High-end P67 Motherboards - A Sneak Preview

ASUS Maximus IV Extreme

ASUS Maximus IV Extreme

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.

 The familiar red and black of ASUS' Republic of Gamers motherboard series is once again used for the latest P67 based version, the Maximus IV Extreme. It may not look any larger in this image, but this is an extended ATX board.

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.

Besides the ROG Connect button (and USB port) that allows you to adjust the board's BIOS settings via another PC, you'll also find dual Gigabit LAN ports and a remarkable eight USB 3.0 ports (in blue). It does mean that there's no coaxial S/PDIF output but eSATA ports are still present.

Eight SATA ports, of which the four red ones are SATA 6Gbps. Two from the Intel chipset and two from a Marvell 9182 controller.

The standard four DDR3 DIMM slots, though ASUS claims to support up to 8GB per DIMM, when such memory modules become available in the market that is. Hence, a theoretical maximum memory of 32GB instead of the usual 16GB. We'll see if that's true when the time comes.

Here, we can see the full extent of ASUS' enthusiast oriented features. Voltage measuring points or what ASUS calls Probelt are found here, along with various switches for users to enable or disable the PCIe lanes on the PCIe x16 slots. The idea is that you can troubleshoot your installed PCIe cards without removing them, simply by enabling or disabling them to find the faulty card. There's even a switch labeled LN2 mode, which as you may guess, involves extreme overclocking using liquid nitrogen and helps the system POST even at low temperatures.

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!'.

This board is dotted with numerous LEDs to indicate the status of your system voltage, hard disk, etc. This however is a two digit display that is more informative, though the manual is needed to understand the code displayed.

The front panel connectors are here along with the dual BIOS chips. A BIOS switch (the red button) allows users to toggle between two different BIOS and their settings with a touch.

ASUS has included two such EZ Plug 4-pin power connectors for the PCIe slots. Here's one of them.

To ensure the optimal bandwidth for its SATA 6Gbps connections (via the Marvell controller), ASUS has as usual included a PLX PEX8608 PCIe switch to utilize unused, existing PCIe lanes.

These four USB headers are for USB 2.0/1.1 only. The reason why there are so many headers is because ASUS has gone for USB 3.0 ports instead.

Four PCIe x16 slots are present but only three can use the full 16 lanes. This board supports up to 3-way SLI or CrossFireX in a x8/x16/x16 configuration and thanks to the layout, you can still install three dual-slot graphics cards if necessary. Of course, to do this, it implies that an NVIDIA NF200 controller is onboard to increase the PCIe lanes available.

The red USB header here supports USB 3.0. There's also another 4-pin EZ Plug and one of the two NEC USB 3.0 controllers. We aren't too sure if that 4-pin power goes to the CPU or the PCIe, but we think it's the latter. We'll have more details when we get to do a full review with more information on our hand.

This NEC/Tokin chip is apparently known as a Proadlizer which helps to deliver stable power to the processor due to its extremely low noise.

ASUS has decided on a rather distinctive, stacked array of cooling fins for its heatsinks. A sculpture of a heatsink? You decide.

Besides the NEC USB 3.0 controllers, ASUS has included two of these VIA VL810 SuperSpeed USB hub controllers, which explains why there are that many USB 3.0 ports on this board.

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.