ASRock Z77 Extreme6
ASRock’s $165 Z77 Extreme6 targets value seekers in the mid-range enthusiast market with three-way graphics capability, an extra USB 3.0 controller, an extra SATA 6Gb/s controller, a two-digit diagnostics display, and an I/O panel CLR_CMOS button to assist in recovery from failed overclock attempts.
Those extra controllers bring the total number of USB 3.0 ports to six, and the total number of SATA 6Gb/s ports to four. One of the added SATA ports is still shared with the eSATA connector, however.
ASRock even adds mini-PCIe beneath the primary x16 slot to enable the addition of notebook-style adapters, such as internal Wi-Fi cards, which lay flat over its PCI-based VIA IEEE-1394 controller.
There’s no good way to host a third PCIe 3.0 graphics card on an LGA 1155 platforms, since only sixteen of these lanes are native to Ivy Bridge CPUs. The Z77 Extreme6 divides those lanes into x8/x8 mode whenever a card is detected in the second slot, relying on the Z77 PCH's slower PCIe 2.0 controller to drive the third slot at x4. That makes this primarily a two-way graphics design, so ASRock triple-spaces the two high-bandwidth slots to support extra airflow and/or extra-thick cards.
Complaining about a layout this clean could be difficult, with its well-placed USB 3.0 front-panel header, replaceable firmware ROM, forward-facing SATA ports and a downward-facing latch on its eight-pin CPU power connector. Yet, further inspection reveals small nags like a front-panel audio header located in the extreme lower-rear corner and the fact that this is a single-ROM motherboard in a primarily dual-ROM market. Amusing asides include floppy and serial port headers next to that audio connection.
The Z77 Extreme6 installation kit includes four SATA cables, a two-way SLI bridge, and ASRock’s USB 3.0-to-3.5” bay adapter with integrated 2.5” drive tray. The ports can be moved to the back of a case by instead attaching them to an included slot plate.