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ASRock's Z97 Extreme6 might be the most forward-looking Haswell motherboard around. The CPU socket supports next-gen Broadwell chips, the M.2 and SATA Express ports are primed for future storage devices, and the Ultra M.2 connector supplies even more bandwidth for future SSDs. The Ultra M.2 socket also allows M.2 and SATA Express devices to be used simultaneously, an impossible feat on most of the Z97 boards we've seen.

There are other perks throughout the Extreme6. The Mini PCIe slot serves as a home for notebook-style wireless cards, the integrated audio has good analog and digital output, and the additional peripheral ports fill out the spec sheet. ASRock even nails a couple of little details, like the POST code display and rear-mounted CMOS reset button, but it misses a few builder-friendly accoutrements. We'd like to see included port blocks for the front-panel connectors and a cushioned shield for the rear I/O panel. Then there's the mix of three- and four-pin fan headers, which is just plain weird, even if the underlying speed control is fairly robust.

The Windows-based A-Tuning software has much more intuitive fan controls than the firmware, but its overclocking options are somewhat limited. Tweaking is best done with the UEFI, which has loads of handy functionality on top of the usual options. The ability to grab and apply the latest firmware update without leaving the interface is very slick, and so are the downloaders for storage and networking drivers. Both seasoned veterans and budding newbies should be able to appreciate how those little features streamline the initial setup process.

Both types of users should also appreciate how easily we were able to overclock on the Extreme6. Despite the board's less sophisticated auto-tuning intelligence, we managed to crank our CPU up to the same speeds we've reached on other Z97 mobos, and the process was incredibly straightforward.

In the end, there's a lot to like about the Z97 Extreme6—and a few important aspects that could definitely be improved. It's hard to complain too much about the shortcomings in light of the $164.99 asking price (or $144.99 with a mail-in rebate good until the end of October). Simply put, the Extreme6 is a high-end Z97 board with a mid-range price tag. It doesn't deliver the most refined user experience, but the overall package is very solid, and the Ultra M.2 slot is uniquely compelling for those eyeing future storage upgrades.TR

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