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ASRock Z170M OC Formula mATX Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
Although we did not review the original ATX form-factor ASRock Z170 OC Formula, we certainly did take note of it. That model sent a veritable shockwave through the industry and put companies like ASUS and Gigabyte on notice that ASRock were ready to take their motherboards to the next level. Everything from it being the brainchild of legendary overclocking professional Nick Shih, to the fact that it does more than just pay lip service to the niche group we all lovingly call "overclocking enthusiasts", made it the hot new ticket among those in the know. Since then, records have fallen and ASRock's reputation has risen.

Building upon the instant cult classic that is the ASRock Z170 OC Formula, ASRock and Nick are back but this time with their sights set on another corner of the market: the Micro ATX form-factor. The aptly named Z170<i>M</i> OC Formula that we are reviewing is essentially a smaller version of its predecessor, and it shares <i>nearly</i> all the same great features that made its big brother famous.

The reason for this smaller form-factor is that this overclocking-oriented motherboard is hyper-focused on 3D benchmarking, and not just CPU and RAM overclocking like the original model. Basically, at the extreme edge of overclocking championships, the shorter tracings afforded by the smaller mATX form-factor can actually make a difference between being on the podium or looking at the awards ceremony from the crowd. Mix in a BIOS that caters to the overclockers among us as strongly as possible, and this model does appear to be tailor-made towards satisfying very specific needs.

As we will show you this is just the beginning of the features that are sure to please the Z170M OC Formula's target market, but that may not necessarily interest the average buyer. Things such as CPU thermal limiting override (aka LN2 mode), a slow mode that hard sets the CPU ratio multiplier to remove the cold bug issue, only two DIMMS as close to the CPU socket area as possible, DDR4-4500 capabilities, dual diagnostic troubleshooting abilities (Dr. Debug panel and Debug LEDs), even voltage read points pre-configured for easy use may not be high on your list of wants. As a matter of fact, all these are features that probably disinterest most buyers, and may actually make some actively dislike this model. They will however be veritable siren song to people looking to break world records.

Now as market realities trump the wishes of any single user group, ASRock has not created a stripped down, barebones motherboard that was purely designed to meet the needs of hardcore overclockers. Instead, they have created a model that can accomplish its core functions well, but that also has some mass market appeal. This is why even though Nick Shih obviously got his way on most of his recommendations, the small OC Formula does include extraneous features that are more targeted towards John Q. Public. For example, the inclusion of a four PCIe lane M.2 port that can accommodate larger-than-average 110mm M.2 solid state drives, an onboard ALC1150-based sound solution that has would be right at home on a high-end 'mainstream' model, USB 3.1 Type-A and C ports on the rear I/O, and even dual eSATA ports. All these are things that are superfluous and do not make overclocking <i>any</i> part of a system easier, but are there to ensure that as wide a range of consumers as possible will not instantly discount this model.

This is a fine line that ASRock is attempting to walk, but - if the incredibly successful Z170 OC Formula motherboard is any indication - this $200 motherboard may indeed be able to offer something that both mainstream clients and overclocking enthusiasts alike can agree on, and that will be one heck of an accomplishment.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


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As with most recent ASRock models, the Z170M OC Formula's shipping container is a mostly all-black affair with attention-getting graphics on the front, and a plethora of details on the back. All things considered, we are extremely satisfied with the rather low key packaging as nothing comes even close to the line of crossing over from eye-catching to garish.

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Once you remove the outside packaging, you are greeted with an inner box that contains two separate sections. The bottom half houses the motherboard in an anti-static bag, foam liner and cardboard tray, while the top half contains the software, documentation and the various accessories included with this new motherboard.

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As this is a motherboard that is targeted towards overclocking enthusiasts, it should come as little surprise that the Z170M OC Formula is bundled with an accessory assortment that is best described as 'minimalistic'. Basically, if you are interested in door knob hangers with colorful slogans, case badges, stickers, labels for SATA cabling, or basically anything beyond the absolute necessities this is not the right motherboard for you. Instead, those opening the box for the first time can expect to find a single ribbon-style SLI cable, the standard driver and utilities DVD, rear I/O panel, quick installation pamphlet, user manual, and a whopping <i>two</i> SATA 6Gb/s cables.

