ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula Reviewccokeman -
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ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula Introduction:
Intel introduced its 7th Generation Core series products, code named Kaby Lake, back during the hoopla of CES in January. To go with it, the Z270 chipset was announced to take advantage of and build a new feature set around the platform. ASUS has put together a wide range of motherboards to work with the new features and processors from the Workstation, TUF, and Builder Series boards. You cannot leave out the ROG or Republic of Gamers boards when you talk about ASUS. For many, they are considered the gold standard of what you should get from a gaming-centric motherboard. As gaming-centric, enthusiast level motherboards, the ROG series usually come with all the bells and whistles to allow you to reach the performance limits of your installed hardware. Typically in the mid-range you had the Maximus Series motherboards that were offered up from mild to wild, with the "Extreme" the most feature rich of the group. With this year's models built with the 200 Series chipsets we see some segmentation, with the "Strix" Series boards filling up the stack to offer up boards to meet just about everyone's needs.
Today I will be looking at one of the boards in ASUS ROG Maximus Series product stack, the Maximus IX Formula. This board comes with a whole laundry list of features, from ASUS Supreme FX sound, OC Design, AURA RGB Lighting, a world class BIOS, built-in water block for the all-digital VRM circuits, and so very much more. With a retail just short of $400, the Formula has some pretty high expectations to live up to based on that price point. As the stock market pundits will tell you, past performance does not equate to future trends. Let's see if the Maximus IX Formula can deliver a forward thinking feature set with the performance we have come to expect.
ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula Closer Look:
Gone is the burgundy hue that was the standard ROG look for years. It is now replaced with a striking blood red, black, and silver theme to the packaging. The Republic of Gamers logo is prominently featured at the top right, with the product name across the middle of the box front. At the bottom left are some of the supported technologies. You get support for Intel's 7th Generation Core Series processors, NVIDIA and AMD multi-GPU strategies, AURA Lighting, and EK water block support. This proves interesting when you take the board out of the box. The back side of the package lists the expansive feature set alongside a picture of the Maximus IX Formula motherboard.
Opening up the package, you can see the Maximus IX Formula through the plastic covering over the box holding the board. In the lower section of the package is the whole of the accessory bundle. Based on past ROG bundles, this one is on par for the size and scope of the extras you get. Documentation includes a manual, driver disc, cable labels, a sheet with fan hub and assorted stickers, and, last but not least, a couple coasters to keep your frosty beverage from marking your desk. The hardware side of the bundle is fairly robust, with all the parts you need to take advantage of the feature set on the Maximus IX Formula. To start, there are six SATA 6Gbps cables, a CPU installation tool, M.2 drive mounting bracket with the mounting screws, a dual band antenna, Q-Connector, High Bandwidth SLI Birdge, and RGB LED wiring harness to connect RGB LED strips directly to the board and managed via the ASUS AURA software package.
At first glance you would think you are looking at one of ASUS' TUF Series boards instead of one of ASUS' ROG motherboards. But upon closer inspection you would find out the mistake fairly quickly. The ROG logo on the PCH heat sink and mid board LED lighting point it out quickly. Built around the Z270 PCH, the Maximus IX Formula is designed to work with Intel's 7th Generation Core Series processors and DDR4 memory. Visually, you get a motherboard that looks like it is loaded for bear, with a liquid cooled heatsink for the VRM and a shroud on the front to cover the bulk of the motherboard's surface - from the I/O shroud to the SATA drive connections. The shroud on the front side of the PCB is made of plastic, while the plate on the back side is made of metal to rigidly support the PCB. The Maximus IX Formula is an ATX form factor board that should fit in any chassis designed to accept an ATX form factor board.
With this board there is a major revamp of how the I/O area is structured. Not so much in the connectivity, but in the I/O shield. On the Maximus IX Formula, we see that there is a permanently mounted I/O shield. A first that I have seen. On the I/O panel we start with the Clear CMOS and USB BIOS Flashback buttons at the top of the stack. Next up are the 2x2 MU-MIMO 802.11AC WiFi connections, HDMI 1.4b, and DisplayPort 1.2 ports. Four USB 2.0 ports in black are followed by four USB 3.0 ports in blue. Two USB 3.1 ports are included on the back I/O, one type A and one type C port, underneath the LANGuard-protected I219V intel managed RJ-45 Gigbit LAN connection. Last up are the gold plated analog audio ports and a single optical S/PDIF connection used with the all-new SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC S1220.
Expansion slots on the Maximus IX Formula include a trio of PCIe 3.0 16x slots and a trio of 1x slots. The top two 16x slots run at x16 with a single GPU installed or x8 / x8 when both are populated with graphics cards. The top two slots are ASUS Safe Slots that feature a metal bracket around the slot to improve retention and shear strength on these two slots. NVIDIA 2-Way and AMD 3-Way or quad-GPU solutions are supported with this configuration. The retention brackets that hold the GPU in the socket are part of the AURA lighting effect on this board and change colors to any color you want while using the AURA lighting controls.
