ASUS Maximus VIII Gene Reviewccokeman -
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ASUS Maximus VIII Gene Introduction:
Having had the privilege of looking over a pair of ASUS' new Z170-based offerings in its Republic of Gamers product stack, it's clear to see who the target market is for this lineup. Packed full of features, much like the Maximus VIII Hero, the Maximus VIII Gene is the smaller cousin made for the market segment that wants a full-sized feature set in a smaller M-ATX form factor motherboard. In the past, ASUS has pulled this off quite well, and I see this version duplicating those efforts. Built to take advantage of Intel's Z170 PCH, you get dual graphics card capability, USB 3.1 A and C connections, ASUS SupremeFX 2015 sound package that pushes on-board audio up yet another notch to get it as close to discrete audio as it can get, ASUS ProClock, and Second Generation T-Topology for unparalleled overclocking are just the tip of the iceberg.
Priced at $228, you get a lot for a modest price point. Let's dig into the Maximus VIII Gene and see how the performance and feature set compare to the ATX form factor Maximus VIII Hero.
ASUS Maximus VIII Gene Closer Look:
The ASUS Maximus VIII Gene is delivered in a package that we all have come to know. The bright, brick red background is used with the Republic of Gamers logo prominently displayed at the top left side of the flip up front panel. The model of this board is run boldly across the middle with the list of supported features running along the bottom. In short, the Maximus VIII Gene is ready for WIndows 10, supports NVIDIA and AMD multi-GPU solutions, is built to use Intel 6th Generation Core series processors, and is able to deliver up to a 4K resolution. The back side lists the detailed specifications and provides additional information on the ASUS SupremeFX 2015 audio solution, Intel LAN controller, USB 3.1 functionality, and that you can take advantage of ASUS' Keybot utility to improve your game.
Normally that is all you get for info until you dig inside the box, but ASUS uses a flip up front panel that goes a bit deeper into what makes the ROG brand such a winning solution. In this case you get a lot of information on the ASUS SupremeFX audio solution on down to the component level. ASUS LanGuard technology is discussed and is a means where ASUS prevents a line voltage surge from taking out your entire rig. Additionally, you get a look at ASUS exclusive features and software including Keybot and the Overwolf Gaming app on top of the hardware level tools in ASUS Gamer's Guardian suite. Lifting the lid usually gives you a look at the board, but as an M-ATX solution there is less real estate for that visual, so you will have to open the box to get a look at this M-ATX form factor wonder.
Underneath the tray holding the motherboard there is room for the accessory bundle. With this board you get a detailed manual driver and software disc; door tag that lets your guests know that they shall not pass into your domain, much like the Balrog in the Lord of the Rings; a set of decals to label the data lines to your drives; and a set of decals to place on the center hub of your installed case fans. It's a nice little touch that just carries the theme right on through the build. On the hardware side are the ASUS Q-Shield that makes cut fingers a thing of the past, Q-Connector for a one step connection for the front panel wiring, SATA 6Gbps data cables, a 2-way SLI bridge connection, and ASUS' own CPU installation tool. This new tool helps keep the user from damaging the pads in the socket with an errant drop of the processor into the socket. Trying to fix those is a challenge I don't wish on anyone.
The packaging is nice to look at, but the hardware is what gets the work done and makes the whole operation tick. Much like the ASUS Maximus VIII Hero, the Maximus VIII Gene is built around Intel's Z170 PCH for use with Intel Sixth Generation Core series processors such as the i7 6700K and 6600K. Where this board differs from the M8H is that the M8G is an M-ATX form factor motherboard with all the same features as its ATX form factor brethren. Visually it looks just like the M8H, just shorter and missing a few PCIe slots. ASUS builds the PCB with a proprietary fiber weave design and gives the PCB a deep black look that does not brown out under the lights. The layout is clean and is what you expect from an ROG board. The heat sinks over the Extreme Engine Digi+ VRM and PCH are held on with screws. Under the VRM heat sinks are a pair of back plates that not only provide a more secure mount for the heat sink on the top side of the PCB, but help with heat removal on the bottom of the PCB.
I/O connectivity on the Maximus VIII Gene starts with the Clear CMOS and USB BIOS Flashback buttons. USB BIOS Flashback is a tool that allows the user to flash the BIOS with only power applied to the board. The CPU and memory do not need to be installed to use this feature. Next up are Type A and C USB 3.1 ports; two of the six USB 3.0 ports; DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4a ports; a combo mouse/keyboard PS2 port; the remaining four USB 3.0 ports; a LAN Guard protected, GameFirst II-managed Intel I219V-based Gigabit LAN port; and finally the gold plated audio outputs for the ASUS SupremeFX 2015 audio solution. Expansion slots include three PCIe slots, two PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots that will run at x16 with a single discrete video card and/or dual x8 with a pair of cards. One PCIe 3.0 x4 is available for additional add-in cards, but will be covered with a two-slot cooling solution when a graphics card is in the lower 16x slot.
