Asrock X58 Extreme3 Review
A Closer Look
So with the overview out of the way, let's see what's what up close.
Straight away we can see a nice attention to detail here with the ability to use your 775 cooler on this board without buying a new one. The CPU socket itself is fairly clear although the use of a fan on the MOSFET heatsink does mean you couldn't use really over-sized coolers.
The DIMM area is slightly more problematic if you are the type of person who runs a RAM cooler, because the top (right in this picture) side is right at the edge of the motherboard. Below them we have the standard 24pin ATX power supply and, very surprisingly, the front panel connectors.
For years front panel pins have been at the bottom right of the motherboard so to find them next to the RAM is quite a surprise. However when it comes to building the rig it makes so much sense you wonder why it's not been done before. It's certainly easier for cable-routing purposes. To the left of those is the second of the two USB headers.
If ever two photos defined the Asrock, it's these two. For every bit of high end tech and latest gadgetry, there is something that makes you scratch your head. On the left we have 3 PCIe slots. Although all of them are running at 16x the blue ones are PCIe 2.0, and the white is PCIe. There is plenty of room between them so if you are the kind of person who runs SLI or Crossfire you have no heat issues. We also have the rapidly falling-out-of-use PCIe x1 slot, and two legacy PCI slots. Below those we have a USB header, front firewire header, a serial port and a floppy port. Absolutely baffling.
Again we have elements of the good and the odd. The power and reset switches are quality with a really nice feel to them. To the right of those is a dual 7-segment display that shows any error codes. At the top of the picture the CMOS reset jumper is handily right next to the battery. No more fiddling about trying to find it. You may have noticed that all six of the SATA sockets are one colour. We'll come to that in a moment. Above the SATA ports is an IDE socket, for those of you still clinging to your ancient opticals or 20GB hard-drives.
The southbridge heatsink is about the smallest we've seen in ages. So often manufacturers use this relatively empty area of the motherboard to place an extra bit of heatpipe to keep the MOSFET and northbridge cool, but here it's the tiniest heatsink attached to absolutely nothing. It's starting to become clearer how Asrock can keep this under £200. But as long as the performance is good we don't mind at all.
Staying with cooling for a moment, the X58 cooling as provided by this branded piece of aluminium. It's a very curious design. Whereas a lot of companies go for fat and low, Asrock have gone for tall and thin, with a very small fin density. This is connected via a heatpipe to the MOSFET cooler.
Unbelievably, as if to highlight the rather mediocre heatsink design, Asrock have added a fan. I thought we'd left tiny whiny fans back in the 90s, but apparently not.
The sheer size of this has to be seen to be believed and even in our huge CoolerMaster ACTS 840 we had to remove the 120mm exhaust fan to be able to fit the motherboard in the case. How anyone with more compact cases will cope we've no idea, but given the choice between a small whiny MOSFET fan and a 120mm case exhaust I know what I'd prefer.
Whilst I'm berating some abysmal design choices, look at the placement of the SATA3 ports. Vertical, and squeezed between the bottom of the ram and the edge of the top PCIe slot. What is wrong with having them next to the SATA ports? Except the decision to retain the IDE socket makes that impossible.
Probably the single worst decision is the placement of the 8-pin CPU power, and the CPU fan header. We know that nobody has yet found a pleasing place to put the 8-pin CPU power, but right at the extreme edge of the board, behind the PS2 ports and just above the razor-sharp, taller than the Empire State Building MOSFET cooler most definitely isn't the place we'd choose. Thankfully the CPU Fan header can be populated when building outside the case, but power connections need to done inside the case and trying to get the CPU power plugged in took more blood and swearing than I care to relate.
Luckily motherboards are all about performance and stability. So even these things can be overlooked as long as it performs well. Finally the IO section.
From left to right we have : PS2, CMOS Clear, SPDIF, USB and E-SATAIII, USB + Firewire, USB3.0 and LAN, and the audio.