ASRock - X58 Extreme3 review

Over the past 18 months we've seen a long procession of Intel X58 motherboards pass across our test bench. In many respects the ASRock X58 Extreme3 looks quite familiar, as we have seen most of the features before and the layout follows a predictable form. There are six DDR3 memory slots connected to the integrated triple channel memory controller that supports up to 24GB of DDR3-2000 RAM.

Moving down the board there are three graphics slots that support CrossFireX and SLI. The two blue slots each get a full 16 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 while the long white PCI Express slot looks as though it should support a third graphics card but only gets four lanes of slower PCI Express. If you fancy running SLI with a third nVidia card for PhysX then ASRock has the hardware for you. In addition to the graphics slots there are two PCI slots and a PCI Express x1 slot.

The input/output side of things is covered by the Intel ICH10R Southbridge with the addition of a Marvell 9128 controller to deliver eight SATA 2.0 connectors, along with connectors for two IDE drives and one floppy drive. The connectors on the side of the board are laid down for maximum convenience when you plug in the cables.
On the I/O panel there are two PS/2 ports, a Clear CMOS button, audio with optical and coaxial S/PDIF, Gigabit LAN, one eSATA port, five USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports. Mid-board there are headers for four more USB 2.0 ports and a second Firewire port.

The unusual feature in that list is the pair of USB 3.0 ports that are powered by an NEC UPD720200 controller. We expect to see USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 move into the mainstream but that will take some time. As things stand the hardware on offer in the ASRock is fairly typical X58 fare with the addition of a sprinkling of USB 3.0 goodness.

That's not to suggest that ASRock has skimped on the goodies. At the foot of the board there are Power and Reset micro buttons and an LED debug display. The quality of the cooling system looks rather imposing with a gunmetal grey finish and there's a hefty cooler on the power regulation hardware with an active 40mm fan to keep the air moving. Generally speaking we don't like small fans as they can be annoyingly noisy, but we had no problems with the cooler on the X58 Extreme3.

The software that is included with the ASRock includes a couple of utilities that didn't really grab our attention. These are ASRock IE to ‘reduce the number of output phases' to save power and ASRock OC DNA so you can ‘record your overclocking record to share with friends'. We were, on the other hand, keen to try the ASRock OC Tuner so we could get busy overclocking.

The layout of the software is fairly conventional for a Taiwanese tech company and looks like the dashboard of a motorcycle with dials and gauges that show what is going on as you change voltage and clock settings. Unfortunately we found it didn't work very well and we were unable to make our 2.8GHz Core i7 930 run reliably at 3.36GHz. Things didn't look good for this Extreme motherboard until we dumped the software and started working in the BIOS.

Here the ‘CPU EZ OC Setting' section gives you the option to load preset profiles. In the case of our Core i7 930 we had six options that started at 3.6GHz (180MHz base clock) and went all the way to 4.2GHz (210MHz) with the click of a keyboard. Despite our apprehension, the maximum setting of 4.2GHz was completely stable and delivered superb results, albeit at the expense of a relatively high power draw. At idle the system, which used an HD 5850 graphics card, drew 150W which rose to 250W under load. Other overclocked Core i7 PCs that we have tested typically draw 20W or 30W less than that with CPU speeds around the 4GHz mark.

ASRock - X58 Extreme3 features - Verdict

We were impressed by the way that the ASRock OC Tuner section of the BIOS delivered top performance with the minimum of work. The result is a motherboard that is fairly packed with features including USB 3.0, although the price is rather steep. Despite that we found plenty to admire in the ASRock X58 Extreme3.


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