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ASUS Maximus V GENE Z77 mATX Motherboard Review

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Eldonko

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Finally, the much anticipated Ivy Bridge and Panther Point launch has come! Intel decided to launch the chipset before the processors so back in March we previewed the full line of Intel Z77 boards by ASUS: the P8Z77-V PRO, P8Z77-V, P8Z77-M PRO, P8Z77 WS, Sabertooth, Maximus V Formula, and Maximus V GENE. Once the embargo lifted in April we brought you performance results from the i7-3770K with a huge array of tests and comparisons. Today we put one of the most interesting of the ASUS boards under the microscope. The Maximus V GENE Z77, a pint sized mATX product that packs a ridiculous number of features into a compact design.

Engineered by the renowned ASUS ROG team, the Maximus V GENE gives gamers what they need with the built-in SupremeFX III audio, “frag without lag” ASUS GameFirst and Intel Gb LAN. The GENE also includes a little something for extreme users with items such as ProbeIt, Extreme Tweaker, and a handy LN2 mode.

As a successor to Z68 (Cougar Point), the brand new Z77 chipset (Panther Point) brings a host of new and exciting features to the Maximus V GENE. It adds native USB 3.0 ports, full support for PCI-E 3.0, Rapid Start Technology, Quick Sync Video, Smart Response Technology, as well as Intel Smart Connect Technology. On top of that, LucidLogix Virtu MVP can add upwards of a 30% increase in 3D performance over and above a discrete GPU.

As we have seen with every ASUS ROG board in recent years, the BIOS is among the most advanced and refined in the industry. The ROG team really brought things to the next level with BIOS development and the GENE includes over a dozen memory presets as well as LN2 options to get you started with sub-zero benching. Extreme Engine DIGI+ II has been redesigned to cover 8 phases for CPU Vcore, 4 phases for the IMC, and 2 more phases for the system DRAM and the new FAN Expert 2 includes more customization options than we saw with the previous generation. This just scratches the surface of what the GENE has to offer.

Moderately priced at $220, the Maximus V GENE comes with the ROG standard 3 year parts and labour warranty plus the ASUS Premium Service (APS) program. Having the APS program gives the option to do an advanced RMA so if your board dies you can have a new one shipped to you the day you ship the broken board back to ASUS.

Although several Z77 motherboards are on the market already and reviews are popping up with Sandy Bridge CPUs, we wanted to pair this board up with a proper Ivy Bridge processor. It should be interesting to see whether ASUS’ newest generation of ROG boards can live up to the excellent tradition of previous designs.

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Eldonko

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ASUS Maximus V GENE Z77 Specifications and Features

ASUS Maximus V GENE Z77 Specifications and Features

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Before jumping right into photos and testing, let’s take a look at the specifications for the Maximus V GENE.

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A few notable features on the ASUS Maximus V GENE Z77 include: SupremeFX III audio, LucidLogix Virtu MVP, GameFirst, Intel Gigabit LAN, mPCIe Combo, Extreme Engine Digi+ II, PCI-E 3.0, and SLI/CrossFire On-Demand. A brief summary of each of these features and other board features is as follows:

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Eldonko

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


Similar to previous ROG releases, ASUS went with the bright red box for the Maximus V GENE. The ROG logo is featured prominently on the cover alongside a banner showing the board is PCI-E Gen 3 ready. Flipping open the top cover reveals a few of the board’s more notable features: Virtu MVP, ROG Connect, Extreme Engine DIGI+ II, mPCIe Combo, SupremeFX III, and GameFirst. The back of the box explains features in more detail and shows the I/O panel as well as contact information for ASUS offices around the world.

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Inside, the M5G has a smaller black box that includes a clear cover containing the motherboard and beneath the board the accessories sit in a divided black cardboard compartment.

