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ASUS Maximus IX Formula review: Setting the bar high for gaming motherboards

Intel unveiled its seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors late last week, introducing a new Z270 chipset as well. To tie in with the launch of the new processors, we’re now seeing a bevy of new motherboards based on the Z270 platform. Today, we’re taking a look at ASUS’ Maximus IX Formula, a high-end board targeted at gamers and overclockers.

The Maximus line has always signified exuberance, with ASUS going out of its way to include everything you’d want — and a few features most users would never use — in a bid to cater to its core audience of gamers. That’s no different in the Maximus IX Formula: the motherboard has a grey color scheme with red accents throughout, there are several software-customizable LEDs that allow you to match up the look of the board with the rest of your chassis, and you can even 3D-print accessories to attach to the board. There’s also a USB 3.1 header on the board itself, paving the way for a USB-C front connector.

Overall, there’s a lot to be excited about in the Maximus IX Formula. Before we delve in, a look at what’s new with Kaby Lake and the Z270 platform.

Kaby Lake and Z270

Kaby Lake is Intel’s first processor that breaks away from the tick-tock cycle. Instead of architectural improvements or a new process node, we’re being treated to what Intel calls the “process-architecture-optimization” model. Kaby Lake is the third generation on the 14nm cycle, and serves to fill out Intel’s product portfolio while we await the switch to the 10nm Cannonlake, due sometime next year.

Intel is touting the newer 14nm fabrication process (14FF+) as offering added gains in clock speeds, with the Core i7-7700K offering a base clock of 4.2GHz and a turbo clock of 4.5GHz, a modest increase over Skylake’s i7-6700K with a base of 4.0GHz and boost of 4.2GHz. Intel has also tweaked its algorithms to allow faster clock speed changes.

Kaby Lake uses the same LGA1151 socket as Skylake, so you can slot in a Kaby Lake processor in a Z170 board or a Skylake CPU on the newer Z270 boards. However, there are a few features that require both a Kaby Lake CPU and a Z270 board, like 4K streaming.

The Intel Graphics 630 iGPU offers 4K HEVC 10-bit encode and decode as well as VP9 decode, HDR video, and wide color gamut. Kaby Lake makes more sense on notebooks because of the 10-bit video engine. One reason you couldn’t stream 4K content on Skylake was the lack of Microsoft’s PlayReady 3.0 DRM certification. Kaby Lake is certified on account of hardware-accelerated HEVC 10-bit decode, but the downside is that you can only stream 4K using Microsoft’s Edge browser on Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

So if you’re looking to get a notebook and are interested in streaming content, then Kaby Lake is a better choice. But if you’re in the enthusiast segment and are deciding between the latest CPUs and those that are now a generation old, the choice is much less clear.

The Z270 platform also offers new features in the form of 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes, official compatibility for DDR4-2400 RAM and Intel’s Optane as-yet-unannounced storage products.

Maximus IX Formula specs

CPU

Intel Socket 1151 for 7th/6th Generation Core i7/Core i5/Core i3/Pentium/Celeron Processors

Supports Intel 14 nm CPU

Supports Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0

Chipset

Intel Z270

Memory

4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR4

4133(O.C.)/4000(O.C.)/3866(O.C.)/3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3466(O.C.)/3400(O.C.)

3333(O.C.)/3300(O.C.)/3200(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2133(O.C.) MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory

Dual Channel Memory Architecture

Supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)

Graphic

Integrated Graphics Processor

Multi-VGA output support: HDMI/DisplayPort ports

– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz

– Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2304 @ 60 Hz

Maximum shared memory of 1024 MB

Multi-GPU Support

Supports NVIDIA 2-Way SLI Technology

Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX Technology

Expansion Slots

2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16

1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16

3 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x1

Storage

Intel Z270 Chipset:

1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M key, type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices support (SATA & PCIE 3.0 x 4 mode)

1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (PCIE 3.0 x 4 mode)

6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s)

Intel Optane Memory Ready

Raid 0, 1, 5, 10

LAN

Intel I219V

Anti-surge LANGuard

ROG GameFirst Technology

Wireless Data Network

Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
Supports MU-MIMO

Audio

ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC S1220

– Impedance sense for front and rear headphone outputs
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– High quality 120 dB SNR stereo playback output and 113 dB SNR recording input
– SupremeFX Shielding Technology
– ESS® ES9023P
– Supports up to 32-Bit/192kHz playback
Audio Feature :
– Gold-plated jacks
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic Radar III
– Sonic Studio III

USB Ports

ASMedia USB 3.1 controller:

1 x USB 3.1 front panel connector port(s)

ASMedia USB 3.1 controller:

2 x USB 3.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, , Type-A + Type-C)

Intel Z270 Chipset:

6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)

Intel Z270 Chipset:

6 x USB 2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, black, 2 at mid-board)

ROG Exclusive Features

CrossChill EK (Hybrid air and liquid cooling)
ROG Armor (including top cover and SECC steel backplate)
ROG RAMCache II
ROG CloneDrive
Pre-mounted I/O Shield
MemOK! Button
CMOS button
ReTry Button
Safe Boot Button
Start Button
Reset Button
LN2 Mode
GameFirst IV
ROG Aura
– Aura Lighting Control
– Aura RGB Strip Headers
Extreme Engine Digi+ :
– MicroFine Alloy Chokes
– NexFET™ Power Block MOSFET
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
KeyBot II
– X.M.P.
– ClrCMOS
– Power On
UEFI BIOS features :
– O.C. Profile
– Tweakers’ Paradise
– ROG SSD Secure Erase
– Graphic Card Information Preview
ROG RAMDisk
Extreme Tweaker
BIOS Flashback

