ASRock P55 Extreme4 - Four for the Future


ASRock P55 Extreme4

ASRock P55 Extreme4

A check on ASRock's website showed that the brand has eight different motherboard offerings based on the Intel P55 chipset. The P55 Extreme4 is the latest addition and ASRock touts that it is the first in the world to offer front USB 3.0 ports. Besides having a front bracket for that, the Extreme4 also gets its name from having four USB 3.0 ports and four SATA 6Gbps ports. With most of its competitors offering up to two each, ASRock has a slight advantage here (if you really want to step up to embracing these new standards in a big way, though supporting devices have yet to become mainstream).  

In any case, there's no doubt that the ASRock has put in quite a lot of effort and features into the Extreme4. For one, the build quality appears to be on par with the bigger brands, with ASRock choosing to go with Made-in-Japan solid polymer capacitors for the extra lifespan. A 8+2 power phase design for the processor ensures that there's more juice steadily available for overclocking purposes while multi-GPU support for both ATI and NVIDIA makes it clear that this is a board with the enthusiast in mind.

In fact, with the only omission being FireWire support, this ASRock board has what it takes to compete with the best P55 boards. Besides the standard six SATA 3.0Gbps ports from the chipset and the extra four SATA 6Gbps from the two Marvell controllers, this board also has IDE and floppy drive support. Besides storage options, the board has two PCI slots along with three PCIe x1 slots and two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (x8/x8 when both are utilised). A Realtek ALC892 audio CODEC provides the audio support, while the single Gigabit Ethernet controller is also from Realtek.

The four white SATA ports here are SATA 6Gbps capable, powered by two Marvell controller (9120 and 9123) and positioned such that they don't get in the way of your graphics card. Don't expect SATA RAID support on them however as ASRock is not using the higher end Marvell 9128 controller for them. There's also an IDE connector for those still hanging onto their older devices.

The rest of the SATA 3.0Gbps ports are near the debug LED and power/reset buttons. While they are facing upwards, we don't see it getting in the way of your expansion slots.

The usual four DIMM slots on an Intel P55 motherboard, with its dual-channel memory architecture. The board supports overclocked memory frequencies of up to 2600MHz and these can be set in the BIOS.

A close up of one of the two Marvell controllers onboard responsible for the SATA 6Gbps support.

The other highlight of this board is its support for four USB 3.0 ports. Here is one of the two NEC controllers responsible for that.

A front panel bracket is included to enable the other two USB 3.0 ports. Apparently, it's a world's first.

This ASRock board supports both SLI and CrossFireX and from the placement of the PCIe x16 slots, one can easily fit dual-slot graphics cards. We also found ASRock's latch mechanism (the white part of the PCIe x16 slots) for securing the graphics cards very decent compared to others.

The polish is readily apparent from the board design and components, with onboard power and reset buttons, a debugging LED, a Clear CMOS switch at the rear panel making it as easy to use, just like some of its first tier competitors. The layout is also very good; while the SATA ports are left facing upwards, they are located in areas where they are unlikely to interfere with your expansion cards. The expansion slots for the graphics cards also come with a slightly different kind of latch mechanism which despite being a bit stiff, allowed users to remove their graphics cards, even the dual-slot versions without having to squeeze their fingers underneath the card trying to get to the release.

 One of ASRock's more unique feature has to do with its CPU socket or what it calls, Combo Cooler Option. These are an extra set of holes drilled to fit LGA775 coolers, so one can reuse their older LGA775 cooler if upgrading.

ASRock has also included a bundle of proprietary software and hardware tools to distinguish this product from the more average ones in the market. Besides the ones that involve the BIOS, like auto-overclocking, this board comes with a quick boot function (Instant Boot), a BIOS flashing utility from within the BIOS and even an application (ASRock APP Charger) that will help to improve the USB charging time for iPod/iPhone devices (like a certain other manufacturer). In short, ASRock is making a good attempt at adding frills to its premium product.

8.5
Performance
8
Features
8.5
Value
8.5
The Good
Competitive hardware and software features
Good layout
The Bad
Lacks some niche features that's available on its rivals