P67 Motherboard Roundupccokeman - March 8, 2011
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The Maximus IV Extreme is the ROG (Republic of Gamers) offering of the ASUS P67 lineup. The packaging and messaging are clear as to the intended use and the targeted audience. Where the P8P67 WS Revolution is targeted at the professional market, the ROG series and the Maximus IV Extreme is targeted towards the overclocking enthusiast and hardcore gamer just as it says on the front panel of the packaging. As with past ASUS ROG motherboard offerings, the packaging is blood red with a wealth of information on the packaging making the comparison of other products possible if you are purchasing at a brick and mortar store. The front panel has a few icons across the bottom edge showing this board includes support for both NVIDIA's SLI technology as well as support for AMD's CrossfireX multi-GPU strategy. The back panel lists support for Intel's second generation Core processors from the i3 to the i7, dual channel memory support up to DDR3 2200Mhz, ROG specific features such as ROG connect, the inclusion of ten USB 3.0 ports, a Bluetooth module and Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage Advanced edition. Flipping open the front cover, you are hit with the full spectrum of ROG features that include USB BIOS flashback and Extreme Engine DIGI+.
Inside the packaging, the motherboard and accessory bundle come in two separate boxes. A sure sign the bundle is quite large. In that respect the bundle is huge and includes the traditional as well as the ROG specific parts needed to get this board installed and fully functional.
Pulled out of the box, the bundle is indeed substantial. The more mundane pieces include the SATA cables in both standard and SATA 6Gb/s flavors, the USB port expansion bracket, Crossfire and SLI bridge connections, manual and driver disk. That's about where the mundane stops and the ASUS/ROG implementations take over. You get labels for the drive cables, ROG connect cable, thermal probes, Q-connectors, Q-shield I/O panel, Bluetooth RC module, ROG ProbeIT connections and a Tri-SLI bridge.
So some of these things look like normal devices but they each perform a function that sets them apart from what other manufacturers offer. For instance, the Q shield prevents EMI interference while also not having sharp tabs to knock out creating a cut hazard. The Q connectors make installing the front panel and USB wiring so much easier when you have single wire connections. The thermal probes allow you the opportunity to keep tabs on specific devices. The ROG ProbeIT connector allow you the luxury of not having to hold your meter probes to the board while trying to overclock. The Bluetooth module opens up another connectivity option for overclocking on the fly and the ROG connect cable can be used while overclocking and monitoring the status of your ROG board from a laptop or netbook.
Here we are finally with the Maximus IV Extreme. The socket 1155 P67 based ROG offering. This much anticipated board is a feature rich offering based on the Intel P67 chipset for use with Intel's second generation socket 1155 Core processors. The rest of the boards in this roundup are an ATX form factor while the Maximus IV is an Extended ATX design providing more room on this board for the ROG specific features. The Maximus IV uses a hybrid Extreme Digi+ implementation to deliver reduced switching delays and provide more granular adjustments to the power and VRM frequencies. You get Bluetooth capabilities that range from simple file transfers to overclocking control if you have a supported smartphone. You have ROG connect, a new AISuite implementation, multi-GPU capabilities in the form of CrossfireX and SLI (both supporting more than two cards), Qshield, Q-connectors, MemOK, TPU, EPU and much more. When you get down to the aesthetics, this board uses the traditional red and black theme of the ROG series to good effect. The heat sink package on this card is quite large and is implemented on both the front and rear of the PCB.
The expansive feature set starts with the I/O panel where you have a wealth of connectivity options that starts with the combination PS/2 port that can be used for either a keyboard or a mouse. Eight USB 3.0 ports with a total of two more available on a motherboard header. A CMOS clear button, Optical S/PDIF output, a pair of eSATA ports, a pair of Intel Gigabit LAN ports, the RC Bluetooth module, ROG connect button and USB 2.0 port and the analog HD audio port for the 7.1 sound solution. The Maximus IV is equipped with a total of four 16x PCIe Q-slots that support both AMD and NVIDIA multi-GPU strategies up to three way SLI and CrossfireX. When three slots are populated, the slots run at 8x-16x-16x electrically due to the use of an NF200 chipset that supplies the additional PCIe lanes. On top of the four 16x slots, you have one 4x slot and a 1x slot available for additional expansion such as a sound card. Additional power for the GPUs is supplied via two E-Z Plug 4 pin molex connectors, one above the top PCIe 16x slot and one along the bottom edge of the EATX PCB.
