Intel’s recent low-key launch of the mainstream 9-series chipsets heralded the annual motherboard refreshes by the various Taiwanese motherboard makers. What did ASRock have in store for us this time?
To recap, the 2014 “Haswell Refresh” platform is last year’s 4th generation Core (Haswell) processors with marginally bumped clock frequencies (presumably afforded by a maturing process node), and 9-series motherboard chipsets in the form of Z97/H97 platform controller hub. The key selling points of the latter is the introduction of next-generation storage interfaces like M.2 / SATA Express and Broadwell support when it arrives in 2015.
Like most of their notable competitors, ASRock has three distinct product lines for the 9-series chipsets – the enthusiast oriented OC Formula, gamer centric Fatal1ty boards and the regular Extreme series. All of their offerings come equipped with quality TI NexFET MOSFETs, 12k-hours rated capacitors and alloy chokes for prolonged uptime.
ASRock’s Fatal1ty branded “Killer” gamer boards have intimidating blood-red heatsinks, and boasts of the much hyped KillerNIC for latency-optimized networking. The “Purity Sound 2″ 7.1 channel integrated audio solution is also a constant fixture in this series, with a shielded Realtek ALC1150 codec rated at 115dB SNR, augmented by audiophile-grade Nichicon capacitors and discrete headphone amplifiers.
Meanwhile, the mainstream Extreme series consists of a plethora of models at the various price points, including a mini-ITX SKU named Z97E-ITX/ac. At first glance, we can see that the latter appears to have enough clearance around the CPU socket to allow for larger air coolers, and an ideal layout for cable management. All the boards in this series use an Intel Gigabit Ethernet PHY, which we like a lot better for its no-frills performance and small driver footprint. The high-end Z97 Extreme6 ATX board also has an onboard header to accommodate an optional Thunderbolt add-in card.
Making its big debut next month at Computex, the Z97 OC Formula is the highlight for our regular VR-Zone readers. The brainchild of overclocking legend Nick Shih, the motherboard (also available in mATX form factor) comes fully packed with all the features mentioned above, plus a souped-up VRM for extreme CPU torture (which will come in handy with the upcoming, unlocked Devil’s Canyon CPU SKU) and 4-way multi-GPU support to boot. Expect new performance records to be shattered with this yellow beast.
One of ASRock’s claim to 9-series supremacy is their unique M.2 implementation, which taps on PCIe 3.0 lanes normally hardwired to graphics cards to potentially deliver a higher storage throughput.
VR-Zone will be reviewing some of these motherboards in the months to come. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures from the Singapore launch event: