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ASUS RoG Maximus III Formula Lynnfield Motherboard Preview

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SKYMTL

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ASUS RoG Maximus III Formula Lynnfield Motherboard Preview




Rumor has it that the official release of Intel’s new Lynnfield processors is right around the corner and from consumers to motherboard makers, everyone is eager to be part of the action. As it stands, we have been previewing Lynnfield-supporting P55 motherboards for some time now and manufacturers just keep on announcing more. Come the officially launch date, the selection of available motherboards will be the most complete we have ever seen; with pricing from around $100 to above $200 and everywhere in between. What surprises us the most is that nearly every motherboard manufacturer will be releasing their high-performance enthusiast boards right alongside their mainstream products on launch date. This will give the consumer an unparalleled selection from the very outset of the Lynnfield release.

ASUS has always been at the forefront of motherboard innovation and their track record certainly speaks for itself. While they are just as well known for affordable solutions, their high-end Republic of Gamers (RoG) series of enthusiast boards have been making waves in the industry since the first one was released. Basically, these RoG boards are designed to be the best of the best in their respective categories and will more often than not carry with them an eye-watering price point.

In today’s preview we will be taking a quick look at the newest board to be graced with the RoG name: the Maximus III Formula. When it came to designing this board, ASUS took many of the lessons learned with the successful X58-based Rampage II series and improved upon a number of aspects. Not only is the P55 / Lynnfield combination quite different technology-wise from the X58 / Bloomfield pairing but ASUS has added some BIOS refinements and unique features to this board as well. Somewhat surprisingly though, the Maximus doesn’t include an nForce 200 chipset for some triple GPU action. Maybe we’ll see an Extreme version somewhere down the line?

As is becoming a usual occurrence with these previews, we aren’t able to show you any performance numbers or BIOS screenshots. With this board however, we are even more limited with what we can show you as there are a number of things that ASUS wants to keep under wraps until it is ready to officially launch it.

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SKYMTL

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Nvidia's Play Versus the Dragon

Nvidia's Play Versus the Dragon


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We have been hearing a lot about ATI and AMD's partnership with their Dragon platform, Nvidia hasn't been standing still. They figure that with the proper implementation, their GPUs coupled with a Lynnfield CPU and a P55 chipset-equipped motherboard will offer a price / performance ratio far above that of anything AMD / ATI can offer at this point. Nvidia calls it "The Power of 3".

This may seem like a bit of an idle boast but they have been making some massive inroads with SLI licensing for nearly all of their premier P55 board manufacturers. Indeed, nearly every single performance-oriented P55 board we have seen so far has included an SLI bridge.

However, there is more to Nvidia's claim than SLI.

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Nvidia has implemented a new "PhysX Ready" certification code for certain motherboards that come properly equipped and ready to install a dedicated PhysX slot. I know many of you have been wondering what the use of that PCI-E x4 slot is on most of the P55 boards we have been seeing to date and now you know why: this is a dedicated slot needed for Nvidia's PhysX certification. You can run any card above a 9600 GT (they recommend using at least a 9800GT) in this slot for additional physics processing power.

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With the additional "PhysX slot" showing up on countless well-priced motherboards and they prices of compatible graphics cards coming down in price physics processing can become a reality for even more gamers now. It should also be noted that this setup will provide additional performance in the Windows 7 environment through the DirectX Compute and Open CL code paths.

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Another boon for Nvidia is the fact that many affordable P55 motherboards will be shipping with dual x8 PCI-E support so enabling SLI on sub-$200 boards can become a reality. The addition of an nForce 200 chip can conceivably expand the GPU complement to encompass Tri-SLI as well.

By now you should all know that PhysX is here to stay and considering the list of games which will be released in the coming months with PhysX support, we can't see why you would want to turn a blind eye at this point. In addition, Windows 7 is about to usher in a whole new realm of possibilities when it comes to using your graphics card for parallel computing tasks and whether ATI fans want to admit it or not; Nvidia is at the forefront of GPU Compute technologies.

The Lynnfield platform has a real possibility to make Nvidia's "Power of 3" a household name but whether consumers embrace this trifecta has yet to be seen.
 

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A Quick Look at ROG Connect

A Quick Look at ROG Connect


Considering the Maximus III Formula is one of the most feature-rich motherboards we have come across in a long time, listing all of it features in a short preview is next to impossible. Instead, we have decided to focus on one technology in particular that caught our attention: ROG Connect.

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RoG Connect basically gives you the ability to tweak settings on your motherboard from an external device like a laptop or netbook which is connected to the motherboard by a USB cable. This means that any resource-eating overclocking software is being used by the connected device rather than running on system being benchmarked. Theoretically, this could lead to higher scores in some benchmarks.

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Sorry about the modifications to the image above but we are not allowed to show the processor information at this time.

The software which is loaded onto the laptop / netbook allows you to modify nearly every setting contained in the BIOS. In addition, there are also sections for temperature monitoring, fan speed settings and an area where you can save your favourite setting combinations for future use. The idea is to get the maximum amount of information to the overclocker while not taking up resources on the test system.

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This is made possible through the use of ASUS’ unique iROG chip that allows all of the settings to be implemented on a hardware level without extensive software interference. We have all heard the usual line of “don’t use software to overclock your CPU and memory” but with the iROG working within the system, software overclocking issues could be made a thing of the past.
 

