ASRock Z87 Extreme4
ASRock hopes to demolish its competition in the enthusiast-value segment by providing a full set of features for less than $160 (sometimes even less than $150, depending on the deal of the day; ASRock's prices tend to move a lot more than we're used to). That full set includes three-way CrossFire using PCI Express 3.0 slots, four front-panel USB 3.0 ports, an extra eSATA 6Gb/s controller, HDMI monitor pass-through for external devices like game consoles, Intel's own network controller hardware, and DTS Connect-enabled ALC1150 audio.
The combination of five analog outputs and DTS Connect over optical S/PDIF gives users a wide range of options to connect multi-channel speaker systems, though the four nearby USB 3.0 ports seem sparse on a board that hosts an extra four-port hub.
Those missing USB 3.0 ports are instead found on a second front-panel header, yielding a total of four USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 front-panel connections. The USB 3.0 hub consumes one of the Z87 Express PCH's native ports, so ASRock exposes the left-over interface as an external connector mounted internally, where it can be used to attach USB-based Wi-Fi, flash, or Bluetooth.
Three PCIe x16 slots connect the CPU’s 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes in x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, or x8/x4/x4 modes. We’re typically not fans of four-lane connections for graphics, but the use of PCI Express 3.0 should alleviate any bottleneck that would have earned our ire in the past. Unfortunately, three-way SLI is officially unsupported, though Nvidia fans can still use the three slots for two-way SLI plus a third card.
ASRock moves the front-panel audio connector three slots up from the traditional bottom-rear corner to shorten the distance to its audio solution, which itself is moved closer to the I/O panel. This design, along with a TI NE5532 600 Ω-compatible headphone amplifier and enhanced EMI shielding, make up its Purity Sound solution.
The relocated front-panel connector benefits builders using cases with audio cables that can't quite reach the bottom-rear corner. On the other hand, if you prefer wrapping that cable around the bottom of your motherboard tray, you might now have to go over the board's top, which looks a little messier. These board vendors can't please everyone, it seems.
Less controversial are the power, reset, and CLR_CMOS buttons next to a two-digit diagnostics display. While most mainstream folks rarely need those features, they often come in handy when we're testing hardware outside the confines of a case. ASRock even sockets its two firmware ICs in case you somehow manage to corrupt them both.
The Z87 Extreme4 supports up to eight SATA drives, but includes only four cables (that’s a total of eight drives, since the eSATA connector is shared with one of the added internal ports).