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.
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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.
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.
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.
Seriously? How is that a con?
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.
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.
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.