Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
ASUS Maximus boards have always been lauded as the epitome of performance offerings. Other manufacturers have caught up over the years, but some things are hallmarks of ASUS' Maximus Lineup.
One of those things that stand out amongst the crowd is the Formula model, which for many generations now, has come with some form of liquid cooling for the VRM. I can remember the first board I reviewed, which had this feature, the Maximus V Formula, Z77, and it had a small barbed tube that ran inside the heat sink.
ASUS has advanced a lot in the cooling department over the last seven years since that board debut. A couple of board models ago, ASUS moved to working with a stalwart presence in the liquid cooling industry, EK Water Blocks. With all of that said, I'm sure you can surmise that we will be looking at the newest of the Formula series legacy, the Maximus XII Formula.
Memory support for the Maximus XII Formula is up to 4800MHz+, and that would obviously depend on DIMM and CPU quality, ass to how far you can really go. If you are reaching for the stars, so to speak with quad 32GB DIMMs ASUS claims the Formula can do up to 3600MHz at 128GB. I am quite sure that it would be a nightmare for VCCSA/VCCIO voltage, but I digress.
The I/O is quite capable, coming equipped with six 5Gb USB ports and four 10Gb ports (one being type-C). Networking is also very stout on the Formula with Wi-Fi AX for wireless connectivity, and 2.5Gb Intel and 10Gb Aquantia wired LAN.
The VRM on the Formula is a veritable powerhouse with 16 total 70A power stages feeding the CPU VCore. While the Formula is not technically an XOC oriented board, it certainly presently like one. The power stages, much like the other boards we have looked at, use teamed stages so that the PWM signal is shared between two power stages from the PWM controller.
For PCIe slots, there are two x16 mechanical slots fed by the CPU; the top slot is x16 unless the second is populated. If the second slot is occupied, both operate at x8/x8. The bottom slot is also x16 mechanical but is fed by the PCH and is wired at x4 along with the x1 slot, which is also from the PCH and therefore talks to the CPU through the DMI link.
The price for the Maximus XII Formula is $499 as of the time of writing, and this is an interesting space as it's a bit above the upper end for what most mainstream chipset users are willing to spend. However, the Formula has never been targeted at the basic user and is more focused on the liquid cooling enthusiast. We have some parts from EKWB as well, which we will apply after all of our testings to show exactly how far the co-op has gone between ASUS and EKWB.
Motherboard Features and Marketing
Here we give space to the motherboard manufacturer to talk about their marketing points, and we assess them and provide our point of view on the claims.
Power and performance cover a lot of what the board can do and what makes it tick. Things such as CPU support, memory support, and VRM. Also is the slot definitions.
The cooling portion is where the Formula should be readily focused, and I already see one thing I miss from the Extreme model we looked at previously. This is the radiator fan headers, which I thought was an odd addition to the Extreme and more apt for the Formula. I was hoping they would be present here, but unfortunately, they are not.
The Formula still offers several of the liquid cooling features such as water flow and thermal sensor headers. Still, I think ASUS missed the boat a bit when it comes to the connectivity for radiator fans.
Total gaming immersion is another that we have seen before and covers the RGB along with Livedash OLED visual aesthetic. Also covered here is the audio solution, which is powered by a SupremeFX, aka Realtek S1220 codec.
Here we have the connectivity, which we discussed previously, but now you can see it all laid out on the board and rear I/O.
DIY friendly is many of the stability features that ASUS offers or has employed. Things such as the safeslot, metal armored PCIe slots. The single-sided latching on the DIMM slots is another cool feature I have enjoyed over the years. One that is neat and I am glad they include it is the TrueVolt USB, which is a stiffened power supply to the USB, which will help with overall stability, and should help with dropouts we used to see when in the past.
Here is where things take a turn, and this is the CrossChill hybrid VRM cooler. This cooler has a hollow interior that allows liquid cooling lines to be affixed, and the VRM could be added to your liquid cooling loop. This, in my opinion, is not really necessary as the VRM is huge and not likely to be pushed hard enough to need liquid cooling, but for enthusiasts who are going full custom loop, they love to be able to add it in, and ASUS knows this. EKWB even makes a special terminal to tie in the blocks to the VRM, which I will show in the parts after the stock testing is completed.
