Introduction – ASUS Maximus VII Formula
Seems like just yesterday we were looking at the Maximus VI Formula from ASUS based on the Z87 and today we have the Z97 variant. The Maximus VII Formula and it actually looks alot like the previous Z87 variant which to me is not a bad thing as they made a very good and capable board, but they did make some changes with the 7 so lets take a look at what the new 7 Formula has to offer.
The Maximus VII Formula comes to market with a street price of $369.99 directly from Newegg at the time of writing. This price point puts it definitely in the upper bracket in regards to gaming board pricing but still not outside the realm of possibility. The thing about these higher price points is they require some special features to make them worth the cash and knowing previous ROG boards im sure this one is no different and will come dressed to impress.
First up is the main feature overview directly from ASUS’ own press deck. One think about the Formula model is that it always is pushing the bleeding edge in regards to extreme gaming features. Maximus VII Formula is no exception here and has plenty of the popular features and even some major improvements which we will dig into below.
New CrossChill Solution
We first saw the new generation CrossChill solution on the Maximus VI Formula and while this one looks very similar there is a marked difference. Internally there is now a copper cold plate in place which allows for better heat dispersion into the water as copper is an excellent medium for thermal transfer albeit a more expensive option.
The ASUS TUF style Armor is in place again here for the next gen Formula and this is a good thing as it not only shields components but one thing I see being a major advantage is I have seen users scar up the PCB edge pretty badly with the IO section of the graphics card during installation sometimes even bad enough to cause malfunctions. This Armor actually can help avoid that along with making a pretty awesome look and of course offering some modder friendly parts for the ever growing case modding community out there. the rear metal shield is rock solid and makes for a super solid board however it also makes for a much heavier board which is not bad but can make it a bit more of a challenge when lowering it into tighter cases as finger tipping the board it can get heavy pretty quick.
Mini PCIe / mSATA Combo Card
Once again we have seen the mPCIe combo card before and it carries the WiFi AC module along with a slot for a M.2 SSD. One thing worth noting is that the maximum size M.2 SSD is 2260 which is 60mm long and I wasnt sure if that was a hard set rule so I tried a 2280 drive and can confirm it simply hits the VRM heatsink so choose carefully when picking a M.2 drive.
ASUS Hyper M.2 X4 PCIe Adapter Card
One thing that came separate was something that we saw displayed at Computex and that is the Hyper M.2 X4 card, and this is similar to a HBA in design but instead is a X4 PCIe interface which converts to a onboard M.2 slot, this is cool and I cant wait to see them on sale from ASUS as this brings truely unlimited M.2 performance to anyone with an open PCIe slot, however with a X4 interface I wish they had a dual M.2 solution to utilize the bandwidth PCIe X4 offers.
Extreme Engine DIGI+ III
ASUS has been known for some time for their DIGI+ solutions and on the ROG boards they now have the Extreme Engine DIGI+ III designs.
The Extreme engine DIGI+ III design is a direct implementation of the DIGI+ designs designed for optimum performance and efficiency to meet both the extreme gamers needs along with the extreme benchmarkers needs as well. If you have ever heard the term wretched excess, the extreme engine DIGI+ III fits that description quite nicely. We all know that going excessive is not a bad thing but you must keep your goal in perspective, and ASUS did exactly that by building a super robust VRM, but also ensuring the DIGI+ controller was capable of handling the extreme load of benchmarking while also meeting the needs of 24/7 use. This includes such features as demand based switching which throttles the VRM components so that load is shifted back and forth between VRM components so that no single component is in a constant loading state which will allow for much cooler and efficient operation. Also, if the system jumps up to a fully loaded situation the controller can instantly transition to a high power state which kicks on all of the VRM components and ensures your system has the power it needs on tap. This kind of implementation also means that even under significant overclocks you can keep power saving features of the DIGI+ setup active and it will still throttle as seen necessary to keep power on tap but also allow power savings and efficiency in low load conditions. A note to this is that if pushing for extreme clocks the DIGI+ can be set for higher or extreme modes which will keep the VRM at a constant on state and full power will be delivered at all times which is necessary for those running in such scenarios such as LN2 benchmarking.
One important note for the Extreme Engine DIGI+ III design is the components. Here we will look at specific components and what makes them special.
