crosstalk, dB|
|IMD at 10 kHz, %|
ASRock markets their Purity Sound solution like it is the best on-board audio solution out there, and boy it sure is one if not the best. It scored an almost perfect grading from RMAA, and that is just awesome for starters. Frequency response is stupendous, with slight roll-offs around the lower-bass region, and a generally flat performance until the end of the sweep.
Subjectively, this motherboard really surprised us with a flat, and reference-like output. That said, the Purity Sound 4 is a perfect solution to accurately reproduce the sound from the source. Hear what you are supposed to hear, I must say. I cannot say anything bad about it, really. Powered by Texas Instruments, baby!
WRAPPING IT UP:
The ASRock Z270 Extreme4 is an excellent all rounder board built from the ground up from the guys at ASRock. Made to clad the latest Intel Kaby Lake Processors, this iteration of the Z270 platform is blazing hot with features that you would expect from Intel’s top consumer chipset of the generation.
Performance is a mixed bag of things – if compared to the Z170 and the Core i5 6600K at the least. Lemme tell you that from two different perspectives. If you are coming from the Intel Z170 platform, with a core i5 6600K slapped on your board – then hold your horses. This is not the platform to jump into, unless of course you require the support for Intel’s Optane Technology, the extra PCI-E 3.0 Lanes, or if you’re just looking for that perfect opportunity to get any of the 4C/8T Kaby Lake CPUs. Now if you’re coming from the likes of the Z97 and older chipsets then you’re in for a treat, as this chipset will confidently allow you to take a plunge into the DDR4 platform of today. Just take note that you’re still confined with x8/x8 config with multi-graphic solutions. That stuff is locked into their HEDT platform for gawd knows how long it should be.
Build quality is top notch, with no major faults that you should be concerned with. For starters, this board features a 10 Phase VRM design with 12K japanese capacitors, combined with a tried and tested PWM controller. This thing will hit 4.4 GHz with the 7600K with no problem or what so ever, and can easily achieve 4.8GHz without sweat at 1.312v so there’s that for overclocking headroom and stability. Just watch out the CPU package temperature and get yourself a bad-ass cooler.
The feature set of this board is nothing but great. You’d get an excellent audio solution for starters, a good amount of I/O ports, ample amount of fan headers at your disposal, and a RGB LED lighting option that suits the elegant facade of the board. The thing also comes with an option to slap a Key-E WiFi + BT card onto the extra M.2 slot. With that module attached from the very beginning, this could be a total winner.
The ASRock Z270 Extreme4 is a 8, 300 PHP board that will let you enjoy all the Z270 features without breaking the bank. If you’re finally willing to take the jump into the world of DDR4 platforms with loads of connectivity and overclocking as one of the set requirements, then this board is looking back right at you.