The ASRock Z77 OC Formula was specifically designed for overclocking “Ivy Bridge” processors (third-generation Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors). Let’s see what this motherboard has to offer.
The Intel Z77 is an upgraded version of the Z68 chipset with the same basic features (Intel Smart Response Technology and Virtu video switching technology), plus native support to four USB 3.0 ports. It also includes the addition of two new technologies: Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while it is in sleep mode) and Rapid Start (faster boot times).
In addition, the ASRock Z77 OC Formula supports the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed. This is similar to what occurs with the Hybrid SLI and ATI Hybrid Graphics technologies, with the notable difference of not being limited to GPUs from a specific manufacturer.
To date, ASRock has launched 14 different motherboard models based on the Intel Z77 chipset. In the tables below, we compare their main specifications. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this article. The Z77 Professional, the Z77 Professional-M, and the Z77 Performance are part of the “Fatal1ty” series, coming with a special USB port with a higher polling rate for gaming mice.
|Specification||Z77 OC Formula||Z77 Professional||Z77 Performance||Z77 Extreme9||Z77 Extreme6||Z77 Extreme4||Z77 Extreme3|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (x16)||5 (x16/x16/x0/x16/x0orx16/x8/x8/x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||0||1 (x4)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||2||1||1||1||1||2||1|
|Mini PCI Express||0||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Price||USD 240||USD 240||USD 140||USD 340||USD 160||USD 135||NA|
|Specification||Z77 Pro4||Z77 Pro3||Z77 Professional-M||Z77 Extreme4-M||Z77 Pro4-M||Z77M||Z77E-ITX|
|PCI Express 3.0 x16||1 (x16)||1 (x16)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)||1 (x16)||1 (x16)||1 (x16)|
|PCI Express 2.0 x16||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||1 (x4)||2 (x1/x4)||1 (x4)||0|
|PCI Express 2.0 x1||1||1||1||1||1||0||0|
|Mini PCI Express||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Price||USD 110||USD 95||USD 155||USD 140||USD 110||USD 95||USD 150|
In Figure 1, you see the ASRock Z77 OC Formula motherboard. It is based on the CEB form factor (12 x 10.5 inches or 305 x 257 mm), which is a little bit deeper than the ATX form factor (12 x 9.6 inches or 305 x 244 mm).
Figure 1: ASRock Z77 OC Formula motherboard
The portrayed motherboard uses an eight-layer printed circuit board, with 2 oz. (56 g) of copper, which is double the amount of copper that regular motherboards use. One clever feature present on this product is a small “window” through which you can see the eight layers of the printed circuit board; the manufacturer numbered each one of them. See Figure 2.
Figure 2: Display of the eight-layer printed circuit board
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula comes with two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4), and two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
The two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is installed, and with both working at x8 when two video cards are installed. Since these slots are controlled by the CPU, they will offer PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth (8 GB/s at x16) when a “Sandy Bridge” CPU is installed, but PCI Express 3.0 bandwidth (16 GB/s at x16) when an “Ivy Bridge” CPU is used.
The third PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE5) is controlled by the chipset, always works at x4 speed, and uses 2.0 bandwidth. You will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots if you want to install a dual-slot video card in this slot. (Computer cases usually have seven expansion slots.)
The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
The portrayed motherboard has a series of three switches for you to enable or disable the PCI Express x16 slots. These switches are useful when you have more than one video card installed and you want to check which one is faulty without removing all of them from the computer.
Figure 4: PCI Express x16 on/off switches
In order to properly accommodate the additional PCI Express devices that are on this motherboard (the additional SATA and USB 3.0 ports), the board makes use of a PLX PEX8605 switch chip. This chip automatically switches the available PCI Express lanes to the devices that need them. On motherboards with too many PCI Express devices without a switch chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup in order to achieve full performance on devices connected to the USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports when transferring files at the same time.
