We’ve seen more than our share of motherboards sporting the Z77 chipset, but today we have a pair of Z77 boards–one each from ASRock and MSI–that are designed specifically for overclocking. Even better, both of these mainboards are actually mid-range offerings, meaning you can enjoy the overclocking features without paying for the highest-end options from the two companies. What better way to put them through the paces than by setting up a good old-fashioned mainboard shootout?
Because Z77 was made to be paired up with Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors, we slapped a quad-core Intel Core i7-3770K in these two contenders and let the fur fly.
But first, let’s take a look at the ASRock Z77 OC Formula and MSI Big Bang Z77 MPOWER. As motherboards go, the ASRock Z77 OC Formula’s a beaut, featuring a black PCB, black and yellow slots and connectors, gold caps, and a brushed black metal finish on the heatsinks.
In terms of physical buttons, switches, and other miscellany located on the PCB, the power and reset buttons reside down by the Southbridge; a V-Probe is up and to the right of the DIMM slots, just under Rapid OC +/- buttons; and just above those is a Dr. Debug LED and PCIe on/off switches; and there’s a Clear CMOSbutton on the rear I/O panel.
The board supports both 2nd- and 3rd-generation Intel Core i7, i5, and i3 chips and can handle up to 32GB of DDR3-3000 (OC) system memory.
|Supports 3rd and 2nd Generation Intel Core i7 / i5 / i3 in LGA1155 Package
12 + 4 Power Phase Design
Supports Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology
Supports Intel K-Series unlocked CPU
Supports Hyper-Threading Technology
Dual Channel DDR3 memory technology
Supports Intel HD Graphics Built-in Visuals, Quick Sync Video 2.0, InTru 3D, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider, HD Graphics 2500/4000 with Intel Ivy Bridge CPU
7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC898 Audio Codec)
PCIE x1 Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s
2 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (PCIE2/PCIE4: single at x16 (PCIE2) / x8 (PCIE4) or dual at x8/x8 mode)
2 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s connectors by Intel® Z77, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel® Rapid Storage and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and “Hot Plug” functions
2 x Rear USB 3.0 ports by Intel Z77, support USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 up to 5Gb/s
EATX Form Factor: 12.0-in x 10.5-in, 30.5 cm x 26.7 cm
The rest of the back panel includes a PS/2 port, HDMI, optical S/PDIF, LAN port, CMOS button, and audio jacks.
To enhance overclocking prowess, ASRock built the Z77 OC Formula with a 12+4 power phase design, Digi Power PWM for better CPU voltage handling, dual-stack MOSFETs, and premium alloy choke. The CPU socket and memory slots feature 15μ Gold Finger for better performance, and ASRock’s twin-power cooling is designed so that users can combine air and water cooling for better heat flow and transfer.
There are even little “OC stands” that keep the motherboard up off the surface you’re using it on for better airflow if you don’t feel like building the system with a chassis, and ASRock threw in a syringe full of GELID GC-Extreme thermal compound, too.
Of course, there’s plenty of OC software provided so you can tweak the board and components in a variety of ways in addition to the old-fashioned method of adjusting settings in the UEFI BIOS, which includes a pre-loaded OC profile from Nick Shih. Formula Drive is the main piece of software, and it enables users to view and alter settings for hardware monitoring, fan controls, PCI-E on/off controls, fine voltage controls, thermal sensors, and more.
Other software ASRock threw in includes ASRock OMG (Online Management Guard), Internet Flash to look for firmware updates from the UEFI BIOS, the MAGIX Multimedia Suite, APP Charger, Lucid Virtu, and ASRock XFast USB/RAM/LAN.
It’s always interesting to see what mainboard manufacturers will include in the box, and ASRock did not disappoint. In addition to the accessories mentioned above, there’s a black velvet sack with a tie cord–and only good things can come from such a satchel–which contains a user manual, software setup guide, software and utilities disc, I/O shield, screws, a front USB 3.0 panel, a rear USB 3.0 bracket, an SLI bridge card, a handful of SATA cables, and a pair of 1-to-1 SATA power cables.