ASRock Z77 OC Formula Review

ccokeman - 2008-01-16 16:21:59 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 30, 2012
Price: $229

Introduction:

The extreme overclocker is getting a lot of traction from motherboard manufacturers over the past few years. There is a slew of boutique boards designed to deliver the highest stable clock speeds, so that the brand sits atop the HWBot rankings as the one used to deliver the top clock speed of the week, be it memory or CPU. Truth be told a lot of that has to do with the skill of the overclocker at maximizing each part of the hardware package. The key though, is a good, solid base. ASRock has been making inroads in the enthusiast category with a huge selection of solid performing, feature rich motherboards over the past couple years. So much so that ranks of users are jumping ship to pick up a solid motherboard at a lower price point. Having just finished looking at the Z77 Extreme 4 from ASRock, I was pleasantly surprised with how well it performed and how easily it got my chip to its maximum overclock for a bargain basement $134.

Now when you look at the ASRock Z77 OC Formula you can tell it is not a bargain basement motherboard, with its target market being the extreme overclocker. As such it is going to carry a price premium over the standard motherboards and even the Extreme series boards in ASRock's product stack at $229. Surprisingly with its Extreme overclocking feature set the price point is not something that would be out of line as you get a tremendous upside in capabilities for the money you spend. First off you get hands-on tuning from one of the top overclockers in the world, ASRock's in-house guru Nick Shih, and you get a unique bundle of accessories and software tools to allow you to get the most from the installed hardware. The board comes with a new Digital 12+4 power design, eight layer PCB with four 2oz copper layers, a two way active cooling solution, and just so much more. After seeing what the Extreme 4 had to bring to the table it is going to prove to interesting to see what ASRock has for the upper tier user.

Closer Look:

The package the Z77 OC Formula comes in is almost twice the size of the package the Z77 Extreme 4 came in. The outside of the package is uncluttered with the mass amount of technical data and specifications that you normally see on motherboard packaging. The front side has a vehicle speeding along with the ASRock logo and board model above and below the car with the base specifications to the right showing support for Intel processors and both AMD and NVIDIA graphics solutions. The back side gives a view of some optimistic overclocking results as well as some of the OC Formula specific features. The front flap opens to get into the details of the board's impressive feature set including the Dual Stack MOSFET package, Multiple Filter Cap system, 12+4 phase digital power design, Twin Power cooling, Rapid OC, PCIe On/Off, and V Probe voltage check points.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internally the Z77 OC Formula is packaged well encased in an open cell foam enclosure. Tie strapped to the foam, the board does not move in this enclosure keeping it safe and secure during transit. The accessory bundle sits in a box under the board and holds the hardware and software components securely in place preventing any migration around the inside of the package.

 

 

The bundle supplied with the Z77 OC Formula is quite a bit more substantial than the bundle I saw with the Z77 Extreme 4. The documentation included is detailed enough to allow you to understand how each feature of the board functions. The hardware component of the bundle comes in a decorative pouch emblazoned with the OC Formula logo and is a nice touch. The hardware included again is substantial with four SATA 6Gb/s cables, two SATA 3Gb/s cables, a pair of SATA power connectors, I/O shield, Gelid GC-Extreme thermal paste, front panel 3.5 inch USB 3.0 bay with SSD mounting plate, arear mounting bracket should you choose to use the additional USB 3.0 ports on the back of the chassis, an OC Formula sticker, and a pack of ten OC stands that allow you to run the board out of a chassis without it just sitting on a box or piece of foam. Pretty substantial and it includes some nice extras.

 

 

 

Just from the start the ASRock Z77 OC Formula looks to be a pretty interesting piece of hardware with the Twin Power cooling solution to the well thought out power design. Let's see where all this takes us in terms of performance adn whether Nick Shih's tuning touch is enough to set this board apart from the crowd.

Closer Look:

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!

Closer Look:

ASRock has included a few specific utilities that offer added functionality and capabilities to the ASRock Z77 OC Formula that include standard fare equipped on the Z77 Extreme 4 and some model specific tools. The utilities that I will focus on are the ones that offer the most usability including XFast USB that improves transfer throughput on attached USB 3.0 storage, XFast LAN to manage network traffic, XFast Ram, Instant Boot Rapid OC, Timing Configurator and a very functional utility for this board Formula Drive.

