ASRock doubles down on Thunderbolt ports, cables

Computex — While touring ASRock’s booth at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan this afternoon, we caught a glimpse of a rather interesting Thunderbolt implementation. All of the Thunderbolt-equipped motherboards selling right now feature a single port. ASRock’s Z77 Extreme/TB4 has dual ports, giving it four channels of Thunderbolt connectivity with a whopping 80Gbps of total bandwidth between them.

Thunderbolt needs a DisplayPort connection to function, and each of the boards we’ve seen relies on the processor’s integrated GPU to provide that connection. Users can still run a discrete GPU to a Thunderbolt display by using Lucid’s Virtu GPU virtualization software. The TB4 removes the need for Virtu software by integrating a DisplayPort input in the rear port cluster. users can connect their discrete GPU’s display output directly to that input.

Although this feature is making its debut on a Z77 board, I suspect ASRock will soon roll out a similarly equipped X79 model. The only way to get Thunderbolt its required DisplayPort connection on the X79 platform is via a discrete GPU’s DP out; the Sandy Bridge-E CPU associated with the platform lacks integrated graphics.

Otherwise, the TB4 looks much like any other enthusiast-oriented Z77 board. It features dual PCIe x16 slots, extra SATA 6Gbps and USB 3.0 ports, and a black circuit board peppered with fancy electrical components. There’s also a surprise lurking in the box: a pair of Thunderbolt cables. All the Thunderbolt-compatible hardware we’ve seen ships without cables, so kudos to ASRock for including two to go along with its dual-port implementation.

Comments closed
    • Johannesburg
    • 7 years ago

    If I understand correctly, does this mean that thunderbolt will not function on a mobo with a 2550k CPU, or any of the P-Series i5s?

    • Chrispy_
    • 7 years ago

    What’s with the molex power plug above the first expansion slot?

    Graphics cards have had their own aux. power for about a decade now and plenty of other boards seem to be able to supply power to two PCIe x16 slots without an annoying molex.

    Molex is an almost-obsolete cable (probably with 3 connectors) that you don’t really want trapsing across the middle of your case. The only thing that uses it would be old IDE devices, and fixed-speed fans that are too cheap and nasty to be 3-pin and thus motherboard-controllable.

      • internetsandman
      • 7 years ago

      Supposedly it’s for supplying additional power to massive multiGPU setups in order to aid stability during high stress situations when the MB and auxiliary power connectors can’t supply enough juice via the PCIe slots and power plugs. For single or dual cards in 99% of home use situations though, it probably is worthless, I agree

    • NeelyCam
    • 7 years ago

    Solution: “Problem! Where are you..?!”

    • FuturePastNow
    • 7 years ago

    This may also be the first motherboard capable of using Ivy Bridge’s triple-display capability (which requires at least two DisplayPorts).

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    What’s the point of adding up the bandwidth of all the TB ports put together? You should do that for SATA3 and USB 3 too… ^^

    I can only imagine how expensive this motherboard will be.

    Weird you guys are going out of your way after all this time to make a big deal out of TB too.

    • Duck
    • 7 years ago

    FFS yet another motherboard with ATi branding on it! It’s like no one in the Taiwanese motherboard industry is a hardware enthusiast even remotely.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      There’s Nvidia SLI branding *right* next to that. Are you suggesting that they ought to eschew both ATi and Nvidia and promote Intel Xtreme Graphics as the enthusiasts choice? 😉

        • Duck
        • 7 years ago

        No they can update their logo to an AMD crossfire one is all I meant.

          • ludi
          • 7 years ago

          AMD sells graphics cards???!!11

            • Chrispy_
            • 7 years ago

            DAMMIT, why weren’t we told?!

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 7 years ago

      Doesn’t the ATI brand still exist like Buick to GM?

        • Duck
        • 7 years ago

        They abandonded the ATi brand ages ago. The final trace was the ATi icon for the catalyst drivers exe file which finally changed to the AMD logo several months ago sometime in 2011.

        See here… [url<]https://techreport.com/discussions.x/19547[/url<] Can't find the TR article on the final logo switch on the drivers but I expect it's out there too.

        • brute
        • 7 years ago

        No. It’d be more like GMC to Chevy if they were to phase out GMC.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          I actually hadn’t realized that AMD had retired the name (probably because companies keep using it). So it’s like Pontiac.

