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ASRock Z77 OC Formula - Intel Z77 Chipset Goes High-End

By Wong Chung Wee - 5 Feb 2013
Launch SRP: S$409

Aggressive Overclocking, ASRock Style

Aggressive Overclocking, ASRock Style

Motherboard manufacturer ASRock recently made news as there were rumors that ASUS may be making a bid for the motherboard division of ASRock. If the deal comes true, it would make ASUS, already the number one motherboard manufacturer globally, the largest motherboard manufacturer in the world (and also the most popular according to our Tech Awards Reader's Choice results from last year). Hence, for ASUS to consider this massive business undertaking, ASRock must be doing something right with its motherboard products.

To date, ASRock has churned out a total of sixteen motherboards that feature the Intel Z77 Express chipset. They range from the Thunderbolt-enabled Z77 Extreme6 to the top-tier ASRock Z77 Extreme11 that comes with eight SAS2/SATA3 connectors and an on-board LSI SAS2308 PCIe 3.0 x8 controller for additional PCIe Gen 3.0 bus lanes, the company is going all out to capture a wide target audience with its Z77 board offerings.

The ASRock Z77 OC Formula board is ASRock's latest attempt to address the needs of overclockers and the company appears to see them as a wholly distinctive class of users. For starters, the Z77 OC Formula is an Extended ATX (EATX) motherboard that is slightly wider than an ATX one. The board boasts of numerous high-end features and it even comes with a bundled with a syringe of Gelid Solutions GC-Extreme thermal paste. The board even comes with a pack of 10 "OC Stands" that plug into the motherboard mounting holes to get the platform up and running on your desk without resorting to use random objects (such thick packing foam or boxes) to give your setup a professional feel. It seems that ASRock has given much thought to their latest product that clearly stands out from its high-end Extreme series of motherboards.

With its bright yellow streaks set against a jet-black PCB, the ASUS Z77 OC Formula motherboard is screaming out at overclockers to push it to high performance levels.

The ASRock Z77 OC Formula supports LGA1155 CPUs, such as the third generation Intel Core CPUs (Ivy Bridge) as well as overclocked DDR3 memory modules that have been rated up to 3,000MHz. As we have mentioned earlier, as a nod to overclockers, ASRock has aligned with famous overclocker, Nick Shih, to put his stamp-of-approval for the Z77 OC Formula. This is in line with the company's earlier efforts to gain traction among gamers with their Fatal1ty Z77 Professional board.


Expansion Slot Matters

There is a glaring lack of PCIe 2.0 x1 expansion slots for the board; in fact, there are only a pair of them. But we do like the ample motherboard real estate that lies in-between the first PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slot and the second PCIe 2.0 x1 slot. There is also more than enough space between the PEG slots for a multi-graphics card configuration. Near the first PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slot, we see a PLX PEG 8605 switch chip that will provide another four PCIe 2.0 lanes to the existing ones that are controlled by the Intel Z77 chipset.

According to the manual, the first two PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU (do note that PCIe Gen 3.0 bandwidth is supported only if an Intel 'Ivy Bridge' CPU is installed); with the first PEG operating at x16 when a lone discrete graphics card is installed at that slot. If both PCIe Gen 3.0 slots are taken up, they both operate at x8 respectively.  The third PEG slot operates at x4 on PCIe 2.0 bandwidth and it allows the board to support 3-way NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFireX multi-GPU configurations. Last but not least, you'll not find any legacy PCI slots if you are planning to reuse your old sound card.

 The ASRock Z77 OC Formula features three PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 expansions slots and a pair of PCIe 2.0 x1 slots.

The PLX PEX 8605 switch chip that adds four additional PCIe 2.0 lanes to the board.

Active VRM Cooling

Northwards from the PEG slots, we see the massive VRM heatsinks of the board and one of them features active cooling in the form of a 40mm cooling fan. During our testing, the 40mm cooling fan was found to be rather quiet during its operation, thus negating our thoughts that it might add to the operational noise. The VRM heatsinks also support liquid cooling solutions; even liquid nitrogen (LN2) cooling is up this board's alley! ASRock has up the ante in terms of the electrical components used on the board. For starters, the board features a 12 + 4 power phase design and ASRock has eschewed its usual Premium Gold Capacitors and used newly-designed capacitors called Multi Filter Caps. These new gilded capacitors are touted to deliver clean power to the CPU in order to maximize its overclocking headroom. These capacitors seat in front of the chokes, which by the way are made from "premium alloy" and are tucked neatly under the massive VRM heatsinks.

Besides featuring a 40mm cooling fan, the VRM heatsinks will support liquid cooling solutions right-out-of-the-box.

We can see the Multi Filter Caps and the premium alloy chokes that make up the board's VRM solution. The VRM heatsinks are actually connected by a heatpipe that is hidden inside them.


Chock-full of Features

The area below the CPU socket is jam-packed with features, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on where you intend to have your platform set up and running. If the board is going to be outside of a chassis, the location of most of the below features shouldn't matter, but we can't say the same if you intend to reach out for these options even after the board has been installed within a chassis. We highlight the more prominent features:-

  • Four DIMM slots allow installation of overclocked DDR3 memory modules that have been rated up to 3000MHz.
  • In the corner of the board, near the Debug LED, there is a PCIe DIP switch. This switch allows the user to enable or disable the corresponding PEG slots. When one of the graphics cards installed on any of the slots is suspected to be faulty, the user can disable one of the PEG slots for troubleshooting without the hassle of removing it. Now while this can be touted as a "feature", most users shouldn't have any issues just unplugging graphics cards - in fact, once the system is installed within a chassis, it's actually a lot more difficult to reach out to this PCIe DIP switch. Ultimately, the feature is more useful for ASRock's own test/QC engineers, professional overclockers and reviewers using this board as their test-bed than of practical use for most enthusiasts. So it depends on your nature of use.
  • There is also a pair of OC buttons (named as Rapid OC buttons, these huge and easy to use "+" and "-" buttons that seem to have been a borrowed design from elsewhere) that allow you to adjust the the CPU ratio, base clock frequency and the CPU VCore voltage for overclocking.
  • The V-Probe is a set of 7 detection points that allow power users to directly measure the voltages of different motherboard components including the DRAM, CPU System Agent, chipset core and CPU core in order to ensure these components are operating within acceptable voltage levels during their extreme overclocking attempts. Just next to the PCIe DIP switch, there is a quick silk-screened guide to the electrical contacts to connect in order to ascertain the voltage of the right component.

Located just beyond the DIMM slots, there are a number of high-end features targeted at power users; the PCIe DIP switch, Rapid OC buttons and V-Probe.

The PCIe DIP switch controls the three PEG slots with the numbers corresponding with the order of the PEG slots, from top to bottom. To its left is the quick silk-screened guide for the V-Probe's different contact points.

Up close are the the V-Probe voltage test points; there is a set of indicative LEDs for CPU, DRAM and VGA for quick troubleshooting of suspected faulty components.

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  • Performance 7.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Value 6.5
The Good
Good engineering build
Well equipped and geared for overclocking
Lots of USB 3.0 ports
The Bad
Overall performance no better than mainstream boards
Overclocking needs to be tricked out
Unleashing the board's potential requires expensive LN2 equipment
Very expensive
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