ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 1
Introduction & Specifications
It wasn't so long ago that the mATX motherboard was deemed only acceptable for use inside HTPC setups or budget builds. Most came with shoddy low-end integrated graphics and nasty on-board sound chips and no enthusiast in their right minds would consider going anywhere near one. However, on the 27th February 2009 ASUS shocked us all. By splicing the features of their high-end Republic of Gamers Rampage II
motherboard along the standard mATX form factor, the first ever performance i7 X58 mATX motherboard was born
. Named the ASUS RoG Rampage II Gene, the board was received well by both enthusiasts and the press
. Not only did it possess all the features of it's larger ATX counterpart but it was also more affordable, better at overclocking and took the lead in many benchmarks.
But why should the i7 crowd get all the fun?
Although good old Socket 775 has been receiving a lot less attention recently, it is still very much one of the top choices for enthusiasts who don't want to shell out on an expensive i7 setup. After all CPU's such as the E8400 and E7200 are cheap as chips (no pun!) these days and punch well above their weight when overclocked. In fact, its almost hard to believe that the last S775 motherboard reviewed here on Overclock3D was almost a year ago! ASUS however, aren't so keen to let the Core 2 series die just yet and recently announced a new member of their 'Gene' pool, the Maximus II Gene. Today we're going to be putting this board through its paces, but first the specs:
Intel® Socket 775 Core™2 Quad/Core™2 Extreme/Core™2 Duo/Pentium® dual-core/Celeron® dual-core / Celeron® Processors Support Intel® 45nm Multi-Core CPU
* Refer to www.asus.com for Intel CPU support list
Intel® P45 /ICH10R
Front Side Bus
4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB, DDR2 1300/1200/1066/800/667 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
*Refer to www.asus.com or this user manual for the Memory QVL(Qualified Vendors Lists).
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (single max @ x16,dual @ x8 speed)
1 x PCIe x1
1 x PCI 2.2
Support ATI CrossFireX™ Technology
Intel ICH10R controller
6 xSATA 3 Gb/s ports
Intel Matrix Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1,5,10
JMicron® JMB363 PATA and SATA controller
1 xUltraDMA 133/100/66/33 for up to 2 PATA devices
1 xExternal SATA 3.0 Gb/s port (SATA On-the-Go)
1 xSATA 3.0 Gb/s port
SupremeFX X-Fi built-in
8 - Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- EAX® Advanced™ HD 4.0
- X-Fi CMSS®-3D
- X-Fi Crystalizer™
- Creative ALchemy
IEEE 1394 2 x 1394a ports (1 port at back I/O, 1 port onboard)
USB 12 USB 2.0 ports (6 ports at back I/O, 6 ports onboard)
CPU Level Up
- 8-phase CPU power
- 2-phase DRAM power
- 2-phase NB power
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- O.C Profile
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
ASUS MyLogo 3
ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
External LCD Poster
One DIMM latch
Onboard Switches: Power / Reset / Memok / Clr CMOS (at rear)
ASUS EPU-6 Engine
ASUS Fan Xpert
Powered by an P45/ICH10R chipset combo the Maximus II Gene has official support for DDR2-1300 memory, Crossfire (albeit at 8x8x) and RAID 0/1/5/10 via the six SATA-II ports. Sound is provided via an on-board version of ASUS' SupremeFX X-Fi which is capable of EAX4.0 and many other X-Fi features, but mostly by software emulation. Other features common only to the ASUS RoG series are also plentiful with 8-Phase CPU power circuitry, 2-Phase DRAM and NB power, Voltminder LED, Onboard swiches and a whole host of other goodies. But before I give the game away let's move on to the next page and take a proper look at the board....
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
In the same way that many of the full ATX Republic of Gamers motherboards shared similar packaging, both the Maximus II Gene and its X58 brother the Rampage II Gene
are outfitted with a vibrant red and black design box depicted with an abstract style explosion graphic.
The front of the box is uncluttered with only Intel and ATI logo's along with the RoG emblem, while the back contains a full spec list similar to that on page 1 along with three images showing off some of the key features such as MemOK!, CPU Level Up and a free copy of 3DMark06.
Lifting the hidden flap on the outer box , Asus go into greater detail about several of the most prominent features of the motherboard. Yet again both MemOK! and CPU Level Up are listed as well as the SupremeFX X-FI on-board sound and bundled versions of 3DMark06 and Kaspersky Anti-Virus. The space could have possibly been better used to also display some of ASUS's previous accolades *ahem* OC3D Awards *ahem*, but it's never really seemed ASUS' style to display such things on any of their packaging.
