ASRock Z87 OC Formula/AC Conclusion

The price of a motherboard is a big factor in many, many things.  Regardless of what you put on a motherboard, and if that price is justified, the higher you go, the more of the market is alienated.  When ASRock released the Z77 OC Formula at $240, it caused an enthusiast shift in thinking – here was a motherboard designed for overclocking but on the cheap, and it performs pretty well too.  There was enough of a feature set in there to get excited about.

But circle around to the next generation, and the Z87 OC Formula comes in at $330.  Even without looking at the specification sheet, as an enthusiast/prosumer/overclocker, I was disappointed, as the Z77 OC Formula had made its name in cheap, good overclocking.  With a price band of $330, that cheap moniker has been lost, which was a large part of the appeal.  Sure, ASRock now have the Z87M micro-ATX version to take that space, but there is a mindset of ‘it is not a full ATX for $200’.  We will look at the Z87M OC Formula in a different review.

Moving the Z77/Z87 Formula comparison out of the equation, the Z87 brings a variety of new and innovative features to the consumer motherboard space, which is in itself a good thing, as we all like to see innovation.  The big things specific to the OC Formula to note are:

- Conformal Coating: a superhydrophobic layer across the surface of the PCB designed to repel moisture.  Useful for extreme overclockers and users in climates that have large swings in humidity.
- Debug LCD Screen: Rather than a two-digit debug, we have a fully functional 1” screen on board to show information about the motherboard.  Currently we see temperatures, POST codes and voltages, although I hope ASRock will release the API and users can design their own messages, Logitech G15 style.
- RapidOC Buttons: Allows for overclocking on the fly
- Onboard USB 3.0 ports: Allows for software license dongles or overclockers to save scores to a flash drive without reaching to the rear IO (USB 2.0 port on Extreme11 models equivalent, as well as Gigabyte Z87X-OC Force).

Across the ASRock range we also get HDMI-In, Home Cloud and Purity Sound, although the latter needs to improve in its distortion numbers to compete with the better audio solutions. 

The Z87 OC Formula/AC also exhibits a large about of storage connectivity, with 10 SATA 6 Gbps ports and 12/13 USB 3.0 ports.  The PCIe lanes are split x8/x4/x4 + x4, which allows for 4-way CrossFireX and 2-way SLI.  This configuration thus does not a PLX chip, and that additional cost has been funneled into features such as Conformal Coating and the Debug LCD Screen.  We still get the combination air/water cooling on the power delivery, similar to the Z77 OC Formula, as well as 12 extra temperature sensors  and 802.11ac WiFi.

Performance wise, ASRock hits features like USB 3.0 and boot times very hard and succeeds, as well as memory dependent computation.  There is a general malaise over efficiency, at least at stock, falling behind ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI from time to time in comparison to our previous boards tested.  There is also the small issue of MultiCore Enhancement being only in BIOS 1.42B and above.  We achieved reasonable manual overclocks and the automatic overclock options are sure to help users that want a little bit more out of the system with little effort.  There has been international success with this motherboard in terms of extreme overclocking as well, but for a daily system that might not translate directly.

The ASRock Z87 OC Formula is missing the ball in a few aspects – I prefer a SATA power connector rather than a molex for the additional PCIe slots, and the memory slots are not single-sided latch mechanisms.  The software is improving, and now the BIOS should be fixed from any freezing issues previously reported as long as the BIOS is updated.  What ASRock really need now is software to allow the system to update the drivers and software without user interaction, like MSI’s Live Update 5.

We aim to review several OC motherboards from other companies spanning a range of price points over the next few weeks, and while the Z87 OC Formula/AC comes in as a nice to use, I still have this notion that the OC Formula name should have been kept for a $240 ATX motherboard, and it would sell amazingly well like the Z77 OC Formula did (anecdotally).  Other manufacturers have hit that price point and succeeded, and thus I feel the OC Formula range has lost that ‘price competitive’ edge by jumping up the price points on the ATX model and using a mATX to fill the lower band.  Nevertheless, the Z87 OC Formula range (ATX and mATX) seems to be getting positive responses from users across various forums.