Instant Boot:

This utility is used to allow the system to resume instantly from a cold boot. The idea is to give the user an instant on feel each time that the user starts the system, much like you get when start up your smart phone or tablet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XFast USB:

This little utility works similarly to ASUS' USB 3.0 Boost to increase data throughput to attached USB 3.0 storage devices. The software component is powered by technologies from FNet. By enabling the software Turbo Mode the transfer bandwidth is increased substantially across the board from the 4k file size all the way up to the 4MB file size. With this board I saw performance increases over the Z77 Extreme 4. When comparing the results to the standard transfer rates across the same USB 3.0 port, the XFast USB software allowed a 25% boost in speed for reads and a 14% boost in the writes.

 

 

XFast LAN:

This utility is designed to allow the end user to have the ability to shape their online experience by managing how and when the network traffic is sent and received. This tool is part of the XFast test suite and is provided by cFos software. The utility is fully configurable through the settings panel. A small monitoring window will show on the bottom right of the screen that can be expanded to show data trends. This window can be hidden from view so as to not interrupt the end users view during a fierce online fire fight.

 

 

Formula Drive:

ASRock's Formula Drive tuning utility is a software application that allows the user to overclock their system as well as monitor critical system operating temperatures and voltages while in the operating system environment. Formatted much like its AXTU utilitiy there are a total of seven areas with which changes in the operation of the board can be modified: Hardware Monitoring, Fan-Tastic Tuning, Overclocking, OC DNA, IES, Multi Thermal sensor and XFast RAM.

Hardware Monitoring does just what it says allowing the user to monitor clock speeds, fan speeds and temperatures of the CPU and motherboard, as well as system critical voltages. Fan-Tastic Tuning is used to manage the fan speeds and profiles to enhance the thermal performance of the attached fans either by manual control or by temperature. Overclocking allows the user to tune the CPU bclock, clock multiplier and voltages to deliver the highest stable OC possible before adjusting the settings permanently in the BIOS. OC DNA allows the user to set the saved profiles from the BIOS and load each of them. IES (Intelligent Energy Saver) is used to manage the power consumption and active power phases feeding the CPU. Multi Thermal sensor is a tool that allows the user to monitor a total of 15 thermal sensors located around the PCB.

 

 

 

 

 

XFast RAM is part of the Formula Drive tool and is used to set up a RAMDisk to improve system responsiveness and disk performance. Using this feature is supposed to show a five times net performance gain when using the RAMDisk with Photoshop. Setting up an 8GB RAMDisk will deliver sequential read/write bandwidth of over 9.5GB. CPU overhead does rise as the size of the RAMDisk increases.

 

 

The Rapid OC configuration tool is used to set up hot keys for on the fly overclocking that can control the CPU bclock and voltage. Timing Configurator is used to tweak the memory sub timings within the operating system.

 

 

ASRock has included a comprehensive set of tools that allow added functionality from within the OS. Formula Drive is a fully functional tool to overclock your system. XFast RAM and XFast USB offer added performance with little overhead. Instant boot does what it say offering an instant on experience for the user. The only downside is an extended shutdown cycle.

Closer Look:

ASRock has implemented an UEFI BIOS from AMI with GUI support on the Z77 OC Formula that has eight separate areas to explore. The BIOS and backup are contained on 64MB ICs that support the "Plug and Play" standards, ACPI 1.1 Compliance for wake up events, offers SMBIOS 2.3.1 support as well as a full spectrum of voltage adjustments including those for the CPU Core, IGPU, DRAM, PLL, VTT, and VCCSA. Visually the BIOS on the ASRock OC Formula is similar yet a departure from the look seen on the Extreme series. The BIOS is interactive with stars flashing against the background as well as the use of sounds. As each section is selected the selection icon lights up while the remainder are more subdued. The overclocking section of the BIOS is as complete as any on the market with all the tools at your disposal from CPU overclock and module specific memory presets used to enhance the experience.

