Motherboards have changed drastically in their role over the years. What started off as an almost secondary item available in one or two variants quickly became a component that had more versions that anyone could count. The time around the Pentium 3 and AMD Thunderbirds were especially rife with multiple chipset types, socket variations and other tweaks that it definitely lead to the long-held belief that PC hardware is so varied that almost no two machines are alike.
Time has naturally moved on during the era of the 775 socket chipsets and their motherboards became much more standardised until we reach, at least on the Intel side, the situation we’re in today in that there are only two major chipsets available and much of the motherboard duties have been offloaded onto the processor.
Of course this is still a business and so companies still need to provide variations. Much like the automotive industry this has meant that your basic board has split into three main types, the budget no-frills version, the mainstream version, and the high-end premium price models. As over-clocking has become a much more competitive the premium models are either luxury bullet-proof ones designed for 24/7 usage or highly overclockable models for the world-record hunters.
ASUS produce a wide range of motherboards to suit all pockets, and today we are taking a look at their top-end P55 model, the ASUS Maximus III Extreme.
Maximus III Extreme
I'm sure you've noticed the plethora of pictures appearing of this motherboard throughout the week. Unlike everyone else we aren't giving you stock photographs disguised as our own, or even trying to cobble together some preview to have some pretend "first". Here at OC3D we promise little and deliver in spades. So welcome to the review of the ASUS Maximus III Extreme.
The Maximus cognomen will be well known among those of you who followed the motherboard trends. The original Maximus was based around the X38 chipset, the Maximus II utilised the insanely popular P45 chipset, and sticking to the winning formula of combining all the ASUS bells and whistles with a mature Intel chipset, the Maximus III uses the LGA1156 based P55.
As with the rest of the ASUS boards that have a name rather than merely a code, the Maximus III is available in three variants, the uATX Gene, the slightly more cost-effective Formula, and todays test motherboard, the full fat Extreme.
Normally at this point we list off the technical specifications from the manufacturers website, but the Maximus III Extreme is part of the Republic of Gamers series of components. As such the list of specifications and features is so huge that it deserves a page all to itself.
So move on, and let’s see what we can expect to discover.
As befits a ROG motherboard the specifications are very comprehensive with a huge array of options related to the P55 side of things and a lot of additional ASUS ROG specific features.
|CPU||Intel® Socket 1156 Core™ i7 Processor/Core™ i5 Processor/Core™ i3 Processor |
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology
|Chipset||Intel® P55 Express Chipset|
|Memory||4xDIMM, Max 16 GB, DDR3 2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/2000(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600/1333/1066 Non-ECC,Un-buffered |
Dual Channel memory architecture
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Expansion Slots||5 x PCIe 2.0 x16 Supports single at x16, dual at x16, triple at x 16 x16 x8, quad x8, or 5 x8 |
1 x PCI 2.2
|Storage||Intel® P55 Express Chipset built-in |
6 xSATA 3.0 Gb/s ports (Gray)
Intel Matrix Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1,5,10
JMicron® 363 controllers:
- 1 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s port (Black)
- 1 x External SATA 3.0 Gb/s port (SATA On-the-Go)
Marvell® PCIe SATA 6Gb/s controller
- 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports (Red)
|LAN||Realtek® RTL8112L Gigabit LAN controller|
|Audio||VIA® VT2020 10-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC |
- Supports Blu-ray audio layer content protection
- Supports 1 Optical S/PDIF out port at back I/O
- Supports 1 S/PDIF out header
- Supports Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
|IEEE 1394||2 x 1394a port(s) (1 port onboard, 1 port at back I/O)|
|USB||NEC® USB 3.0 controller |
- 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (at back I/O)
Intel® P55 Express Chipset
- 11 USB 2.0 ports (4 ports at mid-board, 7 ports at back I/O, 1 port at back I/O is also for ROG connect)
|Overclocking Features||ROG Connect |
Extreme Engine Digi+
- 8-phase CPU digital VRM power
- 3-phase VTT digital VRM power
- 3-phase Memory power
- ML Cap for CPU
