The ASRock Z590 OC Formula Review: An Iconic Brand Revival
Whether overclocking the CPU is your cup of morning tea/coffee/something stronger or not, there are specific motherboards built by professional overclockers and engineers designed to squeeze out as much performance as possible. For example, while the regular everyday PC user might groan at the thought of spending $500 on a Z590 motherboard with two memory slots, boards such as the ASRock Z590 OC Formula pay homage to the art of overclocking. As such, legendary overclocker and ASRock employee Nick Shih has overseen the design and creation of one of the best series of motherboards for overclocking. The OC Formula has been ASRock’s brand for their pinnicle performance motherboards for generations – it seemed dead as we hand’t seen it in a while, but it as come back with some blazing style. The latest iteration has had a facelift and comes with a wave of features – but can ASRock strike the right balance between enthusiast and conventional? Let’s find out in our review of the Z590 OC Formula.
— 𝐷𝑟. 𝐼𝑎𝑛 𝐶𝑢𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑠 (@IanCutress) February 10, 2020
ASRock first launched its Z87 OC Formula in 2013, and it recieved rave reviews at a time when overclocking was an exciting pasttime in the industry,. This was followed up with Z97, Z170, X99, and X299 versions – the last one in 2017. Then the brand went to sleep. We cried out for a reboot on twiiter, to no response at the time. But Nick was waiting in the wings.
Nick Shih, ASRock’s in-house overclocker, has overseen the design of them all. There are official overclocking ranking leagues, and he has sat on the top. If there were to ever be an extreme Overclockers Hall of Fame, you would find Nick listed among the other historic legends: hipro, rsannino, rbuass, andreyang, Splave, 8pack, Dancop, Hicookie, k|ngp|n, Fredyama, der8auer, Shamino, Smoke, Toppc and others – for those that have lived in the overclocking leages over the last two decades, these were the trailblazers, and a number of them were picked up by motherboard manufacturers to make better products.
That’s why, every so often, we get a focused overclocking motherboard to push the limits. That what the OC Formula is here to do, while also offering a stable base for a system build. For the OC Formula, the last ‘mainstream’ model was the very popular Z170M, a model Ian actually turned down for review at the time because our motherboard coverage was skewing ASRock for the year and we wanted to balance it out. It is perhaps one of the most desirable boards for sub-zero and breaking world records there has been since the launch of Intel’s Skylake back in 2015. Even I have been scouting for one for my personal collection to no avail.
With all that in mind, when ASRock announced the Z590 OC Formula was coming to market and offered us a sample, it was important to put all of that to the back of my mind and approach the board with a neutral perspective. If there’s been one constant in all our OC Formula reviews, it’s that balance between being suitable for a more common market and its overclocking potential – a system fully pivoted to overclocking would not be a good consumer product. The state of overclocking has changed since ASRock’s last OCF launch, and one of the reasons we published a test on the limits of daily system user-overclockability across multiple 11900K chips and mulitple Z590 boards before we got to the OC Formula.
While the previous generations of OC Formula’s have had an iconic vibrant yellow and black theme, the latest ASRock Z590 OC Formula opts for a flashier metallic yellow (almost gold) with lots of integrated RGB LED lighting for users to create a custom look. Conventional PC users looking to build a system around the ASRock Z590 OC Formula will find a formidable yet premium desktop-based feature set.
For an overclocking-focused model, it does include a lot of what the ‘regular’ Z590 motherboards include, such as three M.2 slots, including one with support for the fastest available PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe drives. Other storage options include eight SATA ports, with six of them supporting the regular Intel-based RAID arrays. Networking includes a typical premium 2.5 GbE port, a Gigabit port, and Intel’s latest Wi-Fi 6E CNVi for users planning on connecting to the internet wirelessly. Other features include a fairly premium HD audio codec and DAC pairing, which takes care of the integrated audio and plenty of USB options on the rear panel. Despite there being no USB 3.2 G2x2 Type-C on the rear panel, there is a regular 10 Gbps Type-C port there, but users wanting 20 Gbps can use a front panel header to achieve this if the chassis used supports this as it is a premium feature of Z590.
Perhaps the biggest feature set akin to the ASRock Z590 OC Formula is within the strong overclocking feature set, which coincides with the pedigree given by the other OC Formula boards in the past. This is also ever-present in the memory department, as the Z590 OC Formula, according to ASRock, supports up to DDR4-6000 in its specifications. This is done over two memory slots, which will also help those competing in the leagues to dial in some quick memory timings without interference of 2 memory slots per channel. Despite the larger than usual E-ATX size, the PCB is an intentional ploy by ASRock to improve memory performance when using extreme cooling methods such as liquid nitrogen or dry ice. Other overclocking-focused elements on the OC Formula include a robust and plentiful overclockers toolkit and a dedicated LN2 mode dip switch that users can enable or disable depending on the cooling type used.
Looking at performance, the Z590 OC Formula performed respectably in our stock performance test suite, including compute, gaming, and our system-focused tests. We saw a higher power draw in both long idle and idle power states than other Z590 models tested, but the OC Formula did well at full-load. The ASRock breezed through our non-UEFI POST time testing and DPC latency with solid results in both of these tests. Sometimes an overclocking focused motherboard rejects having a good baseline performance mode, but the OC Formula ticks the box that means that even without tweaking, it can work for everyone.
