A motherboard you can’t actually buy…
This review I wrote much earlier in the year, but then ASRock very kindly contacted me, afterwards , to tell me that it had decided not to sell it in the UK. But it’s an interesting product, should you decide to import one.
ASRock has been supporting the new Intel 100 Series chipset and Skylake launch heavily, with lots of different designs for all manner of systems and pockets.
These LG A 1151 platforms require a new Skylake CPU and potentially new DDR4 memory, but ASRock has a plan to smooth that transition with its ‘Combo’ designs.
At this time I can see four ‘Combo’ boards listed by ASRock, though it may launch some more if it’s successful. I’m sure. One uses the H110, two the B150 and this one the H170 chipset.
The H170 is one notch down from the flagship Z170 design, and in the context of this board it’s used it to create a platform that’s fully featured yet relatively inexpensive.
But the party trick of the Combo designs exploits an unusual feature of the Skylake processors, in that they contain a memory controller for both DDR4 and DDR3. To that end, the H170 Combo has six memory sockets, four allocated to DDR3 and two to DDR4. This split makes sense because DDR4 can come in bigger capacity modules, allowing for a maximum of 32GB by either.
And before you ask, you can’t use both, as it will damage the memory and/or motherboard.
Besides the upgrade cost-reducing feature, there are also some other desirable things that ASRock added to this design. It has dual x16 slots, but with fewer PCIe lanes on the H170 chipset compared to the Z170 you’re limited to x16 and x4 for dual GPUs.
This is something to consider if you also use either of the 1x slots or either legacy PCI or the M.2 PCIe slot. That last feature is really impressive, because it’s both PCI and SATA in one slot, and therefore you can use it almost regardless of what M.2 module you have available.
Often, boards never exploit all the gifts that Intel bestows on its chips, but this one tries to do just that. A good example is the USB 3.0 ports, because the chipset includes eight ports, and the board delivers them all. There are six on the rear and two more on a header.
• ASRock Super Alloy
• Supports 6th generation Intel Core processors (Socket 1151)
• Digi Power, 10 power phase design
• Supports dual channel DDR4 2133 / DDR3 1866(OC)
• 2 PCIe 3.0 x16, 2 PCIe 3.0×1, 2 PCI
• Graphics Output Options: DVI-D, HDMI
• 7.1 CH HD Audio (Realtek ALC892 Audio Codec), ELNA audio caps
• 6 SATA3, 2 SATA Express
• 8 USB 3.0 (2 front, 6 rear)
• Supports full spike protection, ASRock Live Update & APP Shop
The only catch to this trick is that under Windows 7 your mouse won’t work in them until a driver is installed. Or it wouldn’t if ASRock hadn’t included a special option in the BIOS to emulate USB 2.0 under those exact circumstances. That hints at the thinking that went into this design, although there are a few small areas where it could have been better.
In the promotional material, ASRock makes much of the Realtek ALC892 audio codec it’s used and how with ELNA audio caps it should ‘satisfy even the pickiest audiophile’. Well it might if ASRock put S/PDIF output on the board, but alas it didn’t.
The other bit that doesn’t really come off is the inclusion of overclocking features in the BIOS, given that the H170 chipset doesn’t support altering the base clock. You can mess with the voltages and all manner of things, but even with a ‘K’ class processor the base clock can’t be budged, making it mostly ineffective.
That also includes the memory clocks, which don’t use XMP mode in DDR4, and therefore you’re limited to 1886MHz on DDR3 and 2133MHz on DDR4.
Given the data I’d acquired during my recent Skylake feature using Asus motherboards, this all made me curious how it might affect benchmark scores. With time limited, I ran PCMark Home 3.0 and a selection of 3DMark tests, just to get a feel for what to expect. Under DDR4, the scores are very close the Asus Z170-P, within the bounds of statistical variance. Therefore, it proves conclusively that unless you must have the four extra PCIe lanes or want to overclock, then H170 is a perfectly fine platform.
What’s less exciting is the DDR3 performance, as it ranges from being 1-3% slower overall. However, that will save you approximately £40 for an 8GB kit, if you can reuse your old DDR3 memory.
That’s a choice for you to make, though the Combo does at least give you that option, and I’ve not noticed relatively little in the way of any penalties, mm Mark Pickavance
A really imaginative motherboard design that ASRock buried