      • flip-mode
      • 7 years ago

      I’ll sell you some Lehman Brothers stock. Doh!

    • flip-mode
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]Thunderbolt needs a DisplayPort connection to function, and each of the boards we've seen relies on the processor's integrated GPU to provide that connection. Users can still run a discrete GPU to a Thunderbolt display by using Lucid's Virtu GPU virtualization software. The TB4 removes the need for Virtu software by integrating a DisplayPort input in the rear port cluster. users can connect their discrete GPU's display output directly to that input.[/quote<] Sorry, that just sounds ridiculous. It reminds me of the original ATI Crossfire dongle, except worse. [i<]Why would I want[/i<] to run a cable from my GPU to my motherboard just so I can run a cable from my motherboard to my monitor? As Geoff's stated in his Thunderbolt article yesterday, while it may make sense for laptops, for desktops it really doesn't, and this isn't helping.

      • Grigory
      • 7 years ago

      Well said.

      • JMccovery
      • 7 years ago

      This is a problem I have with the current implementation of TB, the need for either: 1.) Integrated graphics, 2.) Specialized software (Lucid Virtu) or 3.) External DP cable (same as the ASUS TB card)

      If TV tuner/capture cards can and have transferred video over the PCI/PCI-E bus for a while, why can’t discrete GPUs do the same? Even mobile graphics chips (such as Mobility Radeon/GeForce M), can transfer their output over PCI-E.

      • Duck
      • 7 years ago

      This is a good idea. There’s no reason why the displayport signal has to be routed along the motherboard’s PCB. But I would expect it to work without the displayport signal, just the thunderbolt on its own.

      • bcronce
      • 7 years ago

      Or just have your discrete video-card redirect its output over PCIe to the port cluster. No dongles. OS/hardware manages it instead.

        • Zoomer
        • 7 years ago

        What is the point of the discrete card routing output to IVB’s framebuffer? It could just transmit some low res 320×240 dummy signal and avoid this whole mess.

    • ludi
    • 7 years ago

    I thought Asus originally launched the ASRock brand to be a low-cost alternative to the premium-market Asus boards but this here seems to have that backwards.

      • Rand
      • 7 years ago

      The idea of ASRock being low cost died about 3 months after it was created, I have no idea what the point of it is now but cheap definitely isn’t it…

        • cynan
        • 7 years ago

        When I was shopping for X79 boards a few months ago, ASRock was definitely the best value by far compared to other big name brands (Asus, Gigabyte, even MSI) considering the features you get – at least on Newegg.com. Newegg.ca was a different matter entirely.

        But I wouldn’t be surprised if they are trying to build a brand name so that they can charge the same as ASUS and their ilk. Maybe that time has come.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      I think ASRock was spun off some time ago, around the time Asus did a bunch of manufacturing reorganization (Pegatron spinoff) So it’s not been the Asus budget brand for a while.

        • ludi
        • 7 years ago

        Well, after a little WikiTime, I think I’m all straightened out:

        1. Asus originally incorporated ASRock in 2002 as a subordinate company for which Asus was the primary (sole?) investor.

        2. Asus spun out some of its design and manufacturing service into Pegatron in 2007, but Pegatron remained a wholly-owned subsidiary. Also in 2007, ASRock had its IPO on the Taiwan stock exchange.

        3. In 2010, Asus decided to spin off Pegatron entirely, and sold its interest in Pegatron to Pegatron’s wholly-owned subsidiary, the Pegatron International Investment Co., Ltd. The two Pegatrons then merged to become…Pegatron.

        4. Somewhere along the line, Pegatron picked up a controlling interest in ASRock, making ASRock more or less a Pegatron Subsidiary.

        5. Then, my head exploded.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          Like a blood sausage?

          • brute
          • 7 years ago

          The Megapegatron…

          • Zoomer
          • 7 years ago

          Probably some political, tax, business, or some other maneuvering.

            • ludi
            • 7 years ago

            That, and the fact that while Taiwan never picked up the complete Zaibatsu/Chaebol business model of Japan and Korea, the family ties amongst nominally-independent businesses can be quite extensive, or so I’ve heard.

          • AGerbilWithAFootInTheGrav
          • 7 years ago

          sum total – Asus built itself a competitor, instead of having the market share for itself with the same products 🙂

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      edit: whoops, MadmanOriginal already said it.

