High-end Intel Z170 motherboards duke it out

By Koh Wanzi - 20 Oct 2015

ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+

ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+

The ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+ is the highest-end model in ASRock’s Z170 Extreme series of motherboards. The plus behind the board’s name simply means that it comes with a USB 3.1 front panel with one Type-A and Type-C port. It works by plugging into a SATA Express port on the motherboard.

The ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+ is the top board in ASRock's Extreme series. (Image Source: ASRock)

For starters, the board has a rather stealthy look with its matte black PCB and heatsinks, with only faint accents of copper that inject a bit of design flourish.

It uses a 12-phase digital power design, which isn’t as elaborate as some of the other boards in this shootout. However, it’s worth noting that the number of phases matters less than the quality of the components themselves, and that’s what we’ll be assessing in our overclocking tests later on. Either way, ASRock is setting a lot of stock by what it says are premium 60A power chokes and Nichicon capacitors that deliver a cleaner and more stable Vcore to the CPU.

The board is equipped with a 12-phase digital power design.

There are a total of four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. The first three will run in x8/x4/x4 modes in triple-GPU setups (x8/x8 for dual-GPU in the first and third PCIe 3.0 x16 slot), while the last slot is limited to just x4 mode. In addition, there is a single PCIe 3.0 x1 slot and PCIe 2.0 x1 for add-in cards.

The board has a total of four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots and single PCIe 3.0 x1 and PCIe 2.0 x1 slots for add-in cards.

These PCIe 3.0 x1 slot actually uses a new design that accommodates a wider range of add-in cards. The bandwidth still still be limited to PCIe 3.0 x1, but it will take cards of all sizes because of one end of the slot has been left open to fit larger cards.

The PCIe 3.0 x1 slot will take even full-length add-in cards because of its open design.

One interesting inclusion is the half-size mini PCIe connector located above the topmost PCIe 3.0 x16 slot. This is good for things like Wi-Fi add-in cards, as the board lacks onboard Wi-Fi capabilities.

The mini PCIe connector is located next to the first M.2 socket and will support Wi-Fi add-in cards.

That’s actually quite a range of PCIe slots, and when it comes to storage options, the ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+ serves up quite a selection as well. There is a total of 10 SATA 6Gbps ports (six from the chipset and four from the ASMedia ASM1061 controller), three SATA Express connectors, and an impressive three M.2 sockets (PCIe and SATA). Taken together, that’s a lot more options than the other boards offer. Then again, it might just be a case of cramming a board with superfluous features that few people are going to utilize fully.

The ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+ has a total of 10 SATA 6Gbps ports, although only six are offered natively through the chipset.

Of course, even though there are three M.2 sockets, populating all of them is going to end up disabling up to six SATA ports due to lane sharing. Furthermore, the M.2 sockets are compatible with ASRock’s M.2 to U.2 adapter, which opens up the possibility of running three 2.5-inch PCIe drives like the Intel 750 series SSD in RAID 0.

A closer look at the three M.2 sockets on the board.

The rear I/O port selection includes one USB 3.1 Type-A and one Type-C port (light blue) from the ASMedia ASM1142 controller, four USB 3.0 ports (blue), and two USB 2.0 ports (black) from the chipset. There is even PS/2 connector for legacy devices, although we can’t see many people needing one now in this day and age. There’s also a wider selection of display connectors than usual. There is a single DVI-D port, in addition to the usual HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.

The USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports are colored a lighter blue.

Also present are dual Intel LAN ports that support teaming, which means you can connect two LAN cables simultaneously and combine them for a single, faster connection.

The audio solution is ASRock’s Purity Sound 3, which sports a 115dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), a Texas Instruments NE5532 amplifier that can power headsets up 600ohm, and proper shielding to isolate the audio circuitry from digital noise. It uses Realtek’s 1150 audio codec, a rather common choice for manufacturers these days.

Purity Sound 3 includes a dedicated headphone amplifier that can power high impedance headsets up to 600ohm.

Power and reset buttons are located at the top right-hand corner of the board.

The power and reset buttons are located at the top right-hand corner of the board.

Along the bottom edge is a switch to clear CMOS and another to change between the dual BIOS. A BIOS flash gone wrong could brick your board irrevocably, so it’s nice to see a dual BIOS option that could help you recover from that.

A clear CMOS jumper and dual BIOS switch are located along the board's bottom edge.

And as we mentioned earlier, the board actually comes bundled with a USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C front panel. It plugs into any SATA Express port on any motherboard, so you're not restricted to just ASRock boards.

The bundled USB 3.1 front panel adds extra USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports.

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