ASUS’ “Republic of Gamers” series is always nice to cross ways with, and just as sad to separate from. This ASUS motherboard, Maximus IV Extreme-Z, represents the ROG family in the segment of Intel’s Z68 controller logic. Just as any ROG model, this one has a rich accompanying bundle and a load of new and interesting technologies too. Of course, the price reflects all that just as well, but it somehow falls out from view when you have a look at all the things this model can do.
ROG motherboards are reputed for their rich bundles, and they haven’t disappointed this time around either. The packaging comprises two sections. The first contains the motherboard itself, expectedly. The second, however, has all kinds of small things that really make for simplifying that often invisible part of PC/motherboard usage.
The first thing we found were thermal probes, attachable to a dedicated connector on the motherboard on one side and anywhere you want to on the other. Specialised ASUS software will enable you to read temperatures of your hard disks, cooling bodies or anything else you deem relevant - just attach the top of the probe and you’re good to go. Another standard feature is the USB cable that can be attached to a specialised USB port on Maximus IV Extreme-Z, while the other end goes into a notebook, for instance, enabling users (particularly overclockers) to control all vital voltages and frequencies from the other PC. Whether you want to put more control in your overclocking sessions or simulate a Formula 1 pit, this is a useful addition.
Since this is a gaming model, also included are a few CrossFire and SLI bridges, interconnecting up to four AMD and three NVIDIA graphics cards, respectively. Dig around some more and you’ll come across a Bluetooth module, installable onto the I/O panel itself, but more on that later. Speaking of which, the I/O panel bracket is black and neatly designated. Of course, there are also the drivers & software CD and a very detailed manual. Another useful feature is extensions for voltage measuring points located on the motherboard itself, which means that you’ll no longer need a “lending hand” to measure any voltage.
The cooling system is massive, and it does its job flawlessly besides looking “gamingly” good. We haven’t been able to make this motherboard get even close to overheating at any moment during testing, even with voltages well bumped up. The cooling system lies on the critical components with thermal tapes as mediators, and the MOSFETs themselves have separate backplates, which makes heat transfer impeccable; this is the main concern of engineers creating a motherboard, after all. There’s plenty of room around the CPU socket, in spite of the massive cooling system, and the fact that were able to install the huge Prolimatech Megahalems CPU cooler with ease says enough.
Maximus IV Extreme-Z has four PCI Express x16 slots, two of which work in full x16 and two in x8 mode. Of course, Intel’s Z68 doesn’t support this sort of solution natively, and ASUS has had to rely on the support coming from a separate PLX chip. In the case of three NVIDIA graphics cards being present, the slots will work in 16/8/8 configuration, but have in mind that we’re talking about the second, more advanced generation of PCI-E slots, so this shouldn’t cause any drop in performance. The same applies to using two AMD HD 6990 or NVIDIA GTX 590 cards, as the slots are working in full x16 mode in that case. ASUS has paid attention to extensions as well, finding enough room for a PCI-E x1, but also a PCI-E x4 slot. The slot layout is very good in general. We say “very good” and not “excellent” because you won’t have any room left for an audio card or TV tuner if you install three graphics cards. It should be noted that this model also has two molex connectors that deliver power to PCI-E slots, which guarantees not only more stable work of the multi-GPU system, but also higher overclocking margins for the graphics cards. Yet another token of appreciation for overclockers, it seems.
The DIMM slots have multi-stage voltage filtering, while the CPU has eight, with the addition of four extra coils that filter the voltage for the iGPU inside the CPU itself. We’ve already written a lot about what the Z68 chipset offers in comparison to the P67 controller logic, so true hardware connoisseurs won’t have trouble recognising the quality of this solution. Maximus IV Extreme-Z has two BIOS chips, selectable by pressing the “BIOS switch” button, situated in the lower right corner of the motherboard.
The advantage of having two BIOS chips onboard is the freedom you’ll have when setting up and toying around with options - whatever happens, the other BIOS always remains as backup. What’s more, there are signal LEDs indicating which of the chips is the active one, so that you can make no mistake. The physical power and reset buttons on the PCB are expected in this price range, and anyone who uses the motherboard outside the enclosure will appreciate these a lot. Maximus IV Extreme-Z even has a two-character display, informing you about the current state of the motherboard at any one time, or indicating the specific problem if there is one.