We are unable to comment on the quality of the rear I/O panel as our samples was missing it. Though oddly enough ASRock did include a brochure, which covers an assortment of other ASRock devices – such as the G10 Gaming router.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Z170M OC Formula

A Closer Look at the Z170M OC Formula


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Although it may look like the hardcore motherboard it is, anyone expecting a motherboard that has been stripped down to bare metal will be sorely disappointed. This motherboard will likely not be an optimal choice for 'minimalists' who take pride in owning motherboards that require more effort and TLC than most are willing to give, and are designed to only accomplish one task, but accomplish that task amazingly well. If such enthusiasts are looking at this motherboard they will not find a modern day version of an old school DFI motherboard. Instead, they will find an extremely well-rounded product that is anything but barebones or rough around the edges.

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While a lot of concessions have been made to further the goals of the overclocking enthusiast, ASRock obviously spent a lot of time, effort, and budget on building a more complete motherboard that would be equally at home inside an average case as it will be on an open air testbed. Basically, not only is this motherboard rather attractive looking, but it is filled with features that will be attractive to more than just overclocking enthusiasts. Some of these added features certainly will be of use to the target demographic, but some are only there to make this motherboard a more well-rounded motherboard than one would expect from a motherboard that loudly proclaims – with backlighting we might add – 'Born To be Fast'.

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Even just at a quick glance it is rather apparent that ASRock has designed this motherboard for open testbeds. The combination of incredibly well thought-out layout and design, combined with the gorgeous good looks that demand to be shown off, dispel any silly notions of hiding <i>this</i> motherboard inside of a solid metal enclosure. Also noteworthy is that even though this is a smaller mATX form-factor motherboard, very few concessions or compromises have been made. In fact, when compared to the larger and more expensive ASRock Z170 OC Formula, few prospective buyers will find this motherboard lacking. The opposite is actually true and everyone but the experienced over-clocking enthusiast this motherboard can be considered the very epitome of 'overkill'. This is something that every enthusiast grade motherboard strives to accomplish but few achieve.

It is worth mentioning that this motherboard has famous overclocker Nick Shih's fingerprints all over it, so anyone rooting for this motherboard to fail out of some misplaced sense of brand loyalty will be disappointed. This motherboard is not just a standard model with a fancy coat of paint and a 'famous' signature added to it, it is a Nick Shih design that just happens to be built by ASRock. We personally love seeing manufactures not only reach out to experts in the field, but actually work with them and actually take their advice to create a product like the Z170M OC Formula.

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Starting with the first of the <i>three</i> main attractions on this motherboard, the PCIe slot layout and selection is rather unique. Consisting of three 'x16' slots, zero PCIe x1, and no PCI legacy slots some will certainly raise eyebrows over this decision. Many people do use x1 slots for adding wireless abilities to a motherboard - something this motherboard lacks as well - or countless other tasks that does not need a x16 slot. Also, standing in stark contrast to its competition, ASRock has not gone down the 'reinforcement' road that many manufactures have, instead utilizing classical plastic only slots with a decent amount of anchoring to the motherboard.

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While ASRock might have excluded PCIe x1 or legacy PCI slots, on the positive side that has opened up room so that this motherboard could include a four PCIe lane M.2 port that accommodates longer than usual M.2 solid state drives. Basically, by excluding extraneous slots, ASRock was able to make enough for 22110 M.2 SSDs, and not just 2280 cards that most motherboards are capable of handling. This difference will not matter to most M.2 owners – as 80mm has become the de-facto length – but for those who do want to use a long 110mm M.2 SSD will not have to occupy a precious x16 slot with an adapter board.

In either case, the addition of M.2 port is great example of ASRock making this motherboard more appealing to wider audience than necessarily needed. This is because the Z170 + LGA1151 combination only has a very limited number of PCIe lanes to begin with, and few 3D benchmarking enthusiasts will want to not only use this precious commodity for storage, but further clutter the PCIe bus when the PCH is more than capable of handling their modest storage demands. This however is about the only concession ASRock and Nick have made, and if you pay careful attention to the number of connector points on the PCIe slots, it becomes readily apparent that this is at its heart an enthusiasts motherboard.

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If we get into the specifics, only the topmost PCIe 'x16' slot is electronically connected to 16 PCIe lanes, the second one is in actuality an x8 slot, and the last is an x4. This unusual design has been done so as to limit the number of tracings on the motherboard and to reduce the distance between the CPU and the primary PCIe slot. Basically, owners of the Z170M OC Formula are expected to populate the closest PCIe slot first, then the second, and if necessary the third.

