So how does the Z97M OC Formula stack up against the competition thus far? And more importantly how does it measure as a motherboard in its own right? I was thoroughly impressed with this board, but that doesn't mean it didn't have some low points.
When you have a board named "OC Formula," you expect it to cater to overclockers. The absence of a debug display, a CMOS clear button and voltage test points is somewhat disappointing. While I didn't run into any confusing boot problems and only reset the CMOS a couple times, I can't assume other, more aggressive clockers will have it so easy. Having some power and reset buttons on the board makes testing on a bench much more convenient as well.
The automatic voltage issues deserve some mention. You can argue that 99.9 percent of users with this board will never encounter these problems because they'll push the board well past stock. But these issues pale in comparison to the RAM slowdown at higher speeds. It's slightly understandable, to a degree. The faster you clock the RAM, the more finicky the timings get. Loose secondary and tertiary timings ensure better compatibility and stability. The RAM presets for specific modules can also help with this. But it doesn't salve the sting of knowing you have to slog through dozens of RAM timings to make sure you're getting the performance you paid for.
The positive column far outweighs the negative one. Proper SLI and CFX support means you can realistically run a serious gaming rig in a small mATX case (assuming proper airflow, of course). The M.2 drive doesn't suffer from GPU waste heat and can clear up space in a small enclosure that would otherwise go to a 2.5-inch drive, all while providing top-notch storage performance. If our test bench included twin GPUs or an M.2 drive, you would've seen numbers on the charts far surpassing what the Pro4 could muster. The Killer networking and improved audio solution are harder to empirically measure, but definitely add to the creature comforts of the OCF.
The parting question is whether you think the extra features are worth the extra money. For $35 extra you get dual-GPU support, M.2 storage, Killer networking, Purity Sound 2, eSATA, two extra rear USB ports and a more tweaking-friendly UEFI. That sounds fair to me. Finding this board at $125 moves it from a fair price to a good deal.
So, does the OCF deserve an award? Absolutely. However, I have to temper myself a little since we still have a few boards to go. I said before that I liked the Pro4. I like the OCF even better and consider it a better value for the money. I'm tempted to give it the Editor Recommended award, but we saw what happened to Chris Angelini and the Titan X when the 980 Ti was released a few short months later. I give it the Editor Approved award for now, though it well could move up a level in the next few weeks.