Today we venture into ASRock's lastest top-of-the-line Z68 board which is in a class of its own; a feature packed beauty with an affordable price tag. Follow us as we take a good deep look at what makes the board what it is, from its unique technologies to what makes it roar. Follow us to answer questions like, how do you get PCI-E 3.0 with an NF200? How is the VRM on the Extreme7 Gen3 comparable to other boards? How is this board priced lower than other NF200 bearing boards?
ASRock was established in 2002 to compete against Tier 2 motherboard makers like DFI, ABIT, and ECS. Traditionally many think of ASRock as ASUS's entry level board maker, as ASUS is thought of as catering to the high-end market segment. While things aren't so clear anymore as to who owns who, it is pretty much accepted that ASRock isn't owned by ASUS any longer, but they still seem to buy in bulk and thus we see a lot of the same parts used, even parts that are exclusively made for ASUS. In fact after ASUS split with Pegatron, Pegatron used ASRock to compete against ASUS. To make things even stranger it seems like ASRock is still using some of ASUS’s R&D, foundries, as well as buying in bulk with them. While officially they are not the same company, they sure do have many common similarities. It seems that perhaps ASUS didn't know or maybe wanted ASRock to become what it has become today, a motherboard brand which has come a long way in very little time.
With the introduction of LGA1155 based chipsets ASRock shot through its lower tier status and is now competing head to head with GIGABYTE and ASUS. The way ASRock is able to do this is with lower prices, since ASUS and ASRock share a lot of the same parts, ASRock is able to obtain parts at a bulk price/contracts that they couldn't negotiate on their own. Then their parent company Pegatron shares foundries with ASUS, so when ASUS outsources to Pegatron they can use the technology ASUS used to manufacturer that board. It is not as devious as that sounds, and its really a great thing for ASRock fans.
Yet this Z68 Extreme7 Gen3 has a 3 year warranty, 2oz copper PCB (something pretty much unique to only a few ASRock boards), Japanese Solid Caps (that are sprayed gold to indicate good quality?), as well as some technologies that make this reviewer wonder, are they trying to compete against the Z68X-UD7 and the Maximus 4 Extreme-Z?
To begin the review a block diagram of the Z68 platform:
Compared to the earlier P67, the Z68 chipset adds Intel HD Graphics support, as well as Intel Smart Responce Technology (SSD Caching). Intel should have initially released the Z68 chipset, as its gains from P67 are very minimal. This motherboard also has Lucid Virtu technology which allows for switchable graphics, DVI, HDMI, D-SUB, and DisplayPort are all avaible. ASRock doesn't do everything like ASUS, first they don't use the Intel PHY, instead they use Broadcom controller, the first time i have seen one on a $280 board. They also use a PLX bridge chip to better the use of the 8 PCI-E 2.0 lanes that the PCH offers, this allows them to add another 16x (4x pghysical) slot to the board, while simultaneously running 3 x USB 3.0 and 2 SATA 6GB/s controllers.