The ASRock Z97 Anniversary board exists for a very specific reason, which is to complement the Intel Pentium G3258 processor. The new Pentium processor was announced in early June this year, and it is meant to commemorate the 20th anniversary its predecessor, the original Intel Pentium from 1993. Besides its commemorative value, the Pentium G3258 CPU boasts of a unlocked CPU multiplier, which will allow overclockers to push the chip beyond its stock 3.2GHz clock speed effortlessly.
We shall share more of the CPU later, but first, a close-up with the ASRock board. At a glance, this full ATX motherboard appears bare as it only has one VRM heatsink that seats over a collection of NexFET MOSFETs. These same MOSFETs are are also found on the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer. There is a row of premium alloy chokes under the recess of the VRM heatsink. According to the company, the board has a 4-phase digital power delivery system. In terms of appearance, the board has a no-nonsense look, with its blue and black color scheme. Speaking of black, the board has a "sapphire black" PCB that is supposed to convey its "rock-solid" build quality - according to the marketing material. The minimalist nature doesn't come as a surprise for a board that's designed to be mated with a budget class CPU.
As we move south from the board’s LGA1150 CPU socket, we see its expansion slots. There is only a single PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slot, while the rest consist of three PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, and a pair of legacy PCI ones. If you were looking forward to building a multi-GPU system with an affordable Z97 board, you will be sorely disappointed. However, the single PEG slot is ideal to match the entry-level nature of the Pentium CPUs that it's designed to work with.
The selection of headers and connectors that line the bottom of the board are also as sparse as its expansion slots. From left, there is the COM port header, a clear CMOS jumper, the chassis speaker header, and the TPM header. Even its USB 2.0 headers are bare, without the hard plastic sheath which is usually expected of boards that feature Intel Z97 chipset. There is a glaring absence of a USB 3.0 header here; instead, it is located near the DIMM slots. The last two headers are one for the Power LED, and the system panel headers.
The six SATA 6Gbps connectors of the board face upwards, similar to entry level boards, but are properly labelled. As this board is built for overclocking the Pentium Anniversary Edition chip, the DIMM slots fortunately support overclocked memory modules that have been rated to operate up to 3100MHz. Speaking of overclocking, we were surprised the board even lacks a basic collection of onboard buttons like power and reset ones. They would definitely make operating the board in an open workbench environment a cinch. In lieu of those buttons, we resorted to manually shorting the appropriate jumpers of the system panel header in order to reset or power up the board in our test bench.
The USB 3.0 header, which is conspicuously absent from the bottom edge of the board, is tucked away next to the 24-pin ATX power connector, in the vicinity of the DIMM slots. This should facilitate casings that have a short cable USB 3.0 cable connector.
The rear I/O ports of the board are also a muted affair. They consist of a pair of USB 2.0 ports that sit above a PS/2 keyboard and mouse combo port. The HDMI port is next to this stack. Further down, there are a total of four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit LAN port, and a triplet of analog audio ports.
The onboard audio system is driven by the Realtek ALC887 audio codec, and it boasts of ELNA audio capacitors. The audio chip is capable of driving a 7.1-channel sound system, and it appears to be hampered by the lack of audio connectivity options in this current implementation. We would at least appreciate a digital audio output option in addition to the analog audio connectors. It will suffice for a strict PC-usage setting where most multimedia speakers still connect via analog connections, but beyond that, more connectivity is required. Despite expandability limitations, we hope that the cost savings are passed on to the consumers who could then make an appropriate investment in dedicated sounds cards if they so require better audio processing needs.
According to the local distributor of ASRock, we last heard that the board will not be made available here; hence, you will have to order one from an online retailer, and its estimated retail price is about US$120. Despite this, let us take a look at how well the ASRock Z97 Anniversary performs in the subsequent pages. In addition, we have rounded up additional components to test, in order to have a better understanding of the value proposition of the ASRock board.