High-End Intel Z87 Motherboard Shootout

ASRock Z87 OC Formula

ASRock Z87 OC Formula

The ASRock Z87 OC Formula is touted as a board built for overclocking, with its reliable power design system that features both air and liquid cooling options. At first glance, the board bears a strong semblance to the previous generation ASRock Z77 OC Formula as they both hail from the overclocking series of their motherboard offerings. It is obvious the board is targeted at overclockers and power users.

The ASRock Z87 OC Formula is the only EATX board in our lineup. It sports a slightly wider girth than an ATX board, and true to its OC Formula pedigree, it features the OC Formula Power Kit that drives its 12-phase power delivery system.

With its 12-phase power design system that consists of premium alloy chokes, multi-stacked MOSFETs, and multiple filter capacitors, the board’s digital pulse wave modulation system takes rein to ensure stable power supply to the CPU and memory modules. We also see a pair of barb fittings to support liquid cooling systems for additional cooling of the board's MOSFETs. Speaking of cooling, there is a 40mm intake fan, nested in one section of its VRM heatsinks. The heatsinks are distinctively colored yellow-on-black, with gilded capacitors in front of it that add a nice touch to its finishing.

Seen here are some of the VRM components that make up the OC Formula Power Kit system. We can also see the barb fittings, so that a liquid cooling system can be attached to the VRM heatsinks for the additional cooling.

Near the VRM heatsink, there are two ATX 12V power connectors, instead of one. This is sure to delight overclockers who want to push their unlocked Haswell processors with more power.

There are a pair of ATX 12V connectors. While this is a bonus for those hoping to push the board and their CPU to greater overclocking heights, fortunately it's not mandatory to pair the board with a PSU that has dual 8-pin 12V ATX power connectors.

Moving down south away from the board's LGA 1150 socket, we see a total of four PCIe x16 physical expansion slots. The board is able to support multi-GPU configurations; 4-way arrangements of NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFireX technologies are possible with this ASRock board. The top PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slot operates at x16 mode when only one PCIe Gen 3.0-compilant graphics card is installed. If the second slot is occupied in a two card setup, the 16 PCIe lanes would be even split between the two occupied PEG slots; with each slot allocated the bandwidth of 8 lanes. In a 3-way setup, the lane configuration would be in this manner, x8/x4/x4, as the eight lanes from the second slot has to be shared with the third slot. In the event, the avid gamer maxes out all the four x16 slots, the embedded PLX PEX8608 eight-lane PCIe 2.0 switch will come into play by allocating four PCIe 2.0 lanes (supplied by the chipset) to the last slot, with a final lane configuration of x8/x4/x4/x4 to support a 4-way graphics card configuration. Other expansion slots include a pair of PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. Also, nested between the first two PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slots is the mini-PCIe slot. This slot is shared with the second PCIe 2.0 x1 slot.

There are a total of four length PCIe expansion slots that allows the board to support up to four graphics cards.

Additional power to drive such a graphical setup with stability comes courtesy of a SLI/XFire power connector that is located near the bottom edge of the board.

The SLI/XFire power connector that will deliver more power in a multi-GPU configuration.

Another notable feature is the Purity Sound technology that features an on-board Realtek ALC1150 audio codec, complete with EMI shielding to minimize distortion due to electrical interference. Together with the accompanying TI NE 5532 amplifiers, this on-board audio system is touted to provide high quality aural experience.

The Purity Sound system of the board. It's a combination of the Realtek ALC1150 audio codec with TI NE 5532 amplifiers and EMI shielding coming to play.

Besides sporting such pedigree components, the board also boasts of some truly unique features, like its conformal coating that acts as a water repellant for the board's components. This is important for protection against condensation or any spillage or leakage from a closed liquid cooling system. Besides this water proofing feature, the ASRock board's PCB is made up of eight layers that contains 4x 2oz copper inner layers. These copper layers are supposedly able to lower operating temperatures, and promote higher energy efficiency. There is even a little cut-away window next the EMF shield of the Purity Sound, to show the eight layers of the PCB.

Moving along the bottom edge of the board, we see the OLED display that replaces the traditional LED segmented ones. The new display is able to show system status information like operating temperatures, on top of the usual debug codes.

The new OLED status display is highlighted with a red frame. It can display system status information, as well as the usual debug codes.

The ASRock board is built for an open bench work environment as there are a pair of buttons for power and resetting the system. Below the OLED display, there is a switch that toggles between two sets of BIOSes, and there is a button for clearing CMOS, next to the BIOS switch. The headers of at the bottom edge consists of a COM port header (to the right of the SLI/XFire power connector), two chassis fans headers, and a pair of USB 2.0 ones. At the extreme ends, we see a front panel audio header on the left; while on the right, just next to the power button, there is system panel header. It's apparent that due to space constraints, the chassis speaker and power LED headers have been shifted slightly north, nearer to the stack of yellow SATA 6Gbps connectors.

The headers of at the bottom edge consists of COM port header (to the right of the SLI/XFire power connector), two chassis fans headers, and a pair of USB 2.0 headers. At the extreme ends, we see a front panel audio header on the left; while on the right, just next to the power button, there is system panel header. The chassis speaker and power LED headers have been shifted slightly north, near to the stack of yellow SATA 6Gbps connectors.

Although the SATA connectors are all yellow, they are clearly labelled, and we can see the four from the left are driven by the ASMedia ASM1061 controllers; while the remaining six are connected to the Intel Z87 chipset.

The SATA 6Gbps connectors are clearly labelled.

Moving beyond the SATA connectors, right back next to the LGA1150 socket, we see the four DIMM slots that support DDR3 memory modules that have been rated to operate at 3000MHz+, up to a maximum capacity of 32GB. To reiterate the point of the ASRock board being built for an open workbench environment, there are a slew of onboard switches, buttons, connectors and voltage points in the vicinity of the memory slots.

The DIMM slots support DDR3 memory modules that have been rated to operated at 3000MHz+, up to a maximum capacity of 32GB.

Just right next to the yellow DIMM slot, we see three DIP switches. From the left, there is the PCIe On/Off switch that allows you to disable the installed expansion cards without having to remove them from their corresponding PCe x16 physical slots. The other two, single DIP switches useful during LN2 cooling situations; the first one, from left, enables the slow mode feature, and allows the processor to start at a lower clockspeed. The second  switch toggles the LN2 mode and is used to overcome the cold-boot bug issues of certain LGA1150 CPUs. Next, we also see the onboard buttons for the Rapid OC feature, allowing you to adjust the the CPU ratio, base clock frequency and the CPU VCore voltage for overclocking.

These onboard features are ideal for an overclocker in an open workbench environment. There is the Rapid OC feature, V-Probe, and the DIP switches for the PCIe x16 slots, and for LN2 cooling setups.

Although the Menu button is right next to the "-" button, the former isn't part of the Rapid OC feature. Instead, it is used to toggle among the date, time, temperature and voltage information for the OLED display that is located at the bottom of the board. Last of all, diagonally to the right of the Menu button there is the V-Probe feature. It is a set of 7 detection points that allows for direct voltage measurements of different motherboard components, including the DRAM, CPU System Agent, chipset core and CPU core.

Finally, moving to the rear I/O ports of the board, we see the now ubiquitous PS/2 keyboard-mouse port that sits below a pair of black USB 2.0 ports. To its right, there is a HDMI-In port, and the HDMI-Out port is below the pair of blue USB 3.0 ports. The clear CMOS button is neatly tucked away among the stack of USB 3.0 ports. For its audio options, the ASRock board has the usual five analog jacks, and a S/PDIF out port.

The I/O panel at the rear of the ASRock board.

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