Layout & Features
Many of our readers have told us that they’re sick of useless gadgets on their high-end motherboards. Everything from excess USB 2.0 ports to Wi-Fi and RGB lighting has been derided as a waste of money by people whose primary goals include performance, compatibility, and overclocking. Although we typically suggest lower-priced models to those buyers, overclocking is often a sticking point. So, what do we get if a manufacturer treats overclocking as a primary feature?
Former overclocking world champion and current ASRock employee Nick Shih has been pouring his time into the X299 platform to deliver optimal results from an ASRock motherboard, and the firm’s latest OC Formula is the result. Onboard RGB lighting is limited to the PCH sink and two cable outputs, just to please those who still want to light up their case. Resource shares are limited to the placement of SATA M.2 modules that steal SATA ports, since hardly anyone would limit their M.2 slot to SATA anyway.
The OC Formula has many visible similarities to ASRock’s mid-priced X299 boards, but going by visual cues is like comparing the AC Ace to the Shelby AC/Cobra. A quick look at the missing memory slots and additional PCIe slot are your first clues to the serious changes underneath, and the I/O panel gap where you might expect to find a Wi-Fi card doesn’t even have solder points on the X299 OC Formula.
That’s not to say the I/O panel is sparse, as it still uses an ASM3141 USB 3.1 Gen 2 controller to serve up a Type-C and Type A port from two PCIe 3.0 lanes, in addition to its four USB 3.1 ports, legacy USB 2.0 and PS/2 ports for your keyboard and mouse, dual Intel-based Gigabit Ethernet ports, CLR_CMOS and BIOS Flashback buttons, digital optical out, and five analog audio jacks.
Function buttons and switches are moved up to the top front corner, adding overclocker-specific features such as BFG (boot failure guard, aka safe boot mode), BCLK +/-, boot retry, and a “Menu” toggle button to change from BCLK to CPU or cache ratio, to the more-traditional power and reset button. Extra switches are also there for overclockers, including for switches to disable graphics cards if one of them causes the system to hang (from overclocking, of course), a “Slow Mode” switch that can help LN2 users get past “cold bug” boot problems by clocking the system down, and an LN2-mode button that’s supposed to allow firmware to handle the latter task automatically during the boot process. While we’re staring at that corner, we’d might as well mention the VROC connector that allows RAID firmware modules to be added to the CPU’s integrated PCIe controller.
Since both M.2 slots use the chipset’s controller, the VROC connector is only useful with devices that mount in traditional PCIe slots. The X299 OC Formula adds a 4-lane, open-ended slot that might be useful for storage, but that slot only functions when 44-lane CPUs are installed. The middle slot might be even more useful for storage, with its x8 interface, but that slot also requires a 44-lane CPU. 28-lane processors “make up” for the fact that they aren’t 32-lane by dropping the bottom slot to x4 mode, and 16-lane processors lose the second x16-length slot in addition to the center slot and x4 slot.
Since the bottom slot drops to x4 mode with 28-lane or 16-lane CPUs, 4-way SLI is limited to 44-lane CPUs. CPUs with 28 lanes can run 4-way CrossFireX or 3-way SLI, and while 16-lane CPUs can run either SLI or 3-way CrossFireX, the latter requires the third card to take the slow path from the chipset. The total of 18 2-lane pathway switches located between the various slots can thus be attributed in part to Intel’s decision to add a 16-lane CPU to an X299 platform that shouldn’t have been designed for such constraints. Those 16-lane Kaby Lake X processors also have but two memory channels, reducing the X299 OC Formula to two functional memory slots.
All eight of the X299 OC Formula’s SATA connectors face forward to avoid card interference, even the two that are located above all the cards. A front-panel USB 3.1 (10Gb/s for Type-C ports) header is found just above the centerline of the top card, just below the USB 3.0 front-panel header, which is just behind a forward-facing PCIe power connector. The purpose of that last connector is to feed extra power to PCIe slots, although few cards need it. Another noteworthy header is the second front-panel audio output, which is connected in common with the first, but turned 90° towards the bottom edge for improved cable management.
The X299 OC Formula includes a 4-way SLI bridge, two 3-way SLI bridges at different slot spacing, an HB SLI bridge, an I/O shield, four SATA cables, and even a socket backplate that makes it possible to use an ancient LGA-1366 cooler with this LGA-2066 motherboard. That last item may be important to LN2 users who haven’t updated the mounting hardware of their favorite pot.
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