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Having a look at the accessory bundle for the Maximus V GENE you can see it is fairly standard with the exception of a few items such as the gamers door tag and the mPCIe connector. Since the board is mATX it only has space for two GPUs so only one SLI bridge is required.

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The final accessory that we will have a look at is the mPCIe connector. This adapter comes with one mini PCI-E 2.0 / USB 2.0 combo port, and one mini SATA port allowing you to connect additional devices like a mini SSD for caching or a WiFi card without taking up space inside the case.

The mPCIe Combo Card has a dedicated lane attached and allows for simultaneous use of the mPCIE module and mSATA modules.
 
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Eldonko

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Included Software

Included Software

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The first item in the ASUS software suite is the utility that an overclocker will use most: AI Suite II. This is a very powerful tool and allows tweaking and monitoring of just about anything you will need.

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The first section of AI Suite II is under Tools and is titled Turbo V EVO. Turbo V EVO contains two subpages that include frequencies, voltages, and CPU ratio. The CPU ratio page allows for adjusting ratio by core or locking so all cores adjust at once.

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Another section of Turbo V EVO is CPU Level Up. Here you can overclock your CPU to 4.2, 4.4, or 4.6Ghz with the click of a button. The EPU section under tools hosts a number of customizable power saving options and can track power savings.

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Next under the Tools menu is DIGI+ Power Control. This section of AI Suite II has an index page for three subpages: Smart DIGI+, CPU, and DRAM power settings. The three DIGI+ Power Control pages contain power options for the CPU and memory as well as power saving options with Smart CPU Power Level and auto power settings for overclocking with Smart DIGI+. DIGI+ Power Control contains adjustable settings for load-line calibration, current capability, voltage frequency, phase control, and VRM protection threshold.

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The Q-Fan and Fan Xpert features we saw in previous boards have been upgraded to FAN Xpert 2 on the Maximus V GENE. When you start up Fan Xpert 2 you go into automatic detection and optimization of system fans as shown above left. Full fan curve customization for the two CPU fans and three chassis fan headers has been added and a fan management engine now provides a series of preset controls - silent, standard, and turbo. Fan Xpert 2 also brings fan auto tuning, fixed fan speed mode, fan responsiveness control, fan position search, and fan header rename options to allow unheard of flexibility and control over system fans.
 
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Eldonko

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Included Software p.2

Included Software

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Continuing down the Tools list we have monitoring and safety features like Probe II and Sensor Recorder. Probe II allows for setting alerts for temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds and Sensor Recorder records these items.

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Ai Charger+ supports Apple products (iPhone, iPad, iPod) along with most other modern smartphones and allows for quicker recharge speeds when enabled. The USB 3.0 Boost page will automatically boost the speed of USB 3.0 devices using the UASP protocol and if there are any issues with compatibility, users can set USB 3.0 mode back to normal to disable UASP. USB 3.0 devices show up in the upper part of the screen and can be adjusted differently depending on the device type (Turbo vs. UASP).

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Moving over to the Update tab we come to ASUS Update which is a utility for updating the board’s BIOS. Also under the Update tab in AI Suite II is MyLogo. MyLogo gives users the option to replace the POST splash screen with their own image files.

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The final two utilities in the ROG software suite are ROG MemTweakIt and ROG CPUZ. Both tools are fully functional but we have historically had issues with these two ROG skins. Sometimes the left side of each was cut off and unfortunately these issues remain.

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Another software item worth mentioning that comes with the GENE is ASUS Web Storage. This is a cloud computing application that gives users web storage and access to data on many devices.

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Lastly we will have a look at the software included with the Creative X-Fi onboard sound. For music lovers, the software has a built in music server and THX TruStudio PRO gives videophiles the desired effects for movies. For gamers, X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity and EAX Advanced HD 5.0 via the Creative Alchemy software package gives the most intense sound experience. This is all best enjoyed with professional audio equipment.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Maximus V GENE Z77

A Closer Look at the Maximus V GENE Z77

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Above is a map of the Maximus V GENE Z77 motherboard layout with descriptions of the various parts. ASUS managed to maximize board features and make good use of the limited real estate. The primary PCI-E slots don’t have all that much room for expansion cards but SLI and Crossfire setups have ample room between each of the GPUs.