Main:

The Main page contains information on the installed components, the BIOS revision, time and date. The last option on the main page is the ability to set up which page the BIOS opens up to upon entry. In this case the option for the OC Tweaker page is selected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OC Tweaker:

This section is where the user will make the vast majority of adjustments when tweaking the performance of the system including the CPU, IGP and system memory. At the top of the page are a few preset options that allow the user to overclock the installed CPU and IGP with one click of the mouse. In the description window there is the obligatory warning that overclocking may damage your processor or installed components. The balance of the page includes the settings that are used to tune both performance and the voltage used to achieve that performance. Running at stock speeds means you can leave the majority of the settings alone.

CPU Configuration allows tuning of the bclock and clock multiplier ratio on K SKU CPUs, enable or disable Intel Turbo Boost and Speedstep, power limits and duration, and DRAM Timing Configuration allows for basic memory settings such as setting the DRAM frequency manually or by employing the XMP Profile on your installed modules. DRAM Configuration offers a more granular look at the memory timing configuration. Further down on the page are the voltage and LLC options for the CPU, DRAM, IGP, and associated hardware.

Saving profiles is one avenue to return to a specific setting package that can be used as a starting point for an overclocking session or for when you want a little more CPU power over and above what Intel's Turbo Boost 2 feature set allows. The ability to save specific hardware profiles is addressed in the User Profile section of the OC Tweaker menu. Each profile can be named so that the user has an idea as to what settings package will be used, be it a bone stock profile or an overly aggressive benchmark package.

 

 

 

 

Where this implementation differs from that GUI we saw on the Extreme 4 is there are system preset overclocks and memory timings that are tweaked by ASRock's in-house overclocking guru and legend Nick Shih. The preset overclocks range from a mild Stage 0 that is essentially the factory clock speed when using Intel Turbo Boost technology on up the an LN2 friendly 5.5Ghz The latest BIOS at the time of testing is 1.42g that includes some additional changes to the BIOS under the DRAM configuration tab. Specifically the inclusion of a DRAM SPD display that can be looked at by module. DRAM Presets sets up the BIOS to use hand tweaked settings for specific module types at specific speed points. There are presets for PSC, Hynix B/CFR, Samsung and Elpida BBSE based modules.

 

 

Advanced:

Under this section are a lot of options that affect the functionality of the motherboard and installed hardware. CPU Configuration is another way to get to the specific CPU parameters that govern how the CPU operates including both power savings, how many cores are active as well as the bclock muliplier. Northbridge configuration is to setup the configuration of the IGP and discrete GPU operating parameters. Audio and on board device configuration is under the Southbridge configuration tab. Storage configuration is where you will configure the method with which the attached storage will operate. USB support is where you can enable or disable support for USB 2.0 and 3.0 connections. At the bottom under the configuration tabs are options to flash the BIOS from an attached storage drive or to search the web.

 

 

 

Tool:

In this section you can enable or disable the sounds in the BIOS, manage internet curfews and access via the Online Management Guard, and update the BIOS using the instant flash tool or by finding an update online. The Dehumidifier function is enabled in this section to help keep the board dry in humid environments.

 

 

H/W Monitor:

In this section you can observe the operating temperatures of the installed processor and motherboard as it sits in the BIOS. Voltages can be monitored for the 12v, 5V and 3.3v lines to give the user an indication that something may be wrong on the supply side. Fan speeds can be monitored in this tab along with setting up a fan profile for each of the fans attached to the fan headers. Each of the motherboard's sensors can be checked in this section. The last option is the temperature protection setting for the CPU and is a way to prevent the system from overheating by setting a defined temperature that will shut down the system to prevent damage to the installed components.

 

 

Boot:

In this section you set the boot order of the attached storage devices and in which order the devices are polled. Enabling or disabling the full screen manufacturer's logo in place of the POST screen is an option as is enabling boot from LAN.

 

Security & Exit:

The Security tab is used to set both a user and administrator password for access to the BIOS; useful for those of us with kids who think they know everything about computers. The Exit function tab is where you can revert back to factory default settings should your chosen settings prove a little aggressive and you forgot to save the best profile under the User Profile section of the OC Tweaker menu.

 

 

After working through ASRock's latest UEFI build it is as smooth and seamless as any on the market. Using a mouse through each of the menus is without any lag or loss of directional control that you find in some of the BIOS' out there. The obvious impact of having an overclocking legend tune the BIOS has paid off with a well though out and functional BIOS.