Along the bottom edge of the PCB, real estate is pretty scarce with all of the connectivity found there. To start off we have the one of two E-Z Plug 4 pin molex connections, the front panel audio and four pin S/PDIF out connection, one of the three thermal sensor connection points, two of the eight fan headers on board, a total of four USB 2.0 headers, the dual BIOS chips, the front panel header where you can use the Q-connector to make your life easier hooking up the front panel wiring and the BIOS switch. You use this switch to toggle between BIOS chips . You can save two different BIOSs and choose between the two using one for your everyday tasks and one for your OC adventures. LEDs close by will let you know which one is in use. Above the bottom edge connectivity you have a PLX technology's bridge chip to add PCIe lanes. Also visible in these shots are two of the iROG chips that work with the TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) to allow for added overclocking functionality.
Along the right hand side of the PCB we start off with the SATA ports. There are a total of eight available. The four red connections are SATA 6Gb/s with the gray connections being the four SATA 3Gb/s ports that support RAID 0,1, 5 and 10. Two of the SATA 6Gb/s ports are controlled by the P67 PCH and two are controlled by the Marvell 9182 controller. The header just before the SATA ports is for an additional two SATA 3Gb/s ports that are used via an expansion bracket. Moving up the side you run into a great deal of the feature set of the Maximus IV. The four DIMM slots support up to 32GB of DDR3 memory running at speeds up to 2200Mhz. The 24 pin ATX power connection is here along with the ProbeIT measuring points and ProbeIT connectors to measure voltages in real time. You have the option of using the solder pad for a quick measurement of the ProbeIT connector for a long term measuring solution. Around the ProbeIT connections are several added functions controlled by switches. Most notably, the onboard power and reset buttons. Besides these you have the Go button that serves two purposes. One as the MemOk button when pressed before starting the computer to progressively adjust memory timings and voltages to eliminate any memory incompatibilities. The second function is to provide a temporary overclock while in the operating system based on the parameters set in the Go Button file.
A couple more switches are located on this side of the board. There are a total of four switches that are used to disable each of the four 16x PCIe slots. This function would be useful when troubleshooting GPU problems when a multi-GPU setup is used or when testing the scaling of a standard two card setup up to a four card solution without removing the card(s) from the system. The LN2 (liquid nitrogen) switch is used to help with booting the board by optimizing the system to eliminate a no post due to a cold bug situation on the CPU. Just north of this area is a debug LED that is really helpful in diagnosing boot issues. Inside the manual is a comprehensive list of post codes and their meanings if you get into a bind.
Across the top of the board there is not a ton of connectivity but there are some items that need to be mentioned There are additional fan headers for the CPU and a power fan above the Q-DIMM slots. Further along you get another fan header with a thermal probe header beside it and the eight pin auxiliary 12v power connection. Buried behind PS/2-USB3.0 header is the Q-reset button used to bypass an S5 freeze up during the boot cycle due to an extreme overclock. Right behind the sound header is another USB 3.0 header that can be used with an expansion bracket.
The CPU socket is designed for use with Intel's socket 1155 second generation Core i7, i5 and i3 processor lineup and should not be confused with the previous generation's socket 1156 design. Surrounding the socket is the 8+2 phase power circuit used in the hybrid digital/analog Digi+ VRM implementation. The Digi+ VRM design is able to intelligently manage each phase independently in real time with a more granular frequency control. This chokes used in this implementation are capable of a 25% increase in current capacity and are able to handle up to 40 amps of current. Of note is the NEC/Tokin Proadlizer capacitor used in the VRM circuit.
The cooling solution used on the Maximus IV Extreme is an interconnected heat pipe design that connects heat sinks used on the NVIDIA NF 200 chipset and FETS used in the power circuit around the CPU socket. The heat sinks are held in place with screws and feature a back plate. The large extruded aluminum heat sink used over the P67 PCH is held on with spring loaded screws. The sink used on the NF 200 chipset has a small LED lit graphic on it to add a little more bling factor to this board in addition to the strategically placed status LEDs on the board.
These three offerings from ASUS cover the gamut from the lower mid-range to the upper end professional and hardcore gamer with each offering a feature set tailored to the intended market segment. Now that we have seen what ASUS is offering, let's move on to ECS's latest offering - the P67H2-A Black series motherboard for a look to see how it compares to the offerings from ASUS and then MSI.