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- 8 O.C. Profile
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
|Special Features||CPU Level Up |
Onboard Button: Power / Reset / Clr CMOS (at back IO)
ASUS Fan Xpert
ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
|Back Panel I/O Ports||1 x External SATA |
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x LAN(RJ45) port
10 -Channel Audio I/O
1 x Clr CMOS switch
1 x PS/2 Keyboard port (purple)
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
7 x USB 2.0 ports (1 port also for ROG Connect)
1 x ROG Connect On/Off switch
S/PDIF Out (Optical)
|Internal I/O Connectors|
2 x USB connectors support additional 4 USB 2.0 ports
8 x Fan connectors: 1 x CPU / 1 x PWR / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional
|BIOS||16 Mb Flash ROM AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS|
|Manageability||WOL by PME,WOR by PME,PXE|
|Accessories||1 x RC Bluetooth Card |
1 x I/O Shield
1 x Optional Fan
1 x ROG Connect Cable
1 x SLI Cable
1 x 3-way SLI Cable
1 x 2-in-1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
1 x 2-in-1 SATA 6.0Gb/s Cables
3 x 2-in-1 SATA 3.0Gb/s Signal Cables
1 x 2-port USB2.0 + ESATA Module
1 x Thermal Sensor Cables Pack
1 x Cable Ties Pack
1 x ROG Theme Label
1 x 12-in-1 ROG Cable Label
1 x User's Manual
Bluetooth Module Accessory Card
- Bluetooth V2.0/V2.1+EDR
- RC Bluetooth On/Off Switch
|Support Disc||ASUS PC Probe II |
ASUS AI Suite
- Drivers and Applications
Futuremark® 3DMark® Vantage Advanced Edition
ASUS TurboV EVO Utility
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor|
|Size||12 inch x 9.6 inch (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm)|
That certainly is a comprehensive selection of features and included accessories. But a big table of specifications can seem a little dry, so it's time to take a look at the Maximus III in the flesh.
ASUS are regularly a company who provide some of the best looking packaging we experience and as part of their high-end ROG range we're pleased to see that this tradition continues with the Maximus III.
The front of the box is very nice with a deep red that is the theme for the high-end ASUS items. Often we find that manufacturers can't resist the temptation to give their extreme performance products ridiculous stickers and graphics, so it's good to see a restrained approach taken here. Naturally the ROG logo and board name are the major points, as is the Windows 7 compatibility. A small group of logos to the bottom left cover the rest of the major points for any prospective purchaser and all in all it is an eye-catching design.
Turning the box over we see the usual list of statistics and specifications that adorn the rear of most packaging. However the layout is exceptional and what might otherwise be a bewildering mess of features is kept clear and easy to read. ASUS have wisely chosen to keep the main photographs limited to the features that are more specific to this board than to P55 ones in general and it helps to keep the focus upon these rather that generalities.
Returning to the front we see something we last saw with the ASUS HP-001 headset, a velcro front flap that allows you to view the product in all its glory and still keep it safe in its packaging. How often have we had to sneakily take something out in a store to be able to actually look at it before purchase? No longer. It also, I'm sure not co-incidentally, gives yet more real-estate to advertise the Maximus III Extreme USPs.
A very nice touch.
Thankfully we aren't limited to merely browsing and wishing, so slipping the two boxes out of the main packaging we can take a closer look. Inside are two separate boxes, one containing the motherboard itself covered up by a sturdy plastic sheet that ensures anyone fooling enough to poke the thin plastic visible on the above photos wont make it to the motherboard itself.
The other box contains easily the most comprehensive collection of cables and things we've ever seen, and we shall be looking at those more closely later on.
Time to free the Maximus III Extreme for some naked photographs.
A Good Look at the Maximus III Extreme
Freeing the board from its cardboard confines we can see that the theme from the packaging nicely matches the layout of the board. Everything is very clear and exudes a quality you'd expect from such a high-end product. Black and red definitely seems to be the colour-scheme of choice for premium hardware lately which isn't a bad thing as it always looks purposeful. The second thing that is instantly noticeable is that there isn't a spare space anywhere to be found. The whole board is awash with chips, headers, switches etc.
