Asus Maximus III Formula: the Most "Complex" LGA1156 Mainboard

The board we are going to talk about is based on Intel P55 Express chipset and belongs to “Republic of Gamers” series. Are you sure that it will be easy to work with? Let’s find out from our new detailed review! Review updated.

by Doors4ever
12/31/2009 | 09:37 AM

Mainboard makers have welcomed the arrival of LGA1156 platform with great enthusiasm. If even Intel offers four mainboard models based on Intel P55 Express chipset, then what can we say about Asus and Gigabyte who have at least a dozen different mainboard modifications even for flagship chipsets like Intel X58 Express. However, looks like we have been not quite fair towards Asus this time. So far we have already reviewed two mainboards from Gigabyte – GA-P55-UD6 and GA-P55-UD3R – and at least two more Gigabyte mainboards are awaiting their turn to be reviewed. But there was only one Asus mainboard, which we introduced to you in our article called “Guide: Lynnfield Overclocking on Asus P7P55D Deluxe Mainboard”. We intend to fix that omission and would like to offer you a review of an extraordinary mainboard from Asus – Maximus III Formula, which belongs to the “Republic of Gamers” (RoG) series.

 

Package and Accessories

Don’t be discouraged by the rough image of a thick and awkward looking Asus Maximus III Formula box on the previous photo. In reality the box is fine and stylish.

Although the box is not that thick at all, it doesn’t mean that it is poorly made or contains very few accessories. The front of the box has a flip-cover. If you open it you will see a large window that reveals almost the entire mainboard inside. It is additionally protected with a thick cardboard casing. All accessories are neatly packed into an individual multi-sectional box. The list of included accessories is unusually long and far beyond ordinary:

PCB Design and Functionality

You will absolutely love the attractive combination of black, red and white colors that is why the looks of Asus Maximus III Formula make a spot-on unforgettable impression. The board looks very beautiful, I would even say holiday-beautiful:

Intel P55 Express chip doesn’t heat up too much during work that is why we expressed our serious concerns about the justification for bulky and unnecessarily complex chipset cooling systems in many of our LGA1156 mainboard reviews. They look absolutely silly, because they are not really necessary and serve only eye-catching purposes. Formally, the cooling solution on Asus Maximus III Formula has everything we have been so annoyed with before: it not only uses the heatpipes but also has an “extra” central heatsink. However, the developers won’t hear any complaints from us this time. On the contrary, we have to give them due credit for their work.

First, I have to say a few words about Intel P55 Express heatsink. It is not too tall, so it won’t interfere with any of the expansion cards, but it is large enough to serve its cooling purpose properly. There are no useless heatpipes leading to it, so there is nothing to complain about. As for the remaining two heatsinks over the processor voltage regulator components, just look how short they are – they are just a little taller than the capacitors next to them, or PCI Express slots, for instance. They look almost decorative!

In fact, Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard could possibly work just fine even without them, but you have to agree that without these heatsinks it will look a little too naked for our taste, which is unacceptable for a mainboard with its status. However, these heatsinks are not there just to please your eye: they do heat up during work and dissipate this heat, so maybe they could use some help from an additional heatsink? This heatsink is also pretty low-profile that is why none of them will actually interfere with the installation or removal of any CPU coolers or graphics accelerators. However, additional heat dissipating surface will not only improve the cooling, but will also provide a great spot for highlighted “Republic of Gamers” series logo. I have to admit that Asus engineers accomplished something practically impossible having combined mutually excluding features: they created very convenient cooling system with high efficiency, stylish looks and without any annoying features despite the use of heatpipes and an additional heatsink.

Six Serial ATA ports are provided by Asus Maximus III Formula chipset, while the additional ones are implemented via JMicron JMB363 controllers, although we were a little surprised with the choice of these particular microchips. Besides two Serial ATA lines, these controllers also support PATA ports, but they are not utilized in any way.  One JMicron JMB363 controller delivers two SATA ports with white connectors. The other controller has one line split into two with JMicron JMB322 (red SATA connectors), and the other line is laid out as eSATA on the back panel. By the way, you should pay special attention to the connectors layout on the back panel, as it also looks pretty unusual.

