Author: Adam Wilson
- The BIOS
- Included Software
- LucidLogix Lucid Virtu MVP
- System Overview & Testing Procedures
- Testing - CPU & Memory
- Testing - System
- Testing - Video
- Testing - Gaming
- Final Thoughts
The Z77 Extreme6 comes with an array of software designed to improve your systems performance. As mentioned previously, ASRock’s “XFast 555” feature set is used as one of the defining features of their enthusiast-oriented motherboard series. It is designed to set ASRock apart from its competitors with similar hardware specifications. We’re going to take a look at ASRock’s XFast USB and XFast LAN, and also AXTU – the tuning utility that also includes XFast RAM.
ASRock’s XFast USB utility is actually made by FNet, and is then rebranded as part of ASRock’s XFast suite. The idea behind XFast USB is to boost the performance of any storage drive plugged into any USB port that is connected to the motherboard headers. This means it will not work with your rear i/o on the motherboard, so you’ll need to use your front panel USB ports, or a USB expansion card or bay.
It’s a very simple piece of software. It runs at system start, and there is no in-software option to disable that. You can of course disable it in msconfig if you’re comfortable changing those Windows settings. Clicking the “Options” button brings up the ability to change the software language. Clicking the “About” button brings up your typical software information, including version number and copyright information. Clicking the “Help” button redirects you to an advertisement masquerading as a help page online.
If you have XFast USB installed (and enabled in your StartUp), when you boot your machine you will get a User Account Control prompt enabling the program to start. Then, every time you connect a storage-based drive to any USB port connected to the internal motherboard headers you will get another prompt from Windows’ User Account Control authorizing the process to run. Once you allow it, it tells you to disconnect the drive and reconnect it in order to benefit from the performance boost. As most people will have User Account Control active, this whole process can be extremely annoying. No one likes tons of UAC prompts in any case, and having one when your machine boots to enable this software then AGAIN to use it is very frustrating.
So.. does it work? Below are USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 benchmarks using ATTO to test the read/write speeds of the drives, tested at different data block sizes. Stock tests are on the left and the turbo tests are on the right.
The answer the the above question is “Yes” – if you have hardware capable of such speeds, and are using USB 3.0. I used a Plextor M3 128GB SSD, which is capable of 500+MB/s on the SATA3 interface. Obviously USB 3.0 isn’t going to achieve that speed, and seeing a boost of up to 70MB/s Read on Turbo mode is really quite impressive. The benefits to USB 2.0 aren’t as substantial, but you can see from the benchmark results that using Turbo mode on USB 2.0 will increase ramp-up speeds.
Is the software annoyance worth the performance boost? That part is up to you, but when data transfer speeds are crucial to your productivity and you have vast amounts of external storage, this little piece of software could be a very valuable asset.
XFast LAN is the second of ASRock’s flagship XFast 555 suite. It promises improved ping time for gaming and other applications. XFast LAN is another rebranded utility, this time originally written by cFos Software.
Once installed, XFast LAN is added to your system startup, and runs as soon as you load into Windows. There isn’t, however, an option to simply exit the utility and return to your normal configuration. You have to kill the process from task manager. I’d like to think that it’s common courtesy for a software company to include the option to NOT use the software at any given time, or, to not add it to your startup when installed.
If you choose to remove it from your startup, and want to run it “when you need it”, you won’t find it installed in your Taskbar or Desktop. Typing “XFast LAN” into Windows 7’s search bar will not yield any results – because the executable is named cfosspeed.exe, and aside from ASRock’s skin, has no further “XFast” association.
When using the software, you can expand the skin to enable or disable features with a single click.
Clicking the Settings button brings you to a large configuration pane, with a huge wealth of options, yet very little explanation of what changing the settings will do. Unless you are experienced with networking, it is unlikely you’ll be changing anything in these settings.
There are presets for many games, which is nice, but still some games are omitted – Valve’s popular Team Fortress 2, for example, has no profile set for it.
Again, not the easiest to use, and kind of intrusive – you can’t minimize the software when it’s active, for example. Is your screen real estate worth sacrificing for the performance boost it may provide? Let’s find out.