This hard limiting of choices is an effort to reduce signal length and latency in order to maximize overclocking and performance. It is also why this smaller motherboard lacks the ful-size Z170 OC Formula's onboard PCIe DIP switches, which enable/disable each slot. Considering <i>all</i> Z170/LGA1151 motherboards are limited to x8/x8 mode, we have little issue with this decision beyond the fact that is reduces options. In the installation section, we will go over the downside to <i>having</i> to use the first slot, but it's an acceptable tradeoff for a first and foremost enthusiast motherboard. If minor issues like reduction in installation choices, or increased installation issues is critically important, then this is not the right motherboard for the build.

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The next main star of the Z170M OC Formula is the CPU socket area. On any motherboard getting this critical area's layout and design correct is extremely important, but it can make or break the eventual success of an enthusiast motherboard. In this regard, the Z170M OC Formula is a touch controversial and is not the knock-out punch we were expecting. Rather, it is merely good but not noticeably better than some other Z170 motherboards we have seen in the past. While this is a small mATX motherboard, and ASRock did have a lot less room to work with, the socket area is quite crowded. This is problematic as this is an LN2-oriented motherboard, and yet there are multiple capacitors that intrude into the area and that may cause clearance problems with copper pots. That is disappointing to say the least when competitors like ASUS and Gigabyte got this right years ago during the X58 days. On the positive side, every component that does intrude upon this area does respect Intel's Z-height restrictions, so any issues <i>may</i> not be all that significant. Furthermore, thankfully, the additionally cap or two will not matter in the slightest to those using more conventional cooling methods.

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Another minor issue that doesn't rise to the level of deal-breaker - but is still disappointing - is the location, type, and even number of fan headers dedicated to the CPU. First, ASRock only included one 4-pin fan header dedicated to the CPU, but does include a secondary 3-pin header. What they do not do is place either of these crucial headers in a sensible location or even place them close to each other.

One is located near the top edge of the motherboard between the DIMMS and the voltage read points, while the other is located all the way down by the first PCIe x16 slot. Also disappointing is that there is no easily accessible third fan header dedicated for water pumps or all-in-one coolers. This is going to let down a lot of people as even moderately priced closed-loop cooling solutions require two headers for the fans and a third for the integrated water pump.

On the truly positive side, the Z170M OC Formula features a power delivery subsystem that is impressive. Consisting of a 14-phase all-digital design, this power subsystem will not be a bottleneck in any but the most extreme edges – and then solely because this motherboard 'only' has a single 8-pin power connector instead of 8+4 or 8+8 configurations that is the norm with this type of motherboard.


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Overall, the use of International Rectifier's well-respected IOR 35201 controller, high-quality 60A rated chokes, dual-stack MOSFETs, and Nichicon 12K Platinum capacitors leaves us very satisfied. The only minor quibble is over the use of eight real phases and six virtual ones, instead of doubling up every phase to reduce stress during extreme overclocking. This really is a minor issue as this power subsystem is very capable. These are all truly high quality components and ASRock really did spend money where it counts the most.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Z170M OC Formula pg.2

A Closer Look at the Z170M OC Formula pg.2


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The most obvious difference between a typical motherboard and one oriented towards hardcore overclocking enthusiasts is the number of DIMMS. As with most serious competitive overclocking LGA115x motherboards, the Z170M OC Formula only has two DIMMS instead of four. Making up for the few DIMM deficiency is the fact that this motherboard is rated for whopping DDR4-4500+ speeds. However, it is worth noting that 4500+ speeds are only guaranteed with <i>one</i> DIMM populated and 'only' DDR4-4366 is supported in dual DIMM configurations. Of course, it will take one hell of a golden processor with a mighty IMC to reach such lofty heights as 4366, but this will leave plenty of headroom for 99.99% of users.

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To help overclockers, regardless of skill level, actually get the most out of their RAM kit, ASRock has not only shortened the trace paths but electronically separated them from the rest of the motherboard. In addition to this, to help ensure only clean stable voltage is applied to the RAM, ASRock has opted for a dual-phase all-digital power delivery subsystem dedicated for the memory slots. As with the CPU, this power system makes use of extended-life 12K Platinum Nichicon capacitors, alloy chokes, and dual stack MOSFETs.