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The cooling system on the GENE consists of two piece setup: a heatpipe cooler for the VRM and a separate passive heatsink for the chipset. ASUS used a hard pink TIM for the chipset and soft sticky pads for the heatpipe cooler.

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The chipset heatsink is passive so ASUS went with a larger low profile design to effectively dissipate heat. The VRM heatsink is in an L shape and fits between the I/O panel and CPU socket as well as above the CPU socket. It is in the same shape as VRM layout so it can cool the chokes and MOSFETs.

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The chipset is located beneath the cooler and although it is the brand new Intel Z77 which doesn’t produce all that much heat. Nonetheless, ASUS does provide it with a heatsink to ensure it runs cool.

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ASUS has made some improvements to the VRM system on the Maximus V GENE; moving from the DIGI+ system to the fully digital Extreme Engine DIGI+ II. One key difference is the GENE now has a fully digital power design for DRAM, an improvement from the analog design we saw with the Maximus IV GENE-Z. The capacitors have also been upgraded to 10K Black Metallic Caps from the FPCAP 5K series we saw previously.

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The GENE uses a Dual Driver 8+4 phase power design with 8 phases for CPU Vcore and 4 phases for Vaux or the CPU Integrated Graphics Controller. This is why you see 12 chokes lined up along the CPU socket area or 1 choke per phase. System DRAM also has 2 phases of its own which are situated near the memory. ASUS engineers feel that multiple Low RDS_On MOSFETs provide much higher current delivery, stability, and durability in comparison to a power driver combined with two MOSFETs (DrMOS) so this design is consistent across ASUS boards. Power savings and heat are always a concern so the power supplied to the CPU’s integrated graphics is reduced to nil when the iGPU is not in use.

One final VRM feature on the GENE worth noting is the new T-Topology architecture used for the link between the memory and the processor. As opposed to the standard Daisy Chain configuration, T-Topology ensures both channels of memory are an equal distance from the CPU instead of having one channel closer than the other. An equal trace length gives equal data travel time and ASUS claims this allows for the most balanced control over DRAM modules under a dual channel configuration and can give up to an additional 15% DRAM OC headroom (as long as the CPU IMC does not limit the OC). This is difficult to test but may be proven or disproven over time as more users report on memory overclocking on the GENE.

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Similar to Z68, the CPU socket itself is LGA1155 or socket H2. LGA1155 has 1155 protruding pins to make contact with the pads on the processor. On the underside of the board, there is a backplate which holds the socket in place. In the above right photo there is a brown line along the PCB that lights up red when the board is plugged in up. This lighting can be disabled in the BIOS if desired.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Maximus V GENE Z77 p.2

A Closer Look at the Maximus V GENE Z77

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In addition to the T-Topology architecture and dedicated phases for DRAM power, the GENE Z77 supports XMP 1.3 and memory speeds up to 2666Mhz. This is a huge improvement over the previous Z68 GENE which supports XMP 1.2 and only up to 2200Mhz for memory support. Z77 is without a doubt the platform to have for memory clocking enthusiasts.

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The ATX-12V input is found in an accessible (and typical) spot on the board's upper edge near the VRM heatsink. Moving over to the top right corner we come to the ProbeIt voltage read points. We can't stress enough how useful these are but we wish ASUS would have gone with a design similar to MSI where probes can securely fit into the measure points. With the GENE design you have to hold the probes on the points to take measurements.

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Moving down the right edge of the GENE we come to the Go Button and the 24-pin power connector. The Go Button loads a customized OC Profile which is saved in the BIOS. This can save time when overclocking since users can load settings they know are stable without even entering the BIOS. Also, at the base of the 24-pin power connector are tiny LEDs that can be useful troubleshooting POST failures.