Special attention has been paid to the capacitor choice as they are very highly spec’d units. A standard capacitor is rated to handle operating temps of 105C at up to 2000hr, but the special black metallic Nichicon GT series caps are rated for up to 5x this time at up to 10,000 hours at the same 105C operating temperatures. This is a huge advantage as it allows for a much higher threshold for long term usage along with the durability to handle the severe beating many users will dish out during overclocking expeditions.
Also worth noting is the fact that the Nichicon GT caps are rated for a wider thermal threshold which means that the operating temps it can handle is much better and it is even better at the extreme cold temperatures some extreme enthusiasts subject these boards to.
The Chokes are also worth checking out as they are specially selected “Blackwing” units which have a very unique look with a fin design running vertically on the outer shell of the choke allowing for even better thermal capabilities. Also the gold coating allows for minimal power loss and maximum power delivery.
ASUS is employing something we saw on the MSI and Gigabyte offerings we looked at recently which tells me there must have been some major feedback on the USB power function of their boards. All manufacturers have been beefing up their USB power supplies on this go around and I can only assume there was something that caused everyone to jump on this transition.
SupremeFX Audio solution
The SupremeFX audio solution is something that I can no longer quantify as a unit which means a single or defining style which now SupremeFX carries multiple designs depending on the board. I guess if anything I can call this the newest iteration of the SupremeFX Implementation which carries similar design styling and even some similar components as previous Generations but there have been some upgrades since then. Things which are most noticeable would be the addition of the large red Block style WIMA Film Capacitors which are specially tuned for audio to enhance crisp detail such as gunshots and footsteps and these are used in conjunction with ELNA caps which much like previous gen applications of the SupremeFX designs offers a much fuller sound in your gaming environment. Also the SupremeFX Codec shielding, Op Amp and even the Red Line shielding are all in place to offer the best possible audio experience for extreme gamers looking for the very best they can get.
Sonic Radar is a very interesting development in that it offers an on screen overlay to show where noises are coming from which can offer you a competitive advantage in FPS games or other titles as gunshots or foot steps now not only can be heard but seen to allow better strategic positioning against an oncoming enemy force.
The newest Version SOnic Radar II has been improved for wider compatibility and even game per game setup to ensure the system functions the way you want it.
ASUS has always prided themselves on having the best of the best and their choice for Intel Gigabit Network controllers definitely cannot be faulted as Intel have proven to be super efficient and planty powerful for both major productivity and gaming.
ASUS has pushed the Gamefirst technology even further with its cFos software which now offers a EZ mode to allow even easier tweaking and adjust ability for all end users to increase online gameplay performance. The Gamefirst III technology builds off of the ability to shape the network traffic to better control throughput and packet priority to ensure the program that needs maximum speed and reduced latency such as streaming HD video or simply online gaming is all at your fingertips.
ASUS has introduced a totally new feature with the Maximus VII Formula with the name KeyBot, this allows a keyboard that is plugged into the KeyBot port to now be assigned macro combinations on any keyboard eliminating the need for a special keyboard with onboard memory to have macro capability. This is very interesting as I see some huge benefits to this as now any cheap USB keyboard can have full macro capability like a more expensive unit, but at the same time since this is the first iteration it will take some extensive testing to see exactly hwo well it works and what are the limitations of the functionality based on the keyboard used among a whole host of other factors.
Besides Macro gaming setups you can even setup specific keys to boot your PC into special modes such as CPU Level up or XMP setting and etc.
ASUS always prides themselves on their included software suite which is not bad as it includes some very capable things such as their AISuite Tuning software which has come a long way over the years. Free Kapersky Antivirus which is a very effective and lightweight AV, and Daemon Tools Pro which has its own awesome feature set. Normally im not one to make a big deal about included software but in this case it really is an added value part for the board.
ASUS has another new section called Gamers Guardian which highlights special features designed to protect your system both from physical damage along with electrical. Things such as 1 Sided DIMM slots to allow easier installation and removal of DIMMS. ESD Guards to avoid static damage and even Q Slot to allow effortless graphics card swapping and securing in the slot. Some of these such as the Stainless Steel IO is interesting as it just keeps a better looking IO with a reported 3x longer lifespan but I have some very old boards that still work and while the IO isn’t pretty they are not failing due to being non stainless but maybe thats just me being picky.
The ROG OC PANEL is the next new thing as we saw the OCKey introduced on the Rampage IV Extreme then on the Maximus V Extreme, now you see the next step in the evolution of ultimate overclocking peripherals.