Opening up the box we are initially greeted with the motherboard itself which is covered with a plastic lid. Under the motherboard is yet another compartment holding all the accessories which includes 2x SATA cables, 1x IDE cable, 1x Crossfire Bridge, an I/O shield, the LCD poster and a collection of driver CD's along with a comprehensive manual. Just like the Rampage II Gene, the Maximus also includes some rather large 'explosion' stickers similar to the graphics on the front of the box. Who in their right mind would actually use them I have no idea. Maybe a normal case sticker would be a better idea next time.
Moving on to the board itself, it really is amazing how ASUS have managed to fit all of the usual RoG gubbins into such a small space. One of the first ways you'll noticed that this has been achieved is by shifting several components that would normally take up space around the top of the CPU socket over on to the back of the motherboard. The dual channel memory slots have also been shifted closer to the top of the motherboard enabling the first PCI-e slot to also be brought as close as possible to the Northbridge area. Obviously several of the PCI slots have also been removed taking the total number down from 7/8 on a normal ATX motherboard to just 4. However, despite all this downsizing and re-arranging, the Maximus II Gene still looks every bit as awesome as its full sized counterparts and the blue/white colour scheme common to the RoG series still hasn't got old.
The CPU socket area is actually quite clear of obstructions with only a few solid-state caps at the top of the board and a total of 8 chokes over to the left. The mosfets themselves are hidden beneath a black anodised aluminium heatsink which is in turn connected to the Northbridge via a heatpipe. Comparing the layout of the Maximus II Gene to the Rampage II Gene
there are strong similarities, but obviously with only 4 memory slots to position rather than the 6 of it's X58 brother, the Maximus does look slightly more accommodating for large CPU cooling solutions.
Northbridge cooling is provided by a passive heatsink with the upper fin area being constructed from aluminium and the base from copper. The two parts of the cooler can be separated to allow users to install a watercooling block (or other cooling solution) without sacrificing the heatpipe system connected to the mosfets on the CPU socket. Contact between the sections of the cooler and the NB chip its self isn't too great with ASUS choosing thermal pads (that had already gone brittle) instead of the preferred paste option.
The ICH10R Southbridge is also fitted with a passive heatsink that sits just below the height of the PCI-e slots to prevent any potential clearance issues with graphics cards. Unlike the Northbridge, a thermal paste has been used as the contact material between the surfaces and plastic push-pins hold the cooler in place.
As previously mentioned the Maximus II Gene features two full-length PCI-e x16 slots separated by a PCI-e x1 slot. This will allow two dual-slot graphics cards to be used on the board in Crossfire mode but at the sacrifice of loosing all other expansion slots. As the P45 chipset doesn't support dual 16x (electrical) lanes, using two GPU's will reduce the PCI-e lane speed to 8x8x.
To the bottom-right of the board are the Power and Reset switches. These have been repositioned slightly in comparison to the Rampage II Gene
and are no longer a problem to access when a card is inserted in the PCI slot.
Finishing up with the I/O areas of the board, ASUS have managed to squeeze in a total of six USB2.0 connectors, one IEE1394a connector, an eSATA connector, single Gigabit Ethernet and even a PS2 keyboard port. The rest of the real-estate is consumed by the 8-Channel SupremeFX on-board sound header, Optical port and a CMOS clear button (should you get a bit overenthusiastic with the overclocking!). Finally six right angled SATA connectors attached to the ICH10R Southbridge and a lonesome straight SATA connector (JMicron JMB363) complete the boards connectivity options.
In summary, the Maximus II Gene is well packaged, well presented and well featured on the surface at least. There are no immediately visible issues with the layout and ASUS have clearly spent a lot of time juggling things around to ensure that the board packs all the features of its larger counterparts. Now let's move on to the next page and check out if this trend follows through into the BIOS options, and of course, the actual performance of the board.
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 3
Previous Republic of Gamers motherboards have never failed to impress in the BIOS department and ASUS seeming to have to have the combination of just enough options for the pro, yet not overwhelming for the novice down to a fine art. The Maximus II Gene certainly gets a good start by using the familiar Phoenix BIOS layout which has fast become most enthusiasts favourite over the slightly dated AWARD BIOS used by some other manufacturers.
