ASUS Maximus V Formula Reviewccokeman - December 16, 2012
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Maximus V Formula Closer Look:
Built around the Z77 chipset and LGA 1155 socket, the Maximus V Formula is equipped to use both Second (32nm) and Third generation (22nm) Intel Core series processors like the Core i7 3770K. The Maximus V Formula is an Extended ATX form factor board that measures 12 inch x 10.1 inch. The traditional red on black theme is used to effect with lighted accents on the heat sink under the CPU and from the Red Line Shielding of the Supreme FX IV sound solution. The layout is similar to what ASUS uses on the rest of the product stack as far as the CPU and DIMM socket layout. Where it differs most dramatically is the size of the Fusion Thermo hybrid cooling solution, the larger size of the PCB, and the ability to run a 3-way GPU configuration. The back of the black PCB has a flat heat sink for the back side of the 8+4+2 VRM circuit. Each piece of the cooling solution is held securely in place by screws. Foxconn is the maker of the socket retention mechanism, much like on the Maximus V Gene.
The I/O panel contains most of the external connectivity options. From the left is the Clear CMOS button, header for the included mPCIe riser card with support for an mSATA 3Gb/s SSD, the ROG Connect button, four USB 2.0 ports with the white one being used with the ROG connect cable when tethering a netbook or laptop to the PC, two ASMedia-controlled USB 3.0 ports that support USB Boost 3.0 in UASP mode, a single eSATA port, video options that include a single HDMI port that supports resolutions up to 1920x1200 and a single DisplayPort 1.1 port that supports up to 2560x1600 resolution, an optical S/PDIF out port, two more USB 3.0 ports controlled by the Z77 chipset, an Intel-controlled Gigabit LAN port used with ASUS GameFirst II software, an optical S/PDIF input port, and the analog connections for the 7.1 channel HD audio. There are seven expansion slots on the Maximus V Formula: one PCIe 2.0 4x slot at the top, three PCIe 1x slots, and the bottom 16x slot that supports PCIe 2.0 and runs at 4x when populated. The two top 16x PCIe slots are the PCIe 3.0 slots and support quad-GPU configurations from NVIDIA and AMD using a pair of dual-GPU video cards. The top slot runs at 16x with one video card installed in the system and at 8x x 8x when a pair occupy the top two 16x slots. 3-Way CrossFireX is supported when all three 16x slots are populated at 8x (3.0) x 4x (3.0) x 4x (2.0). 3-Way SLI is not supported with this configuration. A PLX PEX8608 8-Lane, 8-Port PCI Express Gen 2 module is used between the second and third PCIe 16x slots to ensure adequate connectivity options.
ASUSs' Supreme FX IV sound solution occupies room on the bottom left hand side of the PCB and has the analog and digital sections isolated so that the sound solution, while still on the PCB, acts as though it were a discrete add-in solution. The boundary between the analog and digital zones are marked by a "Red Line" lighting PCB moat. While functional, it is an element that also adds to the look of the board once installed in the chassis. The audio controller is shielded with a tin-plated cover to eliminate any electromagnetic interference that could impact audio quality. Furthermore, the components are arranged strategically to again reduce the impact of any interference. As you can see, ASUS Supreme FX IV audio is not just your typical on-board sound solution. ELNA Premium Audio capacitors, along with a large 1500uF Capacitor, deliver the power needed to drive the sound. A Texas Instruments 6120A2 Headphone Amplifier has output capabilities of 120dB SNR and 117dB THD+N,and the ability to drive up to 300ohm load impedance. DTS UltraPC II and DTS Connect are both supported with Supreme FX IV.
Along the bottom edge of the PCB, the ELNA capacitors and Texas Instruments headphone amp start off the show with the front panel audio header, S/PDIF output header, EZ plug power connection to supply more current to the PCIe slots when all three 16x slots are populated, one of the eight 4-pin headers that can be controlled through ASUS Fan Expert 2 software, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, another fan header, optional temperature sensor plug, and the front panel header where you would use the Q-Connector. Above the USB 2.0 headers is the ROG controller with a Trusted Platform module header above the fan header.
