Maximus V Extreme Z77 Motherboard Review

The Maximus V Extreme falls in line with ASUS' latest design philosophies and succeeds the older Maximus IV Extreme which was introduced during the P67 Express chipset days when the Core i7 2600K was the top end LGA1155 CPU. The last iteration of the Maximus was an absolutely incredible motherboard and like all ROG boards has big shoes to fill.

Introduction

ASUS is probably the most well known motherboard manufacturer on Earth and it's certainly one of the largest. Its products include motherboards, graphics cards, cases, monitors, laptops, tablets, wireless access points and more. Naturally we see more ASUS motherboards than anything else and motherboards are what ASUS is best known for despite its product diversification over the last decade or so. ASUS like any other motherboard maker has products in multiple price points. It has even split up product lines to cover different segments such as the TUF series and Republic of Gamers brand. The ROG brand as it's generally referred to is its highest end product segment.

In that segment ROG boards typically follow a naming convention which tells you where the offering sits in the lineup. This naming convention consists of "Formula", "Extreme," or "Gene" motherboards. Formula boards tend to have slightly leaner feature sets but are by no means stripped down. The "Extreme" motherboards have features on par with virtually anything on the market and excel where performance is concerned. "Gene" boards are mATX power houses for smaller form factor builds. All ROG boards are designed for performance first and foremost. To accomplish that feat the motherboard is designed for overclocking and stability, and thus a large toolset for overclocking.

The board we are evaluating today is the fifth generation "Maximus" board and is the "Extreme" version. The Maximus V Extreme falls in line with ASUS' latest design philosophies and succeeds the older Maximus IV Extreme which was introduced during the P67 Express chipset days when the Core i7 2600K was the top end Intel LGA1155 CPU. The last iteration of the Maximus was an absolutely incredible motherboard so the Maximus V Extreme has big shoes to fill.

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The ASUS Maximus V Extreme is the kind of motherboard that gets the enthusiast's blood pumping. ROG boards are the no holds barred sort of solution which doesn't really try and make accountants happy. It's a flagship product and getting to work with the best in a product line is always a lot of fun. No compromises just performance and features.

The Maximus V Extreme is based on the Intel Z77 Express chipset and naturally supports all that this chipset has to offer and more. It supports the latest LGA1155 CPUs, Intel's Smart Connect and Rapid Start technologies, 3 and 4-Way SLI and CrossFire support, up to 32GB of DDR3 RAM (up to 2800MHz through overclocking), 3 SATA 3G ports, 6 SATA 6G ports (two via the Z77 and 4 via ASM1061 controllers), onboard graphics, Gigabit Ethernet, 8x USB 2.0 ports and 8 USB 3.0 ports, Wireless 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0+HS/4.0, mSATA support, mPCIe support, and even Thunderbolt connectivity which includes video support over Thunderbolt and the capability to daisy chain up to six devices.

Among the features also supported by the Maximus V Extreme is a large toolbox of overclocking and performance oriented features. This includes but is not limited to the Sub-Zero sense function for liquid nitrogen cooling, ROG connect, Extreme Engine Digi+ II, VGA Hotwire, ProbeIt, and the OC Key. ROG Connect allows for the remote monitoring and overclocking of the system via another machine. The VGA Hotwire function allows voltage control over graphics cards. Either via hotwire cable or natively on ASUS ROG and DCII cards. The Extreme Engine DIGI+ II is a fancy word for digital PWM controls. The ProbeIt feature is an oldie but a goodie. It allows the monitoring of voltages via a volt-meter so you can sample readings direct from hardware rather than via software applications or via the UEFI. ASUS didn't stop there. In the construction of the Maximus V Extreme ASUS has switched to Japanese Black Metallic Capacitors. These are Nichicon GT-Series and supposedly offer up to 20% lower temperatures and five times the longevity over other capacitors.