Today we're going to focus mostly on the Extreme Tweaker section which is where all of the overclocking happens, but you can rest assured that the remainder of the BIOS contains all of the usual options for enabling/disabling board features, configuring boot sequences and configuring SATA devices.
The very first option at the top of the page is "Tuning Mode". This essentially allows you to set the amount of visible options on the rest of the Extreme Tweaker page. Opting for "Gaming" only provides the basic options for overclocking, with all of the more advanced options hidden away and automatically set by the BIOS, whereas Extreme OC (as you've probably already guessed) shows the full list of options in all of their glory.
If you happen to be after a quick overclock and don't really feel like setting any of the options yourself, then CPU Level Up is the place to be. The BIOS correctly detected our chip (E8400) and provided a list of faster CPU's in the same product range to effectively level up our CPU to. Similarly, if you was to have an Q8200 chip in your system, the options here would be along the lines of Q8400, Q8600...etc.
As you'd expect, the Maximus II Gene also provides a decent amount of memory ratio options going all the way up to DDR2-1335MHz (we wish). These will certainly come in handy later on in the review when we test out the maximum OC and maximum FSB capabilities of the board.
Voltage options are borderline suicidal in most cases with the CPU voltage going all the way up to a silicon sizzling 2.4v and DRAM options up to a chip frying 3.4v. A great feature of this particular BIOS is that it shows you both the current voltages and temperatures on the same screen. This makes it extremely easy to work out how much further you can push the CPU or other components without having to switch to another area of the BIOS to check these values.
Of course, should you want to see a list of all voltages and temperatures in one place, a more comprehensive list can be found under the "Power" section of the BIOS. Once again there's no cutting corners with ASUS monitoring everything from CPU voltage to Southbridge Voltage and the same in the Temperature section too. Up to four fan speeds can also be monitored and controlled from this section of the BIOS.
Finally we arrive at the Tools section of the BIOS where ASUS have provided utilities for both saving the current BIOS settings and also flashing the BIOS up to a newer version. Quite surprising to see is that the ASUS Flash utility can actually read direct from NTFS filesystems. This means all you need to do when updating your BIOS is save the ROM file to your C:, reboot and select the file from the folder list - no need for even a USB stick!
Once again the Maximus II Gene has ticked all the right boxes for both the enthusiast and the casual overclocker. Offering a wealth of features easily comparable to that of its full fat ATX counterparts and in some cases even more. All that remains to be seen now is if these features can be put to good use. So let's move on to the next page where we begin the testing.
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 4
Now the time comes when we have a little confession to make - We got rid of all of our S775 testing equipment! Yes, after almost a year of nothing but LGA1366 X58 motherboard reviews on Overclock3D it seemed like there was little point in holding on to our ageing Q6600 processors and other gear, especially when most manufacturers had also seemingly turned a blind eye to our old favourite. So when ASUS sent us the Maximus II Gene our way the first words muttered were something along the lines of "oh nuts"!
However, after a quick trip to eBay and an email to our friends over at Novatech.co.uk
we managed to rustle up an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 "E0" CPU and a Buffalo FireStix DDR2-1066 4GB memory kit. Phew! Here's the full system specs used in today's review:
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 "E0" 3.0GHz
Motherboard: Asus mATX ROG Maximus II Gene P45
Memory: Buffalo Firestix DDR2-1066 4GB
Graphics Card: NVidia GTX260 896MB
Power Supply: Tuniq Ensemble 1200w
CPU Cooling: OCZ Gladiator MAX
Hard Disk: DiamondMax 22 500-GB SATA 3Gb/s
Graphics Drivers: Geforce WHQL 190.38
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP2
As you will be able to see, despite the miniature size of the Maximus II GENE there was absolutely no clearance issues with either the CPU cooler, memory modules or graphics card. You could easily install four sticks of memory complete with stupidly large
heatsinks and a high-end CPU cooler and not really have to worry about any potential compatibility issues.
To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
Synthetic CPU Tests
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• PassMark CPU test
• SuperPI 1m, 8m, 32m
Synthetic Memory Tests
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• Everest 5.02
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage
• PCMark Vantage
• Far Cry 2
• Call of Duty 4
• RaceDriver GRID
After spending some time getting used to the new components and finding out that the CPU seemed to thrive best on 1.25v Vcore and the Buffalo FireStix DDR2 kit didn't like being overclocked at all, we set about finding the maximum speed and FSB that the Maximus II GENE could achieve.