As you can see the OC PANEL resembles a standard stand up K Type thermometer which is very familiar to enthusiasts overclockers. however this device does much more than just read thermals, as it connects directly to a special header on all ROG based boards for Z87 to allow full monitoring and hardware level control of the board to allow no overhead overclocking from the remote device.
One thing worth noting is that the remote fan and overclocking controls work with just the internal header connection, but if you want to get the advanced functionality of the extra overclocking devices such as GPU hotwire and all of the feature built under the cover than you are advised to connect a SATA power connector for the extended functionality which we will look at below.
The Subzero Sense feature is another that we have seen previously on the Rampage IV Extreme and is based solely on the needs of an extreme benchmarking enthusiast. The Subzero Sense feature is a collection of 2 K type probe connections on a block found on the side of the OC PANEL. These are used to keep track of the pot or LN2 container temperature to ensure your running within desired temps to avoid cold bugs or issues. Normally, when running LN2 or any other kind of sub ambient cooling you would need a external thermometer of good quality to ensure you get very accurate subzero temperature readings. With the Subzero Sense feature you now have 2 ports to which you can install K probe connections to monitor 2 different devices temperatures which means you dont need to spend the cash for those expensive thermometers.
Testing of the subzero sense connection found it to be within a single degree of a expensive Fluke K type thermometer at -170C which means that controlling loaded temps during a benchmark run can be done efficiently and without the extra expense.
The VGA Hotwire feature is a unique one as it allows for hardware level voltage modifications to your graphics cards. Previously in order to have hardware level control over your GPU voltage it would require specific trimmers of the correct resistance or something over then soldering it to correct points on the card so that you could fool the VRM of the card into giving it more voltage as needed for extreme overclocks. Well ASUS knows what its users need so they went ahead and integrated pin headers on the OC PANEL so that the wires can be soldered onto the card then plugged directly into the OC PANEL for hardware level voltage modification and monitoring without fumbling with external trimming devices.
One thing worth noting is that the small lower cover needs to be opened and removed from the OC PANEL in order to expose the multiple extreme overclocking tools and connections hidden below. We will look more at this in the overview images of the OC PANEL device directly.
Slow Mode and Pause Switches
These switches allow for quick interaction to slow down CPU speed to avoid crashing along with pause switches to be able to pause system mid benchmark should any sort of situation come into play such as the need to bring temps up to avoid bugging or anything. These two switches can make huge differences to the performance under extreme benchmark scenarios especially when otherwise you could run into a cold bug which will end your benchmark run and ultimately be very maddening.
4 Extra PWM Fan headers
Below the cover you will find four extra PWM fan headers that can be used to help blow away condensation or keep airflow over your rig during bench sessions since most areas on the board will be covered or not very accessible in those scenarios.
After looking at all of the components available under the small cover theer are many main features built into the OC PANEL which I believe will be more commonly used. As you may have noticed the booard comes bundled with a 5.25″ adapter that allows easy mounting of the OC PANEL where only the small face is visible and this allows access to the power button, CPU fan speed control button, mode switch and CPU level up switch all designed to offer hardware level control at your fingertips without the need to escape to the BIOS.
ASUS has really jumped in deep with this one as some time ago I can remember talking to the ASUS Rep about RAMDisk performance and possibilities for Motherboard manufacturers to bundle it. Well now is that time, and ASUS of course is one of the teams leading the charge. Many may quickly note that in many cases especially previously RAMDisk was simply not feasible due to the low density and high cost to get a decent amount of usable Ram. Recently higher density kits have become much more affordable meaning that now even 32GB 4 DIMM kits are reasonable accessible by common users which means since most systems rarely use over 6-8GB max means you can have a quite sizable RAMDisk ready for super high speed operation for some transfer intensive tasks.
When Creating a RAMDisk there are many things to consider such as possible size limitations, and what data will you keep there? Well a RAMDisk is a huge measure faster than an SSD up to 10X faster in some cases and with RAM it is designed to constantly write and copy data so saving files that are constantly performing write operations can reduce wear on your SSD as well. With this in mind it is smart to look into which cache files are constantly writing, and find a way to migrate those to the RAMDisk. These will not only operate faster but if they are constantly being updated and written to it can save a ton of writes on your SSD. This is of huge importance for SSD longevity, as there are a limited number of write cycles on a SSD, and eliminating unnecessary write operations can actually have a very good result for the durability of your SSD.