Flipping the board upside down shows quite how much space has been used, with almost more solder visible than board. The bottom left especially is like looking up into the stars. Hopefully the performance is similarly galactic.
Starting at the bottom left with the expansion slots, we can see a grand total 5 PCIe x16 slots and one PCI 2.2 slot. The five PCIe slots support four graphics cards and, thanks to the NF200 chip, support two cards at x16, three at x16, x16 and x8 and if you fancy using all four or five of the PCIe slots you have x8 on them all. One of the problems we're all aware of is the locking mechanism that keeps the rear of your card in place. Often this is a simple clip or plastic retainer that is exceptionally tough to get at once a double-wide card is in place, but the Maximus III Extreme has a brilliantly simple latch that holds the card securely and is very simple to get at even with a card in place. We've left the top one open for our shot to show how little they open and what a excellent solution this is.
Below the expansion slots are the usual array of headers for front-panel audio, CD in, USB headers and the like. Demonstrating the commitment to the overclocking community we have on board power and reset switches too. Just to the right of those is a place to plug in the ASUS OC Station, so that you can migrate it to your new board if you purchased one before.
Everywhere you look on this board there is a new thing to discover and a great little touch. To the right we have the RAM slots, which normally are only here for colour reasons and completeness, but once again there is so much to mention. Firstly the retaining mechanism for the RAM slots is, like the expansion slots, also different to what most of us will be used to. Instead of having two big clips than need securing, ASUS have only got one that needs opening and the other is static. The improvement is fantastic not only in speeding up installation and removal of the RAM sticks themselves, but because the lower retainer is permanent it acts as a easy guide to lining them up correctly. Anyone who's changed their RAM on a motherboard that's already built in a case will know how difficult it is to line them up every time, and whilst that isn't a recommended practise it certainly wont occur with this cool solution.
Below the DIMM sockets as you look at it are two more little tricks the Maximus III Extreme has up its sleeve. On the left is the dual-function GO button. A quick press of this before POST enables the MemOK feature which diagnoses memory issues and patches them to greatly increase the chances of a successful boot. Very useful indeed especially if you've been a little over-confident with your settings. Holding it for a longer period before POST will load a specific set of BIOS settings that you've previously assigned to the GO button. We'll look at assigning that when we come to the BIOS, but naturally the possibilities are tremendous.
As the Maximus III Extreme comes with two BIOS' that you can manually switch between, the GO button gives you effectively three different profiles to choose from before booting. It can be as easily set to a low-power setting for basic browsing, as it could be to a extreme overclock that only works under LN2. Enabling you to use the board both as a main rig, and a world-record setter. Just above the go button is an LN2 jumper to help the CPU recover from a frozen state.
Next to the GO button are the ProbeIt measurement points for quick and easy multimeter voltage measuring. Curiously this is Probelt in the manual and the ASUS website and clearly ProbeIt on the motherboard. Given its use I think ProbeIt is probably accurate.
The LGA1156 socket is by far the best CPU retention method around, ensuring good pressure and also with the guide slots it's impossible to mis-align the CPU. The Maximus III Extreme has a very busy CPU area in keeping with the rest of the board, but all the heatsinks and things are very low profile, as is the Republic of Gamers branded heatsink below, ensuring even the beefiest of CPU Coolers can be fitted without issue. As is becoming quite a theme throughout this close look there are a few other things to note.
To the bottom left is one of the EZ Plugs that help provide more power for those of you running tri or quad graphics cards. Above that is the RC Bluetooth header. This is for the installation of the RC Bluetooth adaptor (seen later) and it enables you to control the motherboard using a bluetooth smartphone. If you have a smartphone with either Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional or later, Symbian S60 3rd FP1 or later, or Android 2.0 or later you can pair it up with the motherboard and tweak voltages and clock speeds on the fly using your phone. An exceptionally cool feature indeed. Sadly my mobile phone is still steam powered and so I couldn't test it out, but it's yet another connectivity option on this staggeringly impressive motherboard.