With overclocking being the thing that is meant to set the OC Formula apart from ‘regular’ Z590 models, we saw very tight VDroop control throughout all of our testing. We even managed to hit 5.3 GHz all-core stable with our Core i9-11900K, which only a small handful of models have achieved so far, although we were hit by thermals rather than board limits. We also saw good thermal efficiency in our VRM thermal testing, with the OC Formula sitting as one of the best boards we’ve tested so far. This is down to the active cooling design of the power delivery heatsink and a premium 16-phase design that you would expect from a model of this caliber.
When it comes down to looking for a motherboard specifically designed to maximize the performance and impact with Intel’s Rocket Lake processors, there are 55+ models to choose from. Only four of those are overclocking focused like the OC Formula. Looking at the price, the ASRock Z590 OC Formula is one of the cheapest with an MSRP of $550, with GIGABYTE’s Z590 Aorus Tachyon, which has a similar feature set, at the slightly cheaper MSPR of $530. Other models include the ASUS ROG Maximus XIII Apex at $600, while the dark horse of the bunch is the EVGA Z590 Dark (review coming soon), which is available directly from its website for $600. All four of these models have comparative features, two memory slots for improved memory performance, as well as 2.5 GbE, Wi-Fi 6E, and plenty of M.2 slots to cater to regular users.
When it comes to buying an overclocking-focused motherboard, many of the current extreme overclockers in the world will have a general idea of the brand it will go with (it also depends if they are sponsored or not), as well as trawling through the large HWBOT database to determine how each is performing against each other in terms of world records, benchmark performance, and overclockers achieved. Today we will be focusing purely on performance with our motherboard test bench. Although we will be reviewing the EVGA Z590 Dark in the coming weeks, we’ve already reviewed the GIGABYTE Z590 Aorus Tachyon, so now it’s time to see how the OC Formula stacks up against other Z590 models we’ve tested.
Read on for our extended analysis.
Taking a closer look at the latest ASRock Z590 OC Formula, it uses a distinct metallic yellow and black color theme throughout. It has plenty of flashy integrated RGB LEDs to make the board ‘pop.’ There are RGB LEDs found on numerous parts of the board, including behind an opaque panel in the top right-hand corner, around the chipset heatsink, and within the audio PCB separation line. The rear panel cover has the board designer Nick Shih’s signature embossed onto it, much like a high performance sports car might have. There are also similarly styled M.2 heatsinks, and a chipset heatsink that amalgamates into the board’s overall design.
One interesting thing to note is ASRock has a 12-layer PCB, whereas normally for Z590 we’ve been seeing a lot of 8-layer and 10-layer boards. More layers costs exponentially more, but can help with signal and noise quality. ASRock claims improve signal integrity between components and reduces PCB bending. We typically see pedigree overclocking boards such as this one, and server motherboards feature high numbers of PCB layers for improved stability and core structure for the components to be embedded on.
For cooling, the Z590 OC Formula includes a total of eight 4-pin headers. This includes one dedicated to a CPU fan, one for an optional CPU fan or water pump, and six that can be used for chassis fans or water pumps. ASRock also includes a Thunderbolt 4 AIC header which can be used with ASRock’s own version, which can be purchased separately. In the bottom right-hand corner of the board is a two-digit LED debugger.
Focusing on the bottom half of the board, ASRock includes plenty of PCIe real estate, including two full-length PCIe 4.0 slots operating at both x16 and x8/x8, with a third full-length slot (bottom) electronically locked down to PCIe 3.0 x4 and two smaller PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. The OC Formula has plenty of variety for storage, which is spearheaded by one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot, designed for the fastest Gen4 NVMe drives available on the market. Also included is a pair of PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots with both supporting SATA-based drives and eight SATA ports in total. Six of the SATA are powered by the chipset and, as such, support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays. An ASMedia ASM1061 SATA controller powers the other two SATA ports.
As the ASRock Z590 OC Formula is primarily designed for overclocking and breaking world records, it has just two memory slots, enabling lower latencies and/or higher transfer rates. According to ASRock, the board can support DDR4-6000 memory out of the box. Looking at the official QVL list, the highest binned memory listed is TeamGroup, with a supported speed of DDR4-5333. Both slots can also accommodate a maximum of 64 GB combined, or 32 GB sticks per slot, although the fastest memory is likely to be built on 4 GB or 8 GB modules. Both memory slots are also using an SMD DIMM slot instead of a conventional DIP style slot, which ASRock claims can reduce signal loss and improve stability with higher frequency memory.
ASRock is also using a new design for memory which it is calling ‘PCB Backdrill.’ ASRock’s explanation on this is as follows: “Z590 OC Formula features a unique PCB Backdrill craftsmanship by removing the excess stub in multilayered printed wiring boards.” ASRock also claims that this benefits extreme overclockers by allowing the signal to flow with less signal attenuation and is designed to improve impedance matching.
Located directly above the top full-length PCIe 4.0 x16 slot is an informative OLED display. The screen cycles through a list of good-looking graphics and informative material, including temperatures from different sensors such as CPU and power delivery and various voltages, CPU frequency, and even fan speed from the different headers. The list of information displayed can be edited within the firmware, although there is currently no availability to customize the graphics or upload video.
Included on the PCB is a physical overclockers toolkit with various buttons and dip-switches designed for extreme overclockers and enthusiasts. The toolkit includes a power button, a reset button, two rapid OC buttons, three Nick Shih OC profile buttons, an LN2 mode dip switch, a slow mode switch, a small OC retry button, and a small safe boot button, and three PCIe dip switches to enable/disable the slots and reduce potential instability.
