In this review we will wrap up the “major” overclocking boards. We looked at the ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme and, more recently, the Gigabyte SOC Force. Both of which were pretty formidable motherboards in their own right. The last board is one of everyone’s favorites in the extreme overclocking community, the ASRock Z170 OC Formula. Like those mentioned above this board has, for generations, been noted by respected extreme overclockers as being one of the best for the job. Sadly, I won’t be using LN2 for this review, but we will beat on it none the less and come up with a good idea on how it stacks up anyway!
Specifications and Features
Below is the specifications table from the ASRock website for the OC Formula (OCF moving forward). Some notables from the list below include: 64GB memory capacity, DDR4 support up to 4400 MHz, 15μ gold content in both the DIMM slots, and support for ECC UDIMM memory modules (in non-ECC mode).
For the video side of things, the iGPU has dual graphics output (HDMI and DisplayPort) supported by two separate controllers. The OCF can run quad SLI and CFx as well. Unlike the SOC Force, it will need to be dual cards for NVIDIA four-way SLI. Otherwise, it’s dual cards for SLI. The reason for this? The second PCIe slot is connected to the PCH using four PCIe 3.0 lanes (and shares its bandwidth with an x1 slot). You will be able to run four-way CFx with an AMD-based system since they are able to run their GPUs using four lanes. Below is the lane breakdown:
The audio is handled by the popular ALC1150 CODEC with a 115dB S/N ratio differential amplifier. This drives 7.1 surround channels through premium Nichicon Fine Gold Series Audio Caps into a Texas Instruments TI NE5532 Premium Headset Amplifier (Supports up to 600 ohm headsets). Plenty of oomph and sound quality for most users. If you need to adjust the configuration of the setup, ASRock’s Purity Sound 3 software will help you out there.
The networking is handled by the latest Intel NIC, the Intel I219V.
Regarding storage, you see a total of ten SATA ports (three are SATAe). The bandwidth is shared between these and the three M.2 slots. This means if you use all the M.2 slots (fits up to 110mm M.2 cards), you will not have use of the Intel ports. Never fear! The other four ports are driven by an ASMedia controller so you will have SATA connectivity from it instead. Both the SATA ports and M.2 support RAID (0, 1, 5, 10).
|ASRock Z170 OC Formula
– Supports 6th Generation Intel® Core™ i7/i5/i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors (Socket 1151)
|Chipset||Intel® Z170A Chipset|
|Memory||– Dual Channel DDR4 Memory Technology
– 4 x DDR4 DIMM Slots
– Supports DDR4 4500+(OC)*/4400(OC)/4300(OC)/4266(OC)/4200(OC)/4133(OC)/4000(OC)/3866(OC)/ 3800(OC)/3733(OC)/3666(OC)/3600(OC)/3466(OC)/3400(OC)/3333(OC)/3300(OC)/3200(OC)/3000(OC)/ 2933(OC)/2800(OC)/2600(OC)/2400(OC)/2133 non-ECC, un-buffered memory
– Supports ECC UDIMM memory modules (operate in non-ECC mode)
– Max. capacity of system memory: 64GB**
– Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 2.0
– 15μ Gold Contact in DIMM Slots*4500+(OC) memory frequency can only be achieved when a single memory module is installed (Single channel memory). Please refer to Memory Support List on ASRock’s website for more information.
**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.
– 2 x 128Mb AMI UEFI Legal BIOS with multilingual GUI support (1 x Main BIOS and 1 x Backup BIOS)
– Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals : Intel® Quick Sync Video with AVC, MVC (S3D) and MPEG-2 Full HW Encode1, Intel® InTru™ 3D, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel® Insider™, Intel® HD Graphics 510/530
*The size of maximum shared memory may vary from different operating systems.