I ran a ping test on my connection with the utility active, and disabled, using the quality connection testing utility, PingTest.net.
As you can see, there is an improvement.. albeit a small one. If you’re using a PCI based LAN card, then I can see this utility being a lot more useful for that sort of application as opposed to using the boards onboard LAN.
No one can accuse ASRock of creating ugly software. AXTU certainly looks the part, with nice lines and a sleek appearance. It gives a slight “race car” impression – I suppose that was what they were shooting for when creating the suite, and they succeeded.
On launch AXTU presents you with a detailed Hardware Monitor view. Details of your overclock are presented first, followed by fan speeds along with hardware temperatures, and finally voltages being supplied to the various parts of your system. It’ll read any sensor on your board, so you’ll see different things here depending on what board you use it with. The Extreme6 has a lot of sensors which is great if you’re an overclocker, and you’ll be able to monitor your hardware with ease. At the bottom of the tab (and every tab), is a checkbox allowing you to add AXTU to your startup.
Moving on to the second menu, suitably titled “Fan Control,” you’re presented with a temperature readout of your CPU and motherboard, followed by a fan control setting for every fan header on the board. It doesn’t detect if there is a fan connected, so you’ll always see the same optionset regardless of the fact there may or may not be anything connected to that header.
The third menu is what I assume most people will use this utility for – Overclocking. First, a section for your clock speed. Here you can chance the BCLK (FSB) of your processor, along with the CPU multiplier and GT frequencies, if you have this feature enabled.
Secondly you’re given a section for voltages. You’re able to change your CPU Offset voltage, RAM voltage, PCH voltage, VTT voltage, PLL voltage, VCCSA and Integrated Graphics voltage here. These are all the voltage settings you should need to achieve a decent overclock, but there is something missing: LLC. I understand why LLC is not changeable in-Windows, and this is one of the main reasons I prefer to overclock in BIOS. LLC is a major factor in achieving the highest possible clock at the lowest possible voltage, so its inaccessibility out of a BIOS environment is too huge a drawback for me to use this utility for tuning my processor for long-term use. This isn’t ASRock’s fault, however – changing LLC in-Windows is simply not a viable option, and there isn’t a software suite out there that will allow you to change LLC at present (that I have encountered, anyway.) Beneath all these options is a checkbox allowing you to auto-apply these settings when you start Windows. Used in tandem with the startup checkbox I mentioned earlier, and you can set AXTU to apply your overclock every time you start Windows without any input from yourself.
Menu four displays your board model number, BIOS version, and the date the BIOS was released for public use. It also allows you to save your settings – up to three times, so you can save three separate configurations and reference them at will.
The fifth menu allows you to activate IES. IES is only available when you’re not overclocking, but it reduces how many power phases are being used to deliver power to your CPU when it’s idle, which can improve power efficiency without sacrificing any performance. Very useful if you’re running your CPU stock, or, if you’re using a non-K series CPU.
The sixth and final menu is XFast RAM. This allows you to take a portion of your RAM, the size of which you specify, to be used much like a hard disk – you can put files on it if you need to access them faster or the software suite requires substantial drive performance that your current hardware configuration can’t offer. A good potential application is photoshop – even the highest end systems can experience slowdown when working on projects with a huge number of layers. Putting the photoshop install files on your RAM disk could alleviate some of the stress to your drives, boosting the editors performance and your own satisfaction and productivity. You can even backup your RAM disk, so that you can easily restore the files to your RAM disk when you restart your computer or experience an error that requires a restart. The performance numbers are very strong. Beneath the screenshot you’ll see a quick benchmark run on my RAM disk (4GB of my 16GB RAM was used.) You’ll see that a RAM disk can outperform an SSD by a very large percentage. The RAM I used is 1600mhz – you’ll see better numbers on your RAM disk if you use RAM with a better performance rating.
All in all, AXTU is a relatively straightforward and easy to use utility. I can’t see myself using it for overclocking personally, and all of the features it provides are available in other software suites – but to have it all available in one location is definitely useful for mainstream tweakers. I can’t see experienced or enthusiast overclockers using AXTU, but it was never aimed at this demographic anyway.