Special Features

ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors 5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5 :
– 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ VRM, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– MemOK!
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger
ASUS EZ DIY :
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 3
– ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
– ASUS Q-Connector
Overclocking Protection :
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)

Back I/O Ports

1 x DisplayPort

1 x HDMI

1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)

1 x USB 3.1 (black)Type-C

1 x USB 3.1 (red)Type-A

4 x USB 3.0 (blue)

4 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to USB BIOS Flashback)

1 x Optical S/PDIF out

1 x Clear CMOS button(s)

1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)

Internal I/O Ports

2 x Aura RGB Strip Headers
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
1 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (SATA mode & X4 PCIE mode)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices support (PCIE mode only)
1 x TPM connector(s)
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (3 x 4 -pin)
1 x H_AMP fan connector
1 x W_PUMP+ connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x AIO_PUMP connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x Slow Mode switch(es)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x LN2 Mode jumper(s)
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header(s)
1 x Safe Boot button
1 x ReTry button
1 x EXT_Fan header
1 x W_IN header
1 x W_OUT header
1 x W_FLOW header
1 x Thermal sensor connector
1 x Start button
1 x USB 3.1 front panel connector

BIOS

1 x 128 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI3.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 3.0, ACPI 6.0, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 3, CrashFree BIOS 3, F11 EZ Tuning Wizard, F6 Qfan Control, F3 My Favorites, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information.

Operating System

Windows 10 64-bit

Windows 8.1 64-bit

Windows 7 32-bit

Windows 7 64-bit

Form Factor

ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )

Maximus IX Formula overview

The Maximus IX Formula sports an interesting grey-on-black paint scheme, and instead of overlaying accent colors on the board itself (there’s a lot of red around the rear I/O), ASUS went with its Aura RGB LED lighting scheme.

Although the base design of the motherboard is understated, the reinforced elements make it look very chic. The PCH heatsink and the shroud over the rear I/O come with a brushed-metal look, and the reinforced design makes the board stand out. The LEDs are housed underneath the shroud and the heatsink, and the design of the board allows the light to shine through.

We’ve seen Aura lighting in the Strix 1080, and much like the video card, the lighting scheme is very well implemented here. It isn’t subtle as quite a lot of light comes through from the various seams, but it is not ostentatious either. Aura includes several effects: breathing, color cycle, strobe, rainbow, flash, comet, or always-on. You can also customize the color to your CPU’s temperature, or sync the lighting scheme to your playlist. If you’ve also got a Strix video card with Aura lighting enabled or any of ASUS’ accessories, you can have all of them display the same lighting effects.

The Maximus IX Formula has eight PWM fan headers in total, and all of them can be monitored and controlled via ASUS’ Fan Xpert 4. You also get Extreme Quiet Mode, through which you can set the CPU and chassis fans to go silent for low-power tasks. There’s a Water-Cooling Zone as well that offers two water-temperature headers and a flow-rate header, through which you can monitor your liquid-cooled setup.

SupremeFX has also been updated with a new Realtek ALC 1220 codec with an 110dB signal-to-noise ratio, an ESS Sabre ESS9023P 24-bit DAC along with a Texas Instruments RC4850 op-amp. There’s shielding over the audio circuitry to prevent signal interference and crosstalk.

Rounding off the list of features, the Maximus IX Formula utilizes an Extreme Engine Digi+ 8-phase power delivery to the CPU, along with a 2-phase delivery to the GPU and 2-phase power delivery to the memory modules. There are three PCI-E slots, with two covered by the metal shroud. You also get Wi-Fi ac connectivity, along with MU-MIMO.

Another salient addition is the introduction of USB 3.1 headers that allow for front panel USB-C connectivity. To use the feature, however, you’re going to need a cabinet that has front USB-C ports. Other connectivity options include six SATA3 ports and two M.2 ports.

Round the back, you get more USB ports than you know what to do with. There are buttons to clear the CMOS and flash the BIOS, and you get one DisplayPort, one HDMI, four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.1 Type-A port, one USB 3.1 Type-C port, Gigabit LAN, audio connectors, and S/PDIF out.

Maximus IX Formula benchmarks

Here’s the configuration of the testbed:

CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K
Motherboard: ASUS Maximus IX Formula
GPU: Zotac GTX 1080
Storage: Samsung Evo 850 250GB
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x8GB (DDR4-2133MHz)
Cooling: Noctua NH-D15
PSU: Corsair RM850

We ran a series of tests designed to test the limits of the CPU and the GPU, including synthetic benchmarks followed by real-world usage scenarios.

Cinebench R15 Single

195

Cinebench R15 Multi

972

3DMark Fire Strike Extreme

9585

3DMark 11

11089

SiSoft Sandra Arithmetic

158.78GOPS

AIDA64

22308

Handbrake 1GB 4K encode

45sec

Verdict

It’s hard to justify a Kaby Lake purchase if you’re already using Skylake. There isn’t a whole lot that has changed, but if you’re making the switch from Haswell or even Devil’s Canyon, it is a worthwhile upgrade. The Z270 motherboards, on the other hand, are much more enticing. With USB-C gaining momentum, vendors are starting to include the standard in their products.

With the Maximus IX Formula, ASUS outdoes itself with the Aura RGB LED lighting scheme, Wi-Fi ac, USB-C front panel connectors, new SupremeFX codec, and a slew of features aimed at gamers. The lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a bit of a letdown, but for its asking price of $400, there aren’t many boards that offer nearly as much. If you’re in the market for a feature-rich Z270 motherboard, the Maximus IX Formula is an excellent choice.

Harish Jonnalagadda
http://harishjonnalagadda.com
Harish Jonnalagadda is an avid reader of science-fiction novels. A long-time Arsenal fan, his other interests include gaming, basketball and making music. He also likes tinkering with hardware in his free time.

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