ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme Z170 Motherboard Review

In the past ASUS’ Maximus motherboards represented the finest motherboards you could buy within their respective form factors. The Maximus VIII Impact wasn’t perfect but it managed to achieve the same level of greatness as its predecessors. Can the Maximus VIII Extreme do the same? Read on and find out.

Introduction

ASUS is a brand that shouldn’t need much of an introduction. ASUS is almost as ubiquitous as Intel itself at this point. ASUS makes a vast array of computer related peripherals and products. These include motherboards, monitors, sound cards, laptops, smart phones, tablets, routers, wireless access points, servers, desktop systems, graphics cards, keyboards, mice and even headphones. At this point it’s nearly possible to build a machine with all ASUS parts in it save for the CPU, RAM, and storage devices. Despite the vast product diversity ASUS always remains best known for its DIY motherboards.

In today’s global economy, many manufacturers have higher tier brands that cater to a specific crowd. Honda has Acura, Ford has Lincoln, GM has Cadillac, and the list goes on. ASUS is much the same with its Republic of Gamers brand of products. These offerings represent the pinnacle of ASUS’ engineering and design prowess, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. HardOCP has worked with nearly every motherboard in the ASUS ROG lineup since Republic of Gamers was launched almost 10 years ago. While some of these motherboards weren’t necessarily the absolute best in class, these were always within a stone’s throw of the top spot. With that said we are hard pressed to come up with specific timeframes where these motherboards weren’t at least arguably the best there was in their time.

When I say "the best" I am in no way arguing the value of anything with the ROG branding on it as an awesome price / performance option. You don’t buy a Ferrari because it offers "bang for your buck." The Republic of Gamers brand is exactly the same way. You don’t buy these offerings because you are tight with your money. There have been rare instances where a specific part was a good buy if you spent just a few dollars more here and there or a sale price, or price point shift in the industry caused enough of a realignment to make ROG parts a no-brainer financially. ROG caters to a different crowd. While marketed towards the gamer and computer enthusiast, ASUS’ own metrics indicate that there are effectively two kinds of people who buy these motherboards and ROG peripherals. The first is the kind of person who wants absolute stability and reliability and will buy the "best" to have it. These individuals are the type that inspired the TUF series. The second group is the hardcore enthusiast. These are the guys who might push the hardware to the limit under water cooling or even LN2. These can be the gamer or even the hardcore bench tester who forever chases overclocking records. I think nearly everyone who buys this hardware falls somewhere between those two extremes. Even the people who, either by being misguided or by virtue of having more money than sense simply wish to buy the best to say they have the "best available" hardware fall towards the first end of the spectrum. And we like that.

Even if you don’t agree with any of that, one can’t deny that the ASUS ROG line is often what sets the bar by which other high end products are judged. We’ve tested the best and at its worst ROG is always competitive.

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The ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme is based on Intel’s Z170 Express chipset and is compatible with Intel’s LGA 1151 socket processors. PC Hound shows the motherboard selling from $469 to $499 as of today. To say that the Maximus VIII Extreme is a feature rich motherboard is putting it mildly. The Maximus VIII Extreme is built to overclock and to perform. ASUS’ Extreme Engine Digi+ system is used in conjunction with MicroFine alloy chokes, 10K black metallic capacitors and OptiMOSآ™ MOSFETs. The all-digital power design is fully compliant with Intel’s IMVP8 specifications. Naturally most people will probably use Turbo frequency adjustments for overclocking. However, if you do have the desire to use base clock adjustments in your tuning ASUS has you covered. ASUS uses an additional clock generator which ASUS calls "Pro Clock." This allows for adjustments of the base clock up to 400MHz or more depending on the configuration. ASUS’ website states that base clock frequencies up to 650MHz are possible. Frankly that’s overkill but that’s how ASUS rolls with the ROG line.

There is also support for LN2 overclocking via a dedicated LN2 mode. The included OC Panel II has some capabilities designed to aid bench overclockers in their tuning endeavors. The OC Panel II allows for monitoring of fan speeds, voltages, and clock speeds. Controls built in allow for adjustments to fan speeds, voltages, and more. The sub-zero sense feature and VGA hotwire functions allow for even greater control. Retry and safe boot buttons round out the OC panel package.

While overclocking is one of the hallmarks of the ASUS ROG line, the Maximus VIII Extreme isn’t a one trick pony. Support for the latest technologies are either built in via the chipset or through features ASUS has added. SATA Express, M.2, multi-GPU support, wireless networking, and more are all present. ASUS also has a comprehensive set of software tools and UEFI BIOS based utilities which shouldn’t be underestimated. Other hardware features like the HW Keybot are designed with gamers in mind, but may benefit nearly any one.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is unchanged this generation. It’s exactly the same as it has been for quite some time. The box looks the same as the one used with the Maximus VIII Impact, but it’s larger. Our sample arrived intact and with all the accessories accounted for. Speaking of which, the included bundle is one of the most feature rich you’ll find available today. Included in the box you will find the following accessories: User's manual, ASUS Q-Shield, 8x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1x M.2 Screw Package, 1x CPU installation tool, 1x Supporting DVD, 1x ASUS 3T3R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant), 1x Fan Extension Card (3 x 4-pin fan out), 1x Fan Extension card screw pack, 1x SLI bridge(s), 1x CrossFire cable(s), 1x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1), 3x Thermal sensor cable pack(s), 1x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s), ROG Fan Label, 1x 5-pin to 5-pin cable, 1x ROG Door Hanger(s), 1x OC Panel II, 1x OC Panel II 5.25-inch bay metal case, 1x OC Panel II Cable(s), 1x OC Panel II screw pack(s)

Board Layout

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ASUS practically invented the red and black motherboard with the ROG line. Now that virtually everyone has copied the color scheme ASUS has chosen to abandon it. The current ROG line sports a gray and black theme with sparse red accents here and there. Metal parts that are gray are almost a dark nickel type finish. These parts, such as the MOSFET coolers have a quality feel and look about them which highlights that this is a premium offering.

