Asrock Z97 Extreme9 & Extreme6
The Asrock Z97 Extreme9 is one of the more expensive Z97 motherboards in our roundup at $240, but it's also one of the better endowed options, offering the best multi-GPU support, best M.2 support, most amount of SATA 6Gb/s ports and one of the best wired network solutions.
Out of the seven boards we are testing, the Asrock Z97 Extreme9 is the only one that supports four graphics cards, each with PCI Express 3.0 x8 bandwidth.
However like the Z87 chipset before it the Z97 only supports a pair of PCI Express x16 slots with 8x bandwidth, so how is the Z97 Extreme9 offering four? Asrock has employed the PLX PEX 8747 bridge, the same PCIe bridge chip that has been used time and time again to give Z87 and Z77 motherboards support for 3-way and even 4-way SLI/Crossfire.
The PLX bridge is a bandaid solution, but it has proven to work rather well in the past when using up to four high-end graphics cards. This makes the Z97 Extreme9 the best motherboard in our roundup for supporting three or four graphics cards. In fact none of the other Z97 motherboards we have even feature four PCIe x16 slots.
The Z97 Extreme9 isn't the cheapest Z97 motherboard to support 4-Way CrossFireX and 4-Way SLI, however. That honor goes to the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming GT which costs just $220 and also uses the PLX PEX 8747 bridge.
Getting back to the Asrock Z97 Extreme9, we have much more to talk about than 4-way multi-GPU support. The board also boasts a mini-PCI Express Slot, ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, two SATA Express ports, an M.2 (NGFF) slot as well as faster M.2 slot which Asrock calls Ultra M.2 Gen3 x4.
The mini-PCI Express slot makes an unexpected appearance on this Z97 motherboard and Asrock says it has been included to provide users with a convenient peripheral interface that can be used for connecting WiFi cards for example.
While we expect all Z97 motherboards to provide at least six SATA 6Gb/s ports, Asrock has gone one step further by adding another four through the use of the ASMedia ASM1061 controller which supports NCQ, AHCI, Hot Plug and Asrock HDD Saver Technology. The fourth port connected to the ASM1061 controller is shared with the eSATA port on the I/O panel.
Asrock has included a pair of SATA Express 10Gb/s connectors, but if you choose to use them then you will be giving up four of the SATA 6Gb/s ports connected to the Z97 chipset.
The M.2 (NGFF) slot supports both M.2 SATA3 6.0Gb/s modules and M.2 PCI Express modules up to Gen2 x2 (10Gb/s). The slot can accommodate for all M.2 standard sizes which includes 30, 42, 60, 80 and 110mm. It is worth noting that the Asrock motherboards are the only ones to support the shortest and longest M.2 devices (30mm and 110mm).
The Ultra M.2 (PCIe Gen3 x4) slot offers up to 32Gb/s of bandwidth making it more than three times faster than a standard Gen2 x2 M.2 slot. Asrock achieves this bandwidth by connecting their Ultra M.2 socket directly to the CPU, bypassing the chipset.
For audio, the Z97 Extreme9 is equipped with the ALC1150 codec, Realtek's premier offering. Complete with content protection, premium Blu-ray audio and DTS support it's about as good as onboard audio gets.
Realtek's chip is accompanied by Asrock's Purity Sound technology, which incorporates a headphone amplifier, a 115dB SNR DAC with a differential amplifier, Direct Drive technology, EMI shielding cover and PCB isolated shielding.
For networking, Asrock has included Intel's I218V PHY and I211AT controllers, which support Wake-On-LAN, Energy Efficient Ethernet 802.3az and PXE while the I217V offers Intel Remote Wake Technology. Together, the pair can also be used for teaming.
Out of the box the Z97 Extreme9 doesn't provide any wireless network support and Asrock has tried to make up for that fact by offering a mini-PCI Express slot. Honestly, that isn't a bad idea as it allows users to customize their wireless solution, assuming they want one. Quality high-speed controllers costs $30 or less, so this is a very viable add-in feature if needed.
By default the Z97 chipset supports six USB 3.0 ports which is generally enough. That being said Asrock has upped the count to eight by using the ASMedia ASM1074 hub which takes two ports and splits them into four. The USB 3.0 hub has been used to multiply the onboard USB 3.0 ports, while the four found on the I/O panel are connected directly to the chipset.
The Asrock Z97 Extreme9 looks unbeatable, offering a lot of motherboard for $240. The only feature missing is a WiFi solution, but with numerous means to adding wireless support at a minimal cost this isn't really an issue.
Asrock Z97 Extreme6
Having just looked at the highly impressive Asrock Z97 Extreme9, a stripped down $165 version doesn't seem that exciting until you work out exactly what Asrock has done to make this board 30% cheaper.
When it boils down to it, the Z97 Extreme6 is almost the same motherboard as the Z97 Extreme9. The biggest difference happens to be the multi-GPU support, as the Z97 Extreme6 has been downgraded to an effective 2-way solution, 3-way is possible though the third card will be fed just x2 bandwidth.
Given the substantial reduction in price it is hard to believe that just the PLX PEX 8747 bridge chip has been removed, but for the most part that is it. The Z97 Extreme6 also only features one SATA Express port versus two, though we can happily live with that.
The Z97 Extreme6 picks up an extra two USB 3.0 ports as well as a DVI output to complement the HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity.
Obviously if you don't plan to use more than two graphics cards, the Z97 Extreme6 is a significantly better purchase. At just $165 it could very well be the best value Z97 motherboard available and it's the cheapest board in our roundup.
For around the same price the MSI Z97-GD65 Gaming, Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 7, Gigabyte Z97X-UD3H-BK and ASUS Gryphon Z97 can be had. None of which can hold a candle to the Asrock Z97 Extreme6, at least in terms of features, with the Gigabyte Z97X-UD3H-BK making the best argument.