The ASUS SupremeFX audio codec is covered with a metal shield to improve audio performance. Nichicon high-end audio capacitors are visible towards the bottom of the board where all the audio components are attached to the PCB. ASUS uses its Red Line moat to isolate the audio components from the rest of the PCB. By doing so it minimizes signalling interference and provides separate layers for the audio solution to run through. ASUS' SupremeFX 2015 sound solution is the next generation of its onboard sound solutions and comes with a host of professional grade audio components, including an "ESS ES9023P digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with Hyperstream™ technology, ultra-low-jitter clock, Nichicon capacitors, 2Vrms headphone amp, and Sonic SenseAmp that automatically detects and optimizes any headset (32-600 ohms) for purest sound quality".
Along the bottom of the PCB are a lot of the internal connectivity options as well as switches for ASUS specific features. Right next to the audio components and inside the "Red Line" moat, the front panel audio connection starts off this trip followed by the Start, Reset, Retry, and Safe Boot buttons. Next would be the ROG EXT terminal block that is used when connecting an ASUS OC Panel to the system. After that is a USB 2.0 header, sensor header with the LN2 jumper behind the sensor, the EXT fan header that can be Fan Xpert controlled leads to an external PCB to handle additional fans. A 4-pin Fan Xpert header and the Front Panel header used with ASUS Q-Connector round out the connectivity on the lower edge of the PCB.
Storage capabilities start with the single M.2 Socket 3 with M Key that supports type 2242/2260/2280/22110 devices in both SATA or PCIE mode. The M.2 socket resides between the two x16 PCIe slots. There are two SATA Express ports that can be used as four of the available six SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, Intel® Rapid Storage Technology, and Intel® Smart Response Technology. A single USB 3.0 header that supports up to two ports sits just below the 24-pin ATX power supply connection. A series of LEDs sit right against the socket and illuminate as the CPU, DRAM, and GPU are fired up during the post sequence. A pair of Fan Xpert controlled PWN 4-pin fan headers are followed up by the Mem OK button. This button allows the board to try and boot by adjusting the memory timings, speeds, and voltage to attempt a successful post. The last item on the right side of the PCB is the Q-LED that is used to help diagnose a boot failure by viewing the displayed codes. It's an invaluable tool when you look at it. The Q-Dimm sockets allow for support of up to 64GB of DDR4 memory using speed ratings of 3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3466(O.C.)/3400(O.C.)/3333(O.C.)/3300(O.C.)/3200(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2133 in a dual channel configuration. ASUS uses its Second Generation T-Topology to minimize variances in signalling and voltages from each DIMM socket to increase memory overclocking margins.
Across the top of the PCB are voltage check points that are used to check the actual voltages applied versus taking your chances with a software interpretation of the applied voltage. CPU, CPU Optional and a water pump 4-pin header can be PWM controlled and managed by ASUS Fan Xpert software/hardware controller. An 8-pin auxiliary power connection is used to supply the additional current needs of the processor. Behind each of the ports on the I/O panel are diodes that help limit your exposure to an electrostatic discharge. Additionally, ASUS uses ESD Guards to cover the PS2, USB, audio, and LAN ports, offering a 2x uptick in ESD protection.
ASUS uses its Extreme Engine Digi+ power supply circuitry to manage the power sent to the CPU and DRAM. This solution uses Texas Instruments NexFET™ MOSFETs that are up to 90% more efficient, MicroFine alloy chokes that run up to 31% cooler than chokes with a larger granular structure, and Extreme Engine Digi+ PWM controller and 10K black metallic capacitors that have a 5x improved lifespan with a 20% boost in temperature tolerance to offer improved efficiency and voltage control. A reset-able fuse is used to protect the DRAM from over-current situations and doubles as the means to protect the board from inbound power surges.
Cooling the Z170 PCH and Extreme Engine Digi+ VRM circuit are a pair of heat sinks. The lower, flat heat sink covers the Z170 PCH and is infused with LEDs that can be modulated with ASUS' lighting control feature. Around the LGA 1151 socket is a heat pipe-interconnected heat sink that is stylish and is tasked with managing the heat load from the VRM circuit. One of the tools included in this package is ASUS' CPU Installation tool to prevent the end user from dropping the processor and damaging the pads in the LGA 1151 socket. Having had the privilege of bending the pads back into shape with a needle and magnifying glass, I can say this should help.
If the Maximus VIII Hero I just looked is any indication, ASUS has yet another board that takes advantage of the price point with a solid feature set aimed at the target market. But this time around we get all the goods in a M-ATX form factor.