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In order to further help decrease signal loss, ASRock has opted for a ten-layer PCB which not only increases rigidity but also allows signal pathways to be spaced further apart. Interestingly enough, while the custom baseclock generator – a non-EMI shielded IDT controller – is located on the top side, the Nuvoton controller is located on the back. We dislike seeing any critical components relocated to the back of the motherboard, but on the positive side there are very few on this model. Another positive is that the large and robust heatsinks are attached via screws and not push-pins, which is something that would have been intolerable to many enthusiasts.

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The last star of this show is the additional features that are not found on the typical motherboard. In many ways, it is these extras that separate the typical – even above average – motherboard from the truly enthusiast grade. In this regards, the ASRock Z170M OC knocks it out of the park. The most obvious example of going that extra mile for enthusiasts is the included Cold Bug killer feature, which allows this board to easily POST even if the CPU is far, <i>far</i> below freezing point. For those who have never heard of this issue, basically once enthusiasts start using LN2 and taking the CPU below zero downright odd things can happen. The most noticeable of which is the system will not even POST. Conversely, and the real catch-22, is these enthusiasts are pushing so much voltage that in order to keep the CPU from instantly throttling they have to keep it below zero. This is where this feature comes in and it is extremely rare to find on a mATX motherboard. At its most basic this switch hard sets the CPU ratio to 8 and gives overclocking enthusiasts the luxury of slowly booting up a system before turning their overclock 'on' after the OS has loaded. This may seem counter-intuitive but it does seem to mitigate the so-called cold bug.

As an added bonus this feature is easily enabled or disabled via a physical switch on the motherboard. Aptly labeled Slow Mode, it is the outermost of the three physical switches located between the top most SATA storage block and the 24-pin power connector. The other two switches are to enable/disable XMP memory profile (central switch), and the LN2 Mode switch. This last switch (furthest from the edge of the motherboard) hard over-rides the thermal limiter of the CPU, so that you can let the CPU go well above it thermal limit without it throttling. Obviously, this is not for the faint of heart and is another feature John Q. Public will never care about, but enthusiasts certainly will. Also located near these switches is the DIRKEY, which when pressed commands the system to directly enter the BIOS upon the next reboot. This is a nifty little feature that is perfect for people who do not want <i>any</i> extraneous software installed, no matter how small the Boot To Bios program is.

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These special switches are only the tip of the iceberg, as on the other side of the 24-pin power connector are five large buttons. The top two really need no explanation as they are labeled 'Power' and 'Reset'. The three in the middle however do. These three are the Rapid OC buttons and together allow for real-time modification of the baseclock, CPU core multiplier, core voltage, and even uncore ratio. Brilliant stuff!

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Arguably just as important as the special features such as the physical XMP switch, slow mode, and the like is being able to recover from a failed overclock and then troubleshoot exactly went wrong. To take care of the first issue, ASRock not only uses two BIOS chips, and a <i>physical</i> switch to change over from one to the other, but also has made these BIOS chips easily replaceable by opting for socketed 128MB BIOS chips instead of soldering them to the board. This is more expensive but can save a board from a costly service call. This board also supports advanced Secure Backup UEFI technology, which allows people the luxury of backing up their BIOS to an external storage solution, and then re-flashing a corrupt BIOS when things go really sideways.

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While easily overlooked, but another great example of overkill in action, this motherboard not only features diagnostics LEDs ('CPU', 'DRAM', 'VGA', 'Boot') but also comes with a two digit LED display – or what ASRock calls DR. Debug.

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To provide enthusiasts even more data to work with, ASRock not only includes <i>seven</i> voltage read points, but attached pins encased in a small plastic socket (in what ASRock has labeled a 'V-Probe'). This makes reading the voltages of various core components surprisingly easy. So much so that this combination should make tracking and diagnosing a problem downright <i>easy</i> with this board. The only downside to including the debug LEDs, voltage read points, various switches, as well as the LED panel is the fact that certain key things were either reduced in number or moved to free up PCB space.

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For most people the loss of the second USB 3.0 (USB 3.1 gen 1) header will not matter, but the new location for the 24-pin motherboard power connector will certainly raise some eyebrows. Specifically, by moving it in further and then having the front leading edge used for diagnostic purposes, the chances of actually using all these advanced diagnostic features in a case is slim bordering on zero. Even on an open test-bench, enthusiasts will find they need to move the big fat power cable out of their way if they want to actually uses these features. This is a small price to pay for actually getting all these features, since at the end of the day it is better to have them and have to move some things to use them then to not have them at all!