The closeup show below right shows the RC Bluetooth connector and also one of my favourite parts of the whole package. If anyone doubts the intentions of the ROG Maximus III Extreme, the LED for CPU Normal, CPU High and CPU Crazy leaves no room for doubt. CPU Crazy could almost be the subtitle for many of us and is only a t-shirt away from being a phenomenon.
At the very bottom right of this picture is one of the three headers for the thermal probes that are included in the accessories box.
Finally we see the 9 SATA ports that come equipped on the motherboard. From left to right we have the vertical JMicron controlled SATA 3 Gb/s port that also supports E-SATA. Next along are the six 3 Gb/s SATA ports controlled by the P55 chipset itself. These support RAID 0,1,5 and 10. Finally on the right we have the latest addition to the storage technology world, the Marvel SATA 6 Gb/s ports, handily highlighted in red. As is to be expected these all support the locking style of connector that quickly usurped the less stable SATA 1 style.
The right hand picture is a front view of the second EZ plug for extra power in tri and quad graphics systems, that was viewable from above in the expansion slot photograph.
Oh yes there is more. Read on.
Continuing Our Look
On the previous page I mentioned how the Maximus III Extreme comes with a dual-BIOS. This is nothing new as dual BIOS motherboards have been about for quite some time now. However one of the frustrating things about them is that usually the second BIOS only comes into effect if the first one becomes corrupted or similar and then you are at the hands of fate as to whether it will recover enough to use the second one. Here ASUS have given us a button, the red one at the bottom right hand corner, to enable us to choose which of the two BIOS' we wish to boot from, and an LED indicates which we are currently working with.
Zooming back a bit shows the business end of the chipset, the large passive ASUS branded heatsink covering the P55 chip itself. It's low-profile ensures it wont get in the way of even the longest graphics card, but the large surface area keeps the chipset cool even under overclocked conditions.
The IO backplate is pretty much what you'd expect to see with the combination of PS2, Audio, USB and LAN sockets. With a few differences. Firstly the button between the left USB and the blue ones is a clear CMOS button. We've seen some on the rear panel before but often as a button kept tiny to avoid accidental clearance, but so fiddly it would almost be quicker to open the case and use the jumper. The Maximus III Extreme not only has it loud and proud, but also lit up. Yet another nod towards its overclocking design. The blue USB ports are USB3 and moving along to by the audio jacks we have the ROG Connect button and cable port. This is also where the bluetooth receiver sits we mentioned earlier. The USB socket section of the ROG Connect system works similarly to the bluetooth smartphone, but using another computer instead.
You too can plug your laptop into your computer and pretend you're a member of CTU on 24. Or more realistically keep a very close eye on your system from the comfort of a stable one.
Finally on the motherboard side of things the very swish Republic of Gamers logo writ large upon the central heatsink that covers the NF200 chip. Perfect for showing off through your side window.
As you could see on page three, the Maximus III Extreme comes with more than the usual couple of SATA cables and a IO Shield. An entire box is dedicated to the accessories available. We often get items through the OC3D offices that are either marketed as a high-end product or priced at a premium level. More often than not they have a feature or two that allows them such status and the rest is fairly bland. Given the incredible amount of detail and features that have gone into the motherboard itself it wouldn't have been surprising to see the rest of the package skimped on. But if ASUS have gone the extra mile on the motherboard, then they didn't stop running when it came to the rest.
The manual is around 150 pages thick, all in English, and containing an extraordinary level of detail about almost everything. As is always the case with motherboard manuals some of the more obscure BIOS settings are skimmed over, but only the things that you either know what they do or you should leave them the hell alone. One of the best elements is the coherence between the various sections. Because the knowledge required for the hardware, BIOS and software sides are so different you sometimes feel that the manual was written by three people who have never met. Here it is more of a holistic document and when an item is explained in the hardware side, a page link is given to that particular item.
