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First Looks: ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer

By Wong Chung Wee - 25 May 2014

First Looks: ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer

First Looks: ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer

If looks could kill, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer board is considered a sharp-looking piece of work from the company. This ATX motherboard features the Intel Z97 Express chipset, and its target customers are PC gamers as the board features a slew of popular gaming-oriented features that include the Killer E2200 Gigabit LAN controller and the Purity Sound 2 technology

The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer has a slew of gaming-oriented features. In addition, it has interfaces that include a M.2 PCIe Gen2 socket, and a SATA Express connector.

Prior to delving into those features, let us have a look at its basics. While studying the board's specifications, we noticed the power delivery components of the memory slots have been upgraded to NexFET MOSFETs; while the CPU is still driven by multi-stacked MOSFETs. Together with the premium alloy chokes and 12K platinum capacitors, the CPU is driven by an 8-phase power delivery system. From the photograph below, we can see the grey premium alloy chokes and the 12K platinum capacitors that are located near the LGA1150 CPU socket.

The MOSFETs are passively cooled by XXL aluminum alloy heatsinks that are somewhat devoid of those menacingly sharp edges.

As we move beyond the CPU socket, we come across a total of three PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slots where the first operates at x16 mode, if only a single PCIe Gen 3.0-compliant graphics card is installed. In a two-card setup where the second slot is also occupied, the 16 PCIe lanes would be split evenly between the two occupied slots; with each slot allocated the bandwidth of 8 lanes. With three graphics cards installed, the lane configuration would be in this manner, x8/x4/x4, as the eight lanes from the second slot has to be shared with the third slot.

Given the above mentioned PEG slots configuration, the avid gamer will be pleased to know the board supports multi-GPU configurations, up to 3-way CrossFireX setup, or a quad-SLI configuration.

There are three PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slots and a triplet of PCIe 2.0 x1 slots.

The other expansion slots include a triplet of PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. The M.2 socket is located just next to the primary X16 PEG slot. Unlike the Ultra M.2 socket that is currently found exclusively on the ASRock Z97 Extreme6, the board's M.2 PCIe Gen2 x2 socket operates at a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 10Gb/s, which is plenty adequate for most existing M.2 SSDs.

The M.2 socket is able to accommodate M.2 SATA 6Gb/s and M.2 PCIe Gen2 x2 devices.

In order to operate a multi-GPU setup with stability, the board has a Molex power connector located at its bottom edge to help boost power to the PCIe graphics cards.

The Molex power connector will provide more power that is crucial for stable operation in a multi-GPU setup.

As we had mentioned earlier, the board features the Purity Sound 2 technology, which is very similar to the previous gen Purity Sound technology that was found on the ASRock Z87 OC Formula, except that this time round, version two of Purity Sound specifies usage of high quality Nichicon fine gold capacitors. Otherwise, both versions of Purity Sound technologies are driven by an on-board Realtek ALC1150 audio codec, complete with EMI shielding and PCB isolation shielding to minimize distortion due to electrical interference. Coupled with TI NE 5532 amplifiers, the board is supposedly is able to drive headphones that have an impedance rating of up to 600 ohms.

 The Purity Sound 2 technology is essentially similar to its predecessor; a combination of the multi-channel Realtek ALC1150 audio codec that is shielded from EMI and with PCB isolation shield to provide distortion-free sound. TI NE 5532 amplifiers are also present to drive high-end headphones. This time round, it has higher quality capacitors present.

The other gaming feature is the Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2200 Gigabit LAN controller that is supposedly able to reduce network gaming latency, though its effectiveness is subject of intense discussion on one of our forum's threads. However, our own experience with this souped-up Atheros LAN controller had been positive.

 This is probably the main reason behind the board's moniker; the Killer E2200 Gigabit LAN controller.

Moving to the bottom of the board, we noticed that it was a lot less crowded as there aren't any features meant for an open workbench environment like on-board buttons and DIP switches.

The headers at the bottom edge consist of a front panel audio header (to the right of the Molex power connector), a COM port header, two USB 2.0 headers, a TPM header, and the system panel header.

The board has a dual BIOS feature that allows the user to select the backup BIOS in the event the main BIOS gets corrupted; however, this feature can only be toggled by shorting the correct jumper.

The pair of AMI BIOS chips that enhances the stability and reliability of the board. The BIOS selection jump is to the right of the BIOS chips.

There are a total of six SATA 6Gbps connectors that are linked to the board's Z97 PCH. The SATA Express connector consists of the SATAE_1, SATA3_5, and SATA3_4 connectors. Essentially, it is made up of the adjacent SATA 6Gbps connectors, and the SATAE_1 connector. This connector, like the M.2 PCIe Gen 2 x2 socket, is able to provide up to 10Gb/s of data bandwidth. Of course no SATA Express drives are yet available, but at least the board is future proof to a certain extent.

The board support SATA Express in addition to the usual SATA connector array.

Speaking of hard disc drives, there's this intriguing feature called the HDD Saver. It consists of a bundled HDD Saver power cable that connects the SATA power connectors of up to a pair of such HDDs, while the other end of the cable goes to a connector located just next to the stack of SATA data connectors. According to ASRock, the HDD Saver feature is an application-based solution that is able to conserve power consumption of the connected HDDs. With the utility installed, you can power the respective drives on or off at will. After all, most data drives sit idle anyway.

The HDD Saver power connector is located right next to the stack of SATA connectors.

The four DIMM slots of the board are just beyond the HDD Saver power connector, and the board supports overclocked DDR3 memory modules that have been rated up to 3000MHz.

The board supports up to 32GB of system memory.

Last of all, we take a look at the rear I/O section of the board. We noticed that there isn't any clear CMOS button here. Speaking of legacy connectors, there is a legacy D-Sub connector and a PS/2 keyboard and mouse one. According to the board's specifications, the first black USB 2.0 port is actually a Fatal1y Mouse port that will toggle to a polling rate of 500Hz (preferred by world renowned gamer Fatal1ty) or allow you to change the polling rate to your gaming mouse in conjunction with the provided F-Stream software utility. This utility helps configure many other aspects of system usage that's geared for power users and gamers at heart. Back to the rear I/O of the board, there is a total of six USB 3.0 ports, and for its video connectivity options, there is a dual-link DVI-D port, and a HDMI port. For its audio options, the board has five analog jacks, and a S/PDIF out port.

The rear I/O section of the ASRock board, and there isn't a clear CMOS button to be found!

In a nutshell, we feel that the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer is a well-balanced board offering cutting-edge features like the M.2 socket and the SATA Express connector. It will definitely appeal to gamers who need to have a multi-GPU setup and the board is one of the few that we have come across to officially support quad SLI. Stay tuned for local pricing and availability but you can get its almost identical twin, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer for S$239 if you can't wait for the "X" version of the board we've featured here..

If looks could really kill, this is one gamer-oriented Intel Z97 board we would be looking out for.

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