ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review Page: 1

ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

Introduction

So if the new Intel chips have got you slavering, you must be considering a motherboard to put them in. Of course there will soon be a swathe of new boards from the usual manufacturers ready to tempt you.

Today we'll be looking at the latest in the long line of 'Extreme' motherboards from Asus. Nomenclature makes it easy to see what series this is part of, as the Rampage is for the top-end Intel CPUs, the Crosshair for the AMD chips, and the Maximus for the middle-range Intel processor line-up.

Last time we saw a Maximus board it was the Maximus III designed for the LGA1156 socket P55 chips, so it makes sense that for their replacement we have the Maximus IV.

Technical Specifications

Despite this being based around the new P67 Express Chipset, large parts are similar to the P55. Evolution rather than revolution being the watchword.

So we still have dual-channel RAM, PCIe 2.0 slots, SATA 6Gbps, USB 2.0 and USB3.0. All the things we've come to expect, but with the newer LGA1155 socket rather than the LGA1156.

CPUIntel® Socket 1155 for Intel® 2nd Generation Core™ i7 Processor/Core™ i5 Processor/Core™ i3 Processor/
Support Intel® 32nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
ChipsetIntel® P67 Express Chipset
Memory4 x DIMM, Max. 32 GB, DDR 2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/1866(O.C.)/1600/1333 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
* Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* According to Intel® SPEC, the Max. 32GB memory capacity can be supported with DIMMs of 8GB (or above). ASUS will update QVL once the DIMMs are available on the market.
* Due to CPU behavior, DDR3 2200/2000/1800 MHz memory module will run at DDR3 2133/1866/1600 MHz frequency as default.
Expansion Slots4 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (single @x16, dual @x8, triple @x8, x16, x16 )
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Multi-GPU SupportSupport NVIDIA® 3-Way SLI™ / ATI CrossFireX™ Technology
BluetoothBluetooth Module Accessory Card
- Bluetooth V2.0/V2.1+EDR
- RC Bluetooth On/Off Switch
StorageIntel® P67 Express Chipset
2 xSATA 6.0 Gb/s ports (Red)
4 xSATA 3Gb/s ports (Gray)
Intel® Rapid Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1,5,10
Marvell® 9182 PCIe SATA6Gb/s controller
2 xSATA 6Gb/s ports (Red)
JMicron® 362 controller
2 xExternal SATA 3Gb/s ports at rear (SATA On-the-Go)
* Due to the Windows XP/ Vista limitation, the RAID array with the total capacity over 2TB cannot be set as a boot disk. A RAID array over 2TB can only be set as a data disk only.
LAN2 x Intel® Gigabit LAN
AudioRealtek ALC889 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection
- Supports Jack-Detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-Retasking
- Supports 1 x Optical S/PDIF out port at back I/O
USBIntel® P67 Express Chipset
- 9 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (8 ports at mid-board, 1 port at rear is also for ROG connect)
1 x NEC USB3.0 Controller
- 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports at rear
1 x NEC USB3.0 Controller with 2 x VIA SuperSpeed USB hub controllers:
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports at rear
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports at mid-board for front panel support
Overclocking FeaturesROG Connect
RC Bluetooth
ROG iDirect
USB BIOS Flashback
ROG Extreme Engine Digi+
- 8-phase CPU power
- 3-phase Memory power
- ML Cap on CPU only
BIOS Flashback with onboard switch button
ProbeIt
Extreme Tweaker
iROG
Loadline Calibration
ROG OC Kit
- LN2 Mode
- PCIe x16 Lane Switch
- Debug LED
- Q_Reset
EFI BIOS features
- ROG BIOS Print
- GPU.DIMM Post
- CPU Socket Monitor
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- ASUS TurboV Evo
- O.C Profile
Overclocking Protection:
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Back Panel I/O Ports1 x PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse Combo port
2 x External SATA
2 x LAN(RJ45) port(s)
8 x USB 3.0/2.0
1 x USB 2.0/1.1 (also for ROG Connect)
1 x S/PDIF Out (Optical)
8 -Channel Audio I/O
1 x Clr CMOS switch
1 x ROG Connect On/Off switch
1 x RC Bluetooth switch
Internal I/O Connectors1 x USB 3.0/2.0 connector(s) (Red) supports additional 2 USB 3.0 ports
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 connector(s) support additional 8 USB 2.0 ports
4 x SATA 6.0Gb/s connectors (Red)
4 x SATA 3.0Gb/s connectors (Gray)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s)
1 x Power Fan connector(s)
3 x Optional Fan connector
1 x Power-on switch
1 x Reset switch
1 x S/PDIF Out connector
1 x 24-pin ATX Power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x Front panel audio connector
1 x System Panel connector
7 x ProbeIt measurement points
3 x Thermal sensor connectors
1 x En/Dis-able Clr CMOS header
2 x EZ Plug connectors (4-pin Molex Power connectors)
1 x RC Bluetooth header
1 x LN2 Mode switch
1 x Q_Reset switch
1 x Go Button
1 x BIOS switch button
1 x ROG light connector
BIOS32 Mb Flash ROM , EFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS
ManageabilityWfM 2.0,DMI 2.0,WOL by PME,WOR by PME,PXE
AccessoriesUser's manual
1 2-port USB2.0 module
1 x I/O Shield
2 x SATA 3.0Gb/s signal cables (2-in-1)
2 x SATA 6.0Gb/s signal cables (2-in-1)
1 x Q-Connecor Kit (2-in-1)
1 x ROG Connect Cable
1 x ProbeIt cable set
1 x Thermal Sensor Cable Pack
1 x 3-Way SLI bridge
1 x SLI Cable
1 x Crossfire cable
1 x Cable Ties Pack
1 x ROG Theme Label
1 x 12-in-1 ROG Cable Label
1 x RC Bluetooth card
1 x ROG exclusive feature guide
Support DiscDrivers
ASUS AI Suite II
ROG CPU-Z
3DMark Vantage
Kaspersky® Anti-Virus 1-year license
Form FactorExtended ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 10.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 26.9 cm )