Here ASUS illustrates their teamed power stages for their VRM and how they are laid out. The demonstration is kind of a strange one as they use a dumb doubler or one without current balancing as the "conventional" design, but it is accurate in a very acute sense. Overall their solution works and works well, but then again, cramming sixteen 70A power stages should work, even if the layout was horrible. Still, luckily, in this case, ASUS has very good layout engineers from my experience.
Here we can see the Optimem III solution and the fact that with the Formula layout, you can hit dual dim up to 4800MHz, and this is likely to be with single-sided DIMMs. Or up to 3600MHz with a total population of 32GB DIMMs or 128GB total. This is an impressive claim, and not one I take lightly, as that's a lot of stress to push, but I imagine you would need a top-notch IMC/CPU as well to accomplish this.
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging is standard ROG fare with a mostly gray/black aesthetic with some red highlights and several angular designs that defines the modern republic of gamers styling. The name of the board is in foil print, and the bottom is adorned with an array of features and support iconography. One notable inclusion here is the EKWB logo as they helped with the VRM cooler itself.
The rear is also standard for ROG with a full front and partial I/O image center stage. There are also a few marketing points along with a spec and I/O listings. The bottom is adorned with compliance, regulatory, and contact information for support.
In the accessory pack, there was a surprising scant bit of hardware, but it does have everything you would need.
- Wi-Fi Antennae
- 3x M.2 screws and standoffs
- 4x plastic SATA cables
- 2x braided cloth covered SATA cables
- Q Connector for front panel leads
- 2x RGB Extension cables
As you can see, the accessory pack form the hardware side has everything you would expect to equip the board for use.
The paper goods include some of the frills we were waiting to see and are listed below:
- User guide
- Marketing card
- ROG Sticker sheet
- ROG Keychain
- 2x ROG Case badges
- Driver disc
Now that the accessories are out of the way, let's take a look at the board itself.
Maximus XII Formula Overview
The Formula is a full ATX board with eight 4-pin fan headers, which can support both DC and PWM fans. The board is mostly covered in aesthetic cladding, which also serves as functional M.2 cooling at the lower edge. The cladding makes the board have a sleeker appeal, which is why many liquid cooling enthusiasts may opt for it, as it will fit within their high tech and elegant aesthetic of their build.
The rear of the board has a backplate that covers most of the rear PCB and components. The Formula has a rear-mounted M.2 slot, which you can see now. Being the relatively close placement to the motherboard tray, the M.2 does not have a cooler, so I would suggest getting an M.2 that does not require cooling heat sinks.
The I/O on the formula is well-equipped as follows:
- BIOS Flashback Button
- CMOS Clear Button
- Wi-Fi Antennae Connectors
- Combo PS/2 port
- 6x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports
- 3x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port
- Analog 7.1ch audio with gold connectors
- Optical SPDIF port
- 2.5Gb RJ45 Intel I225V LAN port
- 10Gb RJ45 Aquantia AQC-107 LAN port
I am excited that the Formula has both an Intel 2.5Gb LAN port, along with the Aquantia 10Gb LAN port. Also, the array of USB ports is vast, and a welcomed adornment. Thew only thing that would be a "nice to have" is the highest speed USB 2x2 interface, as that would make this I/O truly a "no compromise" solution.
The slot arrangement is the top slot being native x16 form the CPU. The second x16 slot will run up to x8 from the CPU, and the top drops to 8 for an x8/x8. The bottom x16 slot is running at x4 and is fed by the PCH, the same with the x1.
The lower edge of the board is where the long heat sink for the M.2 slots resides. When removed, you can see the thermal pad for the two drives.
The lower edge of the board carries various connectivity as follows:
- Front panel audio header
- Thunderbolt header
- 12V RGB and 5V ARGB headers
- 2x Fan/pump headers
- Retry Button
- 2x USB 2.0 headers
- USB 3.2 Gen 1, 19-pin header
- Front panel and speaker header
The lower edge has a lot going on, and I do like that they included a retry button. Although to be fair, this is not an XOC focused board, and that button is more adept at the extreme OC boards where you may be pushing the RAM overclock to the bleeding edge requiring multiple retries at training.