Focusing on the power delivery on the Z590 OC Formula, it uses a premium and simplistic design. Looking at the CPU section, ASRock uses sixteen Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stages operating in parallel with each other. The power delivery uses an Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller operating in 8+0 mode, as the sixteen phases for the CPU are doubled up with eight Intersil ISL6617A doublers. This gives a maximum theoretical output of up to 800 A just for the CPU.
Keeping the power delivery cool is a pair of heatsinks that are interconnected by a single heat pipe. The rear panel cover itself is made from metal, and although the heatsinks themselves don’t feel very weighty, there is plenty of surface area to pick up passive airflow within a chassis. ASRock also includes a pair of small MOSFET cooling fans attached to the smaller heatsink, making this an actively cooled design.
The ASRock Z590 OC Formula uses an older but still premium Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec for onboard audio. A row of seven Japanese Gold Nichicon audio capacitors supports the onboard audio, with a bank of four red premium WIMA audio capacitors. This board does support front panel audio, and as such, it is powered by the HD audio codec and assisted by an ESS Sabre 9218 DAC.
The rear of the board has a large metal backplate which adds more rigidity to the board’s design. The board itself features a 12-layer PCB which adds further rigidity, and the backplate follows the core theme and design of the board.
On the rear panel is a variety of good quality input and output. Looking at rear panel USB connectivity, the OC Formula includes one USB 3.2 G2 Type-C, three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. There are five 3.5 mm audio jacks that are color-coded with matching LEDs and a S/PDIF optical output powered by a Realtek ALC1220 HD audio codec. For networking, ASRock includes a pair of Ethernet ports, one powered by an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller, with an Intel I219-V Gigabit controller powering the second slot. Wireless networking is provided via an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi, which supports BT 5.2 devices.
ASRock also includes a BIOS switch on the rear panel, which allows users to switch between the two onboard BIOS ROM chips, with a Clear CMOS and BIOS Flashback button pairing as well. This is the first time I can recall seeing a motherboard locate a BIOS switch selector on the rear panel, making it useful for those that have special overclocking BIOS versions without having to find the onboard jumper to select it.
What’s in The Box
The accessories bundle includes four black SATA cables, an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E antenna set; an ASRock branded screwdriver, and three M.2 screw kits and standoffs. The package includes the usual suspects, such as an installation guide, a support DVD, an OC Formula branded sticker sheet, an ASRock case badge, and some ASRock branded velcro cable ties.
- Quick installation guide
- Software support CD
- 4 x SATA cables
- 2 x ASRock Wi-Fi 6E antennas
- 3 x M.2 screws
- 3 x M.2 standoffs
- ASRock OC Formula sticker sheet
- ASRock screwdriver
- ASRock case badge
- ASRock OC Formula postcard
- 2 x ASRock velcro cable ties
- ASRock OC Formula door hanger
The UEFI firmware used on all of the three ASRock Z590 boards we have reviewed so far has been consistent in design other than subtle changes to the GUI, such as color. In fact, the firmware on the Z590 OC Formula is visually identical to that used on the ASRock Z590 Taichi. The Z590 OC Formula GUI consists of a black background, yellow accents, white text, and grey, denoting which option is currently selected. There are also two different modes for users accessing the firmware, the EZ mode for novice users and the Advanced mode for the more experienced.
The EZ mode, which is the initial splash screen when users first enter the BIOS, includes a basic list of information and settings related to the system. The top left-hand corner is a list of information based on the processor installed, with the default CPU core frequency and the total combined memory capacity installed. Below is a list of the memory installed, including a panel for users to click to enable X.M.P 2.0 profiles on compatible memory. In the center panel is a list of installed fans, including fan speed in RPM, with a small panel below this to allow users to select between the different fan profiles such as standard, silent, and full-speed. Users can adjust and select the boot priority from a simple and intuitive list of storage installed on the right-hand side.
Users can access the Advanced section of the firmware by pressing the F6 key. In the Advanced mode, users will find all of the board’s overclocking, chipset, and power-related settings. The overclocking settings can be found within the OC Tweaker section, and ASRock has three different submenus for the CPU, DRAM, and voltages. On the main page, users can enable the LN2 preset designed and tested by Nick Shih himself, but regular users should avoid using this as it is designed purely for extreme overclockers. There are plenty of options for overclocking the CPU, including core frequency, cache frequency, BCLK frequency, and AVX offsets which allows for better stability when using a workload using one of the heavier instruction sets.
Users can also make numerous memory tweaks aside from enabling X.M.P 2.0 profiles on compatible memory kits. This includes extensive memory latency options as well as frequency tuning. Users looking to run higher than DDR4-3600 memory will need to switch to Gear 2 of Intel’s new geared memory controller. As expected on a motherboard designed for overclockers, there are many voltage options to select from, which is necessary when performing extreme overclocks with sub-zero cooling methods.
A new feature on the ASRock Z590 OC Formula is an OLED panel customizer which is located within the firmware. The OLED panel provides real-time telemetry data from various sensors such as the CPU, temperature, and voltage sensors located within the circuitry. Users can enable or disable certain elements that are displayed and customize the OLED screen saver time or disabled it altogether.