Hidden under the shroud is the bulk of the new SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio solution. This solution uses an all-new SupremeFX S1220 codec, Nichicon capacitors for a richer sound, an ESS® Sabre Hi-Fi ES9023P DAC capable of -94 db THD, a Texas Instruments® RC4850 op-amp, and features an impedence sensing feature for both the front and rear audio ports to ensure the system meets your needs. Rated at 113dB signal-to-noise ratio, this new codec should raise the bar for ASUS Supreme FX solutions.
Along the bottom of the PCB you get a ton of connectivity that works with the feature set of the board. Starting off on the left is the front panel audio header that works with ASUS' SupremeFX audio solution, The first AURA Lighting RGB LED headers, one of the eight independently controlled PWM fan headers, TPM header, Retry Button, Safe Boot Button, and the Mem OK button. Next up is the ROG Extension connection, a USB 2.0 header, Slow Mode switch for use when doing some extreme overclocking, another PWM fan header, M.2 Socket 3 with M Key supporting type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices, and the front panel connections.
There is actually a lot going on on the right hand side of the custom black PCB. To start, there is the speaker header, fan extension card header, and then we get to the water cooling zone. In white, from the left, are the water temperature out and in temperature probe headers, and a water flow meter header to get a visual representation of what kind of flow you have in your custom water loop. These headers are followed up by a thermal sensor header the LN2 mode header and another of the eight PWM controlled fan headers.
Behind the water cooling zone, under the shroud, is the second M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, supporting type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices. Up next are six SATA 6Gb/s ports that support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10; Intel® Smart Response Technology; Intel® Rapid Storage Technology; and is Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready. A USB 3.0 header followed by an ASMedia-controlled front panel USB 3.1 header is next, while the 24-pin ATX power connection sits in the traditional position. The power and reset buttons are covered with a tab attached to the shroud. On these tabs are the words Start and Reset that light up when the board is powered on and working. The ligting for these buttons is covered by the AURA Lighting software. ASUS Q-LED diagnostic display is at the top right of the board. This location makes it easy to view through a clear side panel on your chassis of choice.
As usual, there is not a lot to discuss across the top of the PCB. However, there is one item of interest. A High Amp fan header that can handle up to three amps for use with a water pump. The hybrid liquid/air cooled VRM heat sink runs across the top of the VRM, followed up by the 8-pin Auxilliary CPU power connection.
The CPU socket is in a standard, for the form factor, location and is surrounded by the components of the VRM circuit and the means with which to cool it down. The I/O components are well covered by the LED lit shroud. There are three headers to the upper left of this area. One is the independently controlled CPU fan header, optional CPU fan header, and the second AURA Lighting enabled RGB LED strip connection (in white). At the lower left are two more fan headers. One is designed to be used to power an AIO water pump. This header is not Q-Fan controlled and runs at full speed all the time. ASUS' all-digital Extreme Engine Digi+ controlled power circuitry is used on this motherboard. Microfine Alloy chokes that run up to 31% cooler and Japanese-made 10K black capacitors are used because of a 20% greater thermal tolerance and 5x greater lifespan, along with Texas Instruments NexFET MOSFETs round out the VRM components.
ASUS uses an OC Design that takes commands from the TPU controller to the Digi+ controller and ProClock base clock controller to effectively manage the clock and voltage control to deliver higher overclocking margins. ASUS continues with its enhanced T-Topology with optimized trace layouts that again help with overclocking margins and memory performance. Up to 64GB of DDR4 memory in a dual channel configuration can be used in the Maximus IX Formula Q-DIMM sockets. Memory speeds up to 4133MHz are supported by the system.
The cooling solution employed by ASUS on the Maximus IX Formula includes a hybrid air/liquid cooling solution for the Extreme Engine Digi+ power circuit. This solution is called CrossChill EK II and is designed with EK, a premier liquid cooling supplier. Getting the most out of this copper-based solution will require a liquid cooling system. By getting wet, you can see an up to 23 °C drop in operating temperatures on the VRM. You can use just about any fittings on the market as long as you use a G 1/4 thread. I was able to get a couple of 1/2 inch Monsoon Fittings to fit in the space available at the top and left openings. A large, flat LED lit heat sink is used to cover the Z270 PCH. At no part in my testing did it get what I would call warm.
What we have here is a feature rich motherboard built to tackle the demands of an enthusiast user base. The motherboard is not the only part of the package though. ASUS' software package is usually a point of difference that not only allows the hardware to shine, but has some added value options. Let's take a look.