ASRock Z87 OC Formula/AC BIOS

First major point on the ASRock BIOS which should be mentioned – if you have read into the issue of MultiCore Turbo (MCT)/Acceleration/Enhancement I have discussed previously then this will seem a little bit odd.  The point is that MCT affords a 7% boost in multithreaded compute and most mainstream motherboard manufacturers apply it knowing that almost all CPUs should be able to perform with the stock cooler at this enhanced frequency.  ASRock only enabled it (by default) on their Z77 OC Formula motherboard for last generation, and for this generation they are still in the throes of deciding where it sits in Z87.  The ‘by default’ choice is important – many users will buy a product without touching the BIOS, and thus default specifications are imperative in deciding stock performance.  With the Z87 OC Formula/AC, the latest public BIOS, 1.40, did not have it enabled by default, while the latest beta BIOS did (1.42B).  This is in comparison to the Z87M OC Formula which I am currently testing, which has it enabled in the pre-release media BIOS (1.11C) but not in the latest public BIOS (1.30), meaning reviewers are going to have a hell of a time discerning what is what, because the BIOS is such an important part of the testing package.  The word from ASRock is this: the Z87 OC Formula should have MCT enabled by default as of the 1.50 public BIOS.  The Z87M OC Formula is still up in the air, as we will see in that review.

The next major point is an issue that has been cropping up on enthusiast forums, saying that the ASRock BIOSes like to ‘hang’ (keep the same screen and not do anything).  Now I experienced it once during my testing of the Z87 Extreme6/AC while I was overclocking, and thus assumed it was due to a voltage being too low.  But with the Z87 OC Formula, I was getting this from the first few minutes of taking screenshots of the BIOS and this is what I could conclude:

 - The BIOS does not freeze, but commands selected and actions will still occur even if the screen does not update.
 - This is an issue with the way the BIOS forces a redraw of the elements on the page, and is only fixable with a BIOS update.

Thankfully, at least with the 1.42 beta BIOS, the issue had been fixed.  I suspect the change will carry through to the public BIOS 1.50.

Despite the BIOS issue of processor speed and old BIOSes causing redraw issues, the ASRock Z87 OC Formula AC BIOS holds up as well as the previous ASRock Z87 Extreme6 AC BIOS did in our previous initial Z87 motherboard roundup.  As you can expect, most of the functionality is the same, with a few minor differences due to the OC branding.

While our normal entry screen to the BIOS is the Main screen, the OC Formula initially starts with the overclocking menu.  Despite this, the Main screen gives some basic info on the system at hand: motherboard name and BIOS version; CPU name and current speed; total memory installed along with DRAM slot detection and current speeds.  I would prefer some additional information here as well such as CPU temperatures and voltages, perhaps fan speeds, in a visually pleasing representation. 

The couple of features at the bottom are worth noting.  The first is an option to adjust the page on entry, meaning that overclockers can go straight into the overclocking options menu when entering the BIOS rather than have to navigate through the Main menu.  The final option is a UEFI Guide option, which when selected will go through a quite slow text guide of the different features of the BIOS.  This is in part a nice idea for new users, though I believe the guide has to be more refined than this initial version.

Most enthusiasts are going to head on over to the OC Tweaker menu to adjust overclocking options.  ASRock have separated the overclock options under headings for a single menu, starting with automatic overclock options (4.0 GHz to 4.8 GHz in 200 MHz jumps), then CPU, DRAM, FIVR (Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator), and finally voltages.  We get separate menus for DRAM timings, which also comes with a memory tweaker for XMP settings.

As this is an overclocking board, we have some specific ‘NickShih’ overclocking profiles to help new users to the extreme overclocking scene.  Nick is ASRock’s in-house overclocker, previous world #1 and the OC Formula range all stems from his ideas and inputs, hence why the motherboard has his signature on it. 

The OC Profiles provided require the hand of an extreme overclocker and a system under liquid nitrogen, or for the memory presets, a good memory kit.  We get the option of a 4000 MHz memory option, an air-based SuperPi 32m setting selection, and then options from 5.8 GHz to 6.6 GHz, all requiring liquid nitrogen and a CPU with good overclocking characteristics.  Similarly, in the DRAM Configuration menu, Nick has supplied a variety of sub-timing presets for users with special Hynix memory kits wanting to push the edge in extreme overclocking.

In the Advanced Menu is where we get our enable/disable controller options, along with adjusting the SATA configuration for RAID setups.

The ASRock Tools menu is where we often find ASRock’s newest additions to the BIOS.  Every generation we seem to get something new – from the past we get the System Browser, the Online Management Guard, Dehumidifier function and Internet Flash.  New for this generation is the ‘UEFI Tech Service’, ‘EASY RAID Installer’ and ‘Easy Driver Installer’ options.

Starting with the System Browser, this is a top down pictorial representation of the motherboard, and the different items that are inserted into the motherboard before POST are shown here, such as the memory, what is detected in the PCIe slots, as well as SATA and Rear IO configurations.  This is particularly helpful if a user suddenly loses access to a GPU, memory stick or hard drive – if it is not detected in the System Browser, it will not be detected in the operating system.

Online Management Guard (OMG) is a simple attempt to disable network ports at various times of the day.  While easily circumnavigated by adjusting the BIOS time or manually disabling the option in the BIOS, the purpose behind this feature is to adjust when children are allowed to use the internet, or for businesses to disallow ‘casual browsing’ after hours.

The UEFI Tech Service option is designed to send problem reports to ASRock directly from the BIOS.  This feature only works if you have a wired Ethernet connection to the internet, and sends ASRock an email with the BIOS information used as well as a description provided by the user.  There is a similar feature in the OS software.

The Easy RAID installer helps users take the RAID driver off the driver disk and place it onto a USB stick for installation of a Windows OS onto a RAID array, and Internet Flash allows users to update the BIOS with the latest version from ASRock’s online servers without jumping into an OS.

In the hardware monitor section, we get a significant boost compared to the ASRock Z87 Extreme6/AC due to the OC nature of the OC Formula.  Along with the additional 12 temperature sensors, the fan controls are improved a fair way from the previous ASRock fan controls (although still not perfect).  We can adjust the fans as part of six different groups, and ASRock allows users to select from a series of pre-defined settings: Silent, Standard, Performance and Full Speed.  The other option is Custom mode, which allows users to define five points along a fan curve:

While this still uses the ‘power applied to the fan is directly proportional to the fan speed’ philosophy that annoys me so much (more bad physics than anything else), this is a better set of fan controls than most.  There is a similar set of controls with the software.

ASRock Z87 OC Formula/AC Overview, Visual Inspection, Board Features ASRock Z87 OC Formula/AC Software
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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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • zero2dash - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Dat LCD....that is some neat stuff. I hope to see Gigabyte do something similar in the future.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Slash3 - Saturday, July 27, 2013 - link

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

    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.
  • 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.
  • Razorbak86 - Saturday, July 27, 2013 - link

    "As a competitive overclocker myself, I find this hobby of mine absolutely fascinating. I have had some mild success personally, hitting near the top of the enthusiast league for several years, achieving success in local competitions and I currently hold a number of UK records. I joined HWBot before I really got into enthusiast hardware, and through HWBot I joined the local UK team and luckily I had a chance encounter at a Gigabyte overclocking event with an AnandTech editor which started my writing career." - Ian Cutress

    Just out of curiosity, how many overclocking records do you hold?

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