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The new Intel Z87 chipset supports up to six SATA 6Gbps ports, against just two that is supported by the previous generation Intel Z77 chipset. Just beyond the DIMM slots, the middle front portion of the board bunched all the onboard SATA connectors.The first six connectors, from the right, are powered by the Intel Z87 Platform Control Hub (PCH); while the four SATA connectors, from the left, are courtesy of the third-party ASMedia ASM106x SATA 6Gbps controllers. While it's great to know that there are no SATA 3Gbps ports and all of them are the 6Gbps variety, we would have preferred the connectors to be color-coded to tell which controller is powering them at one glance.
Making Sense of the PEG Slots
The board sports a total of five PCIe x16 slots; four of them colored in red and a single black one. At first glance, we thought the PEG configuration was the same as the previous generation Intel Z77-based Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP7 motherboard we reviewed in March this year, where the black PCIe x16 slot will provide direct connection to the CPU and bypasses the PLX 8747 splitter chip for a true single graphics card configuration. However, this is not the case for the ASUS Maximus VI Extreme. Its single black PCIe x16 slot operates at x8 speed. Its four red PCIe x16 slots support 4-way NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFireX graphics setup.
With reference to the photograph above, the red PEG slots, from top to bottom, are labelled PCIE_X16/X8_1, PCIE_X16_A2, PCIE_X8_3, and PCIE_X8_4. As you can decipher, each slot has its best possible configuration labelled. Bearing that in mind, onboard the Maximus VI Extreme there's a high-end PLX PEX 8747 high speed switching chip takes in the 16 PCIe lanes from the PCIe 3.0 controller of the 4th generation Intel Core CPU, and serves out a total equivalent of 32 PCIe lanes. The PLX PEX 8747 is effectively a 5-port, 48-lane high-speed switch and supports the following configurations:-
As a result, the board is able to support PCIe lane configurations in the following manner - x16/x16, or x8/x16/x8 or x8/x16/x8/x8. Dual, triple or quad graphics card configurations don't pose any issues for this high-end board! As a note to our readers, the switching chip is covered by the heatsink with the ROG label, located above the PCIE_X16/X8_1 PEG slot.
What's Brewing Down Below
Towards the bottom edge of the board, there are no color codes for the headers and connectors; hence, referencing the manual may be necessary. There are two onboard buttons and a switch in this area. They consist of:-
- Fast Boot switch
When enabled, the system will boot up faster as it skips non-essential checks that are performed at the BIOS boot level.
- DirectKey button
This button is used to access the BIOS setup program when it is pressed.
- BIOS Switch button
This is used to switch between the BIOSes of the board. It is located near the right edge of the board, close to the onboard SATA connectors.
The motherboard features two sets of physical BIOS chips. From above, we can see the two BIOS chips that have been marked by the red frame. This feature is useful for power tweakers who need to maintain a performance baseline in one set of BIOS; while the other is used for pushing their rigs to the limit.
Rear I/O Ports
Now we take a look at the rear I/O ports of the board. To the left, there are two buttons; the top is for clearing CMOS, and the bottom one is the ROG Connect button. This button is used when the user needs to remotely control the settings of the Maximus VI Extreme with another PC. That PC must be installed with the bundled RC TweakerIt software and connected to the board with a USB 2.0 cable. This cable must connect to the top USB 2.0 port of the Maximus VI Extreme board and the ROG Connect button is then pressed to link both systems. Following which, the RC TweakIt is run from the remote PC. While this may not be necessary with the board's new OC Panel hardware feature, the ROG Connect is still available for those who intend to run benchmarks and tests uninterrupted while an external system monitors and controls the test system. Clearly these are hardcore features for the most ardent overclockers and tweakers.
Apart from the ROG Connect that we elaborated, there are a total of six USB 3.0 ports on the rear I/O panel; four of them are supported by the board's chipset and the other pair is from a third-party ASMedia USB controller. There is also a legacy PS/2 keyboard/mouse port. Note that the pair of USB 3.0 ports directly below this combo port supports ASUS USB 3.0 Boost Turbo Mode. For network connectivity, there is one Gigabit Ethernet port. It would have been a perfect double feature if the board came with an additional Gigabit LAN jack, but we reckon that's not a feature most ROG users really require.
Besides the OC Panel console, there are two additional bundled items with the board. First, there is the mPCIe Combo II expansion card, and an accompanying ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennae.
The mPCIe Combo II expansion card installs just next to the stack of rear I/O ports. After that, the separately bundled antennae can be connected to the expansion card. The card allows for the installation of a M.2 (NGFF) SSD, and it also houses a dual-band IEEE 802.1ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth v4.0 module. Now with regards to the new M.2 (NGFF) SSD interface, drives using this connector are barely out and they are mostly still using existing controllers. We don't expect any speed improvements until advanced in the controller and the NAND flash memory architecture improve. Until then, it's a new standard with future potential that you're quite unlikely to take advantage of anytime soon.
The ASUS Maximus VI Extreme motherboard is crammed with components and high-end onboard features that will appeal to a select group of end-users, namely extreme overclockers and power users. To support this group, the board also features an upgraded VRM for the CPU and memory with its new NexFET MOSFETs. To reflect its ROG heritage, the inclusion of a high-speed PLX PEX 8747 splitter chip is a nod to gamers who want to set up a multi-GPU configuration for their extreme gaming requirements. Its generous bundle of accessories completes the whole package; while some users may find the lone Gigabit Ethernet port inadequate, we feel that with the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity option will make up for the lack of an additional Gigabit Ethernet LAN jack. The bundled radio antennae will extend the range of the board, and we feel that the design of it is much sleeker than its early version, which we first encountered with its Intel X79-based ASUS P9X79 Deluxe motherboard.
Alas, the board comes with premium pricing as it retails at S$649, but if you add up the features list, you'll understand why it commands this premium.
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