When you build a motherboard like this, with a strong focus on overclocking, you’re going to need something to back it up at a software level. Especially since when using the board as part of a normal machine.. well, you’re not going to be spending every moment in the BIOS/UEFI. ASRock have pieced together a collection of tools designed and geared towards the overclocker, as well as a few convenience tools like the previously covered XFast USB and XFast LAN.
Formula Drive is a rebranded version of ASRock’s AXTU which we saw on the Z77 Extreme6. Now named Formula Drive to appropriately tie in with the OC Formula product, the suite allows control and monitoring of a number of features.
The first screen is Hardware Monitor. Allowing quick access to voltage and performance information of your CPU, along with fan speeds, this screen is a quick go-to when you need to reference information. The second screen enables you to set your own fan curves, and is aptly titled Fan-tastic tuning. Similar in idea to ASUS’s FanXpert software, Fan-tastic tuning will test your fans initially then allow you to set the curve to suit your needs.
Tab three is the overclocking tab, and is therefore the screen I imagine that will get the most use for people purchasing the OC Formula. Many of the voltage options present in the BIOS are available here, with one major exception: LLC. I find LLC to be a vital part of my overclocking, allowing me to attain higher clocks at lower voltages when used correctly. For this reason, for myself, the Formula Drive would not be used to attain an overclock, but rather tweak it if required. ASUS’s Ai Suite allowed control of LLC, but this was attained through the use of their TPU technology, which is why I’ve not seen the option available on any other manufacturers boards. On the fourth of seven panes, OC DNA allows saving of your profiles to a file on your hard drive. This allows easy sharing of overclock profiles between other users of the OC Formula. It can also be used traditionally to simply switch between profiles you’ve created for different speeds or system settings.
The next tab allows you to enable IES. IES intelligently limits how many phases are used to deliver power to your CPU, allowing you to undervolt and conserve power whilst running at stock settings. IES will not function when overclocked. In fact, simply accessing this pane whilst I was overclocked caused BSODs! The penultimate tab allows access to the multitude of sensors dotted around the board. It will create a popup that gives you a diagram of the board to help understand where each sensor is located. Underneath the popup is a list-form readout of the sensors and their current temperatures.
Finally, the seventh pane is titled XFast RAM. You can use this feature to allocate a portion of your RAM to become a “RAM Disk.” What this does is creates a storage medium from your RAM, allowing access to the files you place there at speeds faster than a SSD. Actually, it’s even faster than more than one SSD in RAID 0!
Timing Configurator is a utility with a small footprint that allows you to tweak RAM timings on the fly. Allowing you to change the 5 most common timings as well as a plethora of other options, this utility is absolutely brilliant. I actually used this many times whilst tweaking my RAM overclock and managed to utilize it to decrease timings without having to constantly restart my machine to check stability.
ASRock’s XFast USB utility is actually made by FNet, and is then rebranded as part of ASRock’s XFast suite. The idea behind XFast USB is to boost the performance of any storage drive plugged into any USB port that is connected to the motherboard headers. This means it will not work with your rear i/o on the motherboard, so you’ll need to use your front panel USB ports, or a USB expansion card or bay.
It’s a very simple piece of software. It runs at system start, and there is no in-software option to disable that. You can of course disable it in msconfig if you’re comfortable changing those Windows settings. Clicking the “Options” button brings up the ability to change the software language. Clicking the “About” button brings up your typical software information, including version number and copyright information. Clicking the “Help” button redirects you to an advertisement masquerading as a help page online.
Once you get past the endless UAC prompts and insertion and removal of your external storage, you’re good to go!
XFast LAN is the second of ASRock’s flagship XFast 555 suite. It promises improved ping time for gaming and other applications. XFast LAN is another rebranded utility, this time originally written by cFos Software.
Once installed, XFast LAN is added to your system startup, and runs as soon as you load into Windows. There isn’t, however, an option to simply exit the utility and return to your normal configuration. You have to kill the process from task manager. I’d like to think that it’s common courtesy for a software company to include the option to NOT use the software at any given time, or, to not add it to your startup when installed.
If you choose to remove it from your startup, and want to run it “when you need it”, you won’t find it installed in your Taskbar or Desktop. Typing “XFast LAN” into Windows 7’s search bar will not yield any results – because the executable is named cfosspeed.exe, and aside from ASRock’s skin, has no further “XFast” association.
When using the software, you can expand the skin to enable or disable features with a single click.
Clicking the Settings button brings you to a large configuration pane, with a huge wealth of options, yet very little explanation of what changing the settings will do. Unless you are experienced with networking, it is unlikely you’ll be changing anything in these settings.
There are presets for many games, which is nice, but still some games are omitted – Valve’s popular Team Fortress 2, for example, has no profile set for it.
Not the easiest to use, and kind of intrusive – you can’t minimize the software when it’s active, for example. Is your screen real estate worth sacrificing for the performance boost it may provide? That’s up to you; I can see this being hugely beneficial to users who run an external NIC, but for the average joe it’s not particularly useful.
LucidLogix Virtu MVP
One of the flagship features of the Z77 platform is its support for Lucid Virtu MVP. You may be familiar with Lucid Virtu from the Z77’s predecessor, the Z68 chipset. On Z68, Virtu would assign tasks to either your integrated graphics or your discrete graphics card based on which tool was best for the job. For example, in video games Virtu would have your computer use your discrete GPU, whereas if you wanted to encode video or other similar application, it would assign the task to your CPU’s integrated option.
With Z77 and the introduction of Lucid Virtu MVP, the technology now offers Hyperformance too. By enabling Hyperformance, you tell Virtu to use both your discrete GPU and iGPU. By also enabling Virtual VSync, you instruct Virtu remove or replace redundant frames from your video source. For example, if your monitor’s refresh rate is 60Hz, Virtu will take advantage of the fact that you are not going to benefit from any framerate over 60FPS – it can then attempt to instruct your GPU to to not bother rendering certain frames that you’re not going to see, therefore freeing up resources and improving performance.
Once you have Virtu installed, you will be presented with the following screen. Here you can enable GPU virtualization. You need this enabled to take advantage of the other features Virtu MVP offers.
The second screen enables activation of Hyperformance and Virtual VSync. Enabling both of these will grant the biggest performance increase in terms of resources available.
The third screen allows application specific control. D-mode allows the use of the power of a graphics card, whilst being able to take advantage of specific Intel Integrated Graphics features, such as Quick Sync video transcoding technology. You need to have your display connected to your graphics card for this feature. I-Mode allows switching between the two technologies, which allows substantial power savings when the use of the discrete graphics card isn’t required. Checking the H checkbox enables Hyperformance for that particular application.
The fourth screen is a very simple “About” page, detailing release information and other non-functional aspects of the software.
I tested the Lucid Virtu MVP function in Battlefield 3. When I tested Virtu MVP on the Z77 Extreme6, Virtu’s drivers were not fantastic and would not cooperate with newer nVidia drivers. When attempting to utilize the tool this time, I had no issue, and Battlefield 3 launched trouble-free.
As you can see, there is a pretty large FPS increase here. For those of you using older hardware or simply mid-range hardware but the most intensive games, Virtu MVP may be the difference between playability and stuttering. A useful tool.