Other useful parts of the firmware include ASRock’s FAN-Tastic tuning, where users can customize fan profiles on the eight 4-pin headers. Users can also customize the board’s integrated RGB LED lights via the ASRock Polychrome RGB tab, although the software included does offer more elements and lighting settings. Overall, ASRock’s OC Formula BIOS is consistent with other ASRock firmware we’ve seen so far on Z590, and we found it responsive, intuitive. It has plenty of options for overclockers to sink their teeth into.
ASRock provides much of the same core software with the Z590 OC Formula as it does with its other Z590 models, but it includes slightly more intuitive overclocking software. This is expected given the board’s overclocking pedigree, although the majority of the software orbits around the ASRock Live Update and App Shop.
The ASRock Live Update and App Shop allows users to not only update all of the board’s drivers to the latest versions, but it allows users to install each of the software utilities compatible with the OC Formula. Software available to download includes the Nahamic 3 Utility, which allows customization of audio settings, the Polychrome RGB LED utility for customizing the board’s integrated RGB LED lighting, and the Formula Drive software.
Looking closer at ASRock’s OC Formula Drive software, it’s basically a renamed A-Tuning utility we’ve seen from previous ASRock motherboards. It provides the functionality for users to overclock the processor within Windows without needing to enter the BIOS. We would like to point out that the CPU VCore control within the Formula Drive utility is based on an offset of the CPU VCore, and not a custom variable, so we recommend users preferring not to calculate the desired CPU VCore to overclock within the firmware. The Formula Drive software also includes a handy system information tab containing many details about frequencies, voltages, and fan telemetry. At the same time, the FAN-Tastic tuning section allows users to customize the aggressiveness of fan curve profiles.
Another handy piece of software designed specifically for extreme overclockers is the ASRock Timing Configurator. This allows users to tweak and change memory latency timings within Windows in real-time.
Overall the software included with the ASRock Z590 OC Formula is everything a user should need, including the ASRock XFast LAN utility for traffic shaping, the Nahimic 3 audio control software, as well as ASRock’s Restart to UEFI software which allows users to enter the BIOS upon restarting the system at the click of a button.
The ASRock Z590 OC Formula is an enthusiast-grade E-ATX motherboard primarily designed for extreme overclockers to push the boundaries of Intel’s Rocket Lake and break world records. Although there are plenty of overclocking features such as an LN2 mode, specific LN2 overclocking profiles provided by Nick Shih, and others for gamers to use if they have an appropriate setup. The OC Formula has two memory slots with support for up to 64 GB of DDR4 memory, with advertised supported speeds of up to DDR4-6000 (OC).
ASRock includes plenty of PCIe 4.0 support including two full-length slots operating at x16 and x8/x8, with a third full-length slot electronically locked down to PCIe 3.0 x4, and two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. For storage, the OC Formula has three M.2 slots, including one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 and two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots with both of these including support for SATA-based drives. Other storage options include eight SATA ports in total, with six of these coming from the chipset with RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 support, while the other two are powered by an ASMedia ASM1061 SATA controller.
Cooling options include eight 4-pin fan headers with one dedicated to a CPU fan, one for an optional CPU or water pump, with six headers designated to chassis fans. Users can also use the six 4-pin chassis fan headers for water pumps if they wish to do so.
|ASRock Z590 OC Formula WIFI EA-TX Motherboard|
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
|Memory Slots (DDR4)||Two DDR4
Supporting 64 GB
Up to DDR4-6000
|Network Connectivity||Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE
Intel I219-V 1 GbE
Intel AX210 Wi-Fi 6E
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC1220A
ESS Sabre 9218 DAC (Front Panel)
|PCIe Slots for Graphics (from CPU)||2 x PCIe 4.0 (x16, x8/x8)|
|PCIe Slots for Other (from PCH)||1 x PCIe 3.0 x4
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
|Onboard SATA||Six, RAID 0/1/5/10 (Z590)
Two (ASMedia ASM1061
|Onboard M.2||1 x PCIe 4.0 x4
2 x PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA
|Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps)||N/A|
|USB 3.2 (20 Gbps)||1 x USB Type-C (Front panel)|
|USB 3.2 (10 Gbps)||3 x USB Type-A (Rear panel)
1 x USB Type-C (Rear panel
|USB 3.1 (5 Gbps)||4 x USB Type-A (Rear panel)
4 x USB Type-A (Two headers)
|USB 2.0||4 x USB Type-A (Two headers)|
|Power Connectors||1 x 24-pin Motherboard
2 x 8-pin CPU
|Fan Headers||1 x 4-pin CPU
1 x 4-pin CPU/Water Pump
6 x 4-pin Chassis
|IO Panel||2 x Antenna Ports (Intel)
1 x PS/2 keyboard port
1 x PS/2 mouse port
1 x USB 3.2 G2 Type-C
3 x USB 3.2 G2 Type-A
4 x USB 3.2 G1 Type-A
2 x RJ45 (Intel)
5 x 3.5 mm audio jacks (Realtek)
1 x S/PDIF Optical output (Realtek)
1 x BIOS Flashback button
1 x BIOS Selection switch
1 x Clear CMOS button
ASRock includes an internal header for users looking to add Thunderbolt 4, while a combination of front panel headers and rear panel USB offers plenty of variation. The OC Formula does include USB 3.2 G2x2 Type-C support via a front panel header, while on the rear it includes one USB 3.2 G2 Type-C, three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A, and four USB 3.2 G1 Type-A ports. Also on the rear panel is pair of PS/2 peripheral ports for legacy mice and keyboards, while a clear CMOS button, a BIOS Flashback button, and a dual BIOS selector switch is also present.