 

Phew. That's quite a serious specification list. Many of the features will be familiar to anyone who has owned a ROG board before. We are surprised to see 3D Mark Vantage being supplied rather than 3D Mark 11, but especially disappointing is the continued use of SATA 3Gbps. Considering SATA 3 is backwards compatible it's a head-scratcher.

Time to take a look at what we get.



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

First Look

Externally the M4E keeps up the standard ROG style packaging, with clear and concise information provided throughout. Also nice to see is the de rigueur flap with a clear panel to enable you to get a good look at the board prior to purchase.

ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review     ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

One element that the ROG boards always do well is the inclusion of extensive documentation. Whilst we could berate them for not having sufficient information upon the various BIOS settings or a troubleshooting guide that extends to more than "check it's plugged in" these are faults that occur with every single motherboard manual on the planet and so it would be churlish to single out ASUS.

The stickers that can be used to identify the SATA cables are highly useful especially if you've got multiple storage identical devices. I'm sure we've all accidentally formatted our backup drive at some point in our lives.

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The IO Shield is gloriously padded. No more do we end up looking like we've sparred with Jason Vorhees after installing it.

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As you can see the board itself is very similar to the rest of the ROG lineup. Black and red abounds, although the heatsinks aren't quite as outre as they were on the Rampage III.

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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

Closer Inspection

The CPU area is fairly busy with lots of power circuitry surrounding it above and to the left. Otherwise it's the standard motherboard layout we're all used to.

The DIMM sockets have the excellent single-clip retention method that is a boon for anyone who switches memory often, but sufficiently great that even if you only ever insert your RAM once you'll appreciate it. Below that we have the ProbeIt monitoring points, as well as the onboard controls for power and reset. Almost hidden on the edge is the LN2 dip switch so those of you who play with sub-zero cooling can quickly fix the frozen issue.

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With the left hand side of the Maximus IV Extreme full of eye-catching colours and heat-sinks it's not a shock to see the bottom right-hand corner rather sparse in comparison. SATA II ports being grey and the SATA 3 ones being red is fairly formulaic. It's a little surprising to see the Southbridge so plain. Even the Formula variants of the previous range had a little more pizazz. 

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The left hand side of the board contains the extra Molex adaptor for extra GPU power should you be running a multiple card setup. It's also where you can plug in the ROG Bluetooth adaptor we saw on the previous page.

For a new chipset the rear panel is outstandingly familiar. A combined PS2 port, USB ports, Network and audio jacks are exactly where you'd expect them to be.

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It may appear at first glance that the motherboard has a North Bridge but alas Sherlock that is actually an Nvidia NF200. Natively the P67 has 16 PCI-express lanes so 1x16 or 8x and 8x for Crossfire or SLI. By Asus adding the NF200 it allows the end user to have enough PCIE lanes to run up to 3 GPU's. So if the board is familiar, which is a good thing considering how well built the ROG line of motherboards are, then what is the big change? Turn over to find out.