Figure 5: The PLX PEX8605 chip
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz (“Sandy Bridge” CPUs) or up to 1,600 MHz (“Ivy Bridge” CPUs). According to ASRock, the Z77 OC Formula supports memories up to 3,000 MHz.
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the ASRock Z77 OC Formula, the first and third memory sockets are yellow, while the second and fourth are black. When installing two memory modules, use the yellow sockets.
Figure 6: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z77 chipset is a single-chip solution that is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5).
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula has four additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by two Marvell 88SE9172 chips. Each chip supports RAID 0 and 1, so you can setup a RAID system at each pair of SATA-600 ports.
One drawback is that the manufacturer used only two colors to identify the SATA ports: black for the SATA-300 and yellow for the SATA-600. The manufacturer should have used different colors to identify to where each port is connected. The yellow ports closer to the black ports are the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset.
All SATA ports are located at the motherboard’s edge and rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 7.
Figure 7: SATA-600 (yellow) and SATA-300 (black) ports
This motherboard doesn’t have eSATA-600 ports.
The Intel Z77 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASRock Z77 OC Formula offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and six available through three headers located on the motherboard; and eight USB 3.0 ports, six located on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a header located on the motherboard, near the main power supply connector. The four additional USB 3.0 ports are controlled by one EtronTech EJ188H chip. The
motherboard comes with a 3.5” panel containing two USB 3.0 ports for you to use if your computer case doesn’t have USB 3.0 ports. The motherboard also comes with a bracket for you to install the internal USB 3.0 ports on an expansion slot from your case instead.
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula doesn’t have FireWire ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC898 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.
The motherboard has on-board optical SPDIF output. A header labeled “HDMI_SPDIF1” also provides SPDIF output for you to install a coaxial SPDIF output or to route digital audio to older video cards that require this physical connection in order to have digital audio output in their HDMI connectors.
The analog audio outputs are independent only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use either the “mic in” or the “line in” jacks.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Broadcom BCM57781 chip.
In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, six USB 3.0 ports, clear CMOS button, HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, one optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
Figure 8: Motherboard rear panel
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula has two BIOS chips, so if the main BIOS chip is corrupted by a virus or a bad BIOS upgrade, you can still recover the motherboard.
The motherboard has a POST diagnostics display that shows through a two-digit code which component is preventing the computer from turning on. The motherboard also has four LEDs with the same function, available in front of the voltage monitoring points (“V-Probe” in Figure 9).
Figure 10: POST diagnostics display
The portrayed motherboard has a legacy serial port, which is available through a header labeled “COM1.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port. The portrayed motherboard also has an infrared interface, making it inexpensive for you to add an infrared sensor to be able to use a remote control or to connect devices using infrared technology (IrDA).
In Figure 11, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASRock Z77 OC Formula.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASRock Z77 OC Formula has 12 phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and two for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “12+2+2” configuration, which is incorrectly advertised by the manufacturer as “12+4.” The voltage regulator is controlled by a CHiL8328 integrated circuit, using a digital design, which is superior to the hybrid design usually seen on motherboards from ASRock.
Figure 12: Voltage regulator circuit
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula uses three different kinds of capacitors in its voltage regulator circuit. Each kind of capacitor has a different frequency response that better filters the voltage that will be applied on the CPU.
Figure 13: Three kinds of capacitors
Electrolytic capacitors used on the rest of the motherboard are solid, and coils on this motherboard are ferrite-core models, which can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The portrayed motherboard has one EPS12V connector and one ATX12V connector, which can be used at the same time to increase the current capacity that can be pulled by the CPU.
Another highlight is that the heatsink of the voltage regulator circuit supports, out of the box, liquid cooling. See Figure 14.
Figure 14: Support for liquid cooling
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula provides several additional features for the overclocking enthusiast.
