Pros: Looks great, well laid out, lots of features for the price range
Cons: No LLC, insufficient VRAM cooling, not great for overclocking without added cooling
Now, it's not really fitting to call anything based on the AM3+ socket a "new" product, but given this board was released at the end of 2014, and no one has officially reviewed the board as of me writing this, we will roll with this being a "new" product....
So, what does this new board bring to the table?
Let's start with the feature list:
- ASRock Super Alloy - Sapphire Black PCB
- Gaming Armor
- -VGA Card - 15 Gold Contact in VGA PCIe Slot + PCIe Power Connector
- -Audio - Purity Sound™ 2
[*[Supports Socket AM3+ / AM3 processors
- Supports 8-Core CPUs
- Supports 220W AMD FX-9590 & FX-9370 CPUs
- ASRock DuraCap, Digi Power, 8 + 2 Power Phase Design
- Supports Dual Channel DDR3 2400(OC)
- 3 PCIe 2.0 x16, 2 PCIe 2.0 x1, 1 PCI
- Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX™, 3-Way CrossFireX™, CrossFireX
- 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC1150 Audio Codec),Supports Purity Sound™ 2 & DTS Connect
- Realtek Gigabit LAN with XFast technology
- 6 SATA3, 1 M.2 (PCIe Gen2 x4 & SATA3)
- 6 USB 3.0 (2 Front, 4 Rear), 10 USB 2.0 (6 Front, 3 Rear, 1 Fatal1ty Mouse Port)
- Supports ASRock Full Spike Protection, F-Stream, Key Master, Full HD UEFI, APP Shop
Pretty impressive for a board retailing at roughly $96 on newegg right?
Don't forget there have been rebates and promos floating around on this thing, and at purchase time, I scored this guy for a cool $76
On that note, let me start by saying that I really do like the look of this board. If color matching, and "bling" are a planned part of your FX based gaming build, then this board definitely fits the bill. The only budget based AM3+ gaming board that I have seen beat this one in the looks department, is the MSI 970 Gaming board.
The first thing that attracted me to this board was the fact that it is officially rated as a 220W FX9 series compatible motherboard. Now I would venture as far as to say that no one purchasing an FX9 CPU, will be slapping such a beastly (not to mention extremely power hungry) chip into a little known, budget oriented board such as this one, and in my case, I was shooting for the cheapest setup possible.
I opted for the $99 FX-8300 95W OEM chip available at TigerDirect for this build, but I assume many will opt for a slightly higher tiered (and notably more expensive at the moment) 8320/e or 8350 variant of the FX 8 core Vishera.
This allowed me to do a pretty significant CPU upgrade to my system, while maintaining that budget/gaming theme.
A theme I'd like to make sure everyone stays mindful of during the entirety of this review.
So, now that we know the feature set, we know what the board looks like, and we know the intended usage, price point, and audience ASRock is going for here; let's see if this little budget ATX board can live up to it's own hype, because there is inherently none surrounding it in the mainstream/enthusiast PC gaming world at all right now....
This board was actually very well packed from the retailer, and further more, it was well packaged within it's own manufacturer packaging. Note in the pictures that the board comes nested in a foam "crate" that protects it seemingly well.
I was personally impressed with the overall presentation at this price point, though it does fall well short of high end board packaging offered with the Asus Sabertooth, Crosshair V, Gigabyte UD5, (insert $150+ motherboard name here), etc...
This board did not come with a laundry list of accessories. Far from it....
(1) Nicely printed, and very helpful (descriptive) user's manual, but it's thickness is mainly attributed to the thick glossy cover, and the fact that it includes multiple versions of the manual in several different languages all in one book. Expect to find what you are looking for, bur don't expect a Hayne's Manual....
(1) Similarly printed software guide, which I never even peaked at....
(1) Driver/software package disc ]
(2) standard black, medium length, SATA cables
(1) Very cheaply made chrome finished I/O shield (wouldn't be the first of these I've seen, NEXT!).
Also, at the current time of purchase, there is also an included gift certificate for some sort of XSplit streaming software (which I have not tested, and probably won't... any takers?)
Everything from the straightness of the PCB, down to the capicitors themselves, look to be of really high quality on this board! I've seen a lot of motherboards in my 15+ years of doing this, and this board's initial quality impressions fall right in between the higher portion of the mainstream boards available, and the actual enthusiast level boards. In no way does the board come across as a cheaply made budget offering.
Here are some mediocre cell phone snaps I took after unboxing....
Obviously it is a good looking board, but there are some things to note right away!
Firstly, the VRM heatsink is rather thin, and is also not connected to the chipset heatsinks at all.
I will cover the downsides of this later in the review, but for now, let's cover the good stuff. Besides, you know where this is all going anyways don't you?
Let me also note that I have heard (okay, read) lots of talk about ASRock boards using a much thinner PCB compared to the competition... to clear that up, I have taken some shots of the 970's PCB directly beside my Gigabyte 890FXA-UD5 so you can be the judge for yourself. Mind you, I did not pull out the calipers and get an exact mill thickness, but you can see that the PCB thicknesses are very close The Gigabyte may have a tad bit more going here, but I believe that the picture makes it seem this way even more so because after looking at the two boards beside each other, you can see that the Gigaboard is slid towards the edge of the desk a tad bit more than the ASRock is, which put it a little closer to the camera lens. If there is a valid difference, it is no where near the ridiculousness of some ABIT, ECS and XFX boards I have seen(which I have witnessed come out of the box badly warped with several bent caps, etc)!
