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ASRock H97 Anniversary Motherboard Review

Today's LGA1150 is the last H97 board at a mainstream price that will go on the bench for my scrutiny. It's a little different in a couple of interesting ways, as we'll find out.

Our Verdict

If your needs are in line with what the H97 Anniversary offers, i.e. running more than two graphics cards for their GPGPU capabilities, this is a good choice. Just be sure you don’t need PCI before buying this one. If you’re a pro, you might also appreciate the additional failure protection of one of the RAID modes. If you aren’t running a render machine or folding box, I think there are better choices, like the H97M Pro4, or perhaps one of the new Skylake boards.

For

  • Solid caps/ferrite core chokes • Plenty of ports • Supports RAID • Speaker header • Front and rear USB3.0 • Four DIMM slots • Lots of GPGPU capability • Low price for this chipset

Against

  • Weak audio codec • No pilot or diagnostic LEDs • Full ATX width • Minimal accessories • No PCI expansion

Specifications And Overview

An initial glance shows ASRock's H97 Anniversary board is a rather odd bird, yet companies don't make products without a market. Who might buy this, and what are they getting? Perhaps just as important, what might have been given up or reduced to keep the price so low? After all, this is a mere $60 board, so it is bound to have weaknesses.

The name of ASRock's H97 Anniversary clearly indicates it uses Intel's H97 chipset. As the features table below shows, this chipset offers a wide range of ports and a robust storage subsystem, including multiple RAID configurations. I said this one is unusual, though, so let us see how.

Specifications

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The codec is only an ALC662, which is somewhat bottom-of-the-barrel for motherboard sound, even in the mainstream. It offers 98dBA S/N on the outputs and 90dBA S/N on the inputs. This is considerably less than the 100dBA S/N, which is the minimum for any kind of professional audio work. If its full ATX-width form factor didn't tell you, this is not a HTPC board.

The H97 Anniversary uses a Realtek 8111GR network controller for its RJ-45 port, offering gigabit speeds. There is no radio on the board, either for a wireless NIC or Bluetooth. There are as many USB ports as the average person is likely to need, including front USB for cases that support that connector. Capacitors are all solid, and chokes are ferrite core rather than the less efficient iron.

Overview

As usual, accessories are limited to what you'd expect from a mainstream product. In addition to the full ATX board, you get a typical 5 1/2 x 8 1/4-inch glue-bound manual, which will not want to lie flat. In addition to English, you get German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish and four [pictographic] Asian languages I do not recognize (Thai, Japanese, Chinese?), plus Bahasa Indonesian. Some of these are only five to six pages, but the English section doesn't seem to be missing anything. There is a driver CD, I/O shield and the usual two SATA 6Gb/s cables.  Particularly given this board's RAID support, I really believe there should be more.

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Perhaps because of the board's width, the layout is quite open. No slots will be blocked if a double-width graphics card is installed in the PCIe x16 slot, but the CR-2032 battery will be overlapped. The board is not especially thick, but is sufficiently sturdy so that it does not readily flex. The SATA ports are all on the forward edge of the board, beginning around an inch from the left edge. They alternate, so the clips will always face out.

Nothing else is obstructed on the H97 Anniversary. Most headers are around the edges, except for three fan headers. Both CPU fan headers and the 3-pin CHA_FAN2 header are in the middle of the board, close to the CPU to its left. There is another connector here as well, and the first clue as to this motherboard's intended market segment. Also to the left of the CPU, a little more toward the back of the board, is a 4-pin Molex power connector for auxiliary PCIe power. The only other unusual connector placement is the 8-pin CPU power connector, which is on the right edge just behind the four DIMM slots; more often this connector is much closer to the back of the board. On this H97 variant, the space between the CPU power connector and the rear panel connectors is taken by the VRM phases and their heat sink. Although this board has the standard ATX width for seven slots, it is only 7.5 inches deep. There is no room for the VRMs between the CPU and the rear panel connectors, where most motherboards seem to have them. On the rear panel, you will find DVI-D, HDMI and VGA connectors; however, the manual notes that each of these is only good for up to 1920 x 1200 resolutions.

The CLR_CMOS header is easily reached on the left edge, and includes a jumper block. In addition to the front-panel header in the bottom left, there is a header just behind the midpoint for a speaker. If your power LED connector is 3 pins wide, there is also a separate header for it also on the left edge behind the front panel connector (which has 2-pin spacing for the power LED). The audio header is behind the PCIe x1 slots, with plenty of finger space around it. There are no indicator LEDS on the board, such as a diagnostic display or a +5VSB pilot. Be sure you've switched your PSU off or unplugged it before adding or removing expansion cards, to make sure the +5VSB is off.

