Now that we have seen some of the more mainstream Sandy Bridge motherboards that will be arriving in a store near you in January, it's time to turn to some of the more exotic versions that vendors have concocted up for the more hardcore users. We haven't got all the models we wanted, but here in this preview, check out the Republic of Gamers (ROG) branded ASUS Maximus IV Extreme and Gigabyte's P67A-UD7.
ASUS' ROG series should be familiar enough for most users, especially with its eye-catching, handsome black and red color scheme. Its target audience are the overclocking enthusiasts and the series have a number of distinctive enthusiast oriented features that are now standard for any ROG board. Every new generation however has seen a couple of new, additional features and the same can be said of the latest, the Maximus IV Extreme.
What it gets over older ROG boards are two new features which ASUS dubs ROG iDirect and GPU.DIMM Post. The latter is found in the new UEFI BIOS on this board, which shows you the status (whether present and working) of your memory modules and graphics cards. So at a glance (provided you can get into the BIOS in the first place), you can see if a memory module or secondary graphics card have gone MIA.
The other 'new' feature, ROG iDirect, has been announced for a couple of months now, though not all ROG boards had the support. It consists of an iOS (iPhone/iPad) app that allows you to tweak the motherboard settings via these devices. Of course, a wireless connection is needed, either through the bundled Bluetooth module or through Wi-Fi (for the iPad). It's an extension of ASUS' older ROG Connect feature to the mobile, wireless arena. ASUS also maintains that unlike Gigabyte's Cloud OC utility, this implementation is purely hardware based and will not cause a spike in CPU utilization during use.
Another new feature that's probably more useful to reviewers than users is ROG BIOS Print. Like its name suggests, it captures your current BIOS screen to an external, connected USB thumb drive when you press F12 in the BIOS. Great for sharing BIOS settings with others and of course, for reviewers who need to show certain settings.
As for the board, it's larger than the typical ATX motherboard, with ASUS going for the Extended ATX form factor. This means that it's roughly 2cm wider than ATX boards, so you may need a chassis with the right amount of clearance. Besides its P67 Express chipset, ASUS has augmented it with a number of controllers, bringing USB 3.0 support, more SATA 6Gbps ports and more PCIe lanes for a truly premium experience.
First, this board comes with 3-way CrossFireX/SLI support, which is above the standard for the P67 chipset, which is mainly meant for the mainstream segment. This is possible through something like the NVIDIA NF200 controllers that ASUS and other vendors have been using on their previous P55 boards. Extra SATA 6Gbps ports are provided by a Marvell 9128 controller while a JMicron controller gives two eSATA ports (3Gbps). What's interesting is that ASUS has embraced USB 3.0 in a big way here on this board, with up to eight USB 3.0 ports at the rear panel thanks to additional NEC controllers and VIA hub controllers and one onboard header providing another two.
You'll expect such premium boards to come with the highest quality components and ASUS has indeed delivered on this front. Digital phase power delivery systems coupled with alloy chokes for better stability and higher efficiency. All for that extra bit of support when you're overclocking the processor.
Lest you forget that this is a ROG board that typical consumers should probably stay clear of for their wallets' sake, the whole, extensive list of ROG features are present, from voltage measurement points to a switch that explicitly states LN2 mode, which presumably gets past the cold boot bug at POST. Again, we don't see most buyers needing this feature other than extreme overclockers. The many LEDs onboard are other touches that scream 'enthusiast!'.
It's thanks to the Extended ATX form factor that ASUS is able to squeeze all its features onto this board without sacrificing usability. We couldn't find any instances where the layout was at fault, though we did notice that the mounting holes at the socket was perhaps a bit close to the heatsink. It could be a small issue for those with larger thumbs. The main sticking point for the user is probably the price premium you'll expect to find on the Maximus IV Extreme. However, if you're seriously considering a board of this class, then we believe you know what you're doing.