Focusing on networking support, ASRock includes two Ethernet ports with one being controlled by an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller, with the other being powered by an Intel I219-V Gigabit controller. For wireless connectivity, there’s Intel’s latest AX210 Wi-Fi 6E CNVI which also allows users to connect BT 5.2 devices.
With some of the nuances with Intel’s Rocket Lake processors, our policy is to see if the system gives an automatic option to increase the power limits of the processor. If it does, we select the liquid cooling option. If it does not, we do not change the defaults. Adaptive Boost Technology is disabled by default.
|Processor||Intel Core i9-11900K, 125 W, $374
8 Cores, 16 Threads 3.5 GHz (5.3 GHz Turbo)
|Motherboard||ASRock Z590 OC Formula (BIOS 1.40)|
|Cooling||Corsair iCue H150i Elite Capellix 360 mm AIO|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX850 80Plus Platinum 850 W|
|Memory||G.Skill TridentZ DDR4-3200 CL 14-14-14-34 2T (2 x 8 GB)|
|Video Card||MSI GTX 1080 (1178/1279 Boost)|
|Hard Drive||Crucial MX300 1TB|
|Case||Corsair Crystal 680X|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit: Build 20H2|
We must also thank the following:
|Hardware Providers for CPU and Motherboard Reviews|
|Sapphire RX 460 Nitro||MSI GTX 1080 Gaming X OC||Crucial MX200 +
|Corsair AX860i +
Not all motherboards are created equal. On the face of it, they should all perform the same and differ only in the functionality they provide – however, this is not the case. The obvious pointers are power consumption, POST time and latency. This can come down to the manufacturing process and prowess, so these are tested.
For Z590 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 20H2 update.
Power consumption was tested on the system while in a single MSI GTX 1080 Gaming configuration with a wall meter connected to the power supply. Our power supply has ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading. This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency. These are the real-world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.
While this method for power measurement may not be ideal, and you feel these numbers are not representative due to the high wattage power supply being used (we use the same PSU to remain consistent over a series of reviews, and the fact that some boards on our testbed get tested with three or four high powered GPUs), the important point to take away is the relationship between the numbers. These boards are all under the same conditions, and thus the differences between them should be easy to spot.
In our power testing, the ASRock Z590 OC Formula was quite power-hungry when both in long idle and idle power states, but performed competitively against other models when under full-load.
Non-UEFI POST Time
Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized. A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized). As part of our testing, we look at the POST Boot Time using a stopwatch. This is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows starts loading. (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows-specific features.)
In our non-UEFI POST time testing, the OC Formula performed better than other ASRock Z590 models we’ve tested so far and it was competitive with other boards in our testing. We managed to shave off an additional one and a half seconds by disabled nonessential controllers such as networking and integrated audio.
Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing. In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority. Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests such as audio will be further down the line. If the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled.
If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time. This can lead to an empty audio buffer and characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks. The DPC latency checker measures how much time is taken processing DPCs from driver invocation. The lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes. Results are measured in microseconds.
We test DPC latency out of the box at default settings, and the ASRock was one of the better performers in our testing with a good result of 96.6 microseconds.
For our motherboard reviews, we use our short form testing method. These tests usually focus on if a motherboard is using MultiCore Turbo (the feature used to have maximum turbo on at all times, giving a frequency advantage), or if there are slight gains to be had from tweaking the firmware. We put the memory settings at the CPU manufacturers suggested frequency, making it very easy to see which motherboards have MCT enabled by default.
For Z590 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 20H2 update.
Rendering – Blender 2.79b: 3D Creation Suite
A high profile rendering tool, Blender is open-source allowing for massive amounts of configurability, and is used by a number of high-profile animation studios worldwide. The organization recently released a Blender benchmark package, a couple of weeks after we had narrowed our Blender test for our new suite, however their test can take over an hour. For our results, we run one of the sub-tests in that suite through the command line – a standard ‘bmw27’ scene in CPU only mode, and measure the time to complete the render.
Rendering – POV-Ray 3.7.1: Ray Tracing
The Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer, or POV-Ray, is a freeware package for as the name suggests, ray tracing. It is a pure renderer, rather than modeling software, but the latest beta version contains a handy benchmark for stressing all processing threads on a platform. We have been using this test in motherboard reviews to test memory stability at various CPU speeds to good effect – if it passes the test, the IMC in the CPU is stable for a given CPU speed. As a CPU test, it runs for approximately 1-2 minutes on high-end platforms.
Rendering – Crysis CPU Render
One of the most oft used memes in computer gaming is ‘Can It Run Crysis?’. The original 2007 game, built in the Crytek engine by Crytek, was heralded as a computationally complex title for the hardware at the time and several years after, suggesting that a user needed graphics hardware from the future in order to run it. Fast forward over a decade, and the game runs fairly easily on modern GPUs, but we can also apply the same concept to pure CPU rendering – can the CPU render Crysis? Since 64 core processors entered the market, one can dream. We built a benchmark to see whether the hardware can.
For this test, we’re running Crysis’ own GPU benchmark, but in CPU render mode. This is a 2000 frame test, which we run over a series of resolutions from 800×600 up to 1920×1080. For simplicity, we provide the 1080p test here.
