Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

ASRock Z77 OC Formula LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

Generally speaking our ASRock experiences have been positive save for one or two minor complaints. We’ve looked inexpensive but very popular ASRock model motherboards. Today we are taking a look at a higher end more expensive ASRock offering. The Z77 OC Formula caught our eye and will hopefully perform as great.

Introduction

ASRock is a well known brand in the current motherboard market landscape. It has quickly grown into a force to be reckoned with as sales increase alongside its reputation which according to our HardForum readers is generally positive. ASRock is hugely popular with enthusiasts and is generally known for motherboards which are packed full of features at a lesser price point than other brands.

While many of our readers swear by these boards we’ve had mixed experiences overall though lately all of our ASRock experiences have been positive save for one or two minor complaints. Worth noting here too is that we have purchased all our ASRock motherboards recently and not relied on samples from ASRock and the particular motherboard we are using here came from Amazon. Most of the complaints center around PCB thickness and some of the cost cutting measures ASRock uses to achieve its price points. To be fair the boards we’ve looked at lately have all been some of the more inexpensive models in the ASRock lineup. So today we are taking a look at a higher end ASRock offering. Specifically the Z77 OC Formula. It will certainly be a nice contrast from the lower end models that’s for sure.

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Like most popular enthusiast motherboard offerings made today the ASRock Z77 OC Formula is based on the Intel Z77 Express chipset. The Z77 OC Formula features a 12+4 phase power design and using premium alloy chokes. The manufacturer claims that the design is extremely heat resistant and increases lifespan over other choke designs. This board also features DSM or dual-stack MOSFETs. These layer two IC’s on top of each other for lower RDS and greater efficiency. DIGI Power control is provided by CHIL 8328 silicon. The board also uses multiple filter capacitors for higher current delivery. One thing that immediately stands out about the Z77 OC Formula compared to other ASRock boards we’ve looked at recently is the use of an 8 layer PCB. Their specifications actually state that it’s a 4 x 2oz copper PCB meaning that it has 4 sets of 2oz. copper PCB layers in it.

The board features all that the Z77 Express chipset has to offer combined with some added features as well. Naturally it supports up to 32GB of DDR3 DRAM via 4x8GB modules. Among the other chipset features we have; PCI-Express 3.0, native USB 3.0, LucidLogix Virtu MVP, Intelآ® Rapid Start Technology and Smart Connect Technology, SATA 6Gb/s support, USB 3.0, NVIDIA SLI / Quad-SLI support, AMD Quad CrossFire and 3 card CrossFire support.

While the Z77 OC Formula certainly has a robust feature set it isn’t jam packed with excess fluff. Like ASUS, ASRock has taken the name "Formula" to denote a performance oriented but low frills feature set. It is devoid of PLX chips, Thunderbolt support, WiFi, dual-LAN ports, etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as many people don’t want or need such things. So while I’d consider the feature set roughly mid-range, I’d still classify this as a higher end board based on the performance segment they are targeting with it.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The ASRock Z77 OC Formula ships in a large motherboard box. Our sample was encased in foam. According to Kyle it was actually zip tied in place when he got it. Due to his prior testing before sending it to me I didn’t get to see that or take any pictures of that. I think it’s safe to say our board arrived intact with all accessories accounted for. The packaging itself is definitely fancy for ASRock. Normally their packing is fairly standard. This one has flaps with information and even a window which showcases the board’s cooling system. Inside the box you’ll find a lot of included goodies. Inside we found a user guide, overclocking guide, driver DVD, soft bag, front or rear panel USB 3.0 brackets, I/O shield, ASRock logo, SATA cables, SLI bridge, voltage probe connectors, and a SATA power adapter.

Board Layout

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The Z77 OC Formula is actually quite striking to behold. Not only does the board have an excellent layout, but uses a seldom seen yellow and black color scheme which makes the gold capacitors stand out a little bit less. The board appears elegant while screaming "performance." The cooling solution is among the largest I’ve seen on any Z77 Express chipset based boards. In addition to having barbs for water cooling we can see a small fan for added cooling. It’s been some time since I’ve seen any kind of active cooling on a motherboard. Black chrome accented onboard switches are hard to identify as they almost look like capacitors at first. Though these light up when power is applied to the system.

Fan headers can be found in a variety of locations on the board’s surface making fan connectivity a snap. Items of note are color coded for easy reference. Auxiliary power connectors are well placed and require commonly available plugs which you should have in great supply. Some manufacturers have switched to SATA power or 6 pin PCIe power for PCIe supplemental power. It’s nice to see ASRock avoided that. As I stated earlier the PCB is thick. With 8 layers the board doesn’t bend or warp under its own weight. With the cooling solution being as large and beefy as it is the board is quite heavy. Soldering is clean and done with obvious care.

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Despite the hulking stature of the MOSFET cooling hardware the CPU socket area is remarkably clean. While there could be some issues with mounting excessively large air cooling units careful forethought can allow you to avoid any unpleasant issues ahead of time. Only those reusing such coolers from an earlier build need to be concerned. The DIMM slots are naturally closer than I’d like but unavoidable. Low profile DIMMs and compact / self-contained water cooling units make short work of deficiencies in the CPU socket area.

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There are four DIMM slots lacking in color coding. ASRock wisely set itself apart from the Red/Black crowd and chose yellow and black. I think this scheme is definitely enhanced by the subtle gold colored capacitors but that’s just my opinion. The DIMM slots are placed far enough away from the expansion slot area to allow the use of conventional locking tabs for module retention.

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The Z77 chipset occupies the left hand quadrant of the board. All 10 SATA ports can be found there. These are all locking, right angled types which is my preferred port type. These are color coded to denote their speed. Instead of the ASM1061 commonly used for supplemental SATA 6Gb/s ports ASRock relied on the Marvell 9172 which also provides RAID functionality. Bootable RAID array support is even available for all 10 ports. ASRocks' attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed either as they once again opted for socketed BIOS ROM chips and two of these for redundancy or even as an option for someone who might want to use two different ROM versions for whatever reason.

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The expansion slot area is nicely designed. I do have one major complaint about this part of the board. With three slots occupied with dual-slot graphics cards one must be careful with their chassis choice as the last card must hang freely over the board’s edge. I’m nitpicking again but I would like to see the clear CMOS battery moved. It’s at least accessible with a full sized graphics card installed and that’s all I really care about. These are minor complaints and certainly neither point should be a deal breaker unless you are hung up on something very specific.

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The I/O panel has goofy placement of the USB 3.0 ports. I’m not overly pleased with the location of the USB 2.0 ports feeling two should be set aside to go under the PS/2 port at the very least. Again this is a minor thing and most people probably won’t care about or even notice this. We have six USB 3.0 ports, 1 PS/2 combination port, 1 HDMI port, 1 clear CMOS button (pleased to see this), 1 RJ-45 port, optical out, and 5 mini-stereo jacks.