The 24-pin side of the board hosts various connectivity as follows:
- Speaker header
- Water in/out probe pin headers
- Water flow RPM header
- 6x SATA III/6G ports
- USB 3.2 Gen 1, 19-pin header
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 header
- 24-pin ATX connector
- Flex Key button
- Power Button
The connector appointment, as found here, is rather normal, but one thing I like is the flex key that ASUS uses, which allows you to adjust the function of what would normally be the reset button.
The VRM for the Formula is equipped with an 8-pin and a 4-pin EPS connector to ensure that the CPU has more than enough amperage on tap for your new liquid cooling build. One cool aspect to note is that ASUS uses mirror-like embellishments on the VRM cooler around the threaded holes that make for a unique and cool aesthetic.
Moving to the upper edge of the board, and we see the start and reset buttons that are pressed by the cutout switch pieces in the motherboard cladding. Keep in mind that although the button is labeled reset, it can be changed in the UEFI to a few other uses. Up here, we also have the postcode display recessed below the cladding.
The socket area looks very stout, not just because of the massive inductor line peeking out from the VRM cooling chunks, but also thanks to the cladding surrounding the socket and I/O area.
Pulling the backplate and cladding from the Formula, and we see the front cladding is a single piece. The OLED display mid-board is included in this array and has a mirror-like finish but shines through it much as we saw on the Maximus XII Extreme.
The backplate for the Formula has two locations where large thermal pads are affixed to make contact with the rear of the VRM, which will help pass heat to the backplate and act as a heat spreader.
Lastly, as we tear the board down for analysis, we see the heat sinks themselves. The VRM cooler surrounds most of the CPU socket, even covering the lower area where the VCCSA/VCCIO rails are found. All of the heat sink parts for the VRM are connected via heat pipe to ensure everything stays nice and chill. Looking at the depressions in the thermal pads, it is clear that the mounting pressure is good and thermal contact is optimal.
Now, I think it's about time we move on to the PCB and circuit analysis of the Maximus XII Formula.
PCB and Circuit Analysis
The first look is the bare motherboard, devoid of all cladding and heat sinks. The board has a lot going on, so let's dive in and see what we find.
The CPU VRM is where we stop first, and we see 16 power stages, which are model TDA21472 from Infineon and is a 70A rated power stage. The all too familiar ASP 1405I controls these power stages. No, this is not 90A stages like on the extreme, but being that much of the efficiency curves are similar between the 70A and 90A models, I would say that this VRM is way more than sufficient for even XOC usage.
To the left, we see the Aquantia AQC-107 chipset feeding the 10Gb LAN port on the rear I/O. Also, the ASM1543, which is a USB Type-C switch, and an ASM3142 USB 3.2 Gen 2 hub feeding the rear 10Gb ports.
Below the socket, we find the supplemental VRM rails, likely supporting VCCSA/VCCIO. Here there is a mix of dual N-Channel fets and two OnSemi NCP302045 driver MOSFETs rated at 45A. To the far left, we see the I225V 2.5Gb Intel LAN controller feeding the other RJ45 LAN port.
Here we have the audio solution, which consists of a SupremeFX/Realtek S1220 codec and ESS Sabre DAC. Also, for cleaning things up, we have a large array of Nichicon gold audio caps. Above the audio solution on its PCB island, we have the NCT6798D, which is a SuperIO controller and allows monitoring along with some other ancillary monitoring and control features.
Mid-board, we find several controllers. First would be the Bios flashback controller, which is at the edge of the PCIe slot release. The Pro clock II chipset allows CPU BCLK along with PCIe being decoupled, which means BCLK overclocking is possible without throwing other devices that reference the BCLK out of stable operation.
Looking at the top right corner again, but this time without cladding, and we see the two-phase memory VRM solution. It is controlled by an ASP1103 PWM controller and uses discrete components to build out the VRM.
The rear of the socket has bulk SMD caps along with a couple of Tantalum capacitors here to stiffen up things for the socket.
BIOS/UEFI and Software
Moving into the UEFI, and the very user-friendly easy mode interface greets you. Of course, we will be moving directly to the advanced mode. We will show you several screenshots of the UEFI below.