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Also on the positive side, ASRock did not skimp on the storage options. In addition to the M.2 port they have included eight SATA 6GB/s ports, and two eSATA ports. Of course, this does not mean all the various storage options are useable at the same time, as each eSATA port will disable the adjacent two SATA 6Gb/s ports, and using the M.2 port in AHCI mode will also disable the top most eSATA port <i>and</i> its two adjacent ports. Also, if the bottom most x16 slot (the one wired for x4) is used, the M.2 port will be deprived of the necessary lanes to use PCIe-based solid state drives. To supply the bottom, or secondary, eSATA port and its two adjacent SATA 6Gb/s ports, ASRock has opted for a ASMedia 1061 controller. For optimal performance, we recommend not connecting your boot device to these three ports, and instead using them for lower demanding duties such as DVD drives and the like.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the Z170M OC Formula pg.3

A Closer Look at the Z170M OC Formula pg.3


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We must admit to being very surprised, in a good way, with the Z170M OC Formula's built-in sound solution. This is usually one area that sees the most drastic and noticeable cost cutting on 'overclocking' motherboards, as it is a feature that is not required to be anything beyond barebones. It certainly may not be the most feature-filled, but for this class it is bloody marvelous and more than enough to satisfy those with higher standards than overclocking enthusiasts.

In addition to electronically separating this part of the motherboard from the rest, ASRock has opted for the very potent Realtek ALC1150 8-channel audio CODEC, and paired it with a whole passel of Nichicon Fine Gold series audio capacitors <i>and</i> two Texas Instruments NE5532 op-amps. One is dedicated to the headphone out port that allows this motherboard to boast support for up to 600 Ohm cans, while the other is for the surround sound ports. Taken as a whole, ASRock calls this implementation their Purity Sound 3 solution, and with the exception of the lack of an EMI shield, it is damn impressive to say the least.

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Moving on to the rear I/O panel, we can see that ASRock has included a very nice selection of connectivity options, which we are about to delve into.

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This motherboard may not sport wireless networking abilities, but ASRock does have the bases covered when it comes to <i>wired</i> networking thanks to a cutting-edge Intel i219 controller. This chip has proven itself to be very potent <i>and</I> stable with drivers that are very stable and that have a small memory footprint.

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While not completely unexpected, ASRock actually has included USB 3.1 Gen2 (aka full speed USB 3.1) capabilities via one Type A and one Type C port. Since the Z170 does not have built-in 10Gb/s USB abilities, ASRock has opted for a first-generation ASMedia ASM1142 controller. It is unfortunate that they did not use the more powerful Intel USB 3.1 controller as this would have also granted this motherboard ThunderBolt III abilities, but the ASMedia controller is still a good option and a nice little bonus to help broaden this model's appeal.

Rounding out the included features of the rear I/O, ASRock has included two USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports (all powered by the Z170 PCH), a PS/2 port, five audio analog ports, an S/PDIF optical out port, a single HDMI output, and one full-sized DisplayPort. In addition to all this, ASrock has also included a Clear CMOS button so that resorting to shorting a jumper is not needed, though there is an old school jumper near the button battery for those who prefer that method.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown pg.1

BIOS Rundown pg.1


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Much like other ASRock motherboards, the Z170M OC Formula features a very smooth and responsive UEFI BIOS. As we have come to expect, the UEFI is divided across two distinct modes. The Easy Mode is simplified and features a mouse-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) for basic tasks, while the Advanced Mode is still mouse-compatible but also has all the settings, options, and features that you could ever want. From within the Easy Mode you can switch to the Advanced Mode, and vice-versa, via a single key press.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_45_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_46_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The Easy Mode makes very good use of the graphical user interface (GUI) and was designed to be used with a mouse. It obviously does not have all the functionality of the Advanced mode, but it is not meant to. It gives novice users an easy way to visualize and alter some of the most common settings. First and foremost, the top-right corner shows CPU and motherboard temperatures, as well as CPU core voltage. The Fan Status feature can be found in both BIOS modes, but fundamentally it gives you very basic manual control over the CPU and systems fans. You can enable or disable RAID, as well as select which storage device to boot from.