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Next to the 24-pin power connector is a red USB 3.0 header which is run by the chipset, a new feature for Z77. Nearby is an ASMedia chip, ASM1061 which runs two of the SATA 6GB/s ports.

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The bottom right corner of the GENE has six SATA ports colored red and black. The two black ports run directly off of the PCH at a speed of 3GB/s and the remaining four red ports run at 6GB/s. The rightmost red ports go direct to the chipset and the left hand ports are controlled by the ASMedia ASM1061. For SSD caching, the hard drive must be attached to the Intel-based ports.

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Beneath the chipset heatsink is a large Nuvoton chip marked NCT6776F which monitors several critical parameters on the GENE Z77, including power supply voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures. A debug LED, front panel connectors, chassis fan header, and two USB 2.0 headers are found on the bottom right corner of the board.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Maximus V GENE Z77 p.3

A Closer Look at the Maximus V GENE Z77

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Along the bottom of the board you will find a removable BIOS chip, Thunderbolt header, LN2 jumper, SPDIF out, front panel audio header, and power and reset buttons. Enabling the LN2 jumper unlocks LN2 benching presets in the BIOS and optimizes the board for sub-zero operation.

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For expansion slots, the GENE Z77 has two PCI-E 3.0 slots (red) usable for 16x/8x SLI and one PCI-E 4x slot (black). Since the board is mATX there is simply not enough space for more slots but ASUS made good use of the ones they included.

The GENE also has a built-in SupremeFX III audio solution for sound delivery equivalent to an external soundcard audio experience. SupremeFX Shielding Technology features a “Red Line” lighting PCB moat, where the PCB surrounding the built-in SupremeFX III audio solution has been divided into two zones, digital and analog, keeping ground planes separate. Keeping the audio sections purely inside the analog zone allows the built-in SupremeFX III to function as if it is on the separate piece of PCB, i.e. like a standalone audio card, free from the EM interference from other devices.

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The core of SupremeFX II is also protected by a stainless steel cover to help block all electromagnetic interference generated from nearby components. Further up the left edge of the GENE is a tiny Intel chip marked WG82579V which runs the Intel Gigabit LAN on the board.

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The switches on the GENE are made by ASMedia and marked ASM1480.These chips are 16 to 8 channel multiplexer / demultiplexer switches capable of PCI-E Gen 3 and are responsible for PCI-E lane switching when a second GPU is detected.

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Two final chips of interest near the I/O panel are both ASSMedia ASM1042 and ASM1442. The ASM1042 is a USB 3.0 host controller chip for the ports on the I/O panel and the ASM1442 is a high speed TMDS level shift IC for the HDMI output on the board.

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The I/O panel on the GENE is fairly straightforward however it does have a few items worth explaining. The button with the curved arrow is the clear CMOS button and the button next to that is the ROG Connect button. Install RC TweakIt on a second PC and press ROG connect to take control of key system settings and monitoring. The ROG Connect button also works with the white USB port for the USB BIOS Flashback feature. Add a flash drive with a BIOS file and the BIOS can be flashed with the press of a button, without the need of even a functional CPU or DRAM. For iGPU use the board also has a HDMI port with a maximum output of 1080P and a single DisplayPort header for higher resolutions if needed.
 
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Eldonko

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation

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In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the Maximus V GENE Z77, we installed a Zalman CNPS10x Flex, a 8GB dual channel kit of G.Skill memory, and two GTX 470 video cards. The Zalman is an average-sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference for other coolers so we can see if there any clearance issues.

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Despite the GENE being mATX sized, ASUS was able to provide plenty of clearance between this board’s heatsinks and an aftermarket CPU cooler. As such, we have to conclude that most coolers will fit without any problems. Looking at memory clearance, there should be no clearance issues even with 4 DIMMs installed. The new Trident by G.Skill also has removable fins in case users run into any clearance issues.