Physical voltage measuring points are also there for each component, and with the aforementioned extensions, it’s a real joy to overclock and experiment with this model while monitoring actual voltages manually. Another important feat for overclockers is the microswitches for each PCI-E x16 slot, so that you can turn them off as needed. This is very useful when you’re trying to get the last available MHz out of your graphics card, since you can isolate a single slot and give it maximum priority, but also when you’re running a multi-card setup, so that you can turn on each card individually and set it up for a liquid nitrogen session individually, in order to avoid condensation. Liquid nitrogen?! Indeed, ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z is a motherboard wholly optimised for extreme overclocking, going as far as providing an “LN2 mode” switch, more on which you can read in a separate box.
A load of connectors is all but expected on an ROG model, so the PCB features two SATA 2.0 and four SATA 3.0 ports, as well as an extra couple of SATA 3.0 ports provided by Marvell’s PCI-E 9182 controller. We would’ve preferred if ASUS had marked each connector with a different colour according to the type of connector, as this way, you won’t really know whether you’re connecting a hard disk to the native chipset controller or to Marvell’s one. The pins for connecting power, reset, power LED, HDD LED and similar connectors are all neatly marked, however, and each vital component has a separate LED as well. The clear CMOS button is located at two spots: one on the I/O panel itself, and the other in the upper right corner of the PCB. The “Go button” was particularly interesting to us, but more on that in a separate box.
USB 2.0 is definitely on the road to a well-deserved retirement, as more and more enclosures come equipped with a USB 3.0 front connector. Maximus IV Extreme-Z has only one USB 3.0 connector on the PCB itself, but also eight USB 2.0 ones. On the other hand, the I/O panel has an entire eight USB 3.0 connectors, which is definitely commendable. Realtek’s ALC889 (7.1) audio codec is one of the best, if not the best integrated solution. It’s proven to be a reliable bit of motherboard magic, and the same goes for Intel’s two Gigabit LAN adapters. The accompanying bundle also contains a Bluetooth radio module, in the version “2.1 + EDR” (Enhanced Data Rate). This is very useful if you have an advanced mobile device, and the realistic data transfer of around 2.1 Mbit/s is more than enough for data transfer. Finally, the I/O panel of the motherboard is fantastic, and all it required to attain the “flawless” status was a Firewire connector, which is missing.
One specificity of ROG models is their customised software. We’ve already encountered AI Suite II, but this time around, it’s an ROG-specific version. This is an application of interest for both overclockers and gamers. AI Suite II basically enables you to monitor all vital parameters of your motherboard and operating system, as well as instantly overclock specific components. Another interesting tool is ASUS Web Storage, giving you access to ASUS’ FTP servers for data storage, backup and data synchronisation. The amount of space you have available is 3 GB, which is enough for safekeeping all your vital documents and files. Installing ASUS web backup creates a new synchronisation folder in Computer, so that everything’s kept as simple as possible. Another interesting piece of software is LucidLogix’s Virtu, another old acquaintance of ours. In short, this software enables the integrated GPU from the CPU and the discreet GPU from the graphics card to cooperate, so that the system uses one or the other according to current needs (iGPU does certain types of work faster and consumes much less power).
|Voltage variations||i7-2600K @ 4.5GHz, HT ON||i7-2600K @ 4.9GHz, HT ON|
|Load Line Calibration||OFF||ON||OFF||ON|
|Idle [V]||1.33||1.35 *||1.4||1.45 *|
|Load [Linx] [V]||1.25 - 1.27||1.35 *||1.35 - 1.38||1.45 *|
|Voltage set in BIOS [V]||1.35||1.35||1.45||1.45|
|* no voltage variations|
The motherboard has an extremely detailed BIOS, and a full review of this section would require at least as much space as this review in its entirety, so we’re forced to skip through the details. One feature that stands out is the predefined overclock profile signed by ASUS’ engineers. Ergo, in order to overclock your CPU and RAM, little else is needed other than a bit of basic English skills and how to access this model’s BIOS. Two predefined overclock profiles exist. The first will overclock your CPU to 4.2 GHz, and the second to 4.6 GHz. In both cases, RAM is set to work at 1600 MHz, and you can see the benefits brought by this endeavour of ASUS’ in the charts. We tested CPU stability in both cases, with voltages of 1.3 V and 1.35 V, respectively, and everything was working just fine; it’s clear that ASUS’ engineers have balanced out the values for these profiles well and in compliance with general user experiences.
