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ASUS RoG Maximus III Extreme LGA 1156 Motherboard Preview

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SKYMTL

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ASUS RoG Maximus III Extreme LGA 1156 Motherboard Preview






ASUS and hard-core enthusiasts have long been partners in crime and with the Republic of Gamers series of boards; ASUS has attacked this lucrative nice market with both guns blazing. Names like Rampage and Maximus have come to the forefront of the motherboard world to compete with the likes of EVGA’s ultra high-end Classified boards and have done quite well. However, while the boards may be marketed towards “gamers”, they are also of particular interest to overclockers who want the most capable and tweakable products available. As you probably already know, the ASUS RoG series is marketed as the best of the best while offering a bevy of features and has a price to match.

Naturally, once Intel released their slightly more value-oriented P55 lineup of motherboards, manufacturers were quick to jump on the bandwagon. In short order the market saw motherboards which spanned nearly every price category from $130 mATX value boards to $300 bruisers; there was something to fit everyone’s budget. During this flurry of announcements, we previewed the Maximus III Formula which (at the time) was one of the most expensive P55 boards prior to the introduction of the EVGA P55 Classified. Now things are being taken to the next level as ASUS is set to release their exclusive Maximus III Extreme.

With the Maximus III Extreme ASUS is looking to build upon the lessons they learned from feedback received throughout the BIOS and board development of the Formula edition and add new features and capabilities. This is a tall order considering the competition already has some impressive sharks circling in the guise of Gigabyte’s UD6 and forthcoming UD7 boards along with MSI’s Big Bang products and of course EVGA’s Classified series. Nonetheless, ASUS is not only offering a laundry list of features here but rather a board and BIOS which promises to take Lynnfield and Clarkdale chips to unheard of speeds…when in the hands of the right people.

In this preview we will be taking an in-depth look at the Maximus III Extreme’s features since our review is still some time off. Basically, ASUS has several interesting and unique features here and we believe some of them are forward-looking enough that they should be put under the microscope.

While a $300+ P55 board may seem counter intuitive for a platform that Intel envisioned as retailing for less than an X58-based one, there are many out there who are more than happy to pay the price premium for the looks and features of these boards provide.

 
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SKYMTL

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Maximus III Extreme Overview

Maximus III Extreme Overview


In this section we will be giving you a quick overview of the Maximus III Extreme in order to show you some of its unique features.


Unlike some other boards in the ASUS Republic of Gamers series, the Maximus III Extreme doesn’t exceed the size for the standard ATX form factor so you won’t have to worry about having to buy an EATX case to install it into. Overall, the layout is exactly what we would expect from a high-end $300 motherboard with large heatsink assemblies and a bevy of PCI-E slots.


The area bordering the CPU socket is perfectly clear of any obstructions which should make cooler installation or insulating for more extreme types of cooling relatively easy. The heatsinks in this area aren’t particularly large due to the inherent efficiency of using a partially digital PWM design but there is an interesting addition: a Fujitsu ML capacitor. This is supposed to offer ultra low ESR and ripple current which can help to lengthen the life of certain components.


ASUS has also gone for a somewhat unique power management system which they call Extreme Engine Digi+. Basically, this combines the best features from digital VRM and analog designs and combines them by using multi-phase MOSFETs in parallel design to offer a wide range of switching frequencies. With Digi+ ASUS is able to offer selectable frequencies ranging from a mere 250Hz all the way up to 1Mhz within the BIOS.

The board also features MOSFETs which are encased in an epoxy moulding compound for improved heat transfer and high-end chokes. Combined, all of these features give the Maximus III Extreme the ability to push up to 40A of current to the CPU which is more than any LGA1156 processor could possibly need.


The upper right-hand side of the board features the ProbeIT and Go Button features (we will go into the functions of these in a later section) as well as the ATX connector and memory slots. A bit further down are the SATA connectors of which all except one are placed at right angles to the PCB for easy access. The single SATA connector which isn’t at a right angle is supposed to be used for eSATA devices. For those of you wondering, the Maximus III Extreme DOES support SATA 6Gb/s (through the red SATA ports) and USB 3.0.


The bottom section of this high-end ASUS product hold the usual Power and Reset buttons for those of you who don’t want to install it into an enclosure as well as one of two additional Molex power connectors. These additional Molex connectors are basically used to ensure enough power gets to lower-end graphics cards which usually don’t have a PCI-E connector on them. If you install three or more of these cards, it is very likely that without the additional connectors on the board itself the GPUs wouldn’t get enough juice.


The back of the board shows us an extremely complicated backplate layout which includes the audio and I/O connectors along with some custom buttons. These buttons give you access to CMOS reset and a BIOS update feature we will look at a bit later.
 

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MemOK! And ProbeIT

MemOK! And ProbeIT



Right next to the ATX connector we find what ASUS likes to call their “Go Button”. While it is honestly one of the many somewhat confusingly-named buttons on this board, its uses are pretty straightforward.


Basically, this button and its associated BIOS configurations allow you to quickly and painlessly load preset defaults if you suspect a faulty memory module is causing issues. There is an LED next to the Go Button which will tell a user if this feature is enabled and working.