|Slots||– 4 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 Slots (PCIE1/PCIE2/PCIE4/PCIE6: single at x16 (PCIE1); dual at x8 (PCIE1) / x8 (PCIE4); triple at x8 (PCIE1) / x4 (PCIE2) / x8 (PCIE4)); quad at x8 (PCIE1) / x4 (PCIE2) / x4 (PCIE4) / x4 (PCIE6))*
– 1 x PCI Express 3.0 x1 Slot (PCIE3) (Flexible PCIe)
– 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 Slot (PCIE5)
– 1 x Vertical Half-size Mini-PCI Express Slot
– Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX™, 4-Way CrossFireX™, 3-Way CrossFireX™ and CrossFireX™
– Supports NVIDIA® Quad SLI™ and SLI™
– 15μ Gold Contact in VGA PCIe Slot (PCIE1 and PCIE4)d
|Audio||– 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC1150 Audio Codec)
– Premium Blu-ray Audio support
– Supports Surge Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection)
– Supports Purity Sound™ 3
– Nichicon Fine Gold Series Audio Caps
– 115dB SNR DAC with differential amplifier
– TI® NE5532 Premium Headset Amplifier (Supports up to 600 ohm headsets)
– Pure Power-In
– Direct Drive Technology
– PCB isolate shielding
– Supports DTS Connect
|LAN||– Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
– Giga PHY Intel® I219V
– Supports Wake-On-LAN
– Supports Lightning/ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection)
– Supports Energy Efficient Ethernet 802.3az
– Supports PXE
|Storage||– 6 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s Connectors by Intel® Z170, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel®Rapid Storage Technology 14 and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and Hot Plug
– 4 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s Connectors by ASMedia ASM1061, support NCQ, AHCI and Hot Plug
– 3 x SATA Express 10 Gb/s Connectors*
– 3 x Ultra M.2 Sockets, support type 2230/2242/2260/2280/22110 M.2 SATA3 6.0 Gb/s module and M.2 PCI Express module up to Gen3 x4 (32 Gb/s)***Support to be announced
M2_1, SATA3_0, SATA3_1 and SATA_EXP0 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled.
M2_2, SATA3_2, SATA3_3 and SATA_EXP1 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled.
M2_3, SATA3_4, SATA3_5 and SATA_EXP2 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled. **Supports 3 x ASRock U.2 Kits
Supports NVMe SSD as boot disks.
|Rear Panel I/O||
– 1 x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port
– 1 x COM Port Header
*All CPU/Chassis Fan Connectors can auto detect if 3-pin or 4-pin fan is in use.
– 1 x ASRock Flexible SLI™ Bridge Connector Cable
|OC Formula Kit||
OC Formula Power Kit
|Unique Features||ASRock USB 3.1
– ASRock USB 3.1 Type-A Port (10 Gb/s)
– ASRock USB 3.1 Type-C Port (10 Gb/s)
ASRock Super Alloy
– XXL Aluminum Alloy Heatsink
– Premium 60A Power Choke
– Premium Memory Alloy Choke (Reduces 70% core loss compared to iron powder choke)
– Dual-Stack MOSFET (DSM)
– Combo Caps
– Nichicon 12K Platinum Caps (100% Japan made high quality conductive polymer capacitors)
– I/O Armor
– Matte Black PCB
– High Density Glass Fabric PCB
ASRock Ultra M.2 (PCIe Gen3 x4 & SATA3)
ASRock Full Spike Protection
ASRock Live Update & APP Shop
|Form Factor / OS Support||
ATX Form Factor
– Microsoft® Windows® 10 64-bit / 8.1 64-bit / 7 32-bit / 7 64-bit*
*To install Windows® 7 OS, a modified installation disk with xHCI drivers packed into the ISO file is required. Please see our online tutorial or check our User Manual for more detailed instructions. For the updated Windows® 10 driver, please visit ASRock’s website for details.
Getting into the ASRock marketing a bit, I scoured their main webpage for the OCF and picked out a few features (pictures from the webpage). First up, since this is an overclocking board, we will talk about its power delivery. As you likely noted in the specifications, you have an 18 phase VRM. This VRM consists of premium 60A power chokes which makes the saturation current “up to three time better” and will provide “enhanced and improved Vcore voltage to the motherboard.” Looking at the layout, it is broken down into a 12+4+1+1 for the VCC (VCore), VCCGT (iGPU), VCCSA (System Agent), and VCCIO (CPU IO). It uses International Rectifier’s PWM and several phase doubler chips to get power where it needs to go. For Z170 platform this is a very robust solution, even for the extreme overclockers.
Sticking around the VRM, ASRock uses Dual-Stack MOSFETs for delivering power to the CPU. This stacking MOSFETs method increases the die area lowering the Rds(on) which helps the power supply to the Vcore be more efficient.
I mentioned above the Nichicon 12K Platinum caps. Their claim to fame is a longer life of up to 12,000 hours (compared with 10,000 on typical caps) and provide more stability and reliability.
ASRock equips this board with what they call the OC Forumula Kit. The kit consists of hardware which allows for more efficient overclocking. These features include three different types of MFC caps, deliver enhanced and higher current to the CPU, and Digi power on the CPU and memory to handle current more smoothly and efficiently. The CPU 8 pin connector is said to reduce power loss by 23% and decreases the connector’s temperature by 22° Celsius, and finally the 8-Layer PCB to keep the motherboard cool.
