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Five Z87 Motherboards Under $220, Reviewed

ASRock Z87 Extreme6

ASRock surprises Z87 Extreme6 buyers with dual network controllers and dual HDMI ports, in addition to DVI-I and DisplayPort. ASRock takes its network controllers upscale with Intel’s chipset-driven I217V PHY and PCIe-based I211AT parts, bringing with them Intel’s full set of management features and renowned response times.

The extra HDMI connector is neither an output nor a full-featured input, but instead a pass-through that can add a second device to a PC's single-port display. Though we liked this monitor-retasking feature in an all-in-one PC, its value on a motherboard that doesn’t have a dedicated display is less apparent.

Ten SATA ports that line the front panel are all SATA 6Gb/s-capable, including the four driven by a pair of PCIe x1 controllers. That interface limits those ports to 5.0 Gb/s per pair, and one of the ports must be left unoccupied to keep eSATA operational.

Placing four of the chipset’s USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel, ASRock adds a USB 3.0 hub to expand its front panel from single to twin dual-port headers. The four-port hub occupies only one of the chipset’s remaining two ports, so ASRock breaks the remaining port out as an internally-mounted external header. Think “USB drive on the motherboard”—with shades of first-generation ReadyBoost devices—but using the far-faster USB 3.0 interface. We have a few fast ones in mind that you'll see rounded-up in the next couple of days.

ASRock connects all three of its x16-length slots to the CPU’s PCIe 3.0 controller, dynamically changing between x16-x0-x0, x8-x8-x0, and x8-x4-x4 modes when cards are added. PCIe 3.0 mode offers twice the bandwidth of PCIe 2.0, circumventing our former criticism of four-lane graphics slots. The configuration also avoids the need to disable x1 slots or devices when adding a third card, though builders who prefer to put a slower device there might prefer not to share its bandwidth with graphics.

ASRock also dodges any complaint about blocked-off x1 slots beneath the main graphics card by instead putting a Mini PCIe slot there. Nearly any combination of graphics card and notebook-sized expansion card should fit simultaneously.

Power and reset buttons at the bottom-front corner assist bench testers like us, though these lose their usefulness once you button up your system's chassis. A dual-BIOS switch above those buttons makes it easy to get running after making a bad O/C setting, and the two ROMs above it are replaceable just in case you make a catastrophic mistake. A two-digit LED status display helps overclockers figure out which component they’ve pushed too far.

The engineers over at ASRock do a good job with this platform's layout, though a perfect design would require more space around the connectors. Caveats include a secondary USB 3.0 front-panel connector below the lowest graphics card slot that can’t be used when you have a graphics card installed, the internally-mounted external USB 3.0 port that likely suffers the same issue when installing long graphics cards, and a front-panel audio header that, by being located in the extreme bottom-rear corner, is unreachable by too-short cables that come with some cases. If you think that last problem is limited to old or cheap models, read all three parts of our recent 11-way case round-up.

The Z87 Extreme6 includes six SATA cables, an SLI bridge, and ASRock’s famous USB 3.0-to-3.5” bay adapter with integrated 2.5” SSD adapter tray.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.