Specifications:

General
CPU
Supports 3rd and 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i7 / i5 / i3 in LGA1155 Package
12 + 4 Power Phase Design
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology
Supports Intel® K-Series unlocked CPU
Supports Hyper-Threading Technology
Chipset               
Intel® Z77
Supports Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Smart Connect Technology
 
*Intel® Rapid Start Technology and Smart Connect Technology are only supported under Windows® 7 OS or later versions.
Memory
Dual Channel DDR3 memory technology
4 x DDR3 DIMM slots
Supports DDR3 3000+(OC)/2800(OC)/2666(OC)/2400(OC)/2133(OC)/1866(OC)/1600/1333/1066 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Max. capacity of system memory: 32GB*
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 1.3 / 1.2
 
*Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS. For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.
BIOS
64Mb AMI UEFI Legal BIOS with GUI support
 Supports "Plug and Play"
 ACPI 1.1 Compliance Wake Up Events
 Supports jumperfree
 SMBIOS 2.3.1 Support
 CPU Core, IGPU, DRAM, 1.8V PLL, VTT, VCCSA Voltage Multi-adjustment
Audio, Video and Networking
Graphics
 Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals : Intel® Quick Sync Video 2.0, Intel® InTru™ 3D, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel® Insider™, Intel® HD Graphics 2500/4000 with Intel® Ivy Bridge CPU
 Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals : Intel® Quick Sync Video, Intel® InTru™ 3D, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel® HD Graphics 2000/3000, Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) with Intel® Sandy Bridge CPU
 Pixel Shader 5.0, DirectX 11 with Intel® Ivy Bridge CPU. Pixel Shader 4.1, DirectX 10.1 with Intel® Sandy Bridge CPU
 Max. shared memory 1760MB with Intel® Ivy Bridge CPU. Max. shared memory 1759MB with Intel® Sandy Bridge CPU
 Multi VGA Output options: D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI
 Supports HDMI 1.4a Technology with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @ 60Hz
 Supports DVI with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @ 60Hz
 Supports D-Sub with max. resolution up to 2048x1536 @ 75Hz
 Supports Auto Lip Sync, Deep Color (12bpc), xvYCC and HBR (High Bit Rate Audio) with HDMI (Compliant HDMI monitor is required)
 Supports HDCP function with DVI and HDMI ports
 Supports Full HD 1080p Blu-ray (BD) / HD-DVD playback with DVI and HDMI ports
 
*Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals and the VGA outputs can be supported only with processors which are GPU integrated.
 
**Due to chipset limitation, the Blu-ray playback of Intel® HD Graphics is only supported under Windows® Vista™ and Windows® 7.
 
***Intel® InTru™ 3D is only supported under Windows® 7 and Windows® 7 x64.
Audio
 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec)
 Premium Blu-ray audio support
 Supports THX TruStudio™
LAN
PCIE x1 Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
Broadcom BCM57781
Supports Wake-On-LAN
Supports Energy Efficient Ethernet 802.3az
Supports PXE
Expansion / Connectivity
Slots
2 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (PCIE2/PCIE4: single at x16 (PCIE2) / x8 (PCIE4) or dual at x8/x8 mode)
1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (PCIE5: x4 mode)
2 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots
Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX™, 3-Way CrossFireX™ and CrossFireX™
Supports NVIDIA® Quad SLI™ and SLI™
 
