ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Extreme Reviewccokeman -
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ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Extreme Introduction:
For quite some time, ASUS' Republic of Gamers motherboards have been the standard for which all others have been measured. Not only becasue of the branding and traditional red and black theming, but because the ROG brand is continually evolving to meet the needs of the target market. At one point the ROG boards were limited to a single board in ASUS' product stack. But now you get a whole silo full of boards that meet the needs at each price point and form factor. Be it as support for Intel or AMD in both the extreme and mid-ranged segment, ASUS has the gamer covered.
Today I am looking at the ASUS Republic of Gamers Maximus VIII Extreme (M8E), ASUS' top of the line ROG Z170 motherboard. Packed full of unique hardware level features and a software suite that maximizes all of the hardware's capabilities, the Maximus VIII Extreme is built to impress. As the king of the hill, this impression does come with a significant price of entry into the exclusive club of ownership. At $485, the price is a bit steep for the average user, but your average user is not building on the extreme side of the fence where overclocking is King. For that price, ASUS does send out an exceptional feature set including its SupremeFX 2015 sound package, USB 3.1, Extreme Engine Digi+ all digital power circuits, and so very much more.
Let's take a look at what ASUS brings to the table with this iteration of the Maximus VIII line up. So far each of the previous boards in the product stack have set the bar pretty high. The question is, will the Maximus VIII Extreme deliver on that expectation?
ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Extreme Closer Look:
There is no mistaking an ROG product on the shelf. The blood red color is unique to the ROG brand. The front side of the packaging is a bit minimalistic, with the Republic of Gamers logo at the top left and the motherboard name right across the mid section of the box. Underneath the name is an image of the ROG OC Panel that happens to be bundled with the M8E. Along the bottom are the basic specifications of the Maximus VIII Extreme, including that the board is built to use Intel's 6th Gen processors and features the Intel Z170 PCH. Additionally the board is WIndows 10 ready and supports both AMD and NVIDIA multi-GPU configurations to improve your gaming experience. On the back you get a bit more detail on the OC Panel II, Extreme Engine Digi+, storage solutions, and ASUS Wi-Fi Go implementation along with the specifications run down. The front of the box opens up to show not only the motherboard and OC Panel II through a clear window, but a more detailed look at some of the exciting ROG specific features
Inside the box are a pair of boxes that hold the entire contents of the package. The top box holds the Maximus VIII Extreme and the ROG OC Panel II. The lower box holds the rest of the rather substantial accessory bundle. Substantial can be just an easy buzz word, but in this case ASUS' delivers everything to utilize each of the features on the board.
As part of the accessory bundle, you get a detailed owners manual, driver disc, door hang tag, data cable identification tags, and some handy decals that are used to show your ROG allegiance on your cooling fan hubs. And that's just where it starts. The hardware bundle included with this board includes eight SATA 6Gb/s data cables, an ASUS CPU installation tool, Q-Connector, Q-Shield, an M.2 Screw package, an ASUS 3T3R dual band Wi-Fi moving antenna that supports Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, a fan extension card and mounting hardware, CrossFireX and SLI bridge connections, three thermal sensors, OC Panel mounting kit, and the ASUS OC Panel II with a connecting cable. A pretty solid set of accessories when you look at it.
ASUS OC Panel II is an add-on tool that allows the extreme tuner to connect to the board and not have to use the on-board functionality of the OC Zone at the top right side of the PCB. Introduced back in 2013, the OC Panel is at this point the culmination of the work done with previous hardware such as TweakIt, ROG Connect, OC Station, and OC Key. Now we have the OC Panel. At the top of the OC Panel is a 2.6-inch LCM display flanked with four buttons that allow you to toggle between normal and extreme mode, plus a power button to turn the system on and off, a fan speed control button, and a CPU level up button. These are the only buttons you will have access to if the OC Panel is mounted in your chassis using the 5.25 inch bay mount.
