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ASRock Z77 OC Formula

Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed
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ASRock brightens the look of its Z77 OC Formula with gold-colored caps and highlights on a black PCB and matching heat sinks. An included 40 mm active cooling fan is superfluous for most applications. But at least it's thermally controlled, operating almost silently unless its automatic fan control is disabled.

Four of the six back panel-based USB 3.0 ports are fed by a third-party single-lane controller, while the other two are connected directly to the chipset. ASRock fits in four more USB ports (of the 2.0 variety) by limiting graphics output to a single HDMI connector. An I/O panel CLR_CMOS button helps overclockers get themselves out of a bind, while also giving troublemakers an opportunity to mess with you.

A pair of Marvell SATA 6Gb/s controllers add four high-speed ports to the two provided by the chipset, bringing the total number of internal drive connectors to ten (including 3 Gb/s connectivity). Port placement is simplified a bit by a front edge that extends down about an inch beyond the ATX specification, though the added width is rarely an issue for enthusiast-class cases.

Features that favor overclocking enthusiasts include an extra four-pin CPU power connector (probably superfluous), a heat pipe that runs the length of the Z77 OC Formula’s voltage regulator cooler, a Port 80-style diagnostics display, two rows of line voltage detection points, and on-board power/reset buttons. Those last three features are really only useful on an open bench.

The Z77 OC Formula’s layout is fairly convenient, with the difficult-to-place USB 3.0 header located above the board’s centerline. ASRock also put three slot spaces between it primary and secondary graphics card slots. A third double-slot graphics card would require you to mount the board in an eight-slot case. But the third slot's second-gen PCIe x4 connection makes it less than ideal in a CrossFire configuration. SLI isn't even an option, since the third slot's lanes come from the Z77 PCH, and Nvidia doesn’t allow SLI through secondary PCIe controllers.

If you own an older case, the front-panel audio connector might be a little less convenient, since its extreme bottom-rear-corner location falls around an inch beyond the reach of some front-panel cables. We haven't had this issue in the lab for a couple of years, though.

The Z77 OC Formula includes six SATA cables, ASRock’s exceptional 3.5” USB 3.0 bay adapter (able to hold an SSD), a tube of thermal paste, and an SLI bridge.

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