*PCIe Gen3 is supported on 3rd Generation of Intel® Core™ i5 and Core™ i7 CPUs.
Storage
2 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by Intel® Z77, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel® Rapid Storage and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions
4 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by Marvell SE9172, support RAID (RAID 0 and RAID 1), NCQ, AHCI and "Hot Plug" functions
USB 3.0
2 x Rear USB 3.0 ports by Intel® Z77, support USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
4 x Rear USB 3.0 ports by Etron EJ188H, support USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
1 x Front USB 3.0 header by Intel® Z77 (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports), supports USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
Connector
4 x SATA2 3.0 Gb/s connectors, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel® Rapid Storage and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and Hot Plug functions
6 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors
1 x IR header
1 x CIR header
1 x COM port header
1 x HDMI_SPDIF header
1 x Power LED header
V-Probe™: 2 x 7-set of onboard voltage measurement points laid
2 x CPU Fan connectors (1 x 4-pin, 1 x 3-pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connectors (1 x 4-pin, 3 x 3-pin)
1 x Power Fan connector (3-pin)
1 x MOS Fan connector (3-pin)
24 pin ATX power connector
8 pin 12V power connector
4 pin 12V power connector
SLI/XFire power connector
Front panel audio connector
3 x USB 2.0 headers (support 6 USB 2.0 ports)
1 x USB 3.0 header (supports 2 USB 3.0 ports)
1 x Dr. Debug with LED
1 x Power Switch with LED
1 x Reset Switch with LED
1 x Clear CMOS Switch with LED
Rapid OC Button: +/- buttons to adjust OC frequency
1 x PCIe ON/OFF Switch
1 x Post Status Checker (PSC)
Rear Panel I/O
I/O Panel
1 x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port
1 x HDMI Port
1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
4 x Ready-to-Use USB 2.0 Ports
6 x Ready-to-Use USB 3.0 Ports
1 x RJ-45 LAN Ports with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)
1 x Clear CMOS Switch with LED
HD Audio Jack: Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone
Other Features / Miscellaneous
OC Formula Kit
OC Formula Power Kit
Digi Power
Dual-Stack MOSFET (DSM)
Multiple Filter Cap (MFC) (Filter different noise by 3 different capacitors: DIP solid cap, POSCAP and MLCC)
Premium Alloy Choke (Reduce 70% core loss compare to iron powder choke)
OC Formula Connector Kit
Hi-Density Power Connector
15μGold Finger (CPU and memory sockets)?
OC Formula Cooling Kit
Twin-Power Cooling (Combine active air cooling and water cooling)
8 Layer PCB, 4 x 2oz copper
GELID Solutions GC-Extreme Thermal Compound
 
Unique Feature
 
Formula Drive
ASRock Instant Boot
ASRock Instant Flash
ASRock APP Charger
ASRock XFast USB
ASRock XFast LAN
ASRock XFast RAM
ASRock Crashless BIOS
ASRock OMG (Online Management Guard)
ASRock Internet Flash
ASRock UEFI System Browser
ASRock Dehumidifier Function
ASRock Interactive UEFI
NickShih's OC Profile
Fine-Tuning V-Controller
Timing Configurator
Lucid Virtu Universal MVP
Hybrid Booster:
ASRock U-COP
Boot Failure Guard (B.F.G.)
Combo Cooler Option (C.C.O.)
Good Night LED
 
*Lucid Virtu Universal MVP can be supported only with processors which are GPU integrated.
 
**LucidLogix Virtu MVP only supports Windows® 7 OS or later versions.
Support CD
 Drivers, Utilities, AntiVirus Software (Trial Version), CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5 Trial, ASRock MAGIX Multimedia Suite - OEM
Accessories
 1 x ASRock SLI_Bridge_2S Card
Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield
6 x SATA Data Cables
2 x SATA 1 to 1 Power Cables
1 x Front USB 3.0 Panel
4 x HDD Screws
6 x Chassis Screws
1 x Rear USB 3.0 Bracket
10 x OC Stands
GELID GC-Extreme Thermal Compound
Hardware Monitor
 
CPU/Chassis/Power/MOS Temperature Sensing
CPU/Chassis/Power/MOS Fan Tachometer
CPU/Chassis/MOS Quiet Fan (Allows Chassis Fan Speed Auto-Adjust by CPU Temperature)
CPU/Chassis/MOS Fan Multi-Speed Control
Multi Thermal Sensor
Voltage Monitoring: +12V, +5V, +3.3V, CPU Vcore
Form Factor
 EATX Form Factor: 12.0-in x 10.5-in, 30.5 cm x 26.7 cm
Premium Gold Capacitor design (100% Japan-made high-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors)
OS
Microsoft® Windows® 7 / 7 64-bit / Vista™ / Vista™ 64-bit / XP / XP 64-bit compliant
Certifications
 FCC, CE, WHQL
ErP/EuP Ready (ErP/EuP ready power supply is required)

 

Features:

 

 

 

 

 

All information courtesy of Asrock @  http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z77%20OC%20Formula/

Testing:

