Software, Firmware & Overclocking
ASRock’s driver disc includes a few applications, such as the SoundBlaster Cinema 3 suite and its Live Update package. Live Update allowed us to get an update for the audio suite, in addition to ASRock specifics, such as AppCharger quick-charge utility for iPhones, a poling rate application for its “Fatal1ty Mouse Port” labeled USB 3.0 port, ASRock F-Stream tuning utility, Key Master macro manager, Restart to UEFI applet, and XFast LAN (a re-branded interface of cFos packet prioritization software). Other Live Update downloads include firmware, as well as a slew of trialware and freeware.
The SoundBlaster Cinema software suite can synthesize 3d audio to stereo headphones, or from stereo sources to multi-channel speakers. Other tools include Crystalizer fidelity booster, base boost, Smart Volume (can we say fidelity reducer?), and Dialog Plus audio booster for dialog.
Tuning the CPU frequency and voltage through ASRock F-Stream caused the system to crash, though we’re not sure whether to blame hardware limitations or compatibility issues on this occasion. Other menus are still useful, such as system monitoring and fan tuning.
By default, the Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac’s firmware opens into its EZ Mode GUI, which allows lets you enable or disable XMP, set boot priority, and access a limited set of tools, including fan speed. Pressing the F6 keyboard key takes you to an advanced menu with a greater set of controls.
Unlike with ASRock's better boards, many users will find that they’re able to use nearly any of the “Optimized CPU OC Settings” without worry of a crash. But that’s only because the Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac will force power throttling long before any dramatically heavy loads are taken on at high overclocks. The Turbo 4.6 setting, for example, throttles quickly to 4.4 GHz while using only 1.26V core, and the highest “Turbo 5.0” setting of 1.35V is good for idling at high frequency. The higher the application load or frequency or voltage, the less time it takes for the board to kick down to a safer setting.
You’ll notice that Core Current Limit as well as both power limit durations are adjustable, but they’re already set to maximum when using the lowest 4.6 GHz “Optimized OC.” Current requirements go up with clock rate, stabilizing an overclock requires an increase in voltage, Ohm's law states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the voltage across the two points, and the maximum current output of this voltage regulator under Prime95 occurred at 1.245V/4.60 GHz. Anything beyond that caused the motherboard to protect its voltage regulator by reducing the CPU multiplier. Lighter application loads give overclockers a little more room to play, as would disabling hyperthreading or using a dual-core CPU.
The Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac pushed two of our DDR4-3866 modules to DDR4-4000, though the setting isn’t reflected here because of a firmware reset. Memory tweakers can get higher frequencies at looser timings, or optimize timings to improve latency at their desired data rate.
The CPU Load-Line Calibration setting allows users to adjust for sagging core voltage under load, and the Level 2 setting was completely appropriate for our processor. DRAM voltage is adjustable only in 50mV increments, yet that wasn’t a big problem since the 1.300V setting produced a measured 1.344V (!) at the DIMM slot. The reason it wasn’t a big problem for this test is that we have a 1.35V target, and the 1.30V setting approached that target.
The Advanced menu of Advanced mode includes a UEFI Setup Style selection, from which users can choose to be greeted by the Advanced menu (rather than EZ Mode) upon their next entrance into the firmware GUI.
The Tool menu offers a System Browser utility to show detected devices, a UEFI Tech Service outgoing email client, Easy RAID Installer to copy RAID drivers from the installation disc to a thumb drive, Boot Manager, Instant Flash firmware update utility, Internet Flash firmware downloader for Instant Flash, and a Network Configuration menu to help you get online to use those other online tools.
Only one of the fan headers, CPU_Opt, can switch between PWM and voltage-based speed regulation. This header has a 1.50A output, whereas other fans are limited to 1A. The Fan Tuning algorithm allows the motherboard to run a fan test and set an appropriate fan map, and users can also configure fans manually through the Fan-Tastic Tuning interface.
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