Another cool little thing, and it's often the little touches that make the difference between value for your money and the feeling you've been had, is the SATA cable labels. Sure if you've got a single drive and an optical it probably wont make a difference, but anyone who has put a couple of extra drives in their system as storage needs increased and then one day found themselves wondering if the third drive down is the D drive, and which port did they plug E into again?, need worry no longer.
Moving across we have the standard shield we're all used to, nicely finished in black with a ROG logo. The reverse is, to continue the little touches that have defined this so far, nicely padded with metallic backed foam rather than the more simplistic bent punch out we often see. Also included is a ROG branded USB cable for the ROG Connect, some cable ties and three thermal probes. Something very rarely found and a nice inclusion.
In the next little compartment we find the SLI and Crossfire bridges, along with a optional fan that comes replete with a large warning that it is to only be used if your CPU is passively cooled or water-cooled, otherwise the air flow will be disturbed. As it's only a 40mm fan I can't imagine anyone would plan to use it as a cooling solution anyway, but nonetheless it's a nice touch especially as a premium board such as this is likely to find itself in a water-cooled situation.
On the right is the stiff tri-SLI connector and the bluetooth ROG Connector I spoke about on the preceding page.
Finally among our plethora of accessories we have the ubiquitous SATA cables, a bracket for external USB connections via the rear of the chassis, and the block that allows easy connection of the ever fiddly front-panel connections such as power and HD LEDs.
Crikey that was a lot to get through. Hopefully you've still got the stamina for the BIOS shots, so let's look at the meat of the Maximus Extreme III.
Naturally the BIOS is where a motherboard can really shine or really fail. Ideally a BIOS should be very tweakable for those who know what they want the Right to Read Delay should be, but also be easy for the average user to overclock either by obviously identifiable settings or pre-installed overclock profiles. If the complex BIOS' of the early DFI or Foxconnn motherboards are at one end of the scale, then for an overclocking-based motherboard the ASUS Maximus III Extreme is certainly up the other end, albeit not quite the simplest.
As most BIOS looks the same, seen on AMI BIOS you've seen them all, we'll concentrate on the important parts of the ROG Maximus III Extreme.
Firstly the auto-overclock features, known on this board as CPU and Memory Level Up. You'll recall from earlier I showed you the CPU Crazy part of the motherboard. This has an LED that displays which of the three settings you're currently using. As you can see, our BIOS is so fresh that all three are called crazy. Also, even more pertinent when you reach the overclocking page, the highest automatic overclock is 3.52GHz. Not exactly enough to warrant the crazy moniker either.
The Memory is much simpler with a selection of settings you're far more likely to use. Want to keep your CPU at stock but your blazing RAM at full-speed? Sorted.
The AI overclock tuner determines which figure the BIOS will give priority to when trying to apply your settings. As you can see it can be fully manual, automatic, use the XMP profiles or give weight to either the CPU or Memory Level Up Settings.
Should you wish to manually configure your overclock then there is a handy screen containing all the relevant information about your current chip and clocks.
Moving further down the manual overclock screen we reach the voltage section, and all of them are neatly kept right next to each other. If you're the uncertain type these are also colour coded with blue for standard, yellow for "Whoa there" and red for "I hope you've got lots of spare cash".
If you find a setting that works there are 8 possible profiles you can store for easy retrieval. Also you'll note that profiles can be loaded and saved externally here. I'm sure in due course once the board hits the market many people will release their profile and enable everyone to enjoy a stable overclock with none of the faffing about that usually accompanies such things.
Finally the GO Button we mentioned earlier. All the main BIOS tools are available, naturally, under the Tools menu. You can adjust the profiles, backup and flash your BIOS or, most importantly, assign a file to the GO button. The Maximus III Extreme BIOS even helpfully lists the settings that would be applied.
As you can see, a plethora of unique options along with the ones we're all used to. Easy to navigate, clear, and with helpful notes both in the manual and in the BIOS. A triumph.
Test Setup and Overclocking
Of course having all this potential isn't much good without giving it a damn good thrashing. So here is todays test setup which uses the standard P55 components we test with, so hopefully the results are comparable across our reviews.
