ASUS ROG Series X38 DDR3 Maximus Extreme

We're looking at a motherboard today which is arguably the cream of the crop when it comes to X38 DDR3 based boards.
| Dec 3, 2007 at 11:00 pm CST
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: ASUS


IntroductionIntel has a lot to be proud of when looking back over the last two years. Core 2 has paid dividends for the company and finally they no longer have to put spin on lousy products like they were forced to do with Netburst at the end of its life. What it came down to was that Intel simply pushed Netburst CPUs too far. The lineup should have ended at Prescott. Netburst is now forgotten, and Intel are wholeheartedly forgiven with the Core architecture; it not only manages to keep the processor speed at around the 3GHz mark (which is roughly where the Netburst CPU left off), it keeps things moving forward with architectural advancements that further improve on the already excellent multimedia decoding and encoding performance the Netburst processors were reknowned for; not to mention improving gaming performance to the point that the Jolly Green Giant simply can't match. Not only has the processor improved, so has the platform. Intel's use of the aging 975X chipset as its enthusiast level chipset was beginning to wear thin. It lacked DDR2-800 memory support and its Crossfire support with only twin x8 slots was starting to really pull it down. Even the P965 was able to kick it from the top rung thanks to its DDR2-800 memory capabilities and Crossfire support; while not the perfect match, it was a more desirable chipset. P35 managed to do a good job in the interim whilst waiting for a high performance chipset. P35's dual memory support made it an ideal stop gap chipset for the enthusiast level.X38 is now here, and it's still a mixed bag in regards to how it performs. So far there aren't really any performance breaking features of the chipset, it's basically a P35 but with better Crossfire support and a few novelties such as XMP memory profiles. Today we are testing out the ASUS Maximus Extreme board which is designed to be the most impressive board ASUS has ever put out to market.


Specifications of the ASUS Maximus ExtremeCPUSupports Intel Core 2 Series (Extreme/Quad/Duo)Supports Intel Pentium Dual Core SeriesSupports Intel Pentium D SeriesSupports Intel Pentium 4 5xx/6xx SeriesSupports Intel Celeron D 3xx/4xx SeriesSupports Intel 45nm Series CPUChipsetIntel X38 Express X38 NorthbridgeICH9R SouthbridgeDMI @ 2GB/sSystem Memory4 DDR3 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR3-800/1066/1333/1600/1800MHz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)Bus Frequency133/200/266/333/400MHz Internal533/800/1066/1333/1600MHz ExternalP4 Bus ArchitectureExpansion Slots3 PCI Express x161 PCI Express x12 PCI1 ARSConnectivity1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives6 Serial ATA ports2 Gigabit Ethernet Ports2 e.SATAExpansion Ports1 PS2 Keyboard Port12 USB 2.0 Ports (6 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)6 Stereo Audio Ports (via Riser Card)1 RCA SPDIF Port1 Toslink SPDIF Port2 e.SATA Port2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)

The Box and What's Inside

Package and Contents
Starting off as normal we come to the package and what's lurking inside. One thing is for certain, there is no shortage of bits and pieces in this box! The box itself is a plain affair on the front; this is because it's part of the R.O.G. or Republic of Gamers series of boards. Its basic design mimics the entire Intel range of ROG boards, only the name on the front is different whilst the colour scheme is identical with the same printing; very little at all on the front.
The back of the box contains a full spec sheet on the board's features, the exact same one that is on the website so that you get a full rundown of the slots, chipset and feature support. There aren't any full colour photos of the board but there are a few of the extra features the board comes with such as the audio module.
The box comes with a front open flip cover that gives you a better view of the ASUS Fusion block system as well as the audio board. There are no colour photos of the board here either, which is a bit of a disappointment. It would be nice to see in full view what you're buying before you actually take it home.
Moving along, ASUS has a light bundle in terms of software. Two CD's are provided; one contains all of the Windows XP, XP64 and Vista drivers you're going to need. If you are a Linux user you're going to have to search for drivers, but really if you're going to get a board this flash, it's for a gaming rig that 99% of the time will be running a Microsoft OS as the majority of games out there don't have Linux support. The extra CD is a full retail copy of the blockbuster FPS game, Stalker.The user manual is extremely thick and contains oodles of information on the board, software, driver installation and BIOS setup. ASUS always goes full throttle on the user manual; leaving nothing unmentioned seems to be their way of thinking.
Moving along to the data cables, ASUS doesn't skimp here either. Out of the six internal SATA ports that the board gives you, there are six SATA data cables so you can populate this board with six drives straight out of the box. The ribbon cables supplied are a single FDD cable that supports one drive and an IDE cable with two-drive support; gone are the days of two IDE ports on the board, but SATA really has this market now and there is no need for IDE anymore apart from optical drives.
There is unfortunately one area where ASUS does skimp out, and that's power converters. Only one molex power splitter with two SATA power ports are included. If you want to use six SATA drives on the board, you had better hope your PSU has at least four native SATA power ports or you're back to the shop to buy more.