I didn't tinker too much with anything besides installing the drivers, updating them afterwards, and some short testing with F-Stream. F-Stream is ASRock's proprietary tuning software. It is pretty well laid out, very easy to use, and does a good job of monitoring and controlling the boards settings directly through the software. It actually does much better than AMD overdrive did for me, which I suppose has more to do with the fact that ASRock's F-Stream is board specific, and allows a lot more interaction between the interface and the board itself.
Here is a quick screen shot....
You may find this app helpful for real time tweaking and testing, but you will obviously want to go back into the BIOS for any permanent overclock settings you may want to use. This is mainly to give you an idea of where you can clock to at a given voltage, what your temps look like, and what your actual reported voltage, and load voltages are as apposed to the BIOS setting itself. Nothing new here, but good to see ASRock offers this software, even on a lower tier board such as this.
This may be the boards strongest point....
Though it does suffer the lack of hefty high end heatsinks, it does have a very good layout.
For my uses, the SATA ports, the PCI-E slots, the power inputs, and the fan headers are well VERY WELL placed guys....
First thing I liked, was that the DIMMs are placed far enough away from the socket for most people's needs.
I see a lot of boards get knocked by people using large air coolers, and rightfully so....
Speaking of air, another plus is that this board has a total of 6 fan headers, all in very well thought out locations.
3 are right above the CPU socket itself;
CPU FAN1 (4 PIN PWM)
PWR FAN (which is obviously for using a fan to cool the rather thin, and VERY HOT VRM heatsink)
There are also 3 more chassis fan headers placed very conveniently throughout the bottom and far right edge of the board.
Some would likely prefer more than that, and to be honest, I don't know what the going count is on newer high end boards, but my UD5 had only 5, so this was an upgrade in cooling capabilities for me personally, though I will add that the UD5 didn't necessarily need the addition of a "power fan" header since the VRM's were probably cooled a little better by it's larger, and pipe-tied heatsink.
I won't keep going here, since you can look at the pictures and get a pretty good idea yourself, as to whether or not you like the layout.
I will say though, that the audio header is located near the back of the board, which I have read some complaints about from some people who posted reviews of this board on newegg. I don't even use it myself, but I will say that even in my very large case, I could have made the audio port cables from the front of my HUGE case hook up if needed. See my Lian Li BTX tower below...
Okay, this one could be all a matter of preference and opinion, but I actually like the BIOS on this board a lot.
The red can be a bit much to get used to at first, but for the most part it is fairly well laid out, and pretty simple to dial in the settings that you want.
Some have said that the actual clock speed is not shown in the CPU multiplier list when using a higher FSB, which is true at first, but once you close the list, and re-expand it, mine reports what the new clock speed will be. It's not nearly as fluid in providing the information as some of the Asus and Gig BIOS I have seen, but all in all, I think ASRock did a good job of making the BIOS look modern, "techy", and gamer oriented. It also has some helpful things like board layout pics, and clickable component descriptions that did actually help me a few times.
Though it has the typical voltage and clock settings you'd be looking for when overclocking your system, and does seem to get this job done, however, this board is definitely NOT an overclocker's candy land.
My biggest gripe is that this board lacks LLC, which could attribute to OC limitations in general, and with that sentiment, let's move on....
Cause it's time for the good stuff gentlemen....
OVERCLOCKING AND PERFORMANCE!!!
To be continued....
But seriously though, I'm still testing....
I just wanted to go ahead and get SOME info up on this thing for people to start looking over.
Also, as an appetizer, I'll give you a little info regarding overclocking thus far.... (since it would just be wrong to drag you along this far and not show anything right???)
Let's just say that with a pretty basic 120mm water cooler, and a small fan on the VRM, a rock solid 4.6GHz on my FX-8300 @ 1.35v was child's play to acheive. Now, as far as getting past there? Well, that is yet to be determined, and I don't want to finish this review until I know if it's just this 8300 being the runt of the litter, or if this board's heat and/or power limitations are going to limit me.
I did do some gaming at 4.8GHz last night, and was absolutely enthralled with the difference going from 4.6 to 4.8 makes on this CPU, but it proved to be unstable at 1.4v.
I am moving into a higher voltage range tonight, and will be begin my quest for 4.7+. I can already tell you that it will not just fall into my lap the way 4.6GHz did. This was completely expected with this board to begin with, and to be honest, at $76 shipped, I was happy with anything over 4.5GHz.
I will have this portion of the review finished by the end of this coming weekend (pending my wife doesn't go into labor ), as well as several different performance numbers, BIOS shots, and lots of voltage information associated with the lack of LLC on this board.
Remember, I asked you to stay mindful that this is a budget board, and will be judged as such in the end.
Okay, here's an update...
This board did really good with final overclocks.... I hit 4.9GHz stable on 1.46v under load, with the idle voltage being around 1.56v (1.475 + 150mv offset in BIOS).
But here's the bad news....
Despite my cooling the VRM and the rear of the socket with 120mm fans blowing directly on them, this thing ended up dying on me...
In it's final days, there was major overclocking degredation, and then there was a loud pop followed by burning smell.
Yes, it blew a mosfet.... mind you this happened with my much milder 4.8GHz (1.4v under load) summer time clocks.
Air flow was good, but this thing always ran hot in the socket.
Needless to say, I am buying a higher quality board, and putting the RMA replacement in another machine with a milder chip and less overclocking.
This board is NOT BUILT to handle extended overclocking.