Not all that long ago I received an e-mail from ASUS asking about a new brand name. They wanted to create a new line-up of products that were aimed solely at the gamers and overclockers. This line-up would have the "best in class" features and offer performance levels above the norm. The problem was what to call this line...
In the end after the votes were tallied, the name "Republic of Gamers (or ROG as most call it) became the title. ROG products are generally recognized as some of the most feature-packed and tweakable products you can buy. Some of these have been the Crosshair series for AMD fans, the Rampage for Intel's top end chipset (like the X48 and X58) and the Maximus for the midrange P series even though the first Maximus was an X38 based board (P45, P55 etc.).
Today we have the third generation of the Maximus complete with improved cooling, Bluetooth overclocking and two full x16 PCIe slots (there are five, but only two will run at x16 combined) sitting on the test bench. Even with the power off it looks like it is raring to go; so let's hit the big red power button and get to it.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The first thing you notice about the Maximus III Extreme is the box. It is bright red and guaranteed to grab your eye if you passed this by on the shelf.
Once you get past the shock of the red (and the star burst in the corner) you will notice that the front of the box has a flap. Opening this flap shows you a couple of things. The first and most important is the actual motherboard. It is visible in all its glory through a plastic window. Once you tear your eyes away from that rather impressive site you find that the top part of the flap has the usual marketing items that the front of most other motherboard boxes has.
The back of the box rounds out the set of the marketing propaganda with pictures of some of the highlighted features and a complete list of specifications.
Inside the box are a pair of smaller black boxes that contain the motherboard and all of the loot that ASUS has stuffed into this product.
As you can see, the haul you get with the Maximus III Extreme is quite sizable (as it should be). You get a nice set of labels for your SATA cables, both a Crossfire and SLI bridge, a Bluetooth module, three thermistors, a sticker, a USB cable for ROG connect and even a Tri-SLI bridge.
The Bluetooth module is important as it is needed for use with the new Bluetooth overclocking feature that is present on the Maximus. But, for those of you that are iPhone users, well, there is not an app for that just yet, not even on Cydia. We will cover this in more detail later in the review.
The ASUS Maximus III Extreme is a bit of a cluttered board. This is not too surprising as it is packing a total of five PCIe x16 (mechanical only; two are fully x16 electrical) slots on it in addition to quite a bit of heat pipe just to keep things cool.
If you had any doubts that ASUS is trying to beef up the Maximus III Extreme, then you really only need to look as far as the upper half of the board. It is littered with high quality solid capacitors and solid ferrite chokes. These should, in combination with the ASUS custom digital VRM (called Extreme Engine Digi+), help to keep the power flowing consistently to your CPU, memory and peripherals.
The upper half of the Maximus III Extreme looks like a normal ATX form factor board at first glance. But only at first glance; if you look any longer than half a second you will see some very intriguing features. One of the first that caught my eye was the ProbeIT monitoring pads. Here you can connect a multi-meter to read the voltages that are actually rung through the board. This does not rely on the BIOS to push out numbers and allowed us to note that our Maximus III Extreme was running about .025-.03 volts lower on the CPU VID than was set in the BIOS. This helped us fix more than one overclocking problem we had. The next is the "Go Button". This button allows you to quickly and automatically set your memory to speeds that will allow a clean post. Although the button is named something different, it is the same as the MemOK! button on other ASUS boards.
The LGA 1156 CPU socket area is clean, but seems a little tight. Fortunately it only seems tight. For the most part the layout is done well enough that you can fit a pretty oversized cooling setup here without having any problems.
ASUS is also using a single large 3V 1000 microfarad FPCAP (Functional Polymer Capacitor). This should seriously help to maintain clean and stable power, especially under heavy overclocking when stable power is very important.
Of course the 8-pin E-ATX power connector is still in a cumbersome spot, but that is not that surprising as it is a limitation of the ATX form factor. However, the placement of the CPU fan header is not; for some reason ASUS put this is an very awkward place which makes it more than a little tricky to get into place. One thing that we do want to point out here is the barely visible flat red button. This is not labelled on the board but is intended for LN2 users. It allows a disconnect from power to attempt to allow a CPU to recover from any sub-zero post issues it might have. This button is used in conjunction with the LN2 jumper located right behind the Go Button.