Testing the Asrock Z77 OC FOrmula will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 7970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages, and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled to make a fair comparison without skewing results.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Boards:

 

Overclocking:

As an overclocking-centric board the Z77 OC Formula has the ability to deliver all that your hardware can offer. Sounds like a pretty general statement when you read it back but is in fact what you get. There are more than a couple ways to overclock this board. First is by manually tweaking the bclock, clock multiplier, and voltages to reach the level of performance you are looking for. By using 1.330v on the Corei7 3770K, 1.660v on the memory, and tweaking the VTT and VCCSA to the levels needed by my CPU, I was able to reach 4.8GHz on the CPU with the memory still at 2133MHz without much trouble. Further tuning allowed a bclock of 107 x 45 or 4.82GHz again with just a bit more tweaking, this time on the PLL voltage.

Memory tuning proved fruitful by using the preset profiles for the memory ICs my modules are equipped with, in this case Hynix BFR. I used the Hynix B/CFR 2400MHz profile and found that it was spot on to get these modules to the 2400MHz level using 10-12-12-28 timings. Dropping trp to 11 from 12 proved to be just as stable under testing so I left everything else alone including the memory voltage at 1.66v. Using the Nick Shih profiles in the BIOS worked well to deliver a higher clock speed. Some additional voltage tuning will be required at most steps over 4.3-4.4Ghz depending on the abilities of your silicon. Even so it is as simple as point and click. Couple that with the memory presets and it really is not hard to pull a nice solid overclock out of your chip with a minimal time commitment.

Manual tuning is easy and ASRock's Formula Drive software and Memory configurator make overclocking from within the OS just as easy. It's a way to find out what works and what does not before applying the settings in the BIOS. I was able to duplicate my overclocks using these tools in the OS just as easily as I was by using the Crashless BIOS. Speaking of the Crashless BIOS. This feature proved invaluable by allowing a specific number of user configured reboots after a failed overclock. This feature allowed the board to post and run without having to clear the CMOS after a failed overclock. This feature worked like a charm each and every time. In the end I was able to add 1.52GHz to the clock speed of the Core i7 and 267MHz on the memory.

 

 

Maximum Overclock:

Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will show the performance increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.

 

Benchmarks:

Scientific & Data:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. HD Tune 5.0
  3. AIDA64 2.50
  4. Sandra 2012 SP6
  5. x264
  6. HandBrake 9.8
  7. ATTO 2.47

Video:

  1. DiRT 3
  2. Battlefield 3
  3. 3DMark11



 

Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

 

ASRock's Z77 OC Formula performs similarly to the rest of the comparison boards in PCMark 7. When overclocked the higher overclock helps rive performance particularly in the Productivity test and the overall results.

Testing:

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch-prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.

 

  

  

  

  

 

The Z77 OC Formula performs well in these tests finishing first or second in the majority of the tests.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Score

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

 

 

HandBrake 9.5 is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is a 4GB full length movie that is reduced in size to a 1.5GB file.

  

  

 

 

In the Sandra testing the Z77 OC Formula delivers marks tied for the top spot at stock speeds and the highest performance when overclocked due to the higher overall clock speed. The x264 benchmark results illustrates the parity of the platform at stock speeds with the OC Formula gaining top marks when overclocked. While the completion times in Handbrake are average, the OC Formula delivers the highest average FPS.

Testing:

Moving data to and from an external device is something we all do as a means of backing up sensitive data whether it is family pictures, movies, music, or projects. The speed with which this transfer occurs is measurable and can improve with different board partner specific tools. I will be using ATTO version 2.47 to measure an external drives read/write performance through the USB 3.0 interface. The default test algorithm is used for this test. Motherboards that support a boost to the USB spec such as USB 3.0 Boost on the ASUS offering and XFast USB on the Asrock will be used as they show the maximum potential speeds.

ATTO:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

Looking at the results delivered by the ASRock Z77 OC Formula it shows how well the company has tuned the USB 3.0 performance with its Turbo Boost feature used in the XFast USB tool. ASRock's implementation is more effective in that it delivered higher throughput across a wider range of file sizes while ASUS' implementation comes through with file sizes of 1MB and larger. The end result is more data transferred in a shorter time frame.

Testing:

3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.

