At first glance the model code for the ASRock 990FX Extreme3 tells you pretty much everything you need to know. We're talking about a motherboard with an AMD 990FX chipset that supports Socket AM3+, which means that you can plug in either an AM3 Phenom II processor or move up to the latest AM3+ Bulldozer FX. So far so good.
A quick tour around the Extreme3 reveals a list of features that should appeal to the mainstream gamer. The vast majority of these features are supplied by the 990FX+ SB950 chipset combo, with the addition of an Etron USB 3.0 controller to provide this must-have technology.
Graphics expansion consists of dual PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots that support CrossFireX and SLI. You can plug in up to 32GB of DDR3-2100MHz RAM in four DIMMS. Added to that you get two USB 3.0 ports, six USB 2.0 ports on the I/O panel, Broadcom Gigabit networking and surround sound audio with both optical and coaxial S/PDIF options.
Extreme you say? Just how Extreme would that be?
It's the Extreme3 part of the name that causes us confusion, as you have to look very hard at this motherboard to spot anything that looks extreme. In fact the ASRock gives every indication that it has been built down to a price, starting with the size of the board which measures only 305 x 218mm. That is 25mm narrower than a standard ATX motherboard and is a clear indication that the bill of materials and the cost of components has been kept to a minimum.
For example ASRock has divided the six native SATA 6Gbps connectors into five internal connectors and one eSATA port on the I/O panel. Most people will find that five internal connectors are perfectly adequate but you might be a tricky customer. You might, for example, find that it is preferable to run your SATA DVD writer in IDE mode rather than AHCI, or you may wish to combine a RAID array with a storage drive or, heaven forbid, you might be using a legacy IDE optical drive and not see the benefit in buying a new SATA model. In each of these cases you would be well advised to take a look at the 990FX Extreme4 which has a Marvell SE9120 chip, which adds two more SATA ports on a separate controller and also provides an IDE controller.
It's a similar story with the graphics slots as Extreme3 has three PCI Express x16 slots, but the third slot only supplies four lanes of PCI Express bandwidth. By contrast the Extreme4 has three slots that each supply the full bandwidth that you would expect and as a result these can be used for triples graphics gaming.
Our point here is that the Extreme4 isn't especially extreme but does qualify as a motherboard for the enthusiast. To our way of thinking this means that the Extreme3 would more fairly be called the 990FX Average.
ASRock has clearly worked hard to get the price of the ASRock 990FX Extreme3 as low as possible and we applaud the fact that this motherboard sells for £80 including VAT. The natural consequence, unfortunately, is that there are signs of cost cutting such as the way that the chipset and power regulation heatsinks attach to the board with plastic pop pins. AsRock has also gone for the basic approach when it comes to the colour scheme. The PCB is dark brown (which is fine) and the expansion slots and memory slots are black. There is no colour coding or labelling for the front panel headers and memory slots, all of which makes the PC build more tricky than it needs to be.
In fairness the five SATA ports are labelled, which is handy as ports one and two are positioned towards the foot of the board which is counter-intuitive. The lack of colour coding is annoying as the manual refers to memory channels A (black) and B (black), which really doesn't help. It took us a couple of attempts to install the memory in the correct slots to get the PC running in dual channel mode. We built the test system with an AMD FX-8150 Bulldozer processor, 4GB Kingston DDR3-1600MHz RAM, a Radeon HD 5850 graphics card and Kingston SSDNow V+ drive running on 64-bit Windows 7 Pro.
Once the system was running we could investigate the UEFI set-up screen. The first job was a BIOS Update using the Instant Update feature where you flash the update from a USB flash drive using the software within the UEFI screen - this is a rapid and painless process.
ASRock has provided six fan headers on the 990FX Extreme3 (two four-pin and four three-pin) and devotes a section of Hardware Monitor to fan control. This seemed like a good starting point as the fan on our CPU cooler was roaring away at high
speed. It turns out that the default setting is Full On so we switched to Automatic and then chose a target temperature and fan speed. Unfortunately the noise from the fan was only reduced slightly.
At standard clock speed the PC Mark 7 figure of 3,706 marks is exactly what you would expect to see. The OC Tweaker section of the set-up screen offers a choice of Manual and CPU OC modes where you select a clock speed increase in five per cent steps from +5 per cent to +50 per cent. In the case of our FX-8150 an increase of +15 per cent resulted in a clock speed of 4,140MHz however this led to the system freezing while it was running benchmarks.
That's a modest attempt at overclocking and we really didn't expect any problems.
We switched from Manual to CPU OC mode and noted that the fan control started to behave correctly. These two points suggest that ASRock has got some work to do with the UEFI set-up.
The ASRock 990FX Extreme3 is cheap and cheerful but there is room for improvement.
Pros: Low price, decent performance, has all the essential features.
Cons: Overclocking is poor, set-up screen needs work.
Chipset AMD 990FX + SB950
Memory Up to 32GB DDR3-2100MHz in four DIMMS
Graphics expansion Dual PCI Express 2.0 x16 supports CrossFireX and SLI
Expansion slots One PCI Express x4, one PCI Express x1, two PCI
SATA Five internal SATA 6Gbps, one eSATA
USB 3.0 Two ports on I/O panel
USB 2.0 Six ports on I/O panel, headers for six ports mid-board
Ethernet Broadcom Gigabit
Audio Realtek ALC892 with optical and coaxial S/PDIF