What is a little unusual is that all expansion slots are PCIe X1; no PCI, and no PCIe [2.0] X4. Adding in the PCIe power connector, it looks to me as though this particular motherboard is aimed at those who want potentially massive GPGPU performance. Given design lead times, it may have been intended as the heart of a mining rig. Mining on GPUs is no longer practical; however, it would still be a great board for folders, and perhaps for heavy rendering. If you're a graphics pro, please weigh in on the comments and let our readers know if X1 lanes are a meaningful limitation for certain GPGPU tasks.

  • Snayperskaya
    "Cons: Full ATX width"

    Seriously? How is that a con?
    Reply
  • Rookie_MIB
    This would be a good board to put a bunch of PCIe -> SATA adapters for a large scale NAS... Four PCIe to quad-port SATA cards can be had for $20 each or so, so along with the on-board SATA ports you'd be able to put together a 22 drive setup.
    Reply
  • DouglasThurman
    Why does the link for the board show up on NewEgg as the smaller micro-atx anniversary board?
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    17438104 said:
    This would be a good board to put a bunch of PCIe -> SATA adapters for a large scale NAS... Four PCIe to quad-port SATA cards can be had for $20 each or so, so along with the on-board SATA ports you'd be able to put together a 22 drive setup.
    That would be grossly inefficient and slow since each board would only have an x1 PCIe connection. You would be much better off with a motherboard with x4 slots and controller boards with 16+ ports each. Yes, those cost more than $20 but if you can afford to spend $3000 on HDDs + $100 in add-in boards, I think you can afford a $500 controller.
    Reply
  • DonkeyOatie
    I realize that these things take a long time to get out and there are a lot of things in the pipeline. This would have been great information a year a go, but less useful today, especially with the G3258 being past it's' best by', although still a great chip.
    Reply
  • RazberyBandit
    "Cons: Full ATX width"

    Seriously? How is that a con?
    What's funny is that it's not 9.6" (244mm) wide, as per the ATX standard. It is built closer to the widths of the Flex-ATX or DTX standards, which measure 194mm/7.6" and 208mm/8.2", respectively. (If I owned the board, I'd measure it, like the author should have.)

    The dead-giveaway that this isn't a standard 12" x 9.6" ATX board is the fact that it only has 6 mounting holes - it would have 9 if it were in fact a full-size ATX board. My personal moniker for boards built to such dimensions is ATX-Thin.
    Reply
  • mac_angel
    ASRock seem to make decent products, but as for their customer service and warranty, it's poor. Next to impossible to reach anyone, and redirected all over. I have one of their gaming motherboards that I sent back weeks ago and haven't gotten anything back since. Any time I write it, they say it is 'out of stock'. Maybe because I'm in Canada? Either way, really bad support. Never again.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I agree that this socket is now "old," but I have no control over length of the publishing queue. Soon I'll be submitting H170 reviews so as to be more current.
    I list the full ATX width as a con because there are many boards with similar features (all but the multiple PCIe X1 slots) that are considerably smaller. In many settings it doesn't matter, but where it does, you can get most of the same features on a mITX board now.
    Reply
  • Onus
    Oh, and as to ASRock's customer service, for my part I've been satisfied. I bought their Z77E-ITX second-hand some years ago. It died (popped VRM; running stock, but in a cramped case with a hot GPU). Although I bought it without a warranty, ASRock replaced it for $50, and dealing with them was straightforward and easy.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    17439592 said:
    "Cons: Full ATX width"

    Seriously? How is that a con?
    What's funny is that it's not 9.6" (244mm) wide, as per the ATX standard...The dead-giveaway that this isn't a standard 12" x 9.6" ATX board is the fact that it only has 6 mounting holes - it would have 9 if it were in fact a full-size ATX board.
    Actually, you're both right but Onus is more-right. The old standard for computers was horizontal desktops and racks, so top to bottom is "width" and front to back is "depth".

    I try to avoid this confusion by not using the word "width" when describing a motherboard.

    Joe's comments concern the availability of similar features in Micro ATX models. He assumes that you won't need five x1 slots and that 2 would do. He's probably right.
    Reply