First we see a stack with one PS/2 keyboard connector and two USB ports. There is a glowing Clear CMOS button and another two USB ports next to it. The next stack contains two USB ports, an eSATA and an IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented through VIA VT6308P controller. The second IEEE1394 port is available as an onboard pin-connector. Next come two more USB and a LAN port (the network adapter is built with a Gigabit Realtek RTL8110SC controller). There is one more separate USB port next to the “ROG Connect” button. It works like a regular USB port, but if you press this button and use the enclosed cable and software, you can use this port to connect two computer systems together. We are going to dwell on “ROG Connect” and other Asus brand name technologies in a separate chapter of our review. The discrete SupremeFX X-Fi sound card carries the complete set of audio connectors. Moreover, there is an additional bracket with two USB and one eSATA port included with the board.

So, the back panel of Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard contains nine USB ports and another five are available as onboard pin-connectors. The last USB port of the fourteen provided by Intel P55 Express chipset is located next to the GP Connector marked as “13” on the layout scheme below. This connector is used for Asus OC Station panel selling separately and the single USB port can serve to communicate with it.

We haven’t yet mentioned a bunch of small pleasing trifles that make working with this mainboard a lot easier. For example, they have very convenient wide retention latches on graphics card connectors and unique memory DIMM slot design with latches only on one side.  You can connect up to eight fans to Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard and all fan connectors are four-pin ones. There are special connectors for thermal diodes right next to three of them. We also found ProbeIt contact spots 9although it took us some time, since there was no mention of them anywhere in the manual), which can be used for manual monitoring of the most important voltages.

Overall, Asus Maximus III Formula is very well designed and boasts a significant list of features and functions, which are more numerous than they normally would be on a board like that. You can clearly see it from a pretty long specification summary chart:

BIOS Setup

We do not usually have any serious issues with the BIOS of Asus mainboards, and those comments that we make have mostly to do with the convenience of use rather than functionality, which is always on an extremely high level. Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard belongs to the “Republic of Gamers” series that is why it is assumed that its owner will be paying special attention to system performance right from the start. Therefore, it is quite logical that the first section we see on entering the BIOS is not the standard but not very interesting “Main” section, but an enormous section called “Extreme Tweaker” containing almost all the settings affecting the system performance.

In fact, the screenshot above doesn’t show the entire section. Once you give up fully automatic parameters setup and set “Ai Overclock Tuner” to Manual, you get access to previously hidden options for adjusting base clock, PCI Express bus frequency and memory frequency.

It is very convenient that “Republic of Gamers” mainboards duplicate the processor settings page inside the “Extreme Tweaker” section. As we will see later on, “CPU Configuration” sub-section didn’t leave the “Advanced” section, but nevertheless it is good to also have it here. Unfortunately, this is not the case with mainstream Asus mainboards.

Memory timings have been also singled out into a separate page. There are a lot of them in this list, special information strings indicate their current values; however, it is very inconvenient to determine which value corresponds to which parameter.

The next group of settings we see is connected with voltage adjustment. “Extreme OV” parameter will allow you to push voltage maximums further back. The intervals for air cooling are quite sufficient right from the start, but they may be not enough for more extreme cooling systems. “LN2 Mode” parameter will help overcome startup problems in case of extremely low temperatures. You can also avoid processor Vcore drop under serious operational load here. You can set the voltage to a certain fixed value, or simply add the desired voltage increment to the nominal value: in this case Intel processor power-saving technologies will continue working. Informational parameters will display the current voltages and temperatures.

However, the way all the values are listed in a single line makes it difficult to work with them. It will take you some time to figure out that the current “IMC Voltage” is not the closest value of 1.058 V, but 1.118 V, which is listed way higher up. This is what makes regular Asus mainboards much more convenient than the “Republic of Gamers” solutions. For example, this is what this section looks like by Asus P7P55D Deluxe mainboard:

Although the current values are not listed in a columned form next to the corresponding parameters, they are fairly close, and most importantly, they are all marked. It is really hard to get confused if you are being told exactly that this is “Current CPU Core Voltage” or “Current IMC Voltage” instead of the neutral “Current Voltage”, like we see on Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard.