Inside the Box - Cont.

Package and Contents - Continued
If you're the type of person who likes to keep their eye on things in your PC, especially in regards to how hot things are getting, ASUS is on your side. Included are three extra temperature probes that plug into the motherboard below the expansion slots. These are user locatable so you can attach them to anything you desire. You could put one on the HDD, one on the northbridge heatsink and one on the graphics heatsink; or if you're going to run Crossfire you can have one on each card and one on something else of your choice.
The LCD poster panel is a new little device that ASUS has come out with. This plugs into a port on the motherboard which you then route the cable through a slot in the rear I/O shield on the back. This can then sit on your desk or at the top of the case. It reports the post codes of the board and lets you know just what's happening with your system; a very novel approach.
The Fusion block on the northbridge is designed for users with water cooling systems. Rather than making you go out and buy extra connectors, ASUS gives you reducers and clamps so all you need to do is connect this baby into your existing water cooling system and you're off.
If you're going the water cooling route, chances are unless you're using the Gigabyte 3D Galaxy II, you won't have any fans to keep the Mosfet heatpipe cool. In this event a special blower fan is included which you place on top to run cool air over the Mosfets; a very interesting design.
Lastly on the lengthy list of inclusions is the SupremeFX II audio module. While it may sound flash, the audio module is simply a daughter board with the HD audio codec on it. It's the same onboard audio that all Intel ICH9R boards are equipped with, just on a separate card. This is supposed to result in less noise on the audio channel, but I consider it more of a convenience as you don't have to plug the card in if you are using a separate audio card like an Audigy or X-Fi.Phew, I think I managed to get it all in there. Now let's move onto the board itself.

The Motherboard

The Board
Whoa, what a sight! ASUS has gone with the traditional ROG black/dark brown PCB colour scheme and blue and white expansion slots. It's a monster of a board coming in at 30x24cm, and it's a heavy monster with all the heatpipes and heatsinks on it too. You're going to need a forklift to move it! Okay, I'm going overboard. It's hard to find too many faults on the board. The 24-pin power connector, FDD and IDE are located all behind the four DDR3 memory slots with the IDE port being placed on the very edge and aligned 90 degrees. The extra 4/8 pin CPU power combo port is squeezed between the heatpipe assembly and the rear I/O ports at the top left of the board, this keeping it as far away from the CPU area as possible; though if you have to unplug this cable inside the case to replace a PSU, it's a bit cramped here to get to the locking latch.The SATA ports that the board is equipped with are located below the IDE port and are stacked two atop each other and also rotated 90 degrees to the board. This keeps the cables from sticking up and preventing large graphics cards being installed. GIGABYTE's P965 had this problem where you couldn't get a second graphics card to install if you had all the SATA ports populated.
Moving to the CPU area and this is where things turn around a bit. Because of the Fusion block heatsink, heatpipe and cooling fins around the voltage regulators, the CPU area is a little cramped; it doesn't stop the installation of large heatsinks or water blocks though, but the nature of the LGA775 locking pins means you have to push them down hard, and with little space to do it in you're really going to struggle. The best idea is to do it outside the case as when it's installed you're going to be in a mission impossible stage. The CPU is powered by an 8-phase voltage system with all solid capacitors and voltage regulators. Reliability and overclockability go a long way with these types of components.
The rear I/O ports on the back are proprietary to ASUS and have changed again, so if you are an ASUS upgrader (that being you're moving from an older ASUS board to this one), you're going to need to install the new rear I/O shield. On the back you have a single PS/2 port for a keyboard, but there are no mouse PS/2 ports which is kind of silly. If you're going to have one PS/2 port there, might as well put the other in too. Two eSATA ports are located on the back and are powered off the JMicron PCI Express controller chip which gives the board its single IDE channel. The most notable feature on the back is a Clear CMOS button that allows you to reset the CMOS without having to open the case.
Lastly on our list are the expansion slots the board supports. Based on the X38 chipset we now get full speed Crossfire support. Intel's X38 chipset supports 32 PCI Express lanes off the northbridge which are PCI Express 2.0 compliant; so if you are lucky enough to have a PCI Express 2.0 card (or two) you can take full advantage of it on this board. The slots are backwards compatible with the PCI Express 1.0a protocol so you can run your current graphics card(s) in this board no worries. There are a total of three PCI Express x16 slots on the board; two blue and one white. The two blue ones are routed off the X38 northbridge and run at full speed. If you decide to use the last one, you have to enable this option in the BIOS and this is when the magic happens. ASUS has included the IDT PCI Express router chip that will split the last PCI Express x16 slot with the x16 slot above; this making up two PCI Express x8 slots if you desire to use an extra PCI Express graphics card and enable the feature in the BIOS. This chip is the same one used on the Blitz Formula and Extreme boards which give the Crosslinx support. Finishing off the expansion slots you have a single white PCI Express x1 slot and two PCI slots. The last small slot sitting at the top is the audio module card slot; it is not a PCI Express slot but simply a routed slot from the southbridge's AC'97 audio system.The additional extras that populate the board are two PCI Express Marvell ethernet controllers, a JMicron PCI Express SATA/PATA controller chip, a Texas Instruments PCI based Firewire chip and the IDT PCI Express router.