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The Maximus III Formula: A Whirlwind Tour

The Maximus III Formula: A Whirlwind Tour


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All recent RoG boards have been packaged in red boxes and the Maximus III is no different. The front features the different certification logos while the back shows us some of the features that the board has. There is also a flip-cover in the front which opens to reveal a view of the motherboard and is used to list yet more features.

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The accessory list is without a doubt complete. We won’t go into everything that’s included but let’s just say for now that you won’t be left wanting for anything.

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Click on Image to Enlarge

The first thing you will probably notice about the Maximus III Formula is the striking black and red color scheme ASUS has used. This really plays up certain parts of the board and goes to show how much emphasis ASUS is putting onto aesthetics that properly reflect performance potential. Layout-wise, things couldn’t look better with near-perfect spacing of the PCI-E slots along with the CPU and ATX power connectors being pushed to the extreme edges of the board. It should also be noted that the Maximus sticks to the standard ATX form factor.

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The area immediately around the CPU socket holds the 16+3 phase (16 phases for the CPU + 3 phases for the VTT) Extreme Power Design as ASUS calls it. While the use of 16 phases for a Lynnfield processor will be questioned by many, we can’t really comment on it efficacy just yet.

The MOSFET heatsinks surrounding the CPU area are specifically designed to be of the perfect height to accommodate any cooling solution currently on the market. They are remarkably thin and are aided by a large heatpipe that runs to an additional heatsink which is positioned over the area where one would normally find a northbridge chip.
 
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SKYMTL

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The Maximus III Formula: A Whirlwind Tour pg.2

The Maximus III Formula: A Whirlwind Tour



Continuing our tour around the board, we come to the DDR3 memory slots which are color coded in black and red. Power is provided by a robust 3 phase design. We can also see that there are a pair of oddly placed white SATA connectors which are used for SATA ODD devices.

Next to the memory slots is what ASUS calls their GO Button. This button along with its accompanying red LED allows you to quickly diagnose and recover from memory errors (when overclocking or otherwise) by loading a preset, known-good MemOK! profile. This should make unrecoverable memory crashes a thing of the past.

ASUS has also included voltage read points near the main ATX connector. They allow you to take on-the-fly voltages with a multimeter for the CPU PLL, PCH, Memory, IMC and the CPU.

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The heatsink over the PCH has a pretty large footprint but like the ones around the CPU socket, it is extremely short when compared to the giants we have seen on past X58 and P45 boards. Since the P55 PCH doesn’t produce much heat, its numerous fins and orientation in relation to in-case airflow should make it more than sufficient.

At the edge of the board there are a total of six additional right-angle SATA 3.0Gb/s connectors which run directly off of the P55 chipset. This may not seem like many for those of you with huge RAID arrays but there are some additional features of this board which will help in this respect.

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The bottom edge of the Maximus III Formula holds a ton of goodies. To the far right there are the usual front-panel input connectors as well as a removable 16MB AMI BIOS chip but one of the more interesting features centers around those two mysteriously-placed SATA connectors. ASUS has specifically set these up for hardware RAID support for two connected HDDs. Basically, plugging a hard drive into each of the two connectors allows you the ability to quickly build a RAID array during either the POST message by pressing F10, through the usual BIOS menus or through a provided Windows application. This can all be done without the sometimes-clunky RAID drivers some manufacturers use.

Further along the bottom axis, there is the usual Firewire connector as well as a pair of fan headers and additional USB connectors. However, what really attracted our attention was the huge red Start button along with a conveniently-placed Reset button. These buttons are specifically targeted towards enthusiasts who want to use their system on an open test bench instead of within a case.
 

SKYMTL

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The Maximus III Formula: A Whirlwind Tour pg.3

The Maximus III Formula: A Whirlwind Tour cont.


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As we already mentioned, the expansion slots on this board are perfectly placed with more than adequate space allotted for any dual slot GPUs you may have. Starting at the top, there is a PC1-E x1 slot which is dedicated for the SupremeFX audio add-in card that comes with the Maximus III. Below this we have the two PCI-E x16 slots which are color coded in red and are separated by another PCI-E x1 slot and a legacy PCI slot. When two cards are used, these two PCI-E x16 slots will run at x8 speeds due to the limited number of PCI-E lanes available from the controller on the CPU.

At the bottom of the board is another PCI slot and a PCI-E 1.0 x4 slot that can be used for a dedicated Nvidia PhysX card as we detailed in a previous section.

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The Maximus III Formula includes an incredible 8 fan headers for all of you who run multiple fans in your system. All of the headers are of the 4-pin variety so if you use compatible fans, you will be able to have complete control over the rotational speed of the fans.

It should be noted that ASUS has not stated the maximum output of these fan headers and there is a good chance if you attach a number of high powered fans, the board will not be able to supply enough power to run them.

Above the lowermost connector in the picture above, you can also see one of the three thermal sensor connectors located throughout the board.

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Our final stop in this whirlwind tour of the ASUS Maximus III Formula is the backplate. There are a total of nine USB 2.0 ports with one being dedicated to the RoG Connect interface along with lone Firewire and eSATA ports. The almost-defunct PS/2 keyboard connector makes a comeback since enthusiasts often find issues with using the USB ports while troubleshooting an unstable overclock. There is also a single LAN connector as well as illuminated buttons for clearing the CMOS and the RoG Connect activation. Conspicuously missing is any type of audio connectors but this is due to the fact that they reside on the dedicated SupremeFX X-Fi audio card.


That concludes our tour of the ASUS Maximus III Formula and we hope it covered as much as possible for an article which was constrained by NDAs. In the coming weeks we hope to give you a full review of this board and all of the features it has to offer.


 
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