Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
We’ve covered an absolute ton of Intel Z97 based motherboards since the chipset launched back on June 11th, a couple of weeks ago, but in that time we’ve yet to see an offering from ASRock. Today, and over the coming weeks, we will be rectifying that by having a look at a lot more motherboards from ASRock’s Z97 series. Up first we have their Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard which is part of their Fatal1ty gaming motherboard product series. Interestingly this motherboard will compete with MSI’s Gaming 7 and Gigabyte’s Gaming 7 in that hugely competitive sub-£140/$190 price point and it actually comes in a fair amount cheaper than the competition at just £125/$160. ASRock are equipping all their usual features with this motherboard such as their Purity Sound audio implementation, their Fatal1ty USB gaming port, their Super Alloy power components and a Killer E2200 gaming NIC. This motherboard has fairly similar specifications and features to other motherboards at this price point although this board does have the advantage of offering SATA Express and M.2 whereas a lot of the gaming motherboards at this price point offer only M.2. Full specifications of this motherboard can be seen directly below:
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging lets the Fatal1ty branding take centre stage while offering an overwhelming number of logos on the front that denote features, brands, software and so on.
On the back we can see these explained in more detail with the usual motherboard marketing page we’ve come to expect from all motherboard brands.
Included in terms of documentation is a a couple of user guides for the board and its software, an explanatory brochure for the ASRock Cloud feature, a driver DVD and case badge and a 3 month premium license to XSplit Broadcaster (note this is not the same as the XSplit Gamecaster Premium license a rival vendor includes with their products).
Other accessories included are four SATA cables, a colour coded rear I/O, 2-way SLI bridge, SATA power cable for the HDD saver feature and a screw for the M.2 SSD port.
A Closer Look & Layout Analysis
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer is a very nice looking motherboard. ASRock have always been quite successful in their styling because of the way they use gold components to complement the various colour schemes they have across all their product series. The Z97X Killer is a great looking motherboard and the red is a lot more vibrant than what is used by other brands, enough so to make it look distinctively unique. It’s also worth mentioning ASRock use a glossy black PCB, not a matte black one, and this adds to the unique aesthetics. If anything glossy is more visually appealing because it is able to deal with lightning better, particularly if you use LED or CCFL lighting in your case. In terms of the layout their is a fairly sensible and standard layout with the motherboard and CPU power connectors in their ideal locations and most of the other front panel and USB connections being in smart locations. I think that the two CPU fan headers should have been placed closer together instead of them being placed either side of the second VRM heatsink, I also feel like the fan headers in the middle of the board would be better placed closer to the edges to improve cable management. However, broadly speaking the layout is good and sensible decisions have been made here.
Around the CPU socket we can the 8 phase power delivery system that makes use of Premium Alloy Chokes, dual-stack MOSFETs, NextFET MOSFETs and impressive 12K Platinum Caps. ASRock claim that their power implementation offers lower temperatures, lower ripple, higher current, higher efficiency and lower Direct Current Resistance (DCR) compared to Ferrite based solutions.
Moving down to the DRAM area and we find the usual motherboard, USB 3.0 and CPU fan headers. ASRock have not included any onboard buttons with this board which may disappoint some people but this is probably one of the reasons ASRock are able to bring the cost down.
By the storage area we get six SATA III 6Gbps ports and ASRock’s HDD Saver port. The HDD saver port uses the cable we showed on the first page and basically this is a port that allows you to power the hard drives off the motherboard which in turn means you can easily shut down your hard drives if you want to save power or if their noise/vibrations irritate you. As far as I can tell you can only hook up two hard drives to this port and you must use the provided cable. ASRock recommend that you do not connect your operating system drive to this port.
Down the bottom we get a clearer look at the ASRock PCH heatsink which is fairly large but overall I think it looks fairly nice.
In terms of connections we have, from left to right, the front panel audio, a supplementary power connector, a COM port, two USB 2.0 ports, a TPM header, the front panel connections, a BIOS selector jumper, a chassis fan header, a clear CMOS jumper and a motherboard speaker connector.
The audio implementation gets some EMI shielding and a separated PCB. The Killer E2200 NIC also comes with a stylised EMI shield.
ASRock offer a variety of mounting points for your M.2 devices so you can use a variety of different sized M.2 devices. The first PCIe 16X lane will support a triple slot card without blocking the next PCIe 16X lane which is great to see.
Behind the VRM heatsink we find the CPU 8 pin, the second CPU fan header, which is 3 not 4 pin, and one of the system fan headers next to it.