As most know, BCLK overclocking has become a “thing” again on the Z170 platform. To get the most out of this, ASRock installed an additional external base clock generator. This will provide a “wider range of frequencies and more precise clock waveforms.” This helps overclockers have more control over their systems.
I did mention earlier about the three M.2 slots, but not really any details. All three slots will support the full PCIe 3.0 x4 bandwidth at 32 Gb/s. They also all support ASRock’s U.2 kit.
The last feature I would like to mention here is the USB 3.1 ports, both Type-C and Type-A. These ports will deliver the full 10 Gb/s bandwidth.
Please see the above link to ASRock’s website for more details!
Retail Packaging and Accessories
Our first set of pictures will show us the retail packaging for the Z170 OCF. It looks pretty similar to the Z97 packaging, mostly black with yellow and gold trim, and featuring a large “OC” nomenclature dominating the front. Also on the front cover is the model of the board inside, as well as some of the components it supports. Opening up the box presents you with the accessories laying on top of a cardboard partition. The motherboard sits below it resting snug in form fitting foam while inside its anti-static bag. Last up is a picture of the included accessories:
- 1 x ASRock Flexible SLI Bridge Connector Cable
- Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield
- 4 x SATA Data Cables
- 1 x WiFi Module Bracket
- 2 x Screws for WiFi Module
- 3 x Screws for M.2 Sockets
Meet the ASRock Z170 OC Formula
In our first look at the board, we see the familiar black and yellow/gold theme has continued on into its Z170 form. The black motherboard is adorned with an attractive black with yellow trim heatsink for the VRM area, a cover for the back I/O and audio sections, as well as a heatsink for the PCH. The DIMM slots are black and yellow (same color for each channel), and the PCIe x16 slots are yellow!
On the back side of the board, you can see the electrical breakdown of the PCIe slots at x16/x4/x8/x4. Another item of note is the location of the Nuvoton Super I/O chip. I can’t say I remember seeing one on the back before!
A Closer Look
Zipping in a bit closer on the board, we will start with looking at the audio area on the left hand side. Here, underneath the shroud, lives the Realtek ALC1150 chip which handles all the audio for the OCF. Poking up through the shroud are the Nichicon Fine Gold Series Audio Caps. Not pictured, also under the shroud, is where the Texas Instruments TI NE5532 Premium Headset Amplifier (supports up to 600 Ohm headphones) hides. Like most motherboards these days the audio section is isolated from the rest of the board, helping to minimize EMI.
The PCIe area is pretty busy here. First are the four full length x16 slots and two x1 slots. We talked about the lane breakdowns earlier, and it is listed in the specifications. Between them is where the three M.2 ports reside. They support up to 110mm drives.
The bottom right hand corner of the board, below the PCH heatsink, is where ASRock stashes their hardware overclocking features; PCIe DIP switches, Rapid OC, Slow Mode, and LN2 mode switches along with a direct to BIOS button. Below those are the buttons to adjust your BCLK, multiplier, and voltages. Of course we have the Power and Reset buttons as well as the debug LED. Last but not least, to the right and above those, is the dual BIOS switch (you can see the BIOS chip stickers above it).
Sliding over to the DIMM area, the upper right hand corner of the board, then looking at the bottom left of the image are two front panel USB 3.0 ports. Above them is a USB 3.0 Type-A port… a great feature, for a board which will likely find itself on top of a benching station, as its location makes it easier to get a USB drive in (instead of reaching around the back).
Looking around the socket area, we get a clear look at the VRM area showing off its whopping 18 phases, Nichicon caps, and 60A chokes. For an extreme overclocking board, it’s pretty busy around the socket with those caps there, but nothing we can’t get around. The power to the socket is handled by an 8-pin (required) and a 4-pin CPU connector (optional – for extreme overclocking).
Pictured next are the SATA connections. You can see in the picture below a total of eight SATA ports. Four of those SATA ports can be used as two SATA Express ports. Not pictured here are two more SATA ports and a SATAe port. There are also the three M.2 connections between the PCIe slots.
The rear I/O consists of the following:
- 1 x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port
- 1 x HDMI Port
- 1 x DisplayPort 1.2
- 1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
- 2 x USB 2.0 Ports (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))
- 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A Port (10 Gb/s) (ASMedia ASM1142) (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))
- 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C Port (10 Gb/s) (ASMedia ASM1142) (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))
- 4 x USB 3.0 Ports (Intel® Z170) (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))
- 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)
- 1 x Clear CMOS Switch
- HD Audio Jacks: Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone
Below are pictures of the board with the heatsinks removed. The first picture shows off the 18 phase VRM using IR power bits, while the next picture confirms the heatsinks made good contact.