Drive connectivity on right hand side of the Maximus V Formula consists of six SATA 6Gb/s ports in red and two SATA 3Gb/s ports in black. The pair of SATA 6Gb/s ports next to the SATA 3Gb/s ports are controlled by the Z77 PCH and support RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel Rapid Storage, and Intel Smart Response Technology. The balance of the SATA 6Gb/s connectivity is controlled by a pair of ASMedia ASM 1061 controllers. With this port configuration, you get a wealth of 6Gb/s connectivity for the attached storage solutions. A USB 3.0 header is used to supply a pair of USB 3.0 ports on the front panel or through an add-in device. Up to 32GB of DDR3 2800MHz memory is supported. The support is there from ASUS, but other factors such as memory modules that are capable of reaching that speed is the first part of the equation, as well as a Core Series processor such as the 3770K that has an integrated memory controller that can run the number. The highest I have run with the 3770K used in this system is with a set of Corsair Dominator Platinum 2133MHz modules that will post at 2600MHz. Until I secure a series of modules that are rated higher, this is the max I have seen with this CPU. My test system modules easily pushed over 2400MHz. By using a T-Topology trace layout that essentially equalizes the distance from each DIMM slot, ASUS is able to deliver better memory OC support. Just above the USB 3.0 port is the 24-pin EATX power connection; one of four total power inputs to the Maximus V Formula.
Just above the 24-pin connection is where a large part of the ROG feature set is located. In front of the 24-pin connection are the Q-LEDs. An LN2 mode jumper is used to help eliminate a CPU's "cold bug" that can prevent a system start when running in a low temperature environment. A set of voltage measuring points are available to verify the voltages applied in the BIOS for the CPU, IGP, DRAM, PLL, PCH, IO, and System agent voltages. I'm still a fan of a captured solution here for voltage measuring points, but that adds cost that is better applied to other parts of the board. The GO button is used to apply a user-configured BIOS profile in the "tools". When the GO button is pushed before POST, it enables Mem OK to run a series of algorithms, including voltage and memory timing, to allow the installed memory to post the system. Large Power (Start) and Reset buttons are quite useful when running on a tech bench and during extreme overclocking sessions where the board may not be in a chassis and connected to the front panel switches. Just behind the reset switch is the Extreme Engine Digi+ II controller. Another of the eight fully controllable fan headers sits between the Start button and the Slow Mode switch, which is used when running below -10 ºC to improve margins and CPU stability. ASUS Q-Code LED displays POST cycle information used for diagnosing reasons for a failed POST, such as the 55 code seen when running memory modules above what the CPU IMC can handle.
Across the top of the PCB, other than the aforementioned features, are the Fan Xpert 2 configurable CPU fan headers, the top portion of the Fusion Thermo Hybrid cooling solution, and an EATX 8-pin + 4-pin auxiliary CPU power connection to deliver enough current to feed even the hungriest of overclocked CPUs. Behind each of the port risers are diodes that help eliminate static electrical surge damage to the on-board components.
ASUS Maximus V Formula is built using the Z77 chipset for use with socket 1155 Intel Second and Third Generation Core series including the 32nm Core i7 2600K and 22nm Core i7 3770K . ASUS uses its fully digital Extreme Engine Digi+ II 8+4+2 phase power system for the CPU+IGPU+DRAM, respectively. As part of the power circuit, ASUS uses Japanese-made Nichicon GT series Black Metallic capacitors that offer up to a 5x increase in lifespan over traditional capacitors, a 20% improvement in low temperature endurance, and an increased temperature range of -70 ºC to 125 ºC. The CPU retention mechanics are by Foxconn, as seen on the first of the Maximus V series to launch the MVG.
As an enthusiast and gaming platform, cooling performance is paramount for the components that run hottest on the PCB. One of the first motherboards from ASUS that used this kind of feature was the Socket 775 ROG Blitz Extreme I looked at back in January of 2008. By equipping the Maximus V Formula with its Fusion Thermo Hybrid Liquid/Air cooling solution, a broader spectrum of the user base is reached. Incorporating a nickle-plated copper liquid channel into the VRM heat sink ensures the liquid cooling enthusiast does not have to spend additional money to cool these components. Air cooling works well, but liquid cooling works better and results in up to a 25% reduction of operating temperatures on components covered by the Fusion Thermo system. Using 7/16" barbs again allows a broader section of the DIY market to be reached with compatible components available from the majority of the aftermarket. The rest of the cooling solution looks a little mundane, but is fully functional. A small heat sink is used mid board and is equipped with the ROG logo. The heat sink over the Z77 chipset is pretty beefy, with slots that run parallel to the airflow from a front chassis fan.
ASUS Maxumus V Gene was an impressive board in terms of feature set in a smaller package. The Maximus V Formula looks to add the full size feature set and drive forward with improvements that make it a more complete solution for the ROG market. Not that the "Mini Me" version was less than capable. We have seen what the hardware offers, so let's take a look at the software component of the Maximus V Formula package.