ASRock Z97M OC Formula Motherboard Review

Final Word

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.

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Eric Vander Linden is an Associate Contributing Writer at Tom's Hardware, covering Motherboards. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • Blueberries
    This is one of my favorite motherboards. Extremely good quality and probably the best value you can get for the Z97 chipset.
  • manitoublack
    Needs a WiFi module
  • LordDrk
    I got mine

    Here are some shots i took.

    http://imgur.com/a/QIDp1
  • DonkeyOatie
    I spent many hours of harmless fun over the Summer overclocking everything I could get my hands on on this board. I learned a lot and still have much pre to learn, especially about getting my Trident X past 2800Mhz.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-2626627/build-log-middle-school-science-fair-project-system.html

    I think this is the best price/performance board for SLI/Overclockng. It is often available at under $100 from Newegg, due to a manufacturer's rebate. Putting it in a Thermaltake Core V21 made the built and 'putzing' process
  • RedJaron
    I'd recommend you test RAM bandwidth at each frequency strap to find the best actual performance. As I found with this board ( and others ), the auto-settings for secondary and tertiary timings can do weird things. It's not uncommon for a board to go with looser auto-timings just so they can say they support faster RAM. Even though I could reach DDR3-2900 on this board, it actually performed worse than 2400 because of looser timings. Now if you're the type of person that manually sets every single RAM timing, this may not be an issue. However I don't have that much time when reviewing boards.
  • DonkeyOatie
    570460 said:
    I'd recommend you test RAM bandwidth at each frequency strap to find the best actual performance. As I found with this board ( and others ), the auto-settings for secondary and tertiary timings can do weird things. It's not uncommon for a board to go with looser auto-timings just so they can say they support faster RAM. Even though I could reach DDR3-2900 on this board, it actually performed worse than 2400 because of looser timings. Now if you're the type of person that manually sets every single RAM timing, this may not be an issue. However I don't have that much time when reviewing boards.


    I started auto, but needed to adjust things by hand. There are so many possibilities and combinations, it gets a bit mind-boggling. The whole thing was a great learning experience for me and something I would strongly recommend to anyone so inclined.
  • Onus
    Nice review. I like the smaller size, but this is probably not the board for me, since I'm not a die-hard tweaker; I just want thing to work, although a little extra "go fast" is welcome.
  • DonkeyOatie
    Whereas for my Middle School student who is doing a Science Fair project on it investigating simple CPU and memory overclocking, it is just the right thing (and cheap enough in case things turn pear-shaped)
  • JacFlasche
    I am getting ready for my next build: waiting for the improved skylakes at the end of October, and hoping there will be more than one board that provides integral Thunderbolt 3 connections. I would really like to see a review on the Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 TH. Which is the only MB that has it at present. I gather that Asus is going to offer an expansion card with it, but not with an intel chip. I guess I would consider a board and a Thunderbolt 3 expansion card if everything else was right, depending on the brand and speed of the chip on the card.

    I am kind of surprised at the lack of interest in Thunderbolt 3. I move files of ten or more GB to external storage all the time, but beyond the unparalleled speed, the one connector to rule them all idea is great. My next board, gotta have it, along with USB 3b or whatever is the latest. Couldn't care less about SATA Express.

    I am almost tempted to build another notebook and connect it to external video cards -- almost. Now if someone would just dump a bunch of the latest MSI whitebooks on ebay it would be a definite maybe, but only if they had a Thunderbolt 3 connection. At this point I would not even consider a notebook without it, and my guess is that when people realize the potential it provides they will wish they had it. Maybe I am just a victim of hype, but in this case I kind of doubt it.
  • utroz
    To the author: Page 2 middle of the page.

    "Two modules were much more flexible and reached DDR2-2884 at a 103MHz BCLK."

    Shouldn't this say DDR3-2884 not DDR2-2884?
    Just trying to help..
  • jeffredo
    Thanks for a review on this board. Been thinking about it for a month or so and couldn't find a professional review. Very helpful.
  • Crashman
    425014 said:
    To the author: Page 2 middle of the page. "Two modules were much more flexible and reached DDR2-2884 at a 103MHz BCLK." Shouldn't this say DDR3-2884 not DDR2-2884? Just trying to help..
    Fixed, Thanks.
  • utroz
    8708 said:
    425014 said:
    To the author: Page 2 middle of the page. "Two modules were much more flexible and reached DDR2-2884 at a 103MHz BCLK." Shouldn't this say DDR3-2884 not DDR2-2884? Just trying to help..
    Fixed, Thanks.


    Glad I could be of help..