    • tone21705
    • 7 years ago

    What is going on with this dual PS/2 port (green/purple). Does anybody still use that? I thought USB was better in every single way?

      • Kurotetsu
      • 7 years ago

      There are still advantages to using the old PS/2 keyboard port (n-key rollover) if you actually have use for them. I have no idea why the PS/2 mouse port is still hanging around.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 7 years ago

        Because they can make a port that accepts either one, so they might as well.

        • siberx
        • 7 years ago

        It’s perfectly possible to implement n-key rollover via USB with the right firmware – honestly there really *isn’t* a lot of reason for PS/2 ports any more except for legacy.

          • destroy.all.monsters
          • 7 years ago

          If the same degree of n-key rollover were the same then why would every mechanical keyboard maker state that n-key rollover is superior when their keyboard is plugged into a ps/2 socket? These are keyboards that cost around 100 dollars.

          I don’t know the technical aspects of it but I find it hard to believe an entire industry is incompetent or willing to cut off its nose to spite its face over some trivial cost cutting.

            • siberx
            • 7 years ago

            You’d be surprised – most of these keyboard makers are not as innovative or as well stocked with talented engineers as you’d expect.

            I know it’s possible because I’ve done this very thing on a controller I replaced on my own mechanical keyboard. You’d need to dig through the USB HID spec to get the specifics, but basically it boils down to the fact that your keyboard can report whatever kind of packet it wants to send keyboard data back to the computer. The “standard” (or boot-capable) keyboard packet uses 6 bytes for individual key codes plus a single byte whose bits represent modifiers (shift, alt, etc..). This means you can have 6KRO+modifiers on a standard USB keyboard – there’s nothing stopping you from specifying a different descriptor that says it’ll report 20 or 40 bytes worth of key data though.

            The only downside of doing this is that it breaks boot keyboard support (so your keyboard won’t work in BIOS if you do this naively). The workaround is to make your keyboard enumerate as 2 devices; one boot-compatible one for the first 6 keys, and a second custom keyboard device that will report the remaining keys (which will only be functional in the OS).

            There are some USB keyboards out there that do this, or more limited forms of it;
            [url<]http://geekhack.org/showthread.php?17636-12-key-roll-over-USB[/url<] The reason you don't see it is simply because the manufacturers don't care about stuff like this; they want to produce a standards-compliant product and get it out the door as fast as possible. None of them bother reading the spec closely enough to realise you can do more than 6KRO, or they read it and they don't care anyways. So yes, at least on this point the entire industry (or close to it) *is* pretty incompetent (or, to be more truthful, profit-focused). EDIT: To clarify, the extra development time required to implement this support is not worth the cost to the manufactuers, consider that honestly *very* few practical applications require or benefit from more than 6KRO+modifiers. It takes extra coding, extra testing, and *possibly* a slightly fancier microcontroller to make it work - so their managers tell them to skip it.

      • superjawes
      • 7 years ago

      Am I also seeing DVI, HDMI, eSATA, and FireWire on there? I’m almost surprised it doesn’t have RS232…

        • Rand
        • 7 years ago

        Those are a lot more understandable then PS/2 though, their still in common use and devices are being sold every day that connect via DVI/HDMI/eSATA/FireWire.

          • superjawes
          • 7 years ago

          I was mainly commenting on how the board is supporting every port imagineable, hence the sarcastic reference to RS232. Should I have mentioned Parallel port instead?

            • Farting Bob
            • 7 years ago

            Its also got 2 PCI slots because no self-respecting enthusiast throwing down $400+ for a motherboard can do without 2 archaic PCI cards!

            And the image is bit too small but what is that next to the ATX power slot? I cant work it out, unless its the pins for the power/reset buttons.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 7 years ago

            2 makes sense to me, I’m sure a lot of people have perfectly good PCI sound cards and you might want a 2nd pci slot for something.

        • Zoomer
        • 7 years ago

        Careful, a lot of boards integrate a RS232 header.

      • sircharles32
      • 7 years ago

      Some of us still use KVM’s that use PS/2

        • siberx
        • 7 years ago

        Because you can’t buy KVMs that support USB peripherals?

        Motherboard manufacturers should continue wasting port cluster space on legacy connections because you’re too cheap to replace your old peripherals?

          • derFunkenstein
          • 7 years ago

          You crazy kid, of course you can buy USB KVM switches.