The CPU EZ OC button enables an automatic overclocking feature; you just click on the icon, save & exit, the system reboots and the overclock is applied. The System Browser button pops up a full diagram on the motherboard, and if you drag your cursor across the various parts of motherboard, some additional information about the ports or the installed components is listed. The Instant Flash feature allows you to update the UEFI via a USB flash drive, while the Internet Flash feature allows you to update directly from the internet.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_42_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_38_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

For anyone craving more fine-grain control or yearning for more options, the Advanced Mode is sure to satisfy. When this mode is entered, users will be greeted with what overclockers have come to expect from this class of motherboard: a BIOS designed by enthusiasts <i>for</i> enthusiasts. However, unlike on MSI motherboards, the price for being so enthusiast centric is not all that high as even less experienced users will quickly grasp the workflow of this more classical UEFI. By the same token, those who are relatively new, or simply never used a BIOS pre-GUI days, may find themselves lost at first. This is because while there is an extensive help section it does make assumptions on what the knowledge base owners will already have. As such even the help can be a tad unhelpful at time.

The first section in the Advanced Mode is the Main tab, which displays some basic system information. This section lists some rudimentary specification info, including the BIOS date & version, the type of processor and the amount of memory installed. You can also access the My Favorite sub-menu, which allows you to have all your most useful or most used settings in one place, so you no longer have to search through the whole bios to find what you need time and time again. Unfortunately, the My Favorite section is blank and not pre-populated. This certainly is a missed opportunity for more Nick Shih branding as we are sure many would have loved to have seen what 'favorites' he uses!

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_39_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_37_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Next up is the OC Tweaker section, and it is here that Nick Shih's fingerprints are most obvious. After all this is the section that most Z170M OC Formula owners will be spending most of their time in, so this is the place that extra TLC from an expert is always appreciated. We will go over in greater detail precisely how comprehensive the included BIOS-based overclocking settings are, but as you can see there are <i>four</i> dropdown lists worth of them.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_33_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_34_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Next we have three sub-menus dedicated to the three key overclocking areas, namely the CPU, DRAM, and voltage. Once you have everything dialed in properly, ASRock have provided a means of saving those settings as a user profile, with up to five different profile slots available. You can also save those profiles to a storage device and share it with friends.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown pg.2

BIOS Rundown pg.2


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_26_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_27_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The CPU Configuration sub-menu is where you will find all of the essential system clock control options: CPU multiplier with an all core and per core option, maximum and minimum cache multiplier, BLCK frequency, FCLK frequency, as well as the option to enable or disable Intel SpeedStep and Turbo Boost technology. You can also adjust the processor's current and power limits.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_29_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_30_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The DRAM Configuration section is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can enable the XMP Profile, select the memory frequency, change the BCLK frequency, and obviously tweak all of the primary, secondary and tertiary memory timings. It had just about every memory setting that an enthusiast or overclocker will need to fine-tune their memory modules. The Voltage Configuration section on the other hand deals with all things voltage related. There may not be any dropdown lists, but you can manually type in your adjustments. Once again this is a motherboard meant for people who already know what they are doing.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_23_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_24_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The Advanced tab is where you can tweak countless settings and enable or disable all of the motherboard's components. The CPU Configuration sub-menu is where you can manipulate all the CPU-specific features like the Thermal Monitor, Hyper-Threading, SpeedStep, etc. The Advanced Tab is also where you can enable/disable or just find all the various settings and options for all the onboard devices like the integrated graphics, PCI-E link speed, onboard audio, LAN, Thunderbolt, USB ports, SATA ports, serial port, etc. As you can see, there is a bewildering and overwhelming array of settings and options here.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_09_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_12_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The Tool tab is where you can find a bunch of the handy tools that ASRock have developed to make setting up the motherboard a little more user-friendly. The System Browser button pops up a full diagram on the motherboard, and if you drag your cursor across the various parts of motherboard, some additional information about the ports or the installed components are listed.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown pg.3