The rear I/O offers up the following ports:
- 1 x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port
- 1 x D-Sub Port
- 1 x DVI-D Port
- 1 x HDMI Port
- 1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
- 1 x USB 2.0 Port
- 1 x Fatal1ty Mouse Port
- 2 x USB 3.0 Ports
- 4 x USB 3.0 Ports
- 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED
- 6 x HD Audio Jacks
The Test System and Test Software
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to review our test system and thank those sponsors who kindly provided us with test equipment to make our work possible. We offer our thanks to:
- Motherboard: varies by review
- CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K processor
- GPU: Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X graphics card
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance Pro 16GB 2400MHz kit (CL11, 2 x 8GB)
- Cooling: Corsair H100i with Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
- Case: Lian Li PC-T60A test bench
- Storage Drives: Kingston 240GB Hyper X 3K SSD, Patriot 120GB Wildfire SSD, Kingston Hyper X 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive and Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD
- PSU: Be Quiet Straight Power E9 680W
- Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit SP1
- Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router
- SiSoft Sandra Engineer – available here.
- WPrime – available here.
- Cinebench – available here.
- 3DMark – available here.
- Bioshock Infinite – available here.
- Tomb Raider – available here.
- AIDA 64 Engineer – available here.
- DPC Latency Analyser – available here.
- Rightmark Audio Analyser – available here.
- LAN Speed Test Lite – available here.
- Passmark – available here.
ASRock’s BIOS is fairly traditional and intuitive in terms of the layout: it has that usual “tab” design where all the key components are grouped along the top of the screen. As a result the BIOS is fairly simple to get around and the BIOS is surprisingly attractive given its sizeable full HD resolution. This allows the BIOS to cram more options into the screen and as a result it becomes fairly easy to identify where things are. The tool tab is particularly interesting because it has a whole range of unique features like the ASRock Dehumidifier function, a system browsing utility, the ability to update the UEFI in multiple different ways and a way to contact tech support from within the BIOS. The traditional overclocking options for the CPU and DRAM are found in the OC Tweaker tab and are fairly straight forward to navigate. Overall the ASRock UEFI BIOS is competent, attractive and easy to use and I think I prefer it to those UEFIs offered by Gigabyte and MSI although it can’t quite trump the ASUS UEFI.
The main hub of ASRock’s software is the F-Stream utility. This is the almost-unifying piece of software that allows you to access most the other main software programs through the tools tab. It also allows you to monitor and overclock your system as well as update your motherboard drivers, UEFI and even directly contact ASRock tech support. This piece of software is fairly nice to use although it does feel a little fragmented in that most of the links to other software and tools merely launch in separate windows, not within F-Stream. It would be nice to see ASRock unify all their software programs within the interface of F-Stream so that users only need to install one centralised ASRock software.
One of the selling points of ASRock’s LAN implementation is the XFast LAN software. Explained simply this is just CFOS traffic management, prioritisation and shaping software that has been OEM produced for ASRock but it does give you a staggering number of internet management options and if you’re someone who likes this kind of stuff then it’s great.
ASRock App Shop
Next up is the ASRock App Shop which actually disappointed me a little. The range of apps are fairly mediocre, it doesn’t even have all the ASRock software available and what’s more half of it is in a foreign language. ASRock have always struck me as one of those brands who are a bit too Asian for the Western market and it’s software like this that create that impression. I think the ASRock App Shop needs a redesign, a better selection of apps and more effective language controls dependent on the user selected language. I chose English but I am still bombarded with Asian apps and languages which is slightly menacing.
ASRock offer XSplit Gamecaster and Broadcaster with this motherboard but only the Broadcaster is actually “unique” software in that you get a 3 month premium license with this motherboard. The version of Gamecaster offered is just a free version anyone can access. The three month version of XSplit Broadcaster ASRock are offering has a retail value of $24.95 so it’s great to see it chucked in for free. You can find out more about XSplit Broadcaster here.
ASRock claim to have given their cloud management software a huge overhaul by moving their software to Orbweb.ME developed by Kloudian. From my testing I could not get this software to work at all but ASRock do go over and explain the features on their website here. Yes, the explanatory video is fairly cringe with its interesting mix of chinglish and bad dub-overs but you get the idea. ASRock claim the three year subscription to Orbweb.ME that they offer is worth $150 USD ($50 per year) based on current pricing. Some of the features the software includes are:
- Remote desktoping
- Wake on WAN
- File explorer and transfer
- Browser based access
- Media library sharing
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard overclocked our chip to its maximum requiring just 1.27 volts to achieve 4.8GHz. Interestingly our chip ran significantly cooler with the ASRock motherboard than it has done on any other motherboard. I suspect ASRock’s voltage delivery system works in a different way to those offered by ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte because I was seeing temperatures in the 70s-80s as opposed to low 90s when at maximum load. Either way it offers overclocked performance that matches rival vendors and it appears to offer better fixed voltages than rival vendor solutions allowing you to more effectively tame Haswell’s high temperatures.
CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s CPU performance. Cinebench R15 is a totally free utility and is available for download here.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. wPrime is a free utility that is available for download here.
The SiSoft Sandra Dhrystone and Whetstone benchmarks are widely used measures of compute power and performance for a wide array of real world usage scenarios. You can find out more details on these tests here or download SiSoft Sandra here.
3DMark Firestrike is Futuremark’s latest creation for testing the GPU performance of high end gaming PCs using Direct X 11 graphics. You can download a free basic version of 3DMark here.
Tomb Raider is a popular action-adventure video game published by Square Enix based on the Tomb Raider franchise. The game was released in 2013 and as of March 2014 had sold 6 million copies.
Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter developed by Irrational Games that is the third instalment of the Bioshock series. The game is the last to be produced by Irrational Games before they announced their closure in February 2014. The game has sold over 4 million copies since its 2013 release.
Combined Latency Test
SATA, M.2 and USB Performance
To test the storage performance in our motherboard reviews we use AIDA’s Disk Benchmark utility built into their AIDA64 Engineer Edition software package and run a variety of read and write tests. We run each of the benchmark tests on a SATA III, USB 3.0 and M.2 device. For SATA III testing we use a Patriot WildFire 120GB SATA III SSD, for USB 3.0 testing we use the Kingston Hyper X 64 GB USB 3.0 flash drive and for M.2 testing we use Plextor’s 256GB M.2 M6e SSD. The drives are always formatted before use.
For our networking tests we connect the test system up to our Intel Gigabit enabled ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 motherboard test system through the ASUS RT-AC68U router and run our tests. We opted for this over a direct point-to-point connection because we wanted to simulate real world performance.
LAN Speed Test Lite
LAN Speed Test was designed from the ground up to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and Local Area Network (LAN) speeds (wired & wireless). It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time. Download the free Lan Speed Test Lite utility from here.
Passmark Performance Test 8
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.
RightMark Audio Analyser (RMAA)
RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio device. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. Available here. We run the RMAA test using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable connecting the line out to the line in to test the quality of the motherboard audio codec not any external audio devices. We run the complete playback and recording test at default settings and then get RMAA to interpret the results giving the below outputs. We sync the playback and recording audio devices to the same setting as the test for accurate results.
16 Bit, 44KHz (DVD Quality)
16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
16 Bit, 192KHz (Studio Quality)
DPC Latency Analyser
Thesycon’s DPC Latency Checker is a Windows tool that analyses the capabilities of a computer system to handle real-time data streams properly. It may help to find the cause for interruptions in real-time audio and video streams, also known as drop-outs. Available here.
Power Consumption and Thermals
To measure power consumption we use a killawatt meter and measure the total system power draw at the wall. We run three different use-case scenarios for 5 minutes and take the average reading.
To measure the thermal properties of each motherboard we take the temperature of three different locations using a Rosewill infrared thermometer. We measure the hottest point on the PCH (chipset) heatsink, the first VRM heatsink (which is closest to the rear I/O) and the second VRM heatsink (which is closest to the RAM lanes). The graphs are sorted by the first VRM Heatsink temperature as this is normally where most of the CPU VRM phases reside.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard costs $157.99 at Newegg and $188.99 at Amazon. In the UK it is currently retailing for £124.99 at Overclockers and £119.99 at Amazon. This motherboard has a three year manufacturer warranty.
ASRock’s Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard is another very competitive offering in the Z97 gaming motherboard space. It has impressive audio performance, aesthetics, networking performance and storage performance in addition to a great BIOS and a significant range of connectivity that will appeal to a wide audience of gamers, enthusiasts and system builders. Best of all the motherboard is priced very well given its performance and hardware features. Having reviewed so many Z97 gaming motherboards already it is hard to say that this motherboard does anything unique or particularly innovative for gamers, but it does offer a solid value for money proposition that is difficult to ignore. ASRock may not be the biggest motherboard brand for gaming motherboards but on this performance their is certainly no reason why you shouldn’t consider ASRock for your next gaming build.
On the down side this motherboard could benefit from slightly better memory performance, which was a few percentage points lower than the competition, and it might also benefit from a better software package – particularly those which add more audio and peripheral features. Some of the in-house software just felt a little hap-hazard and poorly developed and I see significant room for improvement on this front. However, considering most gamers won’t be interested in motherboard software in general this isn’t something that is too tragic. ASRock also did well to source a lot of their software from third party developers and I think a lot of gamers will appreciate the CFOS-developed XFast LAN utility that has advanced internet management options as well as the XSplit Broadcaster 3 month premium license.
- Best storage performance yet
- Competitive pricing
- Generous third party software offerings – XSplit Broadcaster, CFOS LAN management and Orbweb.ME
- Attractive design
- Intuitive and well designed BIOS
- Premium power components – VRM runs cooler than many rival solutions
- In-house software suite feels fragmented and underdeveloped
- Memory performance below competition
- Killer NIC has higher CPU usage than Intel NICs
“If you’re looking for a well-priced Z97 gaming motherboard that performs well, looks good and has all the hardware spec of a more expensive motherboard then the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer is definitely worth considering. ASRock have pleasantly surprised me with the quality on offer here today.”
Thank you to ASRock for providing this review sample.