ProbeIT is an interesting feature but not one that many people will use or even care about. Since the Maximus III Extreme targets the overclocking market, ASUS has provided dedicated locations for board voltages to be read via a multimeter. Read points for PLL, PCH, DRAM, IMC and CPU are all there.
 

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PCI-E Layout and PLX Chip Functionality

PCI-E Layout and PLX Chip Functionality



As with most higher-end motherboards, the ASUS Maximus III Extreme supports a total of 40 of PCI-E lanes spread over five slots through the use of an nForce 200 chipset. The slots themselves are laid out in such a way that up to four can be populated with dual slot GPUs without any issues. However, if you want to use five cards, you will need to use one which has a single slot heatsink design.


In the chart above, you can see how the slots themselves switch between x16 mode and x8 when multiple GPUs are installed. However, even with the nForce 200 chipset, all of the slots default to x8 mode when more than three cards are installed.


The PLX chip which is installed on the Maximus is used to allow PCI-E lanes to be used for the SATA 6GB/s and USB 3.0 ports. This isn’t as good as a native solution due to latency but it is the only way to go about it until Intel adds this support to their lineup.
 

SKYMTL

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RoG Connect / Tweaking via Bluetooth

RoG Connect / Tweaking via Bluetooth



At its most basic, the ASUS RoG Connect allows you to debug and tweak your system on a laptop. With it, all of the POST codes as well as the BIOS options can be seen and adjusted via a graphical user interface which is easy to use. Since this is all done on a host computer through a hardware-level controller on the MIIIE, there are no resources used on your primary system.


ASUS has now taken this concept of off-system tweaking and monitoring to the next level with their RoG Connect Bluetooth adaptor. With it, you can now take a Windows Mobile-enabled smartphone, download a simple application and use it in the place of a laptop to connect to the MIIIE’s BIOS and monitoring options. There will also be applications available for BlackBerry, iPhone and other smartphones in the coming months.


The module which allows for this expanded capability is included with the Maximus III Extreme isn’t pre-installed on the board. It consists of a status LED and a sync button which you push to begin communication between the board and your mobile device.
 

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BIOS Flashback & Easy Update

BIOS Flashback & Easy Update



At one corner of the board is a CMOS rested button and two BIOS chips that give this board a feature roughly akin to Gigabyte’s Dual BIOS called BIOS Flashback.


Through the RoG Connect interface on a secondary PC, you are now able to recover from misflashed or corrupt BIOS by simply telling the system to recover the backup BIOS from the second BIOS chip. With this, you no longer have to worry about bricking your system when flashing the BIOS.


To further aid you when it comes to those sometimes-tricky BIOS updates, ASUS has implemented a system by which the update can happen with a minimum of user involvement. All that one has to do is place the BIOS file on a flash drive, press the corresponding Update button on the motherboard’s backplate and the system will automatically flash the BIOS. Brilliant.
 

SKYMTL

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Initial Impressions

Initial Impressions


ASUS is one of those companies that we always have great expectations for whether its an upcoming ultra high end enthusiast product or low priced motherboard. Naturally, there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to a board like the Maximus III Extreme simply due to the fact that it represents the pinnacle of ASUS’ years of experience in this market. It has features people weren’t even dreaming of a year ago and sports a layout that will have both enthusiasts and Folders chomping at the bit for a piece of the action.

If anything about this board first attracted you, it was probably the knowledge that the RoG label brings a certain pedigree to certain ASUS products. The amount of time we have spent with this board hasn’t led to expertise by any stretch of the imagination but it reads like a story of epic proportions. Granted, the BIOS isn’t what can be called mature but like any good wine, motherboards like the MIIIE need time to age before they can be truly appreciated. This also leads us to another point: even with a somewhat immature BIOS, this board has been the picture of stability throughout the limited amount of overclocking we have done so far.

From the days of the Blitz series with their innovative Crosslink interface, the Republic of Gamers boards have always pushed the limits when it comes to features and the Maximus is no different. This actually acts like a double edged sword because it is quite possible the majority of people who buy it will never use all of the MIIIE’s features. It is truly a shame to let the innovation this board has to offer go to waste but at least we can take solace in the knowledge that things like BIOS flashback and MemOK are lurking in the background, ready if ever needed.


With all that gushing out of the way, let’s talk about that 300lb gorilla sitting in the corner of the room which no one wants to mention: price. The one thing that we all have to remember is the Maximus III Extreme’s $300+ price considering it is still “only” a P55 motherboard. This will most definitely be a bitter pill to swallow for even hardened overclockers since the 1156 series of Intel processors are (in our opinion) a dead end. Basically, if you want to upgrade from an i7 1156 processor, the only way to go at this point is X58 and 1366. This will of course necessitate the purchase of a different platform altogether while your $300 motherboard gathers dust in the corner.

The Maximus III Extreme looks to be one hell of a product and even though we do have reservations about its price, we won’t pass judgement until all of the testing is done. What we covered in this article was nothing more than the tip of a massive iceberg so stay tuned for the full review in the coming weeks.
 
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