Rendering – Cinebench R23: link
Maxon’s real-world and cross-platform Cinebench test suite has been a staple in benchmarking and rendering performance for many years. Its latest installment is the R23 version, which is based on its latest 23 code which uses updated compilers. It acts as a real-world system benchmark that incorporates common tasks and rendering workloads as opposed to less diverse benchmarks which only take measurements based on certain CPU functions. Cinebench R23 can also measure both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance.
Compression – WinRAR 5.90: link
Our WinRAR test from 2013 is updated to the latest version of WinRAR at the start of 2014. We compress a set of 2867 files across 320 folders totaling 1.52 GB in size – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are small 30-second 720p videos.
3DPMv2.1 – 3D Movement Algorithm Test: link
3DPM is a self-penned benchmark, taking basic 3D movement algorithms used in Brownian Motion simulations and testing them for speed. High floating point performance, MHz, and IPC win in the single thread version, whereas the multithread version has to handle the threads and loves more cores. For a brief explanation of the platform agnostic coding behind this benchmark, see my forum post here.
NAMD 2.13 (ApoA1): Molecular Dynamics
One frequent request over the years has been for some form of molecular dynamics simulation. Molecular dynamics forms the basis of a lot of computational biology and chemistry when modeling specific molecules, enabling researchers to find low energy configurations or potential active binding sites, especially when looking at larger proteins. We’re using the NAMD software here, or Nanoscale Molecular Dynamics, often cited for its parallel efficiency. Unfortunately the version we’re using is limited to 64 threads on Windows, but we can still use it to analyze our processors. We’re simulating the ApoA1 protein for 10 minutes, and reporting back the ‘nanoseconds per day’ that our processor can simulate. Molecular dynamics is so complex that yes, you can spend a day simply calculating a nanosecond of molecular movement.
For Z590 we are running using Windows 10 64-bit with the 20H2 update.
Originally penned by Sid Meier and his team, the Civilization series of turn-based strategy games are a cult classic, and many an excuse for an all-nighter trying to get Gandhi to declare war on you due to an integer underflow. Truth be told I never actually played the first version, but I have played every edition from the second to the sixth, including the fourth as voiced by the late Leonard Nimoy, and it is a game that is easy to pick up, but hard to master.
Benchmarking Civilization has always been somewhat of an oxymoron – for a turn based strategy game, the frame rate is not necessarily the important thing here and even in the right mood, something as low as 5 frames per second can be enough. With Civilization 6 however, Firaxis went hardcore on visual fidelity, trying to pull you into the game. As a result, Civilization can taxing on graphics and CPUs as we crank up the details, especially in DirectX 12.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (DX12)
The latest installment of the Tomb Raider franchise does less rising and lurks more in the shadows with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. As expected this action-adventure follows Lara Croft which is the main protagonist of the franchise as she muscles through the Mesoamerican and South American regions looking to stop a Mayan apocalyptic she herself unleashed. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the direct sequel to the previous Rise of the Tomb Raider and was developed by Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics and was published by Square Enix which hit shelves across multiple platforms in September 2018. This title effectively closes the Lara Croft Origins story and has received critical acclaims upon its release.
The integrated Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark is similar to that of the previous game Rise of the Tomb Raider, which we have used in our previous benchmarking suite. The newer Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses DirectX 11 and 12, with this particular title being touted as having one of the best implementations of DirectX 12 of any game released so far.
Strange Brigade (DX12)
Strange Brigade is based in 1903’s Egypt and follows a story which is very similar to that of the Mummy film franchise. This particular third-person shooter is developed by Rebellion Developments which is more widely known for games such as the Sniper Elite and Alien vs Predator series. The game follows the hunt for Seteki the Witch Queen who has arisen once again and the only ‘troop’ who can ultimately stop her. Gameplay is cooperative-centric with a wide variety of different levels and many puzzles which need solving by the British colonial Secret Service agents sent to put an end to her reign of barbaric and brutality.
The game supports both the DirectX 12 and Vulkan APIs and houses its own built-in benchmark which offers various options up for customization including textures, anti-aliasing, reflections, draw distance and even allows users to enable or disable motion blur, ambient occlusion and tessellation among others. AMD has boasted previously that Strange Brigade is part of its Vulkan API implementation offering scalability for AMD multi-graphics card configurations. For our testing, we use the DirectX 12 benchmark.
The skill of overclocking is one that can take thousands of hours to get to grip with the hardware, software, and then a new processor generation comes along which requires half of it to be learned again! Getting the right combination of settings to deliver an optimized yet stable enough system to deliver the performance can be time-consuming and tedious. Despite the excellent work from both Intel and AMD over the last couple of years with its interpretations of ‘turbo’ and ‘boost,’ this doesn’t typically affect all of the cores equally, and instead focuses on one or two for that immediate single thread push. On an eight-core processor such as the Intel Core i9-11900K, providing whatever software of application is being used can utilize the cores and threads, typically more performance can be had from pushing all of the cores higher. At present, Intel employs some of the most aggressive methods of automatic overclocking with its Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB), and more recently with Rocket Lake, its new Adaptive Boost Technology (ABT) on its 11th Gen Core i9 K and KF processors.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage when it comes to overclocking the processor has to deal with the extra thermal and power implications. As Intel pushes its silicon almost to its limit right out of the factory, adequate cooling is needed. Due to previous experiences when overclocking our i9-11900K in previous Z590 reviews, we’ve seen power consumption figures surpassing 350 W when overclocking, which is a phenomenal amount of wattage for an eight-core chip. Even at default settings, new processors from both Intel and AMD typically run warmer than previous generations. Hence, we recommend using premium cooling solutions such as AIO CPU coolers or even large tower coolers to help manage the extra heat generated. But even with that said, in a good amount of our 11th Gen CPU overclock testing, it hasn’t been worth the effort. So it will be interesting to see what the Z590 OCF does here.