Speaking of power, ASUS has included two extra 4-pin Molex connectors to ensure that you are giving the Maximus the right level of power to maintain the higher clocks. One is located right in front of the Audio I/O riser and the other at the bottom edge of the board. The upper one is not well positioned and can make cable management a tad rough depending on the location of your PSU.
Moving down to the lower half of the board, we find the five x16 slots we talked about earlier in the article. They are setup to allow up to four GPUs to run in conjunction (four for quadfire). However, on the first two they will give you full x16 performance. This is slot 1 and 2. If you drop in a third GPU you will get dual x16 plus x8 and with four GPUs you get four x8 slots. According to the manual you should not use slot 3 for a GPU, but stick with slots 1,2,4 and 5.
One item to take note of in this area is how close the top slot is to the NF200 heatsink. As ASUS is using a PCIe bridge chip to ensure enough PCIe 2.0 lanes for dual x16 SLI and Crossfire performance, they do have to cool this power hungry monster. But unfortunately it puts it between the CPU and your GPU. This NF200 generates some pretty good heat and even at idle the heatsink sits at around 32c. When you push the GPU it can pop up to around 36-37c and creates a small pool of heated air that can be a pain to deal with.
The other side of the board houses the P55 MCP as well as the Marvell SATA 3.0 controller and PCX bridge chip for those extra PCIe Gen 2.0 lanes (this time for proper SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 support). Both the P55 and the Marvell controller are covered by a nice large heatsink that is connected to the NF200 and VRM cooling via a heat pipe. In the bottom right hand corner of the board you will see another of those flat red buttons; this one is a BIOS reset button.
Taking a look at the back I/O plane, we see a divergence from what you are used to on a less enthusiast based board. Here we have the typical connectivity ports, but we also find another CMOS reset button, the iROG connect button and USB port, and a 10-pin header for the Bluetooth module.
Although the Maximus III Extreme is cluttered and chaotic looking, when you stop and think about what is packed into this board, ASUS has done a pretty good job of organizing the layout. I do want to mention one thing that I did not cover above; the Maximus III Extreme is simply loaded down with LEDs. They are literally all over the board. I will not go into detail here, but ASUS has given you visual indicators of voltage for the CPU, PCH, DDR as well as simple lights to show that other items are operational. They are all covered in the manual, so I will not detail everything here.
BIOS and Overclocking
Although the BIOS on the Maximus III Extreme is an American MegaTrends Incorporated (AMI) BIOS, it has been heavily altered to fit into the needs for the Maximus III. For all of our testing we used BIOS revision 0605, which is still only a Beta and not the final release.
Most of us are familiar with the ASUS AI Tweaker section in the BIOS; this has been upgraded to Extreme Tweaker. This section gives you a rather great amount of control over not only your CPU, RAM and voltage, but also over the frequency and voltage range of the Digi + PWM. You can also see in the screen shots below the voltage difference we saw when overclocking.
ASUS has provided a single switch to disable all of the on-board peripherals with the exception of the LAN port. This improves stability by removing many sources of failure from the equation.
You also have options to change the status and operation of both the basic iROG and the iROG connect functions.
Overclocking is what the Maximus III Extreme was built to do. ASUS has dumped a lot of thought into this board in the effort to give you the best possible clocks from whatever CPU you drop into it. Our experience with it was not all pizza and beer, as we mentioned earlier we had a few issues with the voltages not adding up. The two that were the farthest off were the CPU voltage and the IMC, however all of them were off to some extent or the other. The problem was that the differences were not always the same.
For example, in the shot of the BIOS above you can see a CPU voltage difference of 0.055, yet when we pushed the voltage to 1.45 the difference was only 0.018. This meant that there was no way to predict the voltage fluctuation for overclocking. We had a lot of trial and error in getting the board stable. In the end we managed to beat out our best overclock by a handful of MHz. This is not too discouraging as ASUS has informed us that the 0605 BIOS revision we are using is a still in the Beta stages and will change before the Maximus III Extreme hits the market. Our final stable overclock was 201x21 for a CPU-Z speed of 4.233GHz.
You can see the validation here.