BIOS and Overclocking

ASUS' BIOS design has not changed. Using the Award Modular BIOS in tab menu form as we like to call it, it resembles the same BIOS look as the Intel desktop boards. Under the Advanced tab you get your overclocking options under the Jumperfree menu which is the same setup as the older boards used.
BusesFSB Frequency: 200 - 800 in 1MHz IncrementsPCIE Frequency: 100 - 150 in 1MHz IncrementsVoltagesCPU Voltage: 1.1v to 2.4v in 0.0125v incrementsCPU PLL voltage: 1.1v to 3.0v in 0.02v incrementsNorthbridge voltage: 1.25v to 2.05v in 0.02v incrementsDRAM Voltage: 1.5v to 3.04v in 0.02v IncrementsFSB Termination Voltage: 1.2v to 2.0v in 0.02v incrementsSouthbridge Voltage: 1.05v to 1.225v in 0.05v incrementsSB 1.5 Voltage: 1.5v to 2.05v in 0.05v increments Overclocking
Our overclocking result was quite good. With all the settings we had on tap, we managed to get our system to a stable 527MHz FSB with a 6x multiplier; a very good result for our first X38 test board. While it hasn't managed to hit over the 550MHz mark like some of the better P35 boards (even the ASUS P35 boards are able to do this), more mature BIOS updates will need to come out as Intel is still tweaking this chipset itself. Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the maximum limit and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days of testing. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.

Test System Setup and Memory Performance

Test System Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad QX6700 @ 3GHz (9x333MHz)Memory: 2x 1GB DDR3-1600XMP OCZ (Supplied by OCZ)Hard Disk: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 (Supplied by Seagate Australia)Graphics Card: MSI Geforce 8800GTS 640MB (Supplied by MSI) Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II Liquid Cooling (Supplied by GIGABYTE)Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers: Intel INF, Forceware 163.75Today's system comprises our X38 ASUS board against the king of our DDR3 platform, the GIGABYTE P35T-DQ6 which has managed to impress us with its overclocking abilities. Our overclocking tests are pushed to the limits with regards to the FSB. Memory is always set to run 1:1 in overclocked mode. Our ASUS board ran with a 527 MHz FSB and our GIGABYTE P35-DQ6 ran with a 560MHz FSB, both using 6x multipliers. EVEREST Ultimate EditionVersion and / or Patch Used: 2006Developer Homepage: Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.comBuy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
In our first test, at stock speeds the ASUS board is just ahead of the GIGABYTE board thanks to its ability to run the memory at lower latencies on X38 systems. When it comes to overclocking though, ASUS can't match the memory bandwidth of the P35T.

Benchmarks - PCMark05

PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other benchmarks.
The ASUS pulls ahead at stock speeds on both memory and overall results, but it falls slightly behind in the overclocked results.

Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0

Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0Developer Homepage: Product Homepage: It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode.
Premiere Elements at stock speeds gives out a good score to the ASUS board, but when overclocking is taken into consideration ASUS lags behind.

Benchmarks - HDD Performance

HD TachVersion and / or Patch Used: Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage:

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