Arguably one of the premier names in the motherboard business, ASUS' Republic of Gamers (ROG) series is its best of the best, with pro-enthusiast features that can be either hit or miss, depending on your needs. For the P55 chipset, ASUS offers the Maximus III Formula, which has the usual litany of ROG features, which are too many to mention (we advise a trip to ASUS' website to get educated on all of them if you're so inclined). This time, there is however a new feature called ROG Connect that we shall take a short look later.
First though, what struck us about this polished motherboard is how ASUS has gone heavy on the storage front, which is quite unlike its X58-based ROG board, the ASUS Rampage II Extreme, which had comparatively fewer SATA ports than its peers. For the Maximus, there are now ten SATA ports, with ASUS adding more JMicron controllers for the extra ports. Two of these extra ports even come with RAID 0 and 1 capability. Unfortunately, the Maximus does not come with support for the newer SATA 6 Gbit/s standard though ASUS has previously voiced the option of an expansion chip to enable this feature on all its new motherboards. ASUS' P7P55D Premium however comes with this feature for those looking to jump to the faster standard.
Besides the improvements in storage options, other familiar ASUS touches like having only a single retaining clip for its DIMM slots such that it's easier for users to remove the memory modules (especially on a packed motherboard), or the retaining clip for the PCIe graphics slots get the thumbs up from us.
While the Maximus comes with three PCIe slots for graphics, only the two red ones are appropriate for modern graphics cards. With a single graphics card, you can install at either red slots and get the full 16 lanes. With two graphics cards on the two red PCIe slots, you'll get x8/x8 in either CrossFireX or SLI, which is the compromise made by the mainstream P55 chipset. The last white PCIe slot is actually a version 1.0 slot that is limited to four lanes.
When it comes to the CPU phase power race that the major vendors appear to be in, the ASUS Maximus III Formula is anything but shabby with its 16-phase design. High quality chokes and capacitors are used and they are all quite low profile and unlikely to interfere with your CPU cooler. As expected from an enthusiast board, there are various LED indicators, onboard switches and buttons to monitor or trigger the ROG features.
HD audio is provided by the add-on SupremeFX module, something that we have seen on other ASUS motherboards. There's nothing new here on this front.
We finally get to one of the newer ROG features that's on the Maximus III Formula. This is none other than ROG Connect, which in the words of ASUS, allows users to monitor and tweak the motherboard settings in real time via a separate PC or notebook, just like how race car engineers do it! This is done via USB cable through a special reserved USB port at the rear of the ASUS board, hooked up to another system's USB port.
Well, it sounds much better than it really is, since the novelty wears off really fast. Although it worked as intended, we aren't too sure of its actual utility. If we needed to tweak the motherboard outside the BIOS, we could have installed the same software on the motherboard system and done the same.
The only application we could think of, is when the user is running an application, like a benchmarking suite. One could conceivably tweak or monitor the motherboard settings in real time without having to exit the benchmark to check. See, we can't even convince ourselves that this tool is useful for even enthusiasts, at least not as useful as it's 'cool'.
Overall though, the ASUS Maximus III Formula continues with the company's ROG formula of stacking as many pro-enthusiast features as it can, even if some might end up being ignored by users. Besides these attempts at innovation, this board is well-made, with quality components to justify its US$250 price tag. The layout too is impeccable, with many fan connectors that should appeal to enthusiasts. Most importantly, we didn't encounter any usability issues.