CPU : Intel i7 870 @ 2.93GHz
GPU : ASUS GTX275
RAM : G.Skill Trident 2000MHz CL9 4GB
PSU : Cougar 1000CM
HDD : Samsung Spinpoint 1TB
Motherboard : ASUS Maximus III Extreme
OS : Windows 7 64
Cooling : Cooler Master 212 Hyper Plus
The temptation with any hardcore overclocking based motherboard is to put the CPU under water or with some ultra hardware and go for a major overclock that 90% of the readers will never achieve. We much rather give you an overclock that you can go away and feel confident that you could achieve tomorrow with the same hardware. For this reason we stick to air cooling and an average hardware selection. Of course with a motherboard like this we have to give it the full monty processor.
The Intel 870 will run all day with a clock around the high 3GHz mark, and 4 is possible with a voltage hike. Once you get past that it very much depends upon the chip you have and the many black arts that come with a good overclock. Anyone who has delved into this side of the industry will know that sometimes you get a chip that overclocks well, and others you'll get one that wouldn't budge even if you hooked it up to 240v, much less something sensible.
Naturally as the Maximus III Extreme is billed as an overclocker, 4GHz had to be the first point of call. It's always important, even if you know the chip you're using and such, to always overclock incrementally. With the Maximus III Extreme not available yet the BIOS isn't so mature that we can just barrel in, but within a couple of days of beginning testing we received a new BIOS from ASUS that greatly improved the ease of overclocking and the stability we could expect to obtain.
To cut a short story even shorter, the Maximus III Extreme nailed 4GHz easily. It took a little bit of tweaking with voltages to get it stable but it was a very painless process and certainly we were hopeful of pushing on past 4GHz without going past the 1.4v mark, which we feel is the point at which temperatures become too much of a factor to comfortably stick on air.
Having got it perfectly stable at 4GHz it was time to see if the Maximus III would enable us to squeeze a bit more out. 4.1GHz wasn't too bad at all and a nice 1.1GHz overclock. 4.2 definitely started to need a few extra volts across the board, although the excellent Maximus III BIOS made sure we were never in the dark about the process with everything handily kept in in the one screen.
Finally we reach 4.4GHz still using all four cores, and hyperthreading still enabled, and under our 1.4v air-cooled limit. This is a staggering overclock considering how fresh the BIOS is and how little experience we've had with this board. Given more time and a more mature BIOS we're sure some insane clocks can be had.
This was stable enough to run all of our tests, but not Prime stable and so to make sure that we aren't making false claims about our results we clocked it back to the bulletproof 4GHz mark, which was used for all our testing.
Ah the good old synthetics. Where would the world of hardware be without some hard numbers. I'm sure many people only care about the overclock we got and how many FPS you get in Crysis. But if, like me, you have a real passion for this, then nothing is quite as exciting as breaking certain magic barriers.
Sandra has a great set of benchmarks with lots of upto-date comparisons and an easy to see guide on where your hardware fits. Today we'll be utilising the CPU Arithmetic benchmark, looking at the Dhrystone and Whetstone results.
The Dhrystone result saw a very impressive 94.3 GIPS at stock speed, with a 24.4 GIPS improvement in overclocked trim. This is a very good increase, especially as this isn't one of those tests that will see a linear improvement.
Moving to the Whetstone benchmark we see a similar result, in that the i7 870/Maximus III Extreme combination gives us a very impressive 61.8 GFLOPS which rises to 77.14 when overclocked. That's 91% of the theoretical overclock performance, showing that the Maximus really doesn't get in the way of your performance at all.
Lavalys' Everest is a comprehensive array of benchmarking tests and hardware information. For todays benchmarks we'll be running the AES Encrypytion, CPU Photoworxx and CPU Queen tests for our processor and the copy, read and write tests for the memory.
As you can see, all three tests benefited hugely from the clockspeed increase the Maximus III Extreme afforded us, with the Photoworxx test in particular giving a staggering improvement.