In the middle of the device are power button directional keys, an OK or enter key, and a clear and reset key. Further down is a removable cover that houses the functionality for the extreme overclocker to use. Added fan headers, slow mode and pause buttons, VGA Hotwire connectivity on select ASUS video cards, and on the left side is the Sub Zero sense sockets that enable the user to plug in a couple K-series temperature probes for true hardware-based temperature readings when running under LN2. Along the bottom are the SATA power port and 12 wire connection that mounts to a header on the lower edge of the Maximus VIII Extreme.
Much like the Rampage V Extreme, the Maximus VIII Extreme is an EATX form factor motherboard measuring 12.0 x 10.7 inches in size. Visually, the board follows the ROG scheme for this generation of boards from ASUS. Basically an all new look compared to what we saw with previous generations and leaning more heavily on the argent and black than red. The added real estate makes provides the added room for the ASUS OC Zone and added level of expansion that the M8E is equipped to handle. Based around the Intel Z170 PCH, the ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme is built for use with Intel Sixth Generation Core series processors, such as the i7 6700K and 6600K.
Where this board differs from the rest of the ROG product stack is that not only is the PCB larger, it is built out with a richer overclocking and performance feature set than the M8 Hero or M8 Gene. By using a proprietary fiber weave design, ASUS mitigates both moisture intrusion and signalling interference. ASUS' second generation T-Topology is used to ensure that DRAM overclocking is as robust as it can possibly be.
The layout of this board is not that much different than its cousins lower in the product stack. Visually it is an appealing board. The back side of the PCB shows that there are a trio of backing plates/heat sinks that give the cooling system a more robust mount while keeping the Extreme Engine Digi+ VRM and the Z170 PCH cooler than just the top side cooling system is capable of. Removing the thermal load on both sides helps with component longevity.
I/O connectivity on the ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme starts out with the CMOS Clear button and USB BIOS Flashback buttons, two USB 3.0 ports in blue and a pair of ASM1142 controlled USB 3.1 ports in red that support data throughput rates of up to 10Gb/s. An ASUS Wi-Fi GO! module that is a dual band 2.4/5GHz device that supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth v4.0/3.0+HS standards. A single DisplayPort 1.2 port and HDMI 1.4b ports are used with the integrated graphics and supports up to 4K resolutions. A single RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port is managed by an Intel I219V controller. ASUS uses its own LANGuard technology featuring ESD Guards to deliver a "1.9X-greater tolerance to static electricity and 2.5X-greater protection (up to 15KV) against surges." Hopefully saving your hardware without your knowledge. Underneath the Gigabit LAN port is another Type A USB 3.1 port and a Type C USB 3.1 port, both controlled via an Intel Alpine Ridge controller. Next up is a combo keyboard and mouse PS/2 port. Underneath this port is two additional USB 3.0 ports. The top one is used with ASUS Keybot software while the bottom port is used when you use the ASUS USB BIOS Flashback. Last up on the I/O panel is the optical S/PDIF port and gold plated analog jacks for the HD 7.1 SupremeFX 2015 audio solution.
Expansion slots on the Maximus VIII Extreme include enough 16x slots to support both 4-Way AMD CrossFireX and NVIDIA Quad-SLI multi-GPU solutions. These four x16 slots operate at x16 with a single GPU installed, x8 by x8 with a pair of cards, or x8/x4/x4/x4 with three or four cards in the x16 slots. The top three x16 PCIe 3.0 slots are handled through the CPU, while the bottom x16 (x4) slot and the two x1 PCIe 3.0 slots are handled via the Z170 PCH. ASUS puts together a very solid and unique for the space onboard audio solution based off the Realtek 1150 audio codec. When it comes to the SupremeFX audio solution, ASUS threw the whole kitchen sink in and put together a system that uses professional audio grade components to give the user a great audio experience. To start, the ELNA capacitors are gone and replaced by Nichicon audio caps along with an "ESS® ES9023P digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with Hyperstream™ technology, ultra-low-jitter clock, 2VRMS headphone amp, and Sonic SenseAmp that automatically detects and optimizes any headset (32-600ohms)."