It is very interesting that in the very end of the “Extreme Tweaker” section there is a duplicate of the “O.C. Profile” sub-section that allows saving and loading up to eight complete BIOS settings profiles.

We have already seen this feature by ASRock P55 Deluxe mainboard, but it was severely criticized back then. It is formally very convenient to save the settings profile once all the adjustments have been made inside this section. However, we are going to come across a lot of other BIOS section where we will also need to make certain changes, so we will have to go back and resave the settings profile afterwards. And if you need to load one of the previously saved settings profiles, you will have to go to the very end of the fairly long section to find the necessary option. Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard doesn’t have these issues, because “O.C. Profile sub-section didn’t go anywhere from the “Tools” section. It is simply duplicated inside the “Extreme Tweaker” section, so you can use the one that is more convenient for you at the time.

Now let’s go over to “Advanced” section that contains a number of new and very interesting sub-sections.

Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard has quite many LEDs onboard. There are glowing buttons, shimmering “Republic of gamers” logo on the central heatsink, tri-color “Voltiminder LED” indicators reporting the current CPU, memory and chipset voltages. It is very nice that the BISO contains a special “LED Control” sub-section, where you can manage all these LEDs. You can disable them completely or partially to your own liking.

“ROG Connect” sub-section allows you to prohibit the connection to another computer system. It also allows you to choose the way boot-up status is displayed: in text or POST-code form. “iROG Configuration” sub-section will allow to monitor the current and total system operation time.

“Power” section also has one new parameter – “EuP Ready”. According to existing standards, systems in standby mode consume less power. With this function enabled, LEDs will only light up when the board is working and will turn off when it goes into standby.

As for us, the most interesting part of the “Power” section is “Hardware Monitor”. In my opinion, it is not very convenient that the parameters inside this sub-section are split into multiple pages.

There are current voltages on one page:

Temperatures on another page:

You can find fan rotation speeds and rotation speed adjustment modes also on individual pages:

Now let’s go over to “Tools” section, where we find a couple of innovations as well.

“Speeding HDD Configuration” sub-section turned out to be a renamed “Drive Xpert Configuration”. It allows configuring the drives connected to red SATA ports for work in RAID modes without scaring off an inexperienced user by the term “RAID”.

We have already discussed the functionality of the “O.C. Profile” sub-section. Here I would only like to remind you that there is also a built-in utility with the same name that will help save profiles on external storage devices and then load the necessary profiles from them.

This utility looks very similar to “EZ Flash 2” program, which allows you to quickly and easily update the BIOS version. However, the first thing we see is the new “Go Button File” sub-section. On Asus Maximus III Formula “Go Button” button is located a little below the 24-pin power connector. It serves two different purposes. If you press it before passing the startup POST procedure, it will enable “MemOK!” function that should eliminate startup memory problems. If you press this button after the system has booted, the board will load overclocking settings from the “Go Button File” sub-section.

To find out the mainboards potential, we usually overclock processors by raising their Vcore. To check out “Go Button” feature we decided to resort to a mild overclocking technique without raising the CPU Vcore. Intel Core i7-860 CPU we use for our overclocking experiments can work at up to 152-154 MHz base clock without any core voltage increase. Just to play safe we set the base clock to 150 MHz.

True, right after the OS has booted, we pressed the “Go Button” and the board initially working in nominal mode increased its base clock to 150 MHz. Of course, all frequencies connected with the base clock, such as memory frequency, for instance, also increased. That is why we  increased the memory voltage in advance. Yes, everything seemed to be working and this mode will remain enabled even if you reboot the system: you have to press “Go Button” one more time in order to go back to the initial settings. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to overclocking without CPU Vcore increase, so this “overclocking by necessity” could be very handy if the button were somewhat easier to reach. It would be great to have a remote control, like “TurboV Remote” enclosed with Asus P7P55D Deluxe, for example. It is very inconvenient to open up the system case every time