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Three Z97 Express Motherboards, $220 To $280, Reviewed

ASRock Z97 Extreme9 Software And Firmware

Z97 Extreme9 Software

ASRock’s A-Tuning provides Windows users a wide range of software-based overclocking options. Pre-defined profiles include “Turbo 20” and “Turbo 30”, which, rather than provide our Core i7-4790K with 20 and 30% overclocks, instead take it to 4.5GHz at 1.27V and 4.6GHz at 1.32V. Both adjustments occur at the firmware level, requiring a reboot to activate.

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“Optimized CPU OC Setting” options for our Core i7-4790K include 4.5, 4.6 and 4.7GHz at 1.25, 1.30 and 1.40V maximum. Though all of these settings were initially stable, the highest 4.7GHz mode eventually caused thermal throttling.

ASRock “Lifestyle” apps include OMG connection control, a power LED disabling utility, a fan tuning utility, a thermal cycling utility called “Dehumidifier”, a tool that turns any USB thumb drive into a login key, an OC profile utility, HDD Saver to power-cycle hard drives that might otherwise seize up after months of inactivity and DISK health reporting.

ASRock OC Tweaker includes the full range of CPU BCLK, CPU multiplier and CPU/DRAM/PCH voltage adjustments available from firmware.

A-Tuning’s status monitor still offers a pop-up screen to display the locations of detected hardware. This is particularly useful when diagnosing a failed component, which might have dropped out of detection due to excessive overclocking.

Z97 Extreme9 Firmware

The top of ASRock’s OC Tweaker menu includes several factory-configured overclocks, which the company believes will work with most unlocked processors. These include Turbo 4.5GHz at 1.23V CPU core, Turbo 4.6GHz at 1.30V, and Turbo 4.7GHz at 1.40V. None of them were stable with our CPU sample, though.

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Indeed, our Core i7-4790K is no better at overclocking than the Core i7-4770K that preceded it. The new internal thermal material allows it to take more voltage before throttling, but its less-perfect core also needs more voltage to reach similarly-high frequencies. This CPU doesn't even reach the same 4.6GHz of our previous processor, though the Z97 Extreme9 got us close to that level with a 4.54GHz overclock at 1.28V. The additional voltage required for a 4.6GHz push eventually forces thermal throttling.

We’ve grown to expect unreported extra DIMM voltage from every board on the market, and a 1.625V setting that produces our desired 1.65V level isn’t too far off compared to ASRock’s competitors.

The Z97 Extreme9 had no trouble topping our memory’s DDR3-2800 data rate, even with all four modules installed. Primary, secondary and tertiary timings are all individually selectable to enable even better overclocks or lower response times.

The software-controllable HDD Saver feature, which occasionally powers-up idle drives, finds its firmware basis in the Z97 Extreme9’s UEFI.  Further advancements can be found in an assortment of Web-based features, such as server-to-thumb drive downloads for drivers and an email-based tech service utility. Frequently needed by overclockers, ASRock Instant Flash firmware updater and three “User Profiles” for overclocking configuration storage are accessible from the same “Tools” menu.

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