The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins, with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

 

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

Settings

 

 

 

In the gaming tests parity is the expectation and for the most part we have it as the GPU is going to be the limiting factor in gaming performance. The Futuremark 3D11 results show the ASRock Z77 OC Formula delivering the highest average scoring in five out of six tests. In Battlefield 3 it is worth an additional FPS and is flat by comparison to the rest of the suite in DiRT 3.

Conclusion:

After recently looking at ASRock's Z77 Extreme 4 I found that ASRock had indeed improved its stock with a board that overclocked well and could be had for a remarkably low price point. You usually cannot get much better than that. ASRock's growing fan base is surely growing through the efforts to bring a good solid product to market. Stepping up a few notches in price point and feature set brings us to the Z77 OC Formula, ASRock's entry into the extreme overclocking market. Support and design work has been done on this board by ASRock's own in-house overclocking legend Nick Shih. Its feature set is decidedly slated towards a significantly upgraded PCB, power delivery system and the use of the Twin-Power cooling system to deliver upper end overclocking performance.

To that effect ASRock has included a 12+4 digital power system that uses Dual Stack MOSFETs, Premium alloy chokes, 15μ gold contacts in the CPU and DIMM sockets, eight layer PCB with four 2oz copper layers, and multi filter capacitors to deliver a power circuit that is more efficient with less electronic noise. Top that with an equally impressive cooling solution that can be passively cooled, air cooled with an integrated fan or connected to your liquid loop for an extreme reduction in VRM temperatures. During testing I found that the cooling solution with just the small fan running was enough to reduce the temperatures of the heat sink to at least ambient temperatures showing how effective the solution really is. Water cooling the VRM circuit will only add to the cooling solution when running at 100% load for long term use or working for that last MHz. The only downside I see with the addition of the liquid cooling option is that the tubing used is aluminum.

But wait, there's more, as the commercial starts. The UEFI BIOS is full of tweaks designed for the enthusiast with preset overclocking profiles tuned by Nick Shih as well as memory presets for use with specific module and speed combinations similar to what you might find on an ASUS ROG board. By using a combination of profiles and manual tweaking I was able to push the Core i7 3770K to over 4.8GHz with the memory running at 2400MHz (higher than it ever has so far); pretty stout results for a combination of parts I thought I had rung the last bit of performance from. Overclocking is not the only thing this board has going for it.

It has all the Intel specific features brought to the table with Intel's Z77 PCH such as Smart Response, Rapid Start and Smart Connect technologies. You get PCIe 3.0 when using a Third Generation Core series processor, support for multiple graphics solutions including CrossfireX and SLI with Quad GPU combinations supported, Hybrid graphics via Lucid Logix Virtu MVP software and more. Then you get into the ASRock specific software components that add value with no added cost. Formula Drive is an improvement over ASRock's AXTU for this board with the addition of Multi Thermal Monitor. XFast 555 is included with this board that brings in XFast LAN to improve ping and reduce latency in games through active network traffic management, XFast RAM that allows the user to set up a RAMDisk to improve system responsiveness and XFast USB that truly stands out with data throughput through the USB 3.0 ports to reduce the time it takes to transfer data of all sizes to an external drive.

When you get to the looks of the Z77 OC Formula it does indeed stand out from the crowd with the pitch black, eight layer PCB and striking yellow and gold accents, a dramatic swing away from the red/black and blue/silver combinations that are so popular right now. As it sits now there are even memory modules out on the market that have yellow LEDs with black heatshields to further enhance the look of the system. Pushing even further you have the availability of custom cooling fluids that can be used to finish off that fully integrated yellow and black themed PC.

So what does all this cost you? Currently the Z77 OC Formula comes in at a competitive $229 that puts it right between some of the boards in the target market. Any which way you go ASRock has stepped up the performance potential to go with the quality enhancements that should allow this board to serve in either a daily driver or as the back bone of a dedicated benchmarking rig. To that end the Z77 OC Formula was used to bump the Core i7 3770K frequency record to 7136.4MHz only to be eclipsed shortly thereafter. You get a board that can deliver results and long term reliability, a comprehensive software bundle and a board that screams "LOOK AT ME." Again, ASRock impresses with the Z77 OC Formula.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: