ASRock P55 Extreme4
ASRock P55 Extreme4
A check on ASRock's website showed that the brand has eight different motherboard offerings based on the Intel P55 chipset. The P55 Extreme4 is the latest addition and ASRock touts that it is the first in the world to offer front USB 3.0 ports. Besides having a front bracket for that, the Extreme4 also gets its name from having four USB 3.0 ports and four SATA 6Gbps ports. With most of its competitors offering up to two each, ASRock has a slight advantage here (if you really want to step up to embracing these new standards in a big way, though supporting devices have yet to become mainstream).
In any case, there's no doubt that the ASRock has put in quite a lot of effort and features into the Extreme4. For one, the build quality appears to be on par with the bigger brands, with ASRock choosing to go with Made-in-Japan solid polymer capacitors for the extra lifespan. A 8+2 power phase design for the processor ensures that there's more juice steadily available for overclocking purposes while multi-GPU support for both ATI and NVIDIA makes it clear that this is a board with the enthusiast in mind.
In fact, with the only omission being FireWire support, this ASRock board has what it takes to compete with the best P55 boards. Besides the standard six SATA 3.0Gbps ports from the chipset and the extra four SATA 6Gbps from the two Marvell controllers, this board also has IDE and floppy drive support. Besides storage options, the board has two PCI slots along with three PCIe x1 slots and two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (x8/x8 when both are utilised). A Realtek ALC892 audio CODEC provides the audio support, while the single Gigabit Ethernet controller is also from Realtek.
The polish is readily apparent from the board design and components, with onboard power and reset buttons, a debugging LED, a Clear CMOS switch at the rear panel making it as easy to use, just like some of its first tier competitors. The layout is also very good; while the SATA ports are left facing upwards, they are located in areas where they are unlikely to interfere with your expansion cards. The expansion slots for the graphics cards also come with a slightly different kind of latch mechanism which despite being a bit stiff, allowed users to remove their graphics cards, even the dual-slot versions without having to squeeze their fingers underneath the card trying to get to the release.
ASRock has also included a bundle of proprietary software and hardware tools to distinguish this product from the more average ones in the market. Besides the ones that involve the BIOS, like auto-overclocking, this board comes with a quick boot function (Instant Boot), a BIOS flashing utility from within the BIOS and even an application (ASRock APP Charger) that will help to improve the USB charging time for iPod/iPhone devices (like a certain other manufacturer). In short, ASRock is making a good attempt at adding frills to its premium product.