In the next slideshow are pictures of some of the IC’s used on this board.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
In the slideshow below we see ASRock’s UEFI BIOS. They, like others, have an easy mode, as well as an “advanced” BIOS. Moving around the BIOS was smooth using the keyboard or mouse.
Below are some screenshots of the OC Tweaker section. There are TONS of memory options in here among other things.
Last up is ASRock’s Windows-based software, Formula Drive. In this software, you can overclock the BCLK and CPU multiplier using the OC Tweaker tab as well as changing several of the main voltages. You can also get a “State of the Union” in the System Information tab and change fan speeds under the FanTastic Tuning section.
Performance and Benchmarking
|CPU||Intel 6700K @ 4.7 GHz|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z170 OC Formula|
|RAM||2×4GB DDR4 G.SKILL Ripjaws 4 @ 3000 MHz 15-15-15-35 2T 1.35V|
|Graphics Card||AMD R7 260|
|Solid State Drive||OCZ Trion 100 480GB|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 (Fully Updated)|
|Graphics Drivers||Crimson 16.1 Hotfix (Latest at the time)|
Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
- Cinebench R11.5 and R15
- PoV Ray R3.73
Single Threaded CPU Benchmark
- Super Pi 1M and 32M
Multi-Threaded CPU benchmarks
- WPrime 32M and 1024M
- 7Zip (Compression)
- Intel XTU
The graphs below put my results together against comparable boards. In this graph, I stuck with the overclocking-centric boards instead of mainstream or gaming boards, just to compare apples to apples. For the most part all results were pretty darn close together as we have come to expect. The results were all within around 1% or what I am calling a margin of error.
It was not until I hit Intel XTU, 7zip, and POV Ray when things got interesting. As you can see, there are significant differences between OC Formula and the rest of the boards. The OCF there should not be that far behind.
Fear not OC Formula users! I have a problem in the system somewhere I fear. I swapped out the same CPU into the ASUS MVIIIE I reviewed and the results were the same in those tests. The common denominator… the CPU, RAM, and the OS. Instead of delaying getting this published (the motherboard has been ruled out), I wanted to mention why I believe we are seeing the differences.
I worked on this problem quite a bit. I reinstalled W7… same results. In the end, I installed Windows 10 and things were back to normal. I am not sure what is going on with my W7 installation(s) on these benchmarks but they were fine in W10. This is not a board issue.
Screenshots of the benchmark results below:
Pushing the Limits
Below I pushed a bit more on the CPU, landing on 4.9 GHz. I did this both with multiplier only, and with using the BCLK. I reached 175 MHz without any tweaking. Much more above that and things start to get a bit wonky for me on the OCF. I can boot and bench at 200 MHz, however, I cannot seem to get the memory to work at its XMP speeds (3000 MHz) for whatever reason. I tried this on the latest BIOS (2.10) and the BIOS it shipped with (1.31d), both had the same results.
Thinking it was the processor giving me fits as above, I tried to hit 200 BCLK and 3000 MHz memory on a different board and had no problems getting there. I am not sure what I may have missed but I was unable to boot past 2666 MHz on the ram while the BCLK was sitting at 175 MHz. Taking a look at a couple of submissions at Hwbot, it seems this is isolated to my machine for whatever reason. I was able to push up on the memory I had with no problems. I ended up around 3400 MHz with some relaxed timings and a slight bump in voltage.
Looking back at my experience and the results leave me with pretty good impression of the board. It comes with three of M.2 slots, USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (Type-A and C), the Intel I-219V NIC, a very robust (if not overkill, in a good way) VRM area made for extreme overclocking, voltage read points and buttons to adjust the BCLK and multiplier on board, and many other useful features for both the gamer and extreme overclocker.
I didn’t really run into any issues with the board outside of the curious results with overclocking when using the BCLK and trying to up the memory speeds via multiplier. For whatever reason it just didn’t seem to like my setup. I also looked at Hwbot results for this board and found high BCLK and high memory speeds, so it appears I need to look in the mirror for why this is happening (to that end, I purchased different ram and will see if that is the issue – I will report back in the comments section).
Pricing on the ASRock Z170 OC Formula comes in at $227.99 at newegg.com. This is, by far, the least expensive of the overclocking boards out there (Gigabyte SOC Force -$380, ASUS MVIIIE -$485, and MSI XPower Gaming Titanium -$300). It may not have all the extras some of of those boards have, but it will get the same job done, without issue, and at a much cheaper price than comparable boards. Without further ado, this board is Overclockers.com approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)