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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

BIOS Pt1

It was nearly two years ago that we first saw the EFI BIOS which promised to revolutionise the way we treated the blue screens we see so much of. It was outstandingly impressive and we couldn't wait for it to appear on motherboards. Multiple new chipsets have come and gone since then without a single one of them moving away from the standard "cursors and Enter" method of adjusting your BIOS. Finally though with the P67 Maximus IV Extreme from ASUS we see the mouse controlled BIOS making an appearance.

Instantly you can see what a benefit this has to legibility. Also the days of built-in overclocking giving a minuscule increase appear to be over as the CPU Level Up gives us the option of a staggering 4.6 GHz for our i7-2600K we're testing with today.

ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

Although the items have moved around a bit, and the way in which we navigate has certainly changed, generally speaking the adjustments that can be made are the same.

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The Turbo Power screen on the right is important. The methodology of overclocking these new processors is very different indeed, and we discuss that in our CPU review that is also going up at the same time as this one.

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Power can be adjusted either based upon heat restrictions, or just going all out for maximum power. So much of the new chips and the chipset is based upon energy saving which makes sense considering the new overclocking method.

As you can see although it looks very different, it's actually quite familiar too.

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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

BIOS Pt2

The Advanced screen gives us the chance to turn Hyper-threading off as well as C1E state and the normal CPU feature adjustment that Intel provide.

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Full screen boot logos. Hugely irritating and probably the first thing that gets turned off. They are the equivalent to "congratulations on purchasing the...." blurb you get at the beginning of manuals. Yes we know what we've brought. Now let us focus on what we're doing with it.

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The monitoring elements are unchanged from previous BIOS' we've seen with various temperature monitors and settings, as well as thermal shut-down levels.

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Despite being much simpler to overclock automatically, it's much more complex to do so manually and so you'll be making good use of the many BIOS save slots available to you.

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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

Test Setup

Thankfully because this is an evolution of the LGA1156 we can import a lot of our normal test hardware. We'll be using the top-of-the-range Intel Core i7-2600K today, and in all future P67 Motherboard tests.

Intel Core i7-2600K
ASUS Maximus IV Extreme
Corsair HX1200 PSU
4GB Mushkin Redline RAM
Noctua NH-D14
nVidia GTX570
Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We will be putting the Maximus IV Extreme up against the Maximus III Extreme and Rampage III Extreme to really compare the various Intel CPU solutions.

Overclocking and Temperatures

As we mentioned in our Intel Sandybridge review also available to read today, the new range of processors don't just have a fast speed and an idle speed, but rather they have a lower power setting, the standard speed, and your overclock only takes effect when the processor is being used hard.

The ease with which we could automatically level the processor up to 4.6GHz gave us hope that it would follow the stock Intel board and breeze to 5GHz, but sadly the 4.6GHz speed is as much as it's willing to give up. Although we could argue that this is an immature BIOS the boards have been around for a long time now and these problems should have been ironed out. Especially for such a high priced offering.

It is quite strange to see such an insane multiplier when we're used to the Bus Speed being the element to overclock.

ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review 
The new chips and chipset handle Memory well although because everything goes in different increments as you could see in our specifications table on page one you might not get the speed you're used to from your kit.

ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review 

Temperatures are definitely kept well under control thanks to the larger emphasis on energy efficiency coupled with the 32nm process. 4.6GHz yet only 70°C is mightily impressive.

 ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

For our testing we've got an i7-870 on a Maximus III Extreme at stock at 4 GHz. An i7-950 on a Rampage III Extreme at stock and 4.4GHz and our i7-2600K at stock and 4.6GHz. We're also trying out a new style of graph so opinions are welcome.

AIDA64

Straight out the gate the Maximus IV is taking the plaudits thanks to the improved power available with the i7-2600K. Clearly the inclusion of the AES instruction set in the 32nm CPUs allows it to blow that benchmark away, but all the rest it rocks hard in too, especially at stock when against the much faster clocked previous generation.

 

Memory would be one of the tests that we expect the Maximus IV to meet the Maximus III and fall way behind the triple-channel wonder that is the X58 chipset. Amazingly it doesn't and produces some staggering numbers. Either the memory controller is vastly refined and the next version of the LGA1366 chips will be mind-blowing, or Triple-Channel was acclaimed to have benefits that just don't pan out.



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

SiSoft Sandra

If the results on the previous page were stunning, these are pretty good too. The i7-950 manages to be neck and neck with the i7-2600K but with the 'worlds easiest overclock' the Maximus IV Extreme storms ahead. The Whetstone result is especially eye-opening.