Experience with the ASRock Z590 OC Formula
As expected from a board designed for extreme overclockers, the firmware has many options for users to tweak and customize to maximize Intel’s Rocket Lake silicon. All of the board’s overclocking options can be found within the OC Tweaker section of the BIOS, which can be accessed by selecting the Advanced move by pressing the F6 key.
Using the OC Tweaker to overclock our Core i9-11900K processor, we experienced no problems whatsoever, and all of the CPU, DRAM, and voltage settings are in their own sections. To overclock the processor, users can simply set the CPU Ratio to All-core or overclock individual cores of the processor by selecting the desired ratio. Users can also make adjustments to the AV2 and AVX-512 ratios for better stability when using these specific instruction sets. All of the voltage settings can be found under the relevant submenu, and there’s plenty for users to tweak and adjust which is expected from a board of this pedigree.
As well as LN2 overclocking profiles there are also memory presets for users with high-bin Samsung B-Die memory. There are plenty of DRAM options, including power settings, VCCSA load-line calibration settings, and many latency options within the DRAM section. It should be noted that when making any adjustments to the CPU VCore within the firmware, the board will automatically revert the CPU load-line calibration to the most aggressive Level 1 profile.
Our overall experience when using the ASRock Z590 OC Formula was pleasant, and the board has every option that any enthusiast could possibly need to overclock both the memory and CPU. There are no options to overclock Intel’s UHD integrated graphics as the board doesn’t include any video outputs.
Our overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with POV-Ray and Prime95 to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.
For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from the previous testing, start off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed. The process is repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (105ºC+). Our testbed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.
The ASRock Z590 OC Formula does come with a couple of overclocking presets, but all of these are designed for extreme overclockers to use as a foundation to build upon when using sub-ambient cooling methods. As such, we decided not to test these given we test using an AIO cooler which could potentially cause damage to our hardware.
Overclocking our Core i9-11900K manually, we did manage to achieve a maximum stable all-core frequency of 5.3 GHz, however this did hit a limiter causing the performance to decrease, even with a peak temperature of 92ºC observed. Going from 4.7 GHz to 5.2 GHz, we noticed very tight levels of VDroop compared to our CPU VCore values and those we saw at full-load. This is perhaps a consequence that when users set manual CPU VCore in the firmware, it reverts the load-line calibration profile to Level 1 which is the most aggressive profile.
Realistically, for every-day use, our best Core i9-11900K would be run at 5.2 GHz with the temperatures tightly monitored. Going beyond that with more exotic cooling, which unfortunately we are not able to test at this time, would suggest that this is one of the better Z590 boards according to results on the HWBot database.
Recently, a lot more focus has been put on power delivery specifications and capabilities, not just by manufacturers, but as a result of users’ demands. In addition to the extra power benefits from things like overclocking, more efficient designs in power deliveries and cooling solutions aim to bring temperatures down. Although this isn’t something most users ever need to worry about, certain enthusiasts are bringing more focus onto each board’s power delivery. The more premium models tend to include bigger and higher-grade power deliveries, with bigger and more intricate heatsink designs, with some even providing water blocks, while others are spending more just to make sure the most efficient parts on the market are being used.
Our method of testing is if the power delivery and its heatsink are effective at dissipating heat. We do this by running an intensely heavy CPU workload for a prolonged method of time. We apply an overclock, which is deemed safe and at the maximum that the silicon on our testbed processor allows. We then run the Prime95 with AVX2 enabled under a torture test for an hour at the maximum stable overclock we can, which puts insane pressure on the processor. We collect our data via three different methods which include the following:
- Taking a thermal image from a birds-eye view after an hour with a Flir Pro thermal imaging camera
- Securing two probes on to the rear of the PCB, right underneath CPU VCore section of the power delivery for better parity in case a probe reports a faulty reading
- Taking a reading of the VRM temperature from the sensor reading within the HWInfo monitoring application
The reason for using three different methods is that some sensors can read inaccurate temperatures, which can give very erratic results for users looking to gauge whether an overclock is too much pressure for the power delivery handle. With using a probe on the rear, it can also show the efficiency of the power stages and heatsinks as a wide margin between the probe and sensor temperature can show that the heatsink is dissipating heat and that the design is working, or that the internal sensor is massively wrong. To ensure our probe was accurate before testing, I binned 10 and selected the most accurate (within 1c of the actual temperature) for better parity in our testing.
To recreate a real-world testing scenario, the system is built into a conventional desktop chassis which is widely available. This is to show and alleviate issues when testing on open testbeds, which we have done previously, which allows natural airflow to flow over the power delivery heatsinks. It provides a better comparison for the end-user and allows us to mitigate issues where heatsinks have been designed with airflow in mind and those that have not. The idea of a heatsink is to allow effective dissipation of heat and not act as an insulator, with much more focus from consumers over the last couple of years on power delivery componentry and performance than in previous years.
