The Z68 Professional is a quite a pleasure to look at. The backbone of the motherboard is an all black PCB with several touches of red and black plastic and aluminum pieces with these pieces with slots, connectors and heat sinks. ASRock was careful not to overdo it with the display of colors. It definitely looks up to the gaming part as it joins the ranks of offerings from Gigabyte and ASUS.
The socket of the motherboard is highly entertaining as a lot went into putting together a good motherboard. It begins with the gold plated 100% Japanese manufactured capacitors. ASRock tells us that the gold plating process helps to maintain a longer life span. Underneath the heat spreader is a 12+6 power phase configuration to deliver stable and reliable power to the CPU and other components.
Lining the outer edge of the motherboard are four DIMM slots. The slots are color coded to represent dual channel operation, recommending the user also load the black slots first. The Fatal1ty does support DDR3 up to 2133MHz in an overclocked environment, up to 1600MHz otherwise. Intel’s XMP is also supported.
If you are a fan of massive amounts of hard drives and optical drives you will be happy to know this board does support a total of ten drives. The four black ports are SATA II and controlled by the P67 PCH. All six of the red ports are SATA III, however, only "SATA3_0" and "SATA3_1" are controlled by the PCH. The remaining four, denoted by their "A#" silkscreening, are controlled via an onboard controller, the ASMedia ASM1061. [Editor's Note: As an aside, the ASM106, for all intents and purposes, seems to only be capable of simultaneously supporting 2 channels. Generally it is in conjunction with eSATA where if used it will disable an internal port, and is the case in regards to port A4. Also worthy of mention is that only the PCH-driven ports have RAID capability. If I dig up any useful info in regards to how 2=4, I'll be sure to include it.]
Just below of the SATA ports is a debugging LED display to help diagnose any problems should they arise. Also featured are the onboard power and reset buttons, with the obligatory Clr_CMOS jumper.
The board has a nice arrangement of expansion slots as both Quad SLI and Quad CrossFire are supported (which remember, is 2-way Dual GPU cards, not four physical cards). The following is the bandwidth support by each slot: the first and second full length slots are PCIe 3.0 and operate at x16/x8 singly or x8/x8 when used in parallel for SLI or CrossFireX. The last full length slot is only x4 but does support a third Radeon HD card for 3-Way CrossFireX. The board does continue to support legacy cards needing the PCI slot by providing two of them, as well as support for two PCIe x1 cards. The seemingly "extra" PCIe lanes are controlled by the onboard PLX PEX8608 PCIe switch, where by disabling unused lanes (or devices in the case of PCI bridge for example) and redirecting to slots that require the bandwidth.
For a little lesson on the PCIe 3.0 protocol we take a journey over to the ASRock PCIe 3.0 micro-site for the motherboards supporting it. The added support is courtesy of a NXP L04083B switch, which the microsite makes it a point to indicate is in fact a 3.0 part denoted by the 3 in the model number, as apposed to a 2 in 2.0 parts. The controller offers interconnect transfer rates of 8GT/s, compared to that of the PCIe 2.0 which is half of that at 5GT/s. Total bandwidth for the x16 link is a staggering 32GB/s versus 16GB/s of 2.0. So as soon as Ivy Bridge hits the streets the Fatal1ty Z68 will have 100% PCIe 3.0 compatibility!
The Fatal1ty uses a nice array of heat sinks to cool off various components of the motherboard like the VRM and PCH. Each of the heat sinks are milled from a solid piece of aluminum and is connected via a single heat pipe. The heat sinks are pretty low profile as well, providing a wide field of mountable CPU coolers, especially with ASRock's support for those designed for previous sockets.
Rear panel connections are as follows:
- PS/2 (mouse/KB)
- 8x USB ports (4x USB 2.0 & 4x USB3.0(ASMedia ASM1042)
- 1x eSATA (ASMedia ASM1061)
- 2x Gb LAN ports (Realtek RTL8111E)
- 7.1 channel audio (Realtek ALC892)
- 1x Digital Optical audio
- 3x Video outputs (1 VGA & 2x HDMI)
- 1x FireWire
- Clear CMOS