At this time, we do feel that we could get much more out of this board, but that our choice of memory could be holding back our BCLK level as the Core i5 750 has very limited memory multipliers. This means that once the memory we use has broken the 1333 plane, we start seeing failures. Unfortunately at BCLK 220 and above the minimum memory multiplier puts us at 1400MHz and this becomes an issue. We are working to get some DDR3 RAM with a little more head room so that we can push the Maximus III Extreme a little farther.
New Tools, Old Tools
Of course, the Maximus III Extreme would not be an ASUS board if it did not have TurboV and CPU Level Up. But these are not the only tools that are available on the ROG Maximus III Extreme. You also have a couple of overclocking methods that utilize remote tools.
One is the ROG connect. This allows you to make direct hardware changes using a USB connected PC. Most commonly this is a laptop or other portable system that will allow you to view not only hardware settings (and adjust them), but also to view post codes to see what could be affecting the stability and performance of your system.
We even used a small netbook with ours and found the ROG connect to be quite an effective tool.
The next method for controlling your Maximus III Extreme is over Bluetooth. Unfortunately as I own an iPhone I was not able to use this at all. As of right now there is no available application to run this over the iPhone. It is only available to Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary.
Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
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 absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. 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 Comments
Processor: Intel Core i5 750
Mainboard ASUS Maximus III Extreme (Supplied by ASUS)
Memory: 4GB Kingston KHX12800D3T1K3/6GX (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk: Kingston SSD Now M (Intel X25-M 80GB SSD) (Supplied by Kingston)
Graphics Card: AMD Radeon HD 5870 1GB (Supplied by AMD)
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 (with an extra fan) (Supplied by Cooler Master)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Drivers: Intel INF 220.127.116.115, Catalyst 10.2
The Maximus III Extreme that we tested was using a BETA BIOS. Although ASUS told us that this version (0605) was pretty much complete, they did emphasize that it was not going to the be the BIOS that will ship with the MIIIE when it hits the retail channel.
Our experience with the Maximus III in terms of build, setup and installation was good. I was concerned about how close the first PCIe slot is to the NF200 cooler, but in the end nothing was touching and heat build-up was not terribly bad. Running the system was another matter, as we are looking at a beta BIOS some of the performance we saw will undoubtedly improve with the final release. Still, it is not always easy to adjust for both good stock performance and good overclocked performance.
***Note: As this is the first P55 board that we have tested with the Radeon HD 5870 and this test has a GPU based section, we did not include performance numbers from other boards that used the GTX 285. We did include tests that had no reliance on the GPU for comparison. We also included performance numbers from our Core i7-980X testing with this review to give you a basis for comparing the numbers on the Core i5 750/ P55 combination.***
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Buy It Here
Our memory numbers here are a tad off. The stock speed could be better and due to a failing on the part of our DDR3 choice, we had to down clock the speed to 1206MHz. Still, after talking with ASUS about this we hear they will be tweaking this in the final BIOS release to get better performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Stock Memory Performance
Overclocked Memory Performance
We see the same thing here with our Everest testing. If you do want more memory performance with this test you can always enable C States in the BIOS for a few extra MB of bandwidth. It is important to remember that this will only affect benchmarks that are thread efficient.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
With our HyperPi testing we see what could possibly be another casualty of the memory performance issue we saw above. The times we see here are a little less than what we have come to expect from an ASUS product. They are not bad, but they certainly could be better. Once we pushed the board we see the tweaking for the upper end in the BIOS, even with the lower RAM speed we were able to pull off a win with the Maximus III.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
HDD performance is right around where we would expect it and at these speeds you are not really going to notice a difference of 2-3MB/s anyway.
Stock HDD Performance
Overclocked HDD Performance
Stock USB 3.0 Performance
Overclocked USB 3.0 Performance
Again, HDD speed is where it needs to be.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
Our PCMark testing shows us that the Maximus III Extreme is a solid performer.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. Due to the PhysX support and our use of an NVIDIA GPU, we run with PhysX enabled and disabled to give you the best indication of real system performance. For testing we use the Performance test run. We are also starting to add all three scores into our results to give you a better idea of the performance differences between different hardware.
