ASRock Z170M OC Formula mATX Review
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 Z170M OC Formula that we are reviewing is essentially a smaller version of its predecessor, and it shares nearly 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 any 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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