|default||CPU @ 4.6 GHz, RAM @ 1600 MHz|
|7-Zip 9.20 x64 comp./decomp. [KB/s]||18,341 / 238,272||21,002 / 285,391|
|X.264 encoding [fps]||39.7||48.7|
|Cinebench R11.5 x64 CPU [pts]||7.42||8.72|
|AIDA64 memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||16,601 / 18,735 / 18,498||17,101 / 20,631 / 18,813|
|AIDA64 mem. latency (less is better) [ns]||52.6||50.8|
|Test machine: Core i7-2600K, AMD Radeon HD 6870, 2 x 2GB Kingston 1600 MHz CL9, Cooler Master SilentPro 850 W, Windows 7 64-bit|
Our 2600K CPU’s BCLK was working completely stably at 105 MHz (the established maximum of the sample in question) without any significant increases in voltage. We’ve also tried a number of RAM sticks on the motherboard, with each reaching its pre-established maximum with ease. We’ve even tried confusing the motherboard by putting different sticks in it simultaneously, but to no avail - the motherboard booted every single time and worked flawlessly. We used two voltage values while exploring the limits of Intel’s Core i7 2600K CPU: 1.35 V, which we consider to be entirely safe, and 1.45 V, which requires serious CPU cooling. We’ve been able to reach a 100% stable 4670 MHz at 1.35 V, whereas we’ve pushed all the way to a monstrous 4900 MHz with 1.45 V! Of course, the high-quality BIOS and a plethora of options made it possible for us to tweak all settings right to make these frequencies possible, but a lot of the praise goes down to the CPU power unit too. With Load-Line Calibration on, this motherboard has neither a voltage drop, nor any traces of “vdroop”, which means that what you set in the BIOS is what you get in the OS. Have a look at the voltage charts and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. Of course, all measurements were made manually with the help of a digital multimeter, without relying on software readings.
It’s with both great joy and great sorrow that we separate from this motherboard. Maximus IV Extreme-Z is an exquisite piece of hardware. The Bluetooth module, large number of USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA ports, complete 3-way AMD CrossFireX/NVIDIA SLI support, high-quality voltage section for both CPU and RAM, excellent cooling, a detailed and fine-tuned BIOS, high overclock potential, loads of useful buttons and switches… The list seems never-ending. Whether you’re building a system based on a Sandy Bridge CPU and a multi-GPU graphics setup, or you simply want the best motherboard that money can buy at the moment, ASUS’ Maximus IV Extreme-Z will answer all your requests and more.
|Asus Maximus IV Extreme-Z|
|Form factor||Extended ATX|
|CPU socket||LGA 1155|
|Chipset||Intel Z68 + ICH10R|
|RAM support||4 x DIMM DDR3 (1,333-2,200 MHz), max 32 GB|
|Expansion slots||4 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8 or x8/x8/x16), PCIe x1, PCIe x4|
|Storage support||6 x SATA 6Gbps, 2 x SATA 3Gbps, 2 x eSATA 3Gbps|
|Audio controller||Realtek ALC889 HDA 7.1|
|Network controller||2 x Intel Gigabit LAN|
|Internal connectors||2 x USB 3.0, 8 x USB 2.0, 4 x SATA 6Gb/s, 4 x SATA 3Gb/s, CPU Fan, 3 x Chassis Fan, Power Fan, 3 x Optional Fan, S/PDIF out, 24-pin power, 8-pin ATX 12V, Front panel audio|
|Back panel||PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo, 2 x eSATA 3Gb/s, 2 x LAN (RJ45) , 8 x USB 3.0, USB 2.0, Optical S/PDIF out, 6 x Audio jack, Clear CMOS, ROG Connect On/Off, RC Bluetooth|
The PCB of this model has a switch saying “LN2 mode”. The thing is that, during overclocking sessions, the motherboard or the CPU often refuse to wake up after prolonged exposure to liquid nitrogen. When you’re cooling the CPU with liquid nitrogen, with a temperature of -195.7 degrees Centigrade, the so-called “cold bug” appears, and the motherboard can’t go all the way through the boot sequence. However, when the LN2 mode is on, this problem vanishes. With such a move, ASUS’ engineers have clearly stated that they have overclockers in mind as well - the process of overcoming this issue without this sort of solution involves a blowtorch and either removing certain microresistors on the motherboard or rewiring contacts, both of which are anything but an elegant solution.
The Go button
The Go button is a physical button located on the Maximus IV Extreme-Z motherboard’s PCB, serving the purpose of loading profiles previously defined in the BIOS. Say that you’ve already overclocked your CPU and RAM and saved the profile, after which you’ve booted the operating system with default settings. You’re surfing the net, watching films and listening to music, none of which requires anything other than default settings, but all of a sudden, the need arises to render a complex scene in your favourite 3D modelling program. That’s no problem with the Go button - just press it, and your OC profile will be loaded and applied instantly, so that you can direct the freshly unleashed power of your system onto the rendering job.