ASRock Z77 OC Formula Reviewccokeman - October 30, 2012
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ASRock's Z77 OC Formula is designed for use with Intel Second and Third Generation Core series processors including the Core i7 3770K used in this review. The OC Fomula is an EATX Form Factor board that's 12.0-in x 10.5-in in size and fit into my Corsair 650D without any challenges. The color scheme is wildly different from anything on the market now with a black base and brilliant yellow and gold accents. The black color of the PCB shows as a deep, rich black under a flash rather than being brown in color. The layout appears standard for the form factor as it relates to DRAM and CPU socket positioning. After the size of the PCB the feature that stands out the most is the Twin Cool VRM cooling solution that is used to keep the 12+4 phase Digital power delivery circuit cool. ASRock uses an eight layer PCB that incorporates four 2oz copper layers for better signal transmission, lower resistance, and additional cooling around the CPU socket by using the board as a large heat sink. The back side of the Z77 OC Formula has an additional cooling plate for the balance of the VRM circuit that also acts to provide stability for the large Twin Cool solution up top. The entire cooling package is held in place with screws instead of push clips. Foxconn is the supplier of choice for the CPU retention hardware. Strategically placed throughout the motherboard are temperature sensors used to inform the user of the thermal conditions on board; particularly useful for the CPU and power circuits.
The I/O panel of the OC Formula is a little slim in some areas but when you look at the target market you understand why. Starting from the left is the combination PS/2 port for use with a keyboard or mouse, two of the six USB 3.0 ports (two controlled by the Intel Z77 PCH and four by way of an Etron EJ188H controller), a Clear CMOS button, a single HDMI port used for the Intel integrated graphics, Broadcom BCM57781 Gigabit LAN, four USB 2.0 ports, and the Realtek ALC898 powered digital and analog audio outputs. Expansion capabilities come by way of the three 16x Gen 3 slots that run at 16xwith a single GPU, 8x / 8x with a pair of cards and at 8x / 8x / 4x with three cards in an SLI, Quad SLI or CrossfireX configuration using one, two or three cards. Additional capabilities include the two PCIe 1x slots for expansion cards including audio or storage solutions such as OCZ's Revo Drives.
Along the bottom of the eight layer PCB things start to get a little busy. Starting with the front panel audio connection we follow up with the com port, IR connection point, 4-pin Molex auxiliary power for the PCIe bus when running multiple graphics cards, PWM controlled fan header, another IR header that can be used with ASRock's Smart Remote, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, 3-pin chassis fan header, the dual 64MB AMI UEFI BIOS chips, and power and reset switches that are part of the "Smart Switches" feature on this board, with the front panel connections sitting all the way to the right edge of the board..
There are a total of ten SATA ports on the Z77 OC Formula. The yellow ports are SATA 6.0Gb/s ports in the following configuration of two 6.0 Gb/s connections controlled by the Intel Z77 PCH that support RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel Rapid Storage and Intel Smart Response Technology, NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions and four 6.0 Gb/s connections handled by a Marvell SE9172 controller that supports RAID 0 and RAID 1, NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions. The balance of the ports are SATA 3.0Gb/s ports handled by the Intel Z77 PCH with the same RAID support level as the Intel SATA 6.0Gb/s ports. Next up are a pair of chassis fans, a USB 3.0 header that adds additional support for two more access points, 24-pin ATX power connection, diagnostic LEDs, and many of the overclocking centric features of the board. Up to 32GB of DDR3 3000+(OC) MHz memory is supported in a dual channel configuration. By adding additional support for specific memory modules in the BIOS, Nick Shih has helped make overclocking the memory as easy as the CPU.
The top right corner of the Z77 OC Formula is quite interesting in that it holds the lion's share of the overclocking centric features. You have V-Check points that allow the user to check and monitor the voltages applied to the CPU, DRAM and other functions like VTT, VCCSA. Unfortunately it will be a hunt and peck experience as the ports are not labeled. A three pot switch is located just to the right of the Debug LED and is used to isolate each of the three PCIe 16x slots for diagnostic purposes. The Debug LED display functions similarly to just about every board so equipped on the market with a series of codes displayed during the past sequence; 55 and 23 are codes that indicate either that tension on the CPU socket is uneven or that the memory controller cannot run the speed being asked of it. ASRock's Rapid OC feature is a quick and easy way to increase the bclock and voltage when coupled with hot keys set in the Rapid OC Configuration tool.
Across the top of the PCB, much like most motherboards, is a limited amount of connectivity that usually consists of the the PWM controlled CPU fan header and auxiliary 8-pin power connection. ASRock's Z77 OC Formula is designed for the extreme overclocker so the designer increased the current capacity by adding an additional 4-pin 12v power feed for the CPU.
ASRock's Z77 OC Formula is designed for use with Intel LGA socket 1155 processors including both Second and Third Generation Core series SKUs. A 12+4 phase fully digital power design for this board is used to provide the juice needed for big overclocks. Included in this package are Dual Stack MOSFETs that package the additional silicon die on top of another to lower Rds(on) and provide a more efficient solution. Premium Alloy Chokes are used to reduce core voltage loss up to 70% . This design uses a "highly-magnetic and heat-resistant design" that works to increase the lifespan of the board. MFC (Multiple Filter Cap), another technology used by ASRock, includes the use of "highly conductive MLCC, DIP caps and POSCAP". The MFC design is used to filter system noise from high-freq, mid-freq to low-freq, allowing a more stable higher level of current to the CPU. Add in the use of four 2oz copper PCB layers and voltage supply should not be a concern on the Z77 OC Formula. Used in both the CPU and DIMM sockets are 15μ gold contacts to further expand the abilities of the Z77 OC Formula with a cleaner voltage signal.
Delivering the current to the CPU is important but so is cooling the digital VRM circuit. In this respect the cooling solution employed by ASRock is very robust. Called Twin-Power Cooling, this solution uses active and passive options to keep the 12+4 phase power delivery system cool. Not only does the large solution carry enough mass to handle the larger thermal load imposed by over volting your components, but it sheds that load quite well. A small 40mm fan is used to push airflow through the heat sink effectively keeping it at close to ambient temperatures without a large noise penalty associated with a small, high RPM fan. If just above ambient is not good enough and you need to throw mad volts at the CPU, cooling the VRM with liquid adds another cooling dimension to the mix and should keep even that increased thermal demand in check. This design wraps around the CPU socket but leaves plenty of room for large cooling solutions. The barbs are less than 0.5 inches in size at 0.375 inches. Depending on the size of the primary liquid loop you may need to use adapters to allow connection to the liquid cooled part of the Twin-Power cooling solution. A passive heat sink is used over the Z77 PCH that gets the majority of its airflow from a front chassis fan.
When you sit back and look at the Z77 OC Formula you are either going to love it, hate it, or give it the benefit of the doubt based on just looks. At this point you should be able to color match the components installed with coolant coloring and memory modules to match right from manufacturers. Or if you like, getting creative is always appreciated when it comes to appearance and should win you some looks at the next LAN party or when showing off your e-peen. Looks aside you have to take a hard look at what ASRock is bringing to the table with this board as it looks like a well built package that is as good as the sum of its parts. That remains to be seen of course!