The UEFI is what we expect from an ASUS ROG board, has tons of options for overclocking and tuning. Even the AI overclocking, which uses built-in presets to test and adjust the overclock continuously as long as you leave it enabled.
Test System and Configuration
My testbench is strictly controlled with a fresh OS for any platform or component change. The system uses all the same components whenever possible to maintain comparable results between platforms. The ambient in the test lab is rigorously controlled at 22C +/- 1C.
All tests are run a minimum of three times, and any outliers are discarded, and a replacement test run will be completed to achieve our average results. The use of a TITAN RTX for the testing is to ensure that the GPU is not the bottleneck for performance results, and will best represent the scaling across CPU and platforms.
- Motherboard: ASUS Maximus XII formula (buy from Amazon)
- CPU: Intel Core i9 10900K
- Thermal Paste: Arctic Cooling MX-4 (buy from Amazon)
- Cooler: Alphacool Eisbaer LT 360mm (buy from Amazon)
- Memory: Corsair Dominator RGB 3600MHz 16GBx2 (buy from Amazon)
- Video Card: NVIDIA TITAN RTX (buy from Amazon)
- Storage - Boot Drive: Corsair MP600 (PCIe 4) 2TB (buy from Amazon)
- Network Switch: Buffalo Multi-Gigabit BS-MP2008 (buy from Amazon)
- Testbench: DimasTech Easy XL (buy from Amazon)
- Power Supply: Thermaltake 1200W (buy from Amazon)
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 (buy from Amazon)
- Monitor: ASUS XG438 43" 4K (buy from Amazon)
- Video Capture: Elgato 4K 60 Pro (buy from Amazon)
- Keyboard: Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum (buy from Amazon)
- Mouse: Corsair Logitech G502 (buy from Amazon)
WPrime, SuperPi, Cinebench, and AIDA64
WPrime is first up and being a multi-threaded benchmark. We know it will scale with any CPU we throw at it. You can manually set the number of workers or threads you want to allocate to the calculation, which we did the total thread count for each CPU to ensure we measure the maximum performance the CPU can offer.
SuperPi is a much older test, but it's worth including as it is a single-threaded computation workload that really can show in granular detail differences in the computational ability of the silicon being tested. One thing to note is that this is an aging application that tends to favor intel architecture, so don't be surprised when you see much better results by some chips, as those same chips you will see get beaten in other tests.
Cinebench is a long-standing render benchmark that has been heavily relied upon by both Intel and AMD to showcase their newest platforms during unveils. The benchmark has two tests, a single-core workload that will utilize one thread or 1T. There is also a multi-threaded test which uses all threads or nT of a tested CPU
With all of the above tests based on mostly direct CPU performance, you can see that the Formula pulls some great results, especially in the WPrime, and even topping the charts in Cinebench on the 1T test.
Moving to Aida64, we start with memory performance. The Formula falls into the lower scores here, and this is something I have seen a few times, and I think it comes down to how safe ASUS plays in some scenarios to ensure the stability of the platform. This may improve over time with UEFI updates as they tighten things up a bit.
The AES encryption test gives a result in MB/s, and all of the boards fall within 11MB/s of each other, which I would consider within margin; even the edge case with the MSI Godlike was only 0.002%.
For FPU testing, we have 32-bit single-precision first. Here we see more of the same with the Formula being mid-pack and within less than a percent from the top spot.
Now with the next level, we have the 64-bit double-precision test. Here the Formula once again sits mid-pack and within the margin of every other board.
Lastly, we have 80-bit extended precision, and as we have seen with every other board, they all fall in line here with virtually no discernable difference.
Handbrake, 7-Zip, and WebXPRT
Handbrake is up next, and we are transcoding a 4K MKV to MP4. Here we see yet again more of the same; the Formula is within less than ten seconds of the top spot.
7-Zip is an open-source and free compression application. It works well with multi-threading and also can see gains from clock speed as well.
Moving to the 7-Zip compression suite, we see the Formula fall in the same range as the other ASUS boards, which tells me that in this instance, all of their BIOS are similarly tuned, which makes sense.
WebXPRT is a browser-based test, and we like this test as this is one of the areas not many think to test. This also happens to be a real-world usage test that can be impacted by the mitigations which have recently rolled through and were patched.
