A well featured board for those on a budget.
Certainly the biggest feature of this board are the twin M.2 slots, giving you great flexibility for M.2 NVMe storage. However, this is potentially also the board’s biggest weakness for two reasons. Firstly, there’s no U.2 ports on offer for alternative NVMe connectivity. Secondly, it appears that in order to support the second M.2 slot ASRock have of course had to sacrifice some board space, resulting in just three x16 wide PCI-E slots which leaves the board looking rather bare. However, with 3-way SLI/CF being quite a rare setup, perhaps sacrificing some slots for the extra M.2 storage capacity is actually quite a smart move for the average consumer.
The three well-spaced out PCI-E 16x slots don’t all operate at full speed when three cards are slotted, stepping down to x16/x8/x8, although dual card setups do retain full x16/x16 speeds.
Looking around the board, two physical power and reset buttons along with a BIOS code readout display will allow you to operate your system without having to connect it up to a case’s front panel connectors.
The BIOS battery is easily replaced even with a typical double height graphics card installed.
Five fan headers are dotted about the top half of the board (one being high amperage for water pumps), with none located below the top PCI-E slot which from a cable routing perspective could cause some problems and limit case fan options. One or two extra headers down the bottom of the board would’ve been nice.
On the rear IO panel there’s two USB2.0 ports, a PS/2 port, two SMA connectors for the Wi-Fi antennas, an always handy clear CMOS button, both a single Type-A and Type-C USB3.1 port, four USB3.0 ports, twin Intel-based Ethernet ports and HD audio block. Everything you need, but there’s certainly nothing extra either.
What’s in the box
Whilst coming with the least amount of extras in the box, it did come with one important thing that none of the others did. There’s the usual; quick install guide, driver/software DVD, a nicely themed IO back plate that matches the board’s design style, only four SATA cables, a 2-way and 3-way SLI bridge, plus a free three months premium subscription coupon for a broadcasting/streaming software called XSplit.
There’s also two independent Wi-Fi antennas that screw directly into the rear IO panel. While they do the job, as the antennas aren’t able to be moved away from your PC’s chassis, your PC itself will cause Wi-Fi reception issues unless you happen to be pointing the rear of you PC towards your Wi-Fi access point. Not a deal breaker, but may hinder you achieving the full speed potential of your Wi-Fi network.
Lastly there’s the all-important HB SLI bridge, that somehow all the other boards we received didn’t come with. It’s a rather dull looking straight up bare black PCB offering, but at least it’s included. So if you’re wanting to SLI two new GTX 1000-series cards this is a big positive.
BIOS, XMP and Turbo Boost 3.0
This was the only board in our roundup, from the BIOS perspective, to simply just work as expected off the bat. Well mostly, at the least it didn’t require an update to get it set up how we wanted.
The UEFI interface itself appears to be basically the same as their original first gen X99 boards. Adequate, but nothing fancy. Enabling XMP memory profiles was easy enough with the system booting ok at DDR-3200.
Getting Turbo Boost 3.0 working meant enabling “Multi Core Enhancement”. However, with XMP also enabled, the system wouldn’t boot, sending it into a continual reset loop it eventually self-recovered from. We discovered that manually also setting “DRAM Frequency” and “DRAM Frequency OC Preset” to DDR-3200 allowed the system to then boot correctly with Turbo Boost 3.0 enabled.
It must be mentioned that this was also the only board at the time of review that offered internet updates directly from within the UEFI interface. No USB sticks or software necessary. Well done ASRock, well done.