BIOS Rundown pg.3


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_10_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_11_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The Online Management Guard allows the administrator the set a curfew or time restriction on the internet connection. The UEFI Tech Service feature allows users to send a help request directly to ASRock's tech support from within the BIOS. The Easy RAID and Easy Driver Installers simplify the job of installing drivers via the included DVD. The Instant Flash tool allows you to update the UEFI from a storage device, while the Internet Flash is a unique feature that permits users to update the UEFI directly from the internet. Both are quick, painless, and take the worry out of BIOS flashing.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_06_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_04_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The Monitor tab is mostly dedicated to monitoring the various voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. This whole section is really quite impressive, since it has all the essential temperature and voltage readouts, as well as truly excellent and comprehensive fan control functionality. The Security tab is where you can set the Supervisor Password, as well as a subordinate User Password. By doing so, you can enable Secure Boot, as well as Intel's Platform Trust Technology.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_03_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/BIOS_01_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The Boot tab is essentially where you set storage device priority, select the boot drive, enable/disable Fast Boot or the full screen logo, and ton of other boot settings that can help with the installation or troubleshooting of various OS installations. You can either hit F10 key or enter the Exit tab in order to save your settings and exit the UEFI. Unfortunately, ASRock has not felt the need to implement a pop-up window confirmation that lists all the changes made during the session. This is a nifty feature to have on any motherboard, and is doubly noticeable by its absence on this overclocking oriented model.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,421
Location
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Included Software

Included Software


<font size="3"><b> ASRock APP Shop </b></font><br />
<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/app_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


As with other ASRock Z170 motherboards, ASRock APP Shop is an all-in-one centralized hub for all the BIOS, drivers, and utilities that ASRock bundles/requires with their motherboards. It permanently resides in the notification area/icon tray in the right corner of your screen. Not only does it give you one location from which to open or even uninstall (almost) all motherboard-related pieces of software, but it also has a Live Update feature that lets you know if the there's a new version of the software available. Interestingly enough, this central hub is not entirely complete in its offerings, and neither is the DVD which ships with the motherboard. Specifically, one critical piece of software cannot be found anywhere but on the Z170M OC Formula's support page - the ASRock Rapid OC App. This is a noticeable oversight and we do hope it is a short-term issue, as otherwise there is a lot less reason to install this 'hub' in the first place. As such, we do recommend owners of this motherboard take the time and check ASRock's website time-to-time for updated applications not included in the APP Shop.


<font size="3"><b> ASRock Rapid OC </b></font><br />
<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/rapid1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

As this is a unique model, ASRock's A-Tuning program is not available, nor even advisable from out point-of-view. Instead enthusiasts interested in software-level overclocking will want to manually download the Rapid OC program. This small and lightweight application actually acts an interface for the Rapid OC buttons located on the motherboard itself. This combination not only allows real-time adjustment to a wide array of overclocking-centric features – included ratio and voltage adjustment – but also gives users visual feedback on what adjustment is actually being carried out.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/rapid2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

Also worth mentioning is that this nifty little app allows owners who have installed the motherboard in a case the luxury of being able to use this feature without actually pressing buttons. Simply choose which key combination you wish to use and it will carry it out as if you had pressed the corresponding button.


<font size="3"><b> ASRock Restart to UEFI</b></font><br />
<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/restart.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

The aptly labeled ‘Restart to UEFI’ application allows you to immediately reboot and enter the UEFI BIOS without having to push any buttons on start-up. If you are like us and do a lot of overclocking and testing, this handy little program will be a godsend!


<font size="3"><b> ASRock Timing Configurator </b></font><br />
<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/AST_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


The ASRock Timing Configurator allows users to adjust a wide array of RAM related settings without having to enter the BIOS first. However, unlike the Rapid OC application, to implement any changes users will first have to reboot, and only upon reboot will any changes be carried out.


<font size="3"><b> ASRock XFast LAN </b></font><br />

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/xfast_sm.gif" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


The XFast LAN utility is designed to help reduce latency courtesy of cFosSpeed traffic-shaping technology. It provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, NPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program. This tool also allows you give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic, and it even comes with a little widget for real-time bandwidth information.

There a ton of other applications available for download in the ASRock APP Shop utility, but obviously we can't test them all. Some are quite interesting though, like the ability to improve the charging rate of the USB ports, change the SATA controller mode, monitor storage device health, and more.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
13,421
Location
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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the ASRock Z170M OC Formula, we installed a Noctua NH-U12S CPU cooler, a dual-channel kit of G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-3600 memory, and an ASUS GeForce GTX 780 video card.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air1_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


The GTX 780 is a long length, dual-slot GPU so it should so it should provide a good reference for other premium video cards and highlight any spacing issues. The NH-U12S is a moderately-sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should give some insight as to whether there are any clearance issues around the CPU socket.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air2_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


As this is a mATX form-factor motherboard that has been designed from the ground up for enthusiasts, it comes as no surprise that the CPU socket area is rather crowded. This is because the large MOSFET heatsinks wrap around two sides of this area, while the two DIMMS have been pushed in ever so carefully to reduce signaling latency on a third side. This combination on a motherboard that already is smaller than standard can make physical installation of larger CPU cooling solutions a chore.; however, while the tolerances are tight, they are not so tight as to require feats of finger dexterity.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air3_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