For thermal imaging, we use a Flir One camera to indicate where the heat is generated around the socket area, as some designs use different configurations, and an evenly spread power delivery with good components will usually generate less heat. Manufacturers who use inefficient heatsinks and cheap out on power delivery components should run hotter than those who have invested. Of course, a $700 flagship motherboard is likely to outperform a cheaper $100 model under the same testing conditions, but it is still worth testing to see which vendors are doing things correctly.
Thermal Analysis Results
The ASRock Z590 OC Formula is using a 16-phase power delivery specifically for the CPU, with no SoC section. For the CPU, there’s a total of sixteen Intersil ISL99390A 90 A power stages which are operating in a parallel design with eight Intersil ISL6617A doublers. Regulating the power delivery is an Intersil ISL69269 PWM controller operating in an 8+0 mode. Keeping the power delivery cool is a two-section heatsink that is interconnected by a single heat pipe, and combines a large metal rear panel cover which adds some extra surface area to the design. Assisting in the cooling of the power delivery is a pair of small cooling fans which are installed onto the smaller of the two heatsinks, and when forced to full speed were audible when placed in our regular test chassis.
Looking at our VRM thermal testing results, the ASRock Z590 OC Formula performs very well in our testing and as expected due to the active cooling solution, performs better than most of the boards we have tested. Using our FLIR thermal imaging camera, we saw temperatures of 73.6°C on the hottest part around the CPU socket area which is slightly warmer than the power delivery area. In terms of data, the integrated thermal VRM sensor maxed out at 65°C, while the readings from our pair of K-type thermocouples were 69 and 68°C respectively.
Overall the ASRock Z590 OC Formula fared well in our power delivery thermal testing, and with the active cooling solution working well, it’s one of the better designs we’ve seen so far on Z590.
The ASRock Z590 OC Formula is a solid offering. The design is aimed at extreme overclockers, with many of the board’s features and design traits focused on offering the best possible performance. This includes the memory, the power delivery, the PCB design, and the firmware options. But what is built for that market has the potential to be worth it for regular users. When it comes to regular performance or pushing thermals, the ASRock Z590 OC Formula does a great job.
Other features of the Z590 OC Formula include a solid networking tripleheader that includes an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE and Intel I219-V Gigabit controller pairing and Intel’s latest AX210 Wi-fi 6E CNVi. ASRock also includes plenty of support for PCIe 4.0 devices, including two full-length slots operating at x16 and x8/x8, with one PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot for the fastest available NVMe storage. Other PCIe and storage options include one full-length PCIe 3.0 x4 slot, two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, and two PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slots. Interestingly, the PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot is located next to the memory slots, which frees more area around the CPU socket to mount LN2 pots without any restrictions safely.
Focusing on a stock performance level in our test suite, we felt that the OC Formula was quite power-hungry in our long idle and idle power testing but remained competitive when under full-load. In our non-UEFI POST time and DPC latency, the OC Formula performed respectively. Focusing on our computation and gaming performance, the ASRock was competitive with other models on test.
Looking at ‘daily’ overclocking performance, we saw excellent levels of VDroop when testing each frequency from 4.7 to 5.3 GHz. We managed to hit 5.3 GHz all-core stable on this board with 1.45 V set on the CPU VCore, but this proved too much for our Corsair 360mm AIO cooler, and we did get some thermal throttling, even though only 92ºC was observed. So if thermal headroom can be made, there seems to be some room to push.
There is also an extensive overclocker’s toolkit to play around with, which caters to extreme overclockers. In our power delivery thermal tests, the OC Formula performs very well against other boards – showcasing that if the power delivery itself was to be thermally limited, there’s plenty of room at the inn. The active design works well combined with the 12-layer board and heatsinks here.
. The overall design implementation of the Z590 OC Formula is aesthetically pleasing. Some highlights that we want to mention include a dual BIOS switch on the rear panel is a particular highlight in terms of design implementation and a fully-function OLED display that can display live telemetry data on voltages, temperatures, and fan speed. From previous iterations of the OC Formula series, I have to say I prefer the older vibrant yellow as it pops more and looks unique. However, we can see where ASRock is coming from with the slightly acidic yellow color scheme on the Z590 version.
Final Thoughts: For Overclockers, By Nick Shih
While it’s true ANY of the Z590 motherboards can be used under extreme conditions, boards such as the ASRock Z590 OC Formula are designed specifically for that purpose. When it comes to Nick Shih, not only is he a legend of the overclocking game, but he has infused his personal characteristics into the design of the OC Formula, and having spoken to him about this, he is super proud of the new OC-focused products he can bring to the market. While some vendors usually get help from an extreme overclocker to help design OC profiles, the ASRock Z590 OC Formula is personally designed by Nick Shih as lead engineer, and he hasn’t just lent his name for the sake of branding.
Wrapping up our review of the ASRock Z590 OC Formula, not only is it a formidable and premium board for extreme overclockers to attempt and hopefully break world records on, but it’s also functional enough for the everyday user. As always with these sorts of boards, while ehe expensive price tag of $550 is justifiable for extreme overclockers who don’t bat an eyelid in paying $1000+ for a pre binned CPU, for the regular user, there are much more cost-effective options on the market. For this money, on Z590, double the memory slots and options like Thunderbolt 4 and 10 G networking are available for the price.
That being said, it looks good, and it’s a revival of a unique marque of an iconic band. While perhaps day-to-day overclocking isn’t as important as it used to be, sometimes it’s fun to notice the rising mist and peak over the fence to see what the overclockers are cooking (or in this case, cooling).