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The memory cooler included with the Trident fits well before adding a video card; however, when a GPU is added the cooler rests up against it. Since the memory cooler is metal we feared shorting out the GPU so we did not use it for testing.

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Adding a large GTX 470 did not create any clearance issues and the video card does not block anything notable. The 470 also fits snugly over the chipset cooler and SATA ports.

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Next we added a second GTX 470 to the GENE, but we still did not find anything that caused concern in terms of clearance and ASUS even managed to fit a little breathing room between the video cards. Another thing we though was excellent is that the power and reset switches are still accessible after adding a second video card.

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Lastly, we want to show installation of the mPCIe Combo Card. The mPCIe goes up by the I/O panel so it doesn’t take up space around the PCI-E slots. It is very easy to install, basically one screw and you are done. Here is a handy video on how to use the mPCIe Combo Card on the Maximus V GENE made by the ASUS ROG team:

How to use the mPCIe Combo Card on the Maximus V GENE motherboard - YouTube
 
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Eldonko

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown

ASUS has been on top of the BIOS development world since the migration to the UEFI format and the ROG team brings that domination to a new level with unmatched BIOS customizability and stability. In this section we go through the Gene BIOS page by page showing just how many tweakable options there are available. The BIOS featured in this section has LN2 mode enabled to show us the extra settings and we will be looking at the Advanced version of the BIOS. The Advanced Mode naturally provides more advanced options for experienced end-users to configure the BIOS settings. You can set Advanced Mode to load by default under the Boot menu. The BIOS version we will look at is 0880, dated April 20, 2012.

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If you plan on overclocking your system at all, the page that you will spend the majority of your time is the Extreme Tweaker section. The Extreme Tweaker menu items allow you to configure overclocking-related items such as clock speeds and voltages. There are also some preloaded profiles to get you started quickly. The top of the page shows the target CPU and memory speed in yellow and there are three presets: one for a gaming profile and two for sub-zero operation. The LN2 profiles only appear if the LN2 jumper is enabled on the board itself.

CPU Level Up is for auto overclocking and settings are available for 4.2Ghz, 4.4Ghz, and 4.6Ghz on our processor. TO enable manual overclocking, you have to set Ai Overclock Tuner to manual mode and BCLK and Turbo Ratio adjustments become available. Other items like PLL Overvoltage (useful for overclocking), Memory Frequency, CPU Bus to Mem Ratio, Xtreme Tweaking (useful to gain points in 3dMark01), EPU Power Saving Mode, and sub pages for DRAM Timings, GPU.DIMM POST, CPU Power Management, and DIGI+ Power Control are all found within the first half of Extreme Tweaker.

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Further down the Extreme Tweaker page you will find voltages such as CPU voltage, VCCSA, DRAM, PLL, VCCIO, PCH, and so on. At the bottom of the page there are a number of Skew settings.


The DRAM Timing Control screen contains every memory timing imaginable and will be a dream come true for memory tweakers. There are literally three pages of memory timings including primary, secondary, and third as well as slews / duty sense settings available. The Memory Presets subpage has a huge variety of memory presets available; 13 in total varying by chip type. As long as you have an idea of the chips used in your memory, these are an excellent starting points for optimization.

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A few other subpages in the Extreme Tweaker section are GPU.DIMM POST and CPU Power Management. GPU.DIMM POST displays all video cards and memory that was detected during POST to help with troubleshooting. CPU Power Management contains Speedstep and Power Mode Parameters.

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The final subpage under Extreme Tweaker that we will look at today is DIGI+ Power Control. DIGI+ Power Control contains all voltage tweaks and every overclocker will spend some time in this section. Voltage Frequency, Power Phase Control, Power Duty Control, Current Capability, and Thermal Control settings are available for CPU, DRAM, and VCCIO.
 
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