          [url<]http://www.pcconnection.com/IPA/Shop/Product/Detail.htm?sku=7489099[/url<]

            • siberx
            • 7 years ago

            That was my point; such products *are* widely available. The fact that his highness sircharles32 hasn’t deigned to purchase such a product is no reason to continue to waste valuable port cluster space on a port that is now about *25* years old. That PS/2 port occupies the space of an extra 2 USB ports, or some more eSATA, SPDIF, or any number of other more useful things that could be put in its place.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 7 years ago

            The concept of “making your point” by saying the exact opposite is a complete and total dud.

            • siberx
            • 7 years ago

            I felt that anybody reading/commenting here would be informed enough to know that USB KVMs do, in fact exist (and would understand my point). Besides which my second sentence pretty clearly implies that such peripherals are available and the only reason not to be using them is potential (marginal) cost of upgrading.

      • rechicero
      • 7 years ago

      I still use it. It’s the only way to use macros to activate several of the features of my Microsoft Office Keyboard. As you can’t buy an equivalent keyboard and MS stopped supporting this keyboard before Vista, I simply won’t buy a motherboard without PS/2 port (if I can choose). And yes, this keyboard is that awesome.

        • siberx
        • 7 years ago

        Do you know if the keyboard works correctly through a USB to PS/2 adapter (the ones that let you hook a PS/2 keyboard and mouse up to a computer’s USB port)? I have used such devices before and they seem to work pretty well, but I’ve never tested to see if fancier keyboard-specific functions still work right through them.

        It could give you an alternative to depending on PS/2 ports being present on the hardware you select, and they’re only about $20 or so.

      • Duck
      • 7 years ago

      PS/2 ports have low level hardware access. You can turn on the PC from off with PS/2 but can only wake up the PC from standby with USB. Maybe it’s possible to turn on with USB depending on BIOS support and powered USB ports?

      Plus USB will add like 4ms input latency which I assume is not there at all with PS/2. Not a lot I know, but the market for USB gaming mice with their 1000Hz polling rate, etc, would never admit to this.

        • Airmantharp
        • 7 years ago

        Modern BIOSs support cold booting with a USB key-press.

          • Duck
          • 7 years ago

          Mine doesn’t (ASUS AM2).

            • Airmantharp
            • 7 years ago

            AM2 is old.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      Ever try to get back into the BIOS if you accidently turned off USB legacy support?

        • Airmantharp
        • 7 years ago

        Assume you’d just have to reset the CMOS correct? If that didn’t work, well…

    • brute
    • 7 years ago

    Motherboards are really starting to look cheesy and dumb.

    All the fancy heatsinks have got to go! A 3mm aluminum plate with some cheap paint on it is not extreme!

      • Duck
      • 7 years ago

      Make heatsinks… cover them up. Extreme! (*extremely badly designed).

        • ludi
        • 7 years ago

        Well…to be fair, the vertical (convection) airflow path is the most crticial and those covers aren’t really interfering with that, as far as I can tell.

          • brute
          • 7 years ago

          they interfere with my desire to have a board that doesnt look like dog turds with crayons thrown on top

            • internetsandman
            • 7 years ago

            Awwww c’mon, the Sabertooth series should have you covered there! Just grab that and a handful of Noctua fans and you have a thing of such irresistible beauty, no tech enthusiast could deny!

            To be fair, I agree, this heatsink for show thing is kind of annoying, although IMO its better aesthetically than having just regular barren copper/aluminum heatsinks like we used to have a few years ago. They function much better, definitely, but I think we need some sort of middle ground where these heatsinks aren’t completely flashy or showy, but still look pleasing to the eye and maintain a sense of practicality.

            • brute
            • 7 years ago

            The Sabertooth is an abomination in my eyes. I don’t understand its appeal.

            The newer Asus boards are nice, IMO. I refer to the light blue heatsinks and black PCB ones. Nothing too gaudy. The Gigabarf boards with crayola bullets look flat out ridiculous.

            When will they start adding spinners and chrome to motherboards? That’s a trend I’d like to see, just for the comical aspect.

      • Chrispy_
      • 7 years ago

      They’ve been looking cheesy and dumb for a while. The last “sensible” board I bought was a P965 that just had plain, efficient-looking black heatsinks, and a black PCB with white labelling on it.

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