WOW is not the word when it comes to overclocking on the Maximus II GENE. Not only did it manage to take the E8400 all the way to 4.32GHz on 1.25v Vcore, but it also managed a highly respectable maximum FSB speed of 530MHz. I'm actually quite confident that the FSB could have gone even higher with a better DDR2 kit, but as the lowest memory/CPU divider is 1:1, the DDR2 kit hit its 1066MHz limit at 533FSB and refused to go any further even with relaxed timings.
The process of overclocking was totally effortless with little more than the usual FSB/Voltage/Memory adjustments needing to be made. Even when things got taken a little too far the board recovered without any issues and not once did we need to reach for the CMOS reset switch. All in all, a very pleasent overclocking experience.
Now let's move on to the benchmarks where the Maximus II GENE is going to be somewhat lonesome (as nobody wanted to send us any LGA775 board for comparison!). However, in the interest of having some slightly meaningful graphs, we'll be displaying the results of the board in both Stock and OC states.
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 5
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
is the benchmark of choice for many overclockers. It's lightweight to download and can give a quick indication on how good a system is at number crunching. Once again, testing was performed a total of 5 times, with an average being calculated from the middle three results.
is a popular benchmarking suite which test all aspect of PC hardware.The CPU test examines Mathematical operations, compression, encryption, SSE, 3DNow! instructions and more. Each CPU test was performed a total of 5 times, with an average being calculated from the middle three results.
No surprises here really. The overclocked results of the E8400 at 4.3GHz completely stomp the stock results taken at 3.0GHz. If this shows us one thing, its that the combination of a cheap LGA775 CPU + a solid overclocking motherboard can really turn out some respectable results, especially in single-core benchmarks such as SuperPI that completely thrive on MHz performance.
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 6
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 7
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 8
Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast game play. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
Gaming shows once again that there's certainly life in the old dog yet, with most results well into the 100FPS range albeit at low settings. However, quite a few of the results show that overclocking is required to make full use of even the GTX260's power, so its certainly handy to know the Maximus II GENE is a master of this art.
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 9
ASUS Maximus II GENE mATX Motherboard Page: 10
The ASUS Maximus II GENE may be small, but it certainly packs a punch. Although it's been almost a year since we last reviewed a Socket 775 motherboard here on Overclock3D, the return to this old favourite was certainly a pleasant one and showed that it is still is a very capable platform when coupled with the right CPU and copious amounts of overclocking.
Thankfully this is also one area that the Maximus II Gene excels. Using nothing more than an off-the-shelf E8400, the board broke the 4GHz barrier with ease. In fact, aside from a manual increase of the FSB getting to this stage required almost no manual labour with all of the BIOS options set to [AUTO] and the Maximus managing items such as the dividers and voltage completely on its own. Only when we wanted to take things one step further was some manual tweaking involved, which once again proved fruitful with a maximum overclock of 4.3GHz.
Maximum FSB results were also very favourable with the Maximus hitting 530MHz with only minor tweaking. The board did feel like it was capable of so much more, but unfortunately the stubborn 1066MHz DDR2 kit used for the testing hindered these results and active cooling on the Northbridge would have also been required.
But it's not all about the overclocking. Although this is one area that the Maximus II GENE is clearly at home, credit has to be given to the ASUS designers for cramming all the features of a full-fat ATX motherboard in a standard mATX form factor. As mentioned in the Rampage II GENE review
, this opens a world of opportunities for small-yet-powerful PC systems with LAN rigs and gaming HTPC's being just two of the possibilities.
Other features such as the on-board power switches, modular Northbridge cooling, on-board X-Fi and the insanely comprehensive BIOS are also more than worthy of mention, as is the excellent packaging and reasonable bundle that ASUS are quickly becoming renowned for. In short, mATX has been re-invented and the ASUS Maximus II GENE is at the forefront of the revolution.
- All the features of an ATX motherboard (and more).
- Layout not too cramped. Plenty of room for large coolers.
- Extremely capable at overclocking.
- On-board X-Fi sound.
- Usual ASUS RoG attention to detail in the looks and packaging.
- Fully featured BIOS.
- LGA775 platform for those who aren't willing to re-mortgage for LGA1366.
- Passive cooling will only get you so far.
- Absolutely nothing.
Thanks to ASUS
for sending the Maximus II GENE in for review. Discuss this review in our forums