The ROG RAMDisk software is designed with a easy to use UI and as you can see there is no size limitation so you can make a RAMDisk as big as your free memory that is available. This is also awesome as DIMMs continue to increase density the size of RAMDisk can grow as well.
Another cool feature has to do with creating junctions because while loading a whole game on RAMDisk may seem like a good idea it is often unnecessary, so instead let the software create junctions or redirects to the RAMDisk for specific large files or IO heavy files such as maps or large texture files which would normally slow down loads or texture refreshes by having it sitting in the ram.
There are some things you need to know which is that when a system is powered off the Ram is flushed so as the software may hold critical data for you it will need to dump an image of the RAMDisk on to your drive so that next time you start up it can load that image into the RAMDisk and get you back to where you left off. This is not a huge issue but with larger RAMDisk volumes this can add a delay to startup and shutdown operations as time is needed to dump the RAMDisk onto the physical disk during shutdown, or to pull it back on to memory during startup. Expect slightly longer bootup times to perform these duties. All in all that is a marginal expense with the performance improvement you can see from this implementation.
SSD Secure Erase
ASUS has performed a lot of testing when it comes to a high performance machine. One thing that has been noticed is that as SSDs have matured we have seen that over time performance will degrade and drives basically fill up some and rewrite data and basically just start to get junked up and performance starts to fall off. Well the solution has been found to perform a secure erase which writes zeros to the whole disk creating an entirely new fresh disk data area. This is a great solution but the problem is that many users do not know how to burn the Linux live CD or even more how to navigate the many options to perform the secure erase. ASUS once again offers a unique solution via a integrated UEFI software to secure erase an SSD to restore it to like new performance.
Here you can see the standard falloff of performance simulated on the chart and how the secure erase places it in a like new state. with that considered we know it is a necessary task for optimal performance but with the ROG solution its as simple as going into the BIOS with no extra tools required or software to buy. You get this free with your purchase of the ASUS ROG board.
USB BIOS Flashback
ASUS offers the BIOS Flashback utility which is actually a multi-facet tool and has many capabilities which some may not be aware of. we have had many times where a motherboard did not support a CPU and a frantic search for a supported CPU just to flash the BIOS (ex. Gulftown CPU support on X58). ASUS has eliminated the worry of these kinds of issues by allowing the BIOS flashback procedure which does not require a CPU or memory to flash the BIOS. All that is needed in order to flash the BIOS is to have the desired firmware ROM file on a USB thumb drive and insert that into the ROG connect USB port.
Depressing the ROG Connect button for 5 seconds will start a flashing LED which indicates the firmware is being updated and once the update is complete the flashing will stop. It really is that easy and ensures no matter the condition the firmware can be flashed even if the newest CPU is not supported without the previously mentioned hunt for a compatible CPU.
This may seem like an odd feature but many may buy the newest and greatest CPU on the market while the board could have been shipped with the older firmware which in most cases would leave the user stuck without an option. We have found this useful quite a few times when after running a LN2 cooled system in unstable conditions, a BIOS had corrupted. With the BIOS flashback it was remedied as quickly as we could copy the ROM file from our laptop to the flash drive and get it flashing.
Fan Xpert 2
ASUS has always had Fan Xpert technology as part of its AI Suite utility chest but its always been used for manual adjustments and profiling of the system fans.
The Fan Xpert 2 now comes with a automatic profiling system which we will attempt to demonstrate in the following steps. One thing to note on this is that ASUS Fan Xpert 2 supports full fan control via both 4 pin and 3 pin fan headers even though most ASUS boards now carry all 4 Pin headers.
Notice that the new AI Suite software has a much cleaner and I guess I could say complete feel to it as it feels alot more finished, even though the previous software felt fine I must say that after using this one it makes the old one just look I guess old. I like this direction but it does take a bit of getting used to as the interface has changed and so has the menu to get to some of the features.
ASUS has once again optimized their UEFI and it shows in a even more clean interface that just feel very complete although I almost get a foreign feel to it as it is kinda blocks now and I feel like it is missing soime of that smoothness it had before as far as appearance, but thats probably just me being the old man that doesnt like change. All in all the UEFI and features are laid out well and they definitely are placed in a super clean and well laid out interface!