Asrock X58 Extreme3 Review
Oh dear. It all started off so well.
When we first received the Asrock Extreme3 in its shiny box we really we hoping this was the dawn of something special from Asrock. For a long time they've been holding the budget end of the market up with solid, if unspectacular, motherboards. So when we got this beast, all bristling with the latest technology yet at a sensible price, we really thought this could change the marketplace. Why pay £250+ for a high-end board if you can get one under a couple of hundred? Sadly the answer is all too clear. You can't get one under £200. Or at least not a good one.
Starting with the design. This seems to have been designed by two completely different teams of people. One of whom had a bunch of fantastic ideas and the other tossed parts in the air and soldered where they landed. The on/off and reset buttons have a real air of quality. The PCIe slots are nicely spaced apart allowing for good airflow in twin card systems. The relocation of the front panel header to next to the ATX24 makes for vastly easier cable management.
Unfortunately those good elements are bludgeoned by the terrible ones. Despite the southbridge not being part of the main heat dissipation via heat-pipe linkage, or even having either a large heatsink, the bottom right quarter of the board is very empty indeed. This space could so easily have been used to many of the parts that have been squished to the edges. The bottom edge of the board in particular is awash with pins and headers. The inclusion of a floppy header on a motherboard that supports 32nm Hex-Core i7s and USB3.0 is frankly ridiculous. Nobody should still be using floppies. Even Sony are about to stop making them. Equally bizarre is the inclusion of two legacy PCI slots. Sure one is understandable but two?
The appalling design doesn't stop there though. The placement of the SATA3 ports is equally ludicrous. To make room for the unnecessary IDE socket they have been placed, almost haphazardly, right in the centre of the board. Anyone fancy hot-swapping their drives? Thought not. The 8-pin CPU is nearly impossible to plug the power into unless your fingers are 10 inches long and have pipe-cleaner flexibility. And that's assuming you've already plugged the CPU Fan in, because otherwise it's not happening.
Finally the two most absolutely unforgivable aspects. The Northbridge/MOSFET cooler is so tall it has snow on the top. The fan is loud and whiny. Plus anything so overly large it requires the removal of the exhaust fan from the not-inconsiderably proportioned ACTS 840 is worthless. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it couldn't get any worse. And then you come to the sound.
For many years we've all owned external soundcards. From the humble Creative AWE32 and Turtle Beach efforts, a soundcard has been a must to move away from the beeps we were limited to. Then as time moved on they were important because on-board sound was so woeful. The Realtek ALC889 pretty much sorted all that out by being, for on-board sound at least, stupendous. So good is it that it's tough to find a motherboard that doesn't use it. Hello Asrock and the VIA 2020. The actual sound it produces your system is producing audio is alright. Nothing special. But it's the sound it makes when you're NOT that is the problem. It constantly squeaks and whines and produces all sorts of high-pitched nonsense. You can hear the mouse being moved. When running some of the tests such as 3D Mark it sounded exactly like the old cassette loading noise from the Spectrum and C64 days, or dial-up for those more modern of you.
With so many things wrong in a usability and design way, the actual testing results are almost secondary. It overclocked well enough, although the much advertised DDR3 2000 proved to be somewhat of a false dawn. We managed to test perfectly well at 4GHz and 1900MHz which sounds like quite a good overclock. In a lot of ways it was except the QPI voltage was near its 1.6v limit and it would still randomly freeze if you'd had the PC on for a long while. It worked well enough I'd call the overclock stable, and certainly didn't crash with any obvious pattern. So it's not the most reliable motherboard either.
The Instant Boot is brilliant. Make no mistake about it. Brilliant. The question is, when this is what you have, do you want to instantly boot?
There currently isn't a UK retail price available for the Asrock Extreme3, but judging from US retailers and the word floating around it is expected to come in at around £170 to £180. At that price it's not even the cheapest 333 motherboard, much less the cheapest X58.
- The included software is excellent
- The BIOS pre-overclocked settings work well
- Elements of the board design
- The manual is poor
- Still using Floppy and IDE?
- SATA3 location
- Onboard sound is worse than useless
- Northbridge cooler is far too big
Sadly whilst the box is nice, the board isn't and so it takes a hammering on the presentation score. Despite it overclocking well, the sound is beyond awful and so the performance isn't too good either. Back to the drawing board for Asrock sadly.
The most irritating part is that with a more standard heat-pipe arrangement, some sensible moving of the parts around and culling the useless technology, and joining everyone else with a Realtek ALC889, this could be very good. But it isn't.