Now and again we're blessed in that we can crack certain numbers that once seemed impossible. Much like our overclocking experience on the Maximus III Extreme allows us to hit 4GHz without difficulty, a figure laughable only a couple of years ago, we've broken through another cool barrier in our memory tests. Under over-clocked conditions we passed 20000MB/s in the Everest copy test. Admittedly only by 1, but for a dual-channel system that is clocked to 24/7 stability levels rather than extreme absolute numbers, it's not bad at all. The read and write tests showed a similar level of improvement. Clearly spending that little extra on your motherboard is worth it, if 4GHz and these kind of numbers are to be expected.
Crystal Disk Mark
One of the two newest features appearing on motherboards at the moment, the other being USB3, is SATA 6Gb/s. In a similar way that USB3 is still very new, the hardware market isn't awash with SATA6 drives at the moment and we haven't got one in our labs. So we were curious as to whether the upgrade to the new technology might give enough headroom to make our old SATA 3Gb/s drive a bit perkier. After all, you can never have too much headroom can you. Unless you're agoraphobic perhaps.
Sadly this isn't the case, and our drive actually performed slightly worse when attached to the SATA 6 ports than it did on the SATA 3. This might be a driver issue or it might just be the slightly random nature of hard-drive benchmarking. Nonetheless if you are considering upgrading without buying the drives needed to take advantage, think again.
WinRAR comes with a cool little benchmarking utility built in and makes good use of every last megahertz it can get its hands on. This is definitely the case here as the results almost perfectly mirror the clock speeds used, once again showing how little overheads the Maximus III Extreme has.
Onwards and we'll see what some more real-world benchmarks make of this.
Just before we move along two our two synthetic tests for the day that use real-world examples to test with, we thought you'd like to see these couple of results.
Super Pi is an old favourite. It's a standard quick test that gives a result we all can relate to and doesn't take forever to run. It's also got the handy ability to barely take up any resources and so will run on all but the most unstable systems. Much like our 20000MB/s result on the Everest Copy test, we've cracked another little line in the sand here with a sub-10 second 1M Super Pi run. Highly impressive.
As the differences between .1 and .15 of a second are pretty meaningless we've also run the 32M Super Pi test which definitely shows the huge gains to be had from the wonderful clocking ability of the Maximus III Extreme.
Cinema 4D uses a genuine rendering test to give a result that, although synthetic in nature as it is fixed, but because it uses the Cinema R10 engine, since superseded, it's actually applicable to the kind of use a system such as this might get. If you have a multi-core, or preferably multi-core multi-threaded processor I highly recommend running this benchmark at least once. No amount of numbers can give you a feeling for the sheer increase in speed you can obtain when running on multi-cores.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark has a comprehensive suite of tests all aimed at stressing all parts of your system in the way that it would be in daily usage. As such it's a perfect test for a motherboard. Yet again the Maximus III Extreme shines by not only providing a rock solid overclock but by giving good results even in stock trim.
Here it demonstrates the pure horsepower available in the encoding test...
And finally how the whole system works to be able to find, retrieve, store and render webpages at a lightning pace.
Phew. Now let's see how the 3D side holds up before we go to our conclusion.
3D and Gaming Benchmarks
Firstly welcome to the audience who've skipped straight to this page. You've confused this with a graphics card review. Please return to page one and come back when you've caught up.
For the rest of us, now is the time to see if those synthetic and utility benchmarks give us anything meaningful in gaming terms. For the games themselves as always we're running at the maximum possible settings allowed within the game. Anti-aliasing is noted when applied. Because this isn't a review of graphical prowess and we wanted to ensure we didn't become, however unlikely, GPU limited, we've run the tests today at 1680x1050. Still plenty of resolution to give a stiff workout and something that many people are likely to play at.
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark Vantage is a strange beast. Despite clearly being able to detect and test the CPU, as you can see from the results below it's almost entirely graphics limited. Anyway, we have tested firstly the P score, which is the standard test. Hugely disappointing. A 1280x1024 test most definitely wont stress the GTX275 and so large gains should be seen from the copious overclock. Sure the CPU score was massive, but the P-Score itself stayed the same.