Along the bottom of the PCB is a good bit of the internal I/O connectivity not related to storage. Starting at the left is the front panel audio header, EZ Plug Molex power plug to provide additional power to the PCIe bus when multiple graphics cards are installed, Thunderbolt header, ROG Extension header for use when connecting the OC Panel II to the board, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, the 5-pin fan header that connects to the add-in fan extension card, an SLI/CrossFireX switch used to identify the optimal x16 PCIe slots to use with your multi GPU configuration, the BIOS switch to choose between the BIOS chips, a pair of PWM and Fan Xpert III controllable fan headers, and the front panel connection used with ASUS' own Q-Connection. Riding up above the two BIOS chips and under the PCH heat sink is the M.2 x4 Socket 3 with M Key, supporting type 2242/2260/2280/22110 drives in PCIe or SATA mode.
Up the right side of the EATX PCB, connectivity starts with the balance of the storage options. First up is a port not seen on most boards as a built-in, but as an add-on through an M.2 to U.2 adapter. The U.2 port is yet another method to access storage through the PCIe x4 bus. You get six SATA 6Gb/s ports, four ports from two SATA Express connections and two additional SATA 6Gb/s ports from the Z170 chipset supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10, as well as Intel® Rapid Storage and Intel® Smart Response Technologies. An ASMedia® ASM1061 controller delivers two SATA 6Gb/s ports in black. Just to the right of the SATA data ports is another of the Fan Xpert III managed chassis fan headers and one of the thermal sensor headers. A pair of USB 3.0 headers support an additional four USB 3.0 ports via the front panel of the chassis or add-in USB 3.0 modules.
The top right of the EATX PCB is an area called the OC Zone. Starting with the 24-pin ATX power connection, there are a wealth of tools in this small section of the motherboard that support the extreme nature of this board. The obvious is the Start and Reset buttons, but those we are used to on high end boards. In front of the 24-pin power connector are diagnostic LEDs that identify what part of the system is potentially holding up a successful boot sequence. The ASUS Q-Code LED helps in this respect as well and is a great tool to identify just what is going on during the POST sequence. ProbeIt voltage check points allow you to validate the applied voltages set in the BIOS. The MemOK button, when pressed and held until the DRAM LED starts blinking, lets the system try and work through a series of memory training algorithms to allow the system to boot. The PCIe Switches allow the user to turn off the signalling to the x16 PCIe slots for diagnostic purposes.
Under the PCIe lane switches are a pair of jumpers to enable or disable DRAM channels A or B. The Safe Boot button is used to force a set of safe setting to boot into the BIOS while retaining the previous overclocked settings. Useful for removing the setting preventing a boot. The Retry button is used to force a reboot when the Reset button no longer works to try and retrain the system until it boots. Slow mode is used during LN2 benching sessions to eliminate crashes associated with frequency instability due to thermal loads. The LN2 jumper is used to help eliminate a cold boot bug when going subzero on your cooling.
Up to 64GB of DDR4 3866(O.C.) memory is supported in the ASUS Q-DIMM sockets using a four DIMM dual channel configuration. As the cost of DDR4 continues to drop, 64GB looks appealing. ASUS uses its latest T-Topology to improve memory overclocking by ensuring the trace layout is optimized between each DIMM and the processor to support higher overclocking margins.
Across the top of the PCB you can see the locking end of the Q-DIMM sockets. A trio of fan headers, one of which is specific for the water pump used with an All-In-One liquid cooling solution such as the Corsair H110 or H90, are controlled at the hardware level via the ASUS Fan Xpert III tool or through the BIOS. Additional power comes into the board by way of an 8-pin and 4-pin auxiliary 12v connections. A shroud covers part of the VRM heat sinks and is a functional as well as visual treatment for the M8E.
ASUS uses its Extreme Engine Digi+ power supply circuitry to manage the power sent to the CPU and DRAM. This solution uses Infineon OptiMOS™ MOSFETs, Dual PWM controllers, MicroFine alloy chokes that run up to 31% cooler than chokes with a larger granular structure, 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 as part of the accessory 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.
Impressive in its own right, the board just looks like it should perform well. Before the testing gets started, let's dig through the applications and the Crash Free BIOS to see what you can expect from ASUS.