WebXPRT sees the Formula take the top spot with great efficiency, and while it is still a very close race, it did shave a two-point lead above the rest.
Unigine and UL Benchmarks
Superposition from Unigine is a DX12 based benchmark. We test with the 720p LOW preset as this removes all but the most basic GPU loading, and all of the FPS performance comes from the CPUs ability to push frames to the GPU. This test is far more efficient and speed based rather than being highly threaded.
PCMark is a benchmark from UL and tests various workload types to represent typical workloads for a PC. Everything from video conferencing, image import, and editing, along with 3D rendering, are tested.
3DMark Time Spy
Time Spy is another 3DMark test variant, but this one is for DX12 based systems. This test can be quite stressful, and since its an entirely different load, you may be surprised to see how the results shuffle when compared to Firestrike.
All of the graphics testing shows some inherent efficiency issues here, not always huge, but in some cases causes the Formula to be notably off the pace. This is something ASUS can correct in future BIOS updates, as I can only assume they are running things a bit more loose for the sake of compatibility, and therefore leave a bit of performance on the table.
System I/O Benchmarks
For storage performance, we test the platform using a PCIe 4.0 Corsair MP600 2TB M.2 NVMe drive. It is tested in CrystaldiskMark 7.0.0 x64, and we average the results to ensure a good cross-section of expected performance. Do note that some platforms do not support the new PCIe gen 4, and therefore will cap out around 3400-3500MB/s.
M.2: MP600 2TB
Here, with the MP600, we see The Formula hangs around the top of the chart in the top-5 area for most of the results, and this is good and roughly in line with the other ASUS boards.
SATA: T-Force 2350GB SSD
SATA performance for sequential reads is good, but for writes, we saw it fall into the same drop that the ASRock Taichi saw. I hope ASUS will look at this from a UEFI level and correct this like ASRock did after they saw our results.
USB: WD P50 1TB
For the external storage, we select the fastest port to test the P50, which is the USB 3.2 Gen 2 port. This is limited to 10Gb, and therefore it falls in line with all of the other 10Gb rated ports.
Network testing: Iperf
We use IPerf for network throughput testing; the server is an 8700K based DIY rig with an Aquantia 10Gb interface.
Here we see the Formula with its 10Gb port with a chart-topping result ringing in at 9491Mbps.
The next part of network testing is a file transfer test. We use the same endpoint, but we are transferring data from the internal SanDisk Extreme Pro 1TB NVMe SSD.
Here we see the file transfer test, which took 54.60 seconds and is in line with the other 10Gb equipped boards, and well within margin.
Here we see the actual throughput from windows reporting 1.05GB/s.
Clocks, Overclocking, Thermals, and Power Consumption
Here we will look at the physical and functional performance metrics for the new Z490 motherboards. This includes out of the box clocks, thermals, power consumption, and of course, overclocking.
Out of the Box Clocks
First up is a frequency plot for the 10900K on the Formula, and we see that during the stress test, we observed a consistent 4.9GHz clock speed, and when not under the heavy load, we saw the cores jump to 5.3GHz regularly and long enough to be picked up by our logging.
For power consumption tests, we use a wall meter to test the full system draw. The reason for this is it will represent what the entire system pulls versus our meter, which shows the power draw on each PSU cable. The reason for this is that measuring the power draw from the EPS cable, for example, does not take into account VRM losses and, therefore, can show a much higher power draw for the CPU or other device due to an inefficient VRM design or loading range.
Idle power with the full system and TITAN RTX discrete GPU in place, we see the 10900K pulling 67W.
Loading up the CPU with a full FPU load, and the formula platform jumps to 280W, which is about the middle of the pack.
Testing synthetic GPU stress only is an excellent way to show the overhead the CPU adds, as the GPU does not pull more power after it reaches steady state. Here we see the Formula pull 430W, which is not the most, but close to it, only losing to the Aqua. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but simply what happens when you add a bunch of features and supporting controllers.
Idle temps for the 10900K in each board are shown, and the Formula has the CPU idles at 28C, which is well within what we would expect.
Loading each CPU up with a full burn-in FPU load, and we see the CPU get up to 72.9C average, which once again is mid-pack with the rest of the boards.