PC Mark Vantage

The power of the Maximus IV Extreme and Intel Core i7-2600K combination cannot be denied being 1000 and 2500 PC Marks ahead of its nearest rival, the overclocked i7-950 on the Rampage III Extreme.



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

3D Mark Vantage

For 3D Mark we always run our tests at 4GHz so we'll be skipping the stock Rampage III and Maximus III testing. This gives us our first big shock as the extra 200MHz of the overclocked Maximus IV Extreme over the Rampage III, and 600MHz over the Maximus III, not only make no difference, but can't even bring the 3D Mark score on a par with the more mature systems.

All tests were done with a single reference GTX570 in a PCIe x16 slot so the 2000 point drop is very hard to explain. Let's see if this keeps up through the other gaming tests.

3D Mark 11

Despite the modern and taxing nature of the latest in the Futuremark stable the P67 is still unable to keep up with its brethren. Although the scores are much closer due to the difference way results are calculated in 3D Mark 11, the gap is still as large as it was above.

For a system that spanks certain CPU tests so hard this is quite a surprise to say the least.



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

CineBench

Once again the sheer number crunching capabilities shine through as we see the highest CPU score we've seen by some distance. Even at stock the Maximus IV setup is on a par with a heavily overclocked Rampage III Extreme, but once you do the single-click overclock it's romping off into the distance with a massive 9 CPU pts.

Of slight concern is that once again the OpenGL abilities seem to be in question. We'll run some games on the next page to see.

wPrime

As if to emphasise the main strengths of this setup being about the ability to crunch numbers at an incredible speed, the wPrime result is the fastest Quad-Core we've seen and not far off some of the hex-core results we've got.



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

Crysis Warhead

In keeping with the rather disappointing 3D results we've seen so far the Maximus IV Extreme can't keep up with any of its stablemates at all at stock. Considering how much faster at stock the 2600K is against the i7-870 especially this is a surprise. Even at 4.6GHz it doesn't take a comprehensive lead like we'd expect it to. It's not bad, just not quite as impressive as we thought it would be.

Alien vs Predator

Alien vs Predator is even worse than Crysis Warhead. The massive overclock isn't enough to budge the frame-rate at all and the X58 Rampage III Extreme takes the plaudits by around 8%.

 



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ASUS Maximus 4 Extreme Review

Conclusion

So if the results of the LGA1155 CPU tests have got you dribbling, should you be splurging your cash on the Red and Black?

Obviously at this early stage of the game it's a tough call as we haven't got a lot to compare against. So far we've only tested the standard Intel board and this ASUS. It's definitely not a sample size big enough to give a comprehensive definitive answer about.

Certainly all the parts are there. It comes with all the ROG goodness we'd expect to find such as the LN2 and ProbeIt features for those extreme overclockers. We have the Go button and BIOS recovery options that help all of us to reach the potential of our system as quickly as possible without too many headaches.

Any flaws in what we have to play with are more about the P67 chipset than ASUS themselves. We'd prefer to see full USB3.0 usage and SATA 6Gbp/s but those are out of ASUS hands to a large extent.

The EFI BIOS is particularly great, and teeth gnashingly frustrating, in equal measures.

To use it's a complete joy. We're so used to mouse control these days that it's much more natural to navigate the BIOS with this method than the old keyboard system. On a personal note the ability to grab a screenshot with a button press rather than set up my DSLR is particularly nice.

However this BIOS in particular has seen multiple revisions in the few weeks that I've been testing it and still doesn't get anywhere close to the stability or prowess available on the reference Intel motherboard. It's wonderful to be able to get a single-click overclock of 4.6GHz and we highly recommend that as it takes all the guesswork and tweaking out of overclocking. Alternatively it wont go any further than that and we know already that our chip is good for 5GHz.

Finally there is the pricing. The biggest problem with the P55 boards was that it was designed as a more cost-effective alternative to the X58 boards, but all the early ones were high-end ultra-expensive models. So adoption of the LGA1156 socket was minimal and by the time the boards and CPUs were around that could come in at a sensible price, it was being phased out for this LGA1155 revision. Although nothing is confirmed it looks like this will be around the Rampage III Extreme price-point of a shade under £300. Considering we're using a £250 chip in it too it's certainly not for the bargain hunters and the average overclocking performance make it tough to recommend as the motherboard of choice for those who must be on the cutting edge, or those looking to upgrade from one of current Intel models.

Hopefully a greatly improved BIOS will unleash the full power of the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme, but for now we'd recommend a wait and see approach.

   

Thanks to ASUS for providing the Maximus IV for review. Discuss in our forums.