As the results for the P-Score were, disappointing, we decided to run the High test to see if the extra stress applied to the entire system might help the overclock to stretch its legs despite the likely-hood of being GPU limited. And it didn't. Hmmm. Chalk this one up on the strange pile.
Although usurped in the graphical stakes by more recent titles, Warhead is still an absolute crippler on a system thanks to some overambitious coding. Following our results in the 3DM Vantage test in which the biggest improvement was found at the High level, the bench runs were performed at Enthusiast settings, but naturally without anti-aliasing. A fairly linear graph is produced in which clock speed gains frames. Just like it should. Quite what Vantage was playing at we might never know.
Dirt 2 is the latest in the line of great racing games Codies have been putting out since GRiD. A great career mode, and some truly great graphics and a engine that remains playable on even modest rigs, should perform well on this spec. However in previous tests its console roots shine through and it didn't make much difference what we threw at it, it just kept on churning out results in a fairly linear fashion. Sure there are a couple of FPS to be had, and the overclock that we used was bulletproof. Just not quite the response you'd expect from an extra 1GHz of power pushing the data around.
Modern Warfare 2
MW2 shows a marked improvement over Dirt 2 terms of scaleability. Consider the furore that greeted it upon release as a dumbed-down console port it's good to see that having a nice bit of hardware driving you makes a lot of difference. An 80 frame minimum 4xAA on a stock Quad is impressive.
Time to wrap up all this with our conclusion.
Conclusions are often a balancing act in which we try and explain how the bad points outweigh the good, or the good points outweigh the good. We nit pick and just try and balance it all out until we are happy with the score we've given, and you can then make tiny adjustments depends on how you feel about the good or bad points we've raised.
The ASUS Maximus III Extreme makes all of this a non-issue by being brilliant.
The packaging is stunning, exuding both class and sturdiness. The box itself is fantastically laid out and the design is excellent. Internally the motherboard is protected well with more sturdy cardboard, and the accessories box is of the same high quality.
The accessories themselves are all well-made and not an afterthought. The manual is a particular highlight. The included SATA Cables are black, latched and one of the ends is at an angle to ensure easy insertion and routing.
The board. What more can I say. It's feature rich beyond almost anything else we've seen, fantastic build quality, comes complete with a plethora of features that assist everyone from the overclocking neophyte to the people already preparing their LN2.
The ROG Connect features add yet another layer of control, and along with the twin user-selectable BIOS, MemOK and GO features, it should be impossible to ever end up with a situation you need to clear the CMOS in, much less coax the board back into life. Although 4GHz rock-solid stable
Quad and Tri card compatibility, or five cards for the Folders among you, USB3, SATA 6Gb/s, support for incredible speeds and all wrapped up in great package.
Unfortunately this does come and quite a steep price. When X58 motherboards were first released most of us baulked at some of the prices being discussed for even average boards. Thankfully the P55 based offerings quickly fixed that by definitely being the budget option of the two.
Now I don't know if the P55 marketplace is so hot right now that manufacturers are moving towards it as their product of choice, but early indications are that the Maximus III Extreme will come to the market around the £250 mark. Almost spot on the Rampage II Extreme price.
This doesn't bode well for two reasons. Firstly it makes any thoughts that the whole 1156 option is "more affordable" instantly rubbish. Yes ok this is a premium product, but is it seriously that much better than the competition. After all, if the pricing is right (and with the Formula at 190ish it seems likely) then the only P55 motherboards more expensive are the MSI Big Bang ones, and they are all sorts of weird and wonderful tech.
There is no denying the performance. The packaging is sublime. But the price point is eye-watering. If you must have the absolute best, this is it. If you've got budgetary concerns, there are plenty of other options, including the lesser models of this very board.
For those of you with a video fetish Tom kindly did a box opening video.
- Stunning performance
- Great looks
- Wonderful packaging
- If that price proves accurate, this will swiftly become a con.
- None to speak of
Thanks to ASUS for giving us todays review sample. Discuss in our forums.