There are 7 onboard fan headers. All of which are 4-pin headers that can be controlled via DC or PWM modes. These can be controlled in the UEFI, requiring no additional software to use these. An included fan extension card allows for even more fans to be connected. There is also a dedicated fan header for use with water pumps. There are multiple thermal sensor probes found across the motherboard as well. This makes for a system which offers truly comprehensive fan and temperature control which can only be described as "class leading."

The board layout is quite excellent. While I have no major issues with the layout, I do have problems with some physical aspects of the motherboard design. First and foremost is the I/O shroud. The plastic shroud looks really good but it feels cheap. The reason for this is simple: It isn’t secured on the trailing edge that covers the MOSFET cooling hardware on the right hand edge of the motherboard. You can tap on it and make it rattle. In some chassis installations it might do that anyway. ASUS did a good job of screwing down the MOSFET cooling hardware and even provided a nice back plate for the south bridge. There are additional mounting back plates for the MOSFET coolers as well. The attention to detail being absent in the I/O shroud is uncharacteristic of ASUS. The only other negative I can come up with here is the location of the CMOS battery. Fortunately, replacement of these is rare enough that it shouldn’t be an issue anytime soon. If it is you will have to remove the graphics card to change it.

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The CPU socket area is clear despite seemingly close quarters. There are 13 power phases around the CPU socket. You can see the 10k rated capacitors around the socket as well. These capacitors offer 20% more temperature endurance than standard capacitors. Like many premium motherboards the Maximus VIII Extreme sports a black nickel finished CPU socket. The MOSFET cooling hardware is very securely mounted and has back plates which secure the heat sinks. The back plates ensure fairly even contact for optimal heat transfer.

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There are four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots which are color coded in an alternating black and gray configuration to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. These slots use single sided module retention tabs for easy installation and removal of RAM. The proximity of these slots is closer to the CPU socket than I would like, but this isn’t ASUS’ fault. Furthermore, these slots use ASUS’ T-Topology design. This is a design method in which equidistant trace paths are used to eliminate crosstalk and coupling noise. Time aligned signaling ensures maximum stability while overclocking your memory modules, even with four modules present.

You will also find the motherboard’s onboard controls directly in front of the RAM slots. This includes the ASUS’ MemOK, power, reset, retry, and LN2 slow mode controls. There are even some dip switches which can disable PCIe slots for configuration changes or for aiding in trouble shooting efforts. As someone who has often used two and three way multi-GPU configurations to varying degrees of success I can verify the useful nature of these switches. In an actual computer case I’ve even found this placement to be ideal for this purpose.

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The south bridge has a flat heat sink with embedded lights which can be configured in a variety of colors. It's adorned with the ASUS logo and has the same polished nickel finish of the MOSFET cooling hardware. There is a beefy steel back plate behind this which secures the heat sink and allows for optimal heat sink contact and heat transfer. Directly to the right you will find the motherboard’s M.2 slot. This slot can support M.2 devices up to 110mm in length. Dual BIOS chips rest in their sockets to the left of the M.2 slot. In front of the chipset you will find a multitude of storage connectivity options. This includes 8x SATA ports and two SATA Express ports supporting up to 4x SATA ports each. All these ports are SATA 6Gb/s capable. You will also see the U.2 slot for connecting Intel’s SSD 750 series drives. At the time of this writing there aren’t any other SSDs which use that connector.

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The motherboard has 4x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. These support configurations of x16x0, x8/x8, or x8/x4/x4. The expansion slots are ideally spaced for multi-GPU configurations. There are two additional PCIe x1 slots to use as well. Behind the expansion slots you can see the vast amount of hardware dedicated to the system’s onboard audio. These include an ESSآ® ES9023P DAC, TI RC4580 2VRMS audio OP AMPs and a de-pop relay from NEC. There are also dedicated Nichicon audio capacitors which are visible as well. As usual there is the usual Tron style light path that shows where the PCB isolation occurs.

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The I/O shield features stainless steel I/O ports and a black nickel I/O shield for corrosion resistance. ESD guards are in place to protect the motherboard from damage when using the various connectivity options presented. On the back panel you will find the BIOS flashback and clear CMOS buttons. There are 4x USB 3.1 ports, 1 of which is a Type-C port. There are only two video connectivity options for use with the onboard GPU. These include both an HDMI port and a DisplayPort connection, I doubt this will be a problem given that most people who buy this motherboard will use a discreet GPU with it. There are also four USB 3.0 ports, 1x PS/2 mouse and keyboard port, 1x optical out and 5x mini-stereo jacks. The audio jacks are color coded and support jack retasking. However, these are also gold plated for corrosion resistance and solid conductivity. Lastly a single RJ-45 port is used for wired network connections while three antenna jack plugs are provided for the built in wireless.