Here we see the Formula under our thermal imager with a full load on the CPU for over an hour. The formula VRM stays within manageable temps with little to no airflow near it. The VRM lefthand portion checks in at 48C, while the top section is at 45C, and the lower VCCSA/IO section is 47C, which is likely caused by the heat pipe connected to the left side.
Overclocking with Comet Lake has been a lesson in limitations, both thermally and architecturally. As intel squeezes the 14nm node for all it has, the frequency is now under several boosting algorithms, which help enhance single or dual-core performance to the nth degree. However, it does not leave much on the table for overclocking.
The Formula pulls the 10900K to 5.2GHz easily with 1.323VCore actual and 1.315 VCore set in UEFI with aggressive LLC. The result is in line with the other boards and the voltage needed and thermals all check out fine.
EK Waterblocks Parts and custom LCS build
When I was sent the Formula for review, it came with a second box; this was all EKWB gear they set up as a kit for the Formula review. I was not aware of this when I was sent the board, but being they included it, I wanted to show it, then build with it.
As you can see here, EKWB worked with ASUS to provide a set of custom liquid cooling parts that would complete a full custom loop with the Formula. You can see all o the parts here, minus the entire quantity of fittings. But I will show the Formula specific parts in more detail for you as we build.
First up is the EK Quantum Velocity CPU block, which is a standard block. However, you notice the larger box, which is the Quantum Momentum unit. The Momentum connects the CPU block ports and the VRM cooler ports in a small manifold.
Here we see the Oringed fitting, which threads into the VRM cooler and the CPU block. These will need to be greased before adding the Momentum block. You can see the four ports at the lower edge of the Momentum, and that plate slides when you remove a screw from the top so that you can lock the unit to those O-ring rubes installed.
Here we have the Momentum installed on the Formula with the velocity block. Now, these are all of the Formula specific parts, so let's get this thing built, and we will show off the new hotness with a full custom EKWB loop.
Being its ASUS ROG, we felt it was only appropriate that we fill the loop with Red coolant, well that, and we were out of clear. The Momentum block that connects the VRM to the loop without hoses is a very cool and interesting solution.
Here we can see how the system looks when built both with the room lights on and with the lights off to give an idea on the aesthetic. If we had lighting strips in the case to illuminate, I think it would have been even better, as then you could see the components. Still, for those who prefer a case that is not blasting out lumens, these parts and their RGB do a great job of highlighting the cooling without too much excessive light pollution.
When ASUS asked me to take a look at the new Z490 based Formula, the Maximus XII Formula, I was a bit nostalgic as it reminded me of all fo the boards that came before it. Upon receiving it, I realized this was a severely evolved board and made me revisit all of the Formula boards that have preceded it.
What we like
Connectivity: The Maximus XII Formula has tons of connectivity both in USB and networking. The rear panel has ten USB ports (one being Type-C) along with 2.5Gb and 10Gb wired LAN along with Wi-Fi 6/AX, which is wireless Gigabit network capable.
PCIe 4.0: While the PCIe 4 is not here, for Intel at least, we know that by the time it is, there will be even more GPUs and SSD's available that can utilize the faster interface.
Liquid cooling support: The Maximus XII Formula is a unique board as for over ten years now, the Formula has included VRM liquid cooling capabilities to the stable. This, along with the unique aesthetics, makes it a great board to fit in liquid-cooled showpiece builds.
What do we think could be better?
SATA performance: The Formula saw a hiccup in SATA performance, which I'm sure ASUS can address in some future UEFI tuning updates.
USB 3.2 Gen 2x2: The Formula, in my mind, is the enthusiast's board that has some of the best of everything while not being the premium of the Extreme variant. I do wish that the Formula had USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 20Gb connectivity, as then I could say this board has virtually anything you would need.
The Maximus XII Formula offers tons of aesthetic appeal, while also having a host of liquid cooling street cred and even some specialized parts to make it a truly integrated liquid cooling ready board. At its price, I think a Formula is a great option, with the only hold up being some minor UEFI tweaking from ASUS needed to make it the top dog.
The Bottom Line
ASUS made yet another killer Z490 board, and the new Maximus XII Formula comes out of the gate swinging. While it's not always the top performer, it could be with some UEFI tuning, and then it will really shine.