For what the board is, ASRock are pushing the limits in terms of innovation, and I love that all the motherboard manufacturers do both the obvious but also some crazy in there.  Some of it works, some of it might not, but in a shrinking industry these companies have to innovate or lose out.  Things like HDMI-In, Conformal Coating and the LCD Debug Screen only scratch the surface of what is possible.

Would I recommend the Z87 OC Formula?  As a board in terms of driving innovation, then yes I would.  But when in my heart I expected the OC Formula name to be linked with a $240 ATX model from now until the end of time, it does not make sense.  If ASRock had had a $230/$240 ATX OC Formula model and called this one the ‘OC Formula Plus’ or similar then it might have made sense.  But the lack of that cheaper ATX model kind of takes the shine from the $330 one.  I will follow up with the review of the micro-ATX model and decide if that fills the void.

 

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  • Sabresiberian - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    I like the idea of a conformal coating, but ASRock needs to have done its homework thoroughly. Such a coating can actually cause components to fail because the rise and fall of temperatures flexes the component parts and solder joints as the coating literally pulls the components down when the system gets colder. This can happen at relatively normal temperature ranges, bringing board components down to temps they might see with a little spilled LN2 makes it even more critical. That being said, it is probably less of an issue now than it was 30 years ago when I was involved in the testing of conformal coatings on circuit boards. :)

    I wouldn't let it stop me from buying the board, as I say I like the idea, but it would be in the back of my mind if I did. It IS a great idea to protect the mainboard from the effects of condensation or a leak in a water cooling system. A +1 in my book for ASRock.
    Reply
  • GuardianAngel470 - Saturday, July 27, 2013 - link

    It seems to have been a while since you last looked at conformal coatings. The ONLY artificial coating I know of described as Superhydrophobic is Neverwet, a recent advancement in nanotechnology.

    It can be applied to clothing, fabrics, metals, plastics, and a heck of a lot else without the need for restrictive layers like previous coatings. It's more like a paint than a coating.
    Reply
  • owan - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    There are lots of treatments that can be described as "superhydrophobic" other than Neverwet, which is just a brand name. It could be one of several different nano-structures, silicones, or fluorochemicals. Extremely hydrophobic materials are not new Reply
  • HenryWell - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    Love my job, since I've been bringing in $82h… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online. (Home more information)
    http://goo.gl/5EGDEd
    Reply
  • zero2dash - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Dat LCD....that is some neat stuff. I hope to see Gigabyte do something similar in the future. Reply
  • buzznut - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - link

    I have to agree, I've only bought two motherboards over $200, one was an ASUS Crosshair 1 that never worked right and the Asrock Z77 OC formula which is in RMA right now. Both of which tech support is almost non-existent.
    I will certainly think twice before ordering another mobo over $200. I am an enthusiast and modder, but it just doesn't make sense to spend that much money when I've had $100 motherboards that are still in service after 5 years.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Lol $330. If you spend over 200 on a motherboard you're an idiot.

    If you spend over 150 you don't care about value.

    Competitive overclockers excluded from "idiot" category. It's ok to be frivolous on a hobby.
    Reply
  • Slash3 - Saturday, July 27, 2013 - link

    So, what you're saying is that it's priced just fine for the features it delivers? Reply
  • tech6 - Monday, July 29, 2013 - link

    +1
    So called enthusiast boards are mostly a waste of money. There are few commonly run apps that significantly benefit from CPU or memory overclocking. For that sort of money you'd be better off with a second graphics card or an SSD.
    Reply
  • iTzSnypah - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Please please learn to overclock Haswell. You are killing the potential of these reviews with novice overclocking.

    When an automatic overclock uses the same CPU voltage as your manual overclock to reach 4.6Ghz you know you are doing something wrong.
    Reply

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