Through the voltage monitoring points available (“V-Probe”), you can monitor the following voltages using a voltmeter:
- CPU core voltage (“VCORE”)
- CPU VTT voltage (“VTT1” and “VTT2”)
- CPU VSA voltage (“VCCSA”)
- CPU PLL voltage (“1.8V_PLL”)
- Internal clock generator compensation voltage (“XCLK_RCOMP”)
- Chipset voltages (“PCH” and “PCH2”)
- Memory (“VCCM”)
- Chipset DMI interface voltage (“DMI”)
- Chipset DMI compensation voltage (“DMI_COMP”)
Figure 15: Voltage monitoring points
The motherboard also has a “+” and a “-” button for you to manually increase or decrease the CPU base cloc
k. See Figure 15.
Below, we list the most important overclocking options available at the motherboard’s setup (1.20 BIOS):
- Base clock: From 95 MHz to 150 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
- CPU core voltage: From 0.600 V to 1.700 V in 0.005 V increments
- Integrated graphics processor (“IGPU”, VAXG) voltage: From 0.600 V to 1.520 V in 0.005 V increments
- Memory controller (“System Agent,” VCCSA) voltage: From 0.928 V to 1.567 V in 0.005 V increments
- CPU VTT (“I/O”) voltage: From 0.768 V to 1.634 V in 0.009 V increments
- CPU PLL voltage: From 1.500 V to 2.900 V in 0.013 V increments
- Internal clock generator compensation voltage (“XCLK RCOMP”): From 0.803 V to 1.654 V in 0.013 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) voltage: From 0.803 V to 1.654 V in 0.013 V increments
- Chipset DMI voltage: From 0.803 V to 1.654 V in 0.013 V increments
- Chipset DMI compensation strength: From -10 to +17 in +1 increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.165 V to 2.100 V in 0.005 V increments
- Memory termination voltage: From 0.600 V to 0.904 V in 0.005 V increments
Figure 16: Overclocking options
Figure 17: Overclocking options
Figure 18: Overclocking options
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASRock Z77 OC Formula include:
- Socket: 1155
- Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6776D
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 ports, two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5), and four SATA-600 ports controlled by two Marvell 88SE9172 chips (RAID 0 and 1)
- External SATA: None
- USB 2.0: 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and six available through three headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Eight USB 3.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header on the motherboard (four controlled by the chipset and four controlled by an EtronTech EJ188H chip)
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): No
- On-board video: Yes, controlled by the CPU, HDMI connector
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC898 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 110 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Broadcom BCM57781 chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: Yes
- Power supply required: EPS12V + ATX12V
- Slots: Two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (x16/x0 or x8/x8), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4, all supporting SLI and CrossFireX), and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots (PLX PEX8605 switch chip)
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3000, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and five three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: POST diagnostics display, legacy serial port, PCI Express on/off switches, support for liquid cooling
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asrock.com/
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 240.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]
The ASRock Z77 OC Formula is targeted to the sophisticated overclocking enthusiast, who wants to play with a system based on an “Ivy Bridge” CPU.
The most important features of this motherboard are “under the hood.” The voltage regulator circuit, for example, uses a digital design (which is better than the hybrid design commonly used by ASRock), three different kinds of capacitors for better filtering, high-end MOSFETs, and supports liquid cooling solution. The board has an EPS12V and an ATX12V connector at the same time, allowing your CPU to pull more current from the power supply. The product uses an eight-layer printed circuit board, which is more expensive to manufacture but reduces electromagnetic interference (EMI). All of these features were added in order to increase the probability of a higher overclocking.
The Z77 OC Formula is not shy on additional features. It has three PCI Express x16 slots (x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4; the first two slots are 3.0 and the third slot is 2.0), six SATA-600 ports and eight USB 3.0 ports, and uses a PEX8605 switch chip to make sure the bandwidth won’t drop when you have several peripherals transferring data at the same time.
Also noteworthy is the high-end audio codec used by this motherboard, the Realtek ALC898, which provides very high signal-to-noise ratios (110 dB for the outputs and 104 dB for the inputs), i.e., non-noticeable background noise.
In summary, the ASRock Z77 OC Formula is highly recommended for the serious overclocker.
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