Asus ROG Maximus III Formula P55 Previewccokeman - August 25, 2009
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As the launch of Intel's Core i5 and 800 series Core i7 processors creeps ever closer, the hardware for this next generation is quickly starting to see the light of day. All the major manufacturers have pulled out the stops to see who has the biggest and baddest board on the block. Gigabyte is claiming a 24 phase power circuit for its top end UD6 version of the company's P55 board while ASUS is taking a different tack with the use of an intelligent design strategy called Extreme Design. Realizing that just one feature does not the motherboard make, it takes a whole package to be successful. With that said, the ROG Maximus III Formula gets a load of features that are aimed squarely at the gamer and hardcore enthusiast. Let's take a quick jaunt around this board and see what it has to offer before it goes under the gun.
The ASUS ROG Maximus III is the ROG (Republic of Gamers) rendition of the P55 based motherboards from ASUS. This series is built with the gamer in mind and includes features that set it apart from the P7P55D series. First, the color scheme used is black and red. This is a proven color scheme that just says performance. When you look at high performance cars that people drive, what two colors say "yes, it is fast?" Black and red! The Maximus III board includes features you won't find on even the top of the non ROG line P7P55D Deluxe such as ROG Connect, Game First and the Go button. Stack Cool construction is used on the Maximus using a 2oz copper layer for better electrical conductivity and heat distribution. On the back side of the board you can see the 1156 socket backplate as well as the fact that the heatsinks are bolted on and not attached with push pins.
The I/O panel has some unique features. Sure, you have the standard stuff like the PS/2 connection, but most gamers have gone to USB based mice and keyboards. In this respect the Maximus does not disappoint with a total of nine USB 2.0 ports. One of these is used exclusively for the ROG Connect feature that allows you to monitor and tweak the BIOS via software installed on your notebook or netbook. Additionally, there is only one LAN port, a clear CMOS button for when you get a little aggressive on the overclock settings, a single eSATA port and a single IEEE 1394 port to round out the I/O connectivity. When you move down the board you get to the expansion slots. There a total of three x16x PCI-E slots on the Maximus III Formula. Electrically, the top slot runs at x16 in single card mode then goes to an x8 x x8 configuration with multiple cards. Crossfire and SLI are supported. The third slot is a x1 electrically. There are two more PCI-E x1 slots and two PCI slots for use on this board. The uppermost x1 slot will be used by the included SupremeFX X-Fi audio card.
Along the bottom of the Maximus III Formula you have the rest of the USB and Firewire connectivity along with onboard Start and Reset buttons. These are clearly marked and making starting up your system much easier if you are using a tech bench or just aren't inclined to hook up the front panel connections for your chassis. Although I don't see why not with the ease of use of the Q-connectors that ASUS has been shipping with just about all of its boards that I have looked at in the past couple years. In between the 1394 header and the fan header you have the Thermal Sensor probe header. On the right side you have two more USB 2.0 ports to bring total USB connectivity to thirteen ports. The red SATA ports next to the front panel header are the Speed HDD ports that run in a dual channel design to increase the throughput. These are controlled via a JMicron controller. Last, but not least, along the bottom you have the front panel header.
Spinning around to the right side you have six more SATA 3.0Gb/s ports. Things get really interesting as you move up this side of the board. Once you reach the 24-pin ATX power supply connection you will notice some small LEDs and voltage checkpoints to allow you to find out exactly where the voltages are running. The LEDs are part of the Q LED system that can help with diagnostics. Voltage measurement points are available in an easy to use location and include check points for the CPU pll volts, PCH volts, the CPU Vcore, Dram and the IMC volts. Just before you get to the 24-pin connector is the Mem Ok button. This little button allows you to make sure the memory will not hold up a POST by running a series of tests, first reducing the latencies of the memory then adjusting the voltage in an attempt to get the memory stable enough to boot the system. A pretty cool tool that I can't wait to try out.
There are a total of four memory slots so that the memory can be run in a dual channel configuration. A departure from what was done on the X58 chipset with its Tri Channel memory solution. If you look closely, the memory retention method is a bit different from what has been used in the past. On one end the locking mechanism pushes straight down rather than rotating into place. By using this mechanism you don't run into space issues when using some of the massive video cards on the market.
By the time you get around to the top section of the board, there is not that much left to look at. Along this edge you have a few fan headers and the EATX 12v power connection. The heatsink along the top is for part of the power supply circuit for the CPU. Behind the I/O connections there is a chip that is of interest; if you are not really a hardcore clocker but want this board for all of the performance enhancements and the stunning looks then the EPU6 processor can help you with your energy concerns when you are not busy fragging folks.
Moving inboard, the 1156 pin socket is right in the midst of a huge amount of hardware. Around the socket is the 16+3 phase power circuit with a mass of solid caps polished to a chrome like finish for the extra bling factor. The heatsinks on the chipset and the MOSFETs are all interconnected via a single heatpipe arrangement. The 1156 pin socket is a bit different from previous generations and uses a three point lockdown system.
The heasink over the PCH is massive and dominates the real estate on the bottom side of the ROG Maximus III Formula. The VRM heatsinks look small by comparison to what is used on some of the current X58 and older hardware. This may well be ASUS's Extreme Design concept in action. More equal loading of the power phases reduces hot spots by spreading the load so a smaller heatsink may well do the job. The heatsink in the middle lights up when the board is powered up.
What you have with the ROG Maximus III Formula is a board that looks ready to carry the ROG nameplate into the next generation. If past performance is any indication, the Maximus III will be a board that performs as good as it looks. Stay tuned for the full review!