LN2 mode overclocking of course is the ultimate solution for record breaking overclocks and the ROG boards are designed with this in mind. BIOS settings and sub-zero sense help with this. Additionally the board supports voltages and settings which wouldn't ever be possible without LN2 cooling. The OC key is a feature I don't talk about a lot but essentially it's an in-line adapter which creates an OSD on your DVI based monitor so that you get feedback while you tune via the onboard buttons, through software, etc. It provides monitoring data which is updated in real time. The OC Key is even upgradable via firmware so we could see more functionality down the line. Bluetooth connectivity options and even tuning through a tablet or smart phone is possible. You can also use them as a remote control device.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The ASUS Maximus V Extreme ships in the usual Republic of Gamers packaging. The box features the standard red and black color scheme and features a flap with information about the board and a window in the box which allows you to see the board inside. As usual for ROG boards the box is packed full of accessories including: I/O Shield, 2x SATA 3Gb/s cables, 6x SATA 6Gb/s cables, 3-Way SLI bridge, 4-Way SLI bridge, SLI bridge, CrossFire cable, 1x Q-connector (2 in 1), 1x 2-port USB 2.0 and eSATA module, ROG Connect cable, ProbeIt cable set, 12 in 1 ROG Cable Labels, mPCIe Combo card with dual band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n module + Bluetooth v4.0/3.0+HS module, 2-in-1 RF Cable, 2x Wi-Fi Ring Moving Antenna(s), OC Key, and an OC Key cable.

Board Layout

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The layout of the Maximus V Extreme is spectacular. This is especially true given the sheer amount of stuff packed onto the PCB. There are no serious problem areas I can think of. The board boasts an impressive 8 fan headers which are all four pin and three pin capable. All onboard controls ports, and slots are well placed. The CMOS battery has about the smartest placement I've seen on any modern board to date. It's nowhere near the expansion slots which is a good thing. It's where you should always be able to reach it. This is interesting as the actual BIOS chips are quite far away from each on the PCB. These things are usually fairly close to one another, but this outlines the thinking that went into the PCB design in order to get everything else right.

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The CPU socket area is as clear of obstructions as it can be. Due to technical issues regarding signal integrity the DIMM slots have to be a certain distance to the CPU where the memory controller resides. So there isn't much that can be done about that. This can cause some issues with regard to larger air coolers but low-profile DIMMs and all in one water cooling units make this an avoidable issue as these are prevalent in today's do it yourself PCs.

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There are four color coded DIMM slots. The color coding denotes proper dual channel memory mode operation. These are the single sided locking variety that ASUS likes to use. As you can see this was necessary with the Maximus V Extreme as the primary PCI-Express x16 slot and memory slots would have clearance issues with older style DIMM slots. Nearby you'll find the onboard power and reset controls, MemOK button, and ProbeIt monitoring points.

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The Z77 Express chipset is found directly in front of the vast array of expansion slots. It is cooled by a heat pipe based cooling plate which has a low profile which eliminates clearance concerns with the expansion slots. Directly in front of the chipset are the board's SATA ports and Subzero Sense connectors.

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The expansion slot area is well thought out. There are no legacy slots which is always nice from my perspective. The primary PCIe slot doesn't have any slots directly below it. Typically you'll see a shared slot here on many boards which usually gets blocked as GPUs with dual slot cooling solutions are more common than ever. There are a couple of other slots that can be blocked by other cards but that's to be expected due to form factor.

ASUS did some interesting things with the PCIe configuration of the Maximus V Extreme. Many high end boards use PLX chips to multiplex the PCIe lane configuration for multi-GPU solutions. The end result is automated PCIe lane switching for dynamic lane allocation. In a switchless setup the PCI-Express slots are limited to whatever these are hard wired with. The chipset itself only provides a limited amount of PCIe lanes. Thus the switching chip not only multiplexes these but can allow for slots to allocate bandwidth as needed. So a slot can have all 16x lanes if there is nothing else using them or 8x8 configurations, 8x8x4, etc.

In essence a PLX doesn't really add lanes. It multiplexes them so that all installed devices get the same or nearly the same bandwidth. It still all must go over the x16 lanes between it and the CPU. The Z77 Express chipset is limited to two graphics devices at 8x8 or a single at x16. Unfortunately when a PLX chip is used it gives you more flexible configuration options but creates additional latency. To deal with this ASUS has built the Maximus V Extreme to allow for the bypassing of the PLX chip so that you can use a single graphics card, or even two of them in a native 8x8 configuration and not take the latency penalty the PLX introduces. If you are using three or four GPUs this latency penalty is worth the trade off as you couldn't get the added performance without it. But if you are using one or two GPUs there is no sense in taking a latency penalty and reduced performance vs. a system based on a board that doesn't have a PLX chip. The performance difference isn't huge mind you but the devil is in the details. And people who buy boards like this want to eliminate any performance penalties and take all they can get.

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The I/O panel is packed full with stuff. We've got a PS/2 keyboard mouse combination port, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 4 USB 2.0 ports (1 reserved for ROG connect), RJ-45 port, DisplayPort, mini-displayport / Thunderbolt port, HDMI port, ROG Connect button, BIOS Flashback button, mPCI combo slot, 1 optical output and finally 5 mini-stereo jacks for audio output.