The 3DMark Vantage scores at both stock and overclocked speeds with the AMD Radeon HD 5870 are quite impressive. It makes me wonder what we could get with both the CPU and the GPU overclocked or with a Radeon HD 5970 onboard.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R10 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
Ok, so the Core i5 with its four cores at 2.66GHz cannot really compare to the monster Core i7 980X, but notice that when we push the CPU up to 4.2GHz we gain some serious ground on it. In all, the performance in CB R11.5 is not too shabby.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use. To show better multi-thread performance we are also using perspective cameras which make heavy use of the ray tracing engine. We have also increased the resolution to 4k (4096 x 3072) to give the CPU even more to think about.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
Again we used our experience with the Core i7 980X to give you an idea of where the Maximus III Extreme with the Core i5 750 stands. It also gives you a good idea of what you can do with a truly thread efficient application. Even with the Core i5 750 running at almost 1GHz faster, it cannot keep up with the 12 threads available on the 980X.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The Maximus III Extreme does very well with video transcoding and we see that performance gets even better when we OC the CPU up to 4.2GHz. It is even better than the performance on the ASRock P55 despite only being a few MHz faster.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frame per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a CPU test ***
Gaming is no longer a good indication of true CPU performance. As you push over 1024x768 resolutions you see the GPU take over and dominate the performance scale. This is even evident in 3DMark Vantage testing. The CPU score can be through the roof and still not add more than a handful of points to the overall score.
This does not mean that gaming is not of value for testing. It can show an issue with the CPU and gaming if the CPU is unable to meet the speed expected of a certain GPU. But for the most part you are not going to see great differences in performance between CPUs in high resolution gaming.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy A.I. load. This is not because of a complex A.I. routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
When your frame rates are in the mid-100s and you have all the settings maxed out, well, there is not much to talk about.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. The settings we used for testing are shown below.
The numbers here are interesting to say the least. It seems the extra cores on the 980X are coming into play, at least in a limited capacity. We did not see the same increase in performance with the higher clock speeds as both CPUs show similar performance at stock and overclocked speeds. So it seems that the only difference between the two that the game is taking note of is the two extra physical cores.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Not much really to say here, the performance numbers are nearly identical across the board.
Originally we included the scores from the Core i7 980X review for comparison only. It was the first Intel CPU we had used the HD 5970 with and would be a good measure of where the P55 and Core i5 stood. However, what it ended up showing us is that many games are simply not designed to work with multiple CPU cores or threads. The performance difference in Modern Warfare and Battlefield Bad Company 2 was laughable.
The scores were within 1-4 FPS of each other. On the other hand, we see that there are indeed some games that scale well with more physical cores available to them. Far Cry 2 shows this type of performance and is an indication of what we all should expect from our games. In the future we hope to see games that not only improve with more physical cores, but also with more available threads.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
The Maximus III Extreme does not come with the EPU/EPU-6 software. It is an overclocking motherboard after all and is meant to have large amounts of power pushed through it. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the power usage even at the higher clock speeds.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
The heat generated by the components on the board was not too terribly bad. The NF200 did get a little hot, but it was nothing that a well-placed fan would not take care of. The P55 and other SB components did quite well at keeping cool even when pushed to high clock speeds and with a few extra mV.
The ASUS Maximus III Extreme is a damn nice board. It has quite a bit of headroom in it. I was a little disappointed that we could not push farther, but our DDR3 choice would not post over 1440 MHz; it would crash as Windows was loading. We do want to take another look at the Maximus III Extreme once we have some higher end DDR3 and also the final shipping BIOS.
Still, despite not having a final BIOS the board was more than stable and performed quite well. The extra overclocking tools that ASUS included like the ROG connect and BT Connect are simply great. I found that I liked running the ROG connect quite a bit during my overclocking testing (which is how I know that the memory was the limiting factor). In fact, I did all of the overclocking right from my netbook instead of through the BIOS.
The layout on the board was well thought out, too. The staggering of the PCIe slots for quad GPU support was a good idea. The placement of the NF200 was a little off but there was not much more they could do with it than include it in the cooling loop.
The cool thing about the Maximus III Extreme is that you are getting a board that is not only great for overclocking, but you also get very good stock performance. In many cases these two items do not mix well at all. It was something that ASUS emphasized to us; they wanted to create a top notch board for both types of customers. From the testing results we saw it certainly looks like they succeeded.