Also on the positive side, those heatsinks are rather low profile so while even moderately-sized air-based cooling solutions will overhang them they should not pose any difficulties with modern designs. If by some strange quirk of fate you have an old tower cooler with a cooling fin array that does start lower down, these heatsinks may pose a problem. Having said that, given the intended user of this motherboard that is highly unlikely.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air4_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


A much more likely scenario is enthusiasts opting for above average height RAM. This may indeed cause a lot more headache than usual as the two DDR4 RAM slots are close to the CPU socket and even moderately-sized air coolers will overhand at the very least the innermost DIMM. To ensure as few installation issues as possible we do recommend lower profile RAM so that they can comfortably fit underneath the CPU's heatsink fin array.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air11_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air13_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

Considering that the latest generation DDR4-3000+ RAM modules do not require massive heatsinks, this is not as critical an issue as it once was. For example, our Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3333 kit had absolutely no problems, but even moderate height older DDR4 kits such as the RipJaws V may not be lucky. This issue is only further exacerbated by the use of even taller RAM sticks such Corsair's Dominator Platinum series, G. Skill's Trident Z series, or other overly tall RAM modules.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air14_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/water4_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

For those interested in active cooling of the memory, we strongly suggest not opting for air-based solutions. Not only will it be much more difficult to mount a memory cooler to only 2 DIMMS but such devices will interfere with air flow to the CPU fan. As stated many times in the past, if your RAM actually requires active cooling, you may want to think long and hard about opting for a water based solution. This is especially true if you do opt for taller than stock RAM solutions.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/water1_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

As expected, the moment we switched gears from air to water things did go a lot more smoothly. This is not all that surprising as this motherboard was designed with – at the very least – water-based CPU cooling solutions in mind, and even sub-zero solutions. Basically, while the gap between the waterblock and its adjacent components is a little less than optimal it should prove to be of no real-world concern.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/water3_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/water2_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

Once again the gap is rather small and larger water blocks could be a tricky proposition, but installing a typically designed block should prove to be much easier than installing a tower cooler. For those interested in pushing boundaries but not pushing too hard, a large closed-loop cooling solution such as those from Corsair, NZXT, and others would be a great compromise between performance and ease of installation.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air6_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air10_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>

Moving to video card installation, we were pleasantly surprised to see that even though the topmost PCIe slot is the main - and only - real PCIe x16 slot, there aren't any critical clearance concerns. This is partly because the two DIMMS do not have locking tabs on that side, and partly because this motherboard is not expected to have Noctua D15-sized cooling solutions attached to it. With any conventional CPU cooling solution, there shouldn't be any issues installing a video card.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air5_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


Once again the gap is rather limited so if a build does call for monstrous CPU coolers, then installing the cooler in North/South orientation may prove to be an optimal compromise. For most though, installing the CPU, RAM and the video card does not require any special combination; rather they can be installed in any order you so choose.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air7_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


Also on the positive side, the location of the lone USB 3.0 front header is optimal and will not be blocked regardless of which PCIe slots are populated, as such it can be installed whenever it is most convenient. The same cannot be said of installation of the storage options and the video card. When using even a moderate length video card, builders will have to plan out in advance what options that they are going to use as some ports will be blocked after the video card is installed. For example, when a GPU is installed into the main x16 slot it is much more difficult to install SATA cables into the block of 4 SATA 6Gb/s ports to the right of the two eSATA ports.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air9_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


The M.2 port will also be covered by the video card, so installing the M.2 card first will be of paramount importance.

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/ASRock_Z170M_OC/air8_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> </div>


If the second PCIe 'x16' slot is populated expect to have troubles with the two eSATA ports, as well as the block of two SATA ports just to the left of them. If a long PCIe card is installed in the last PCIe x16 slot, those same SATA 6Gb/s ports will be difficult to reach, and so too will the BIOS switch and DR. Debug LED panel. As such, we recommend only using x4 length – or short – daughter cards in this critical area.

Overall, these installation issues are fairly typical for a mATX motherboard, and in many ways this enthusiast-grade mATX Z170 can be considered better and easier to work with than some so-called 'mainstream' mATX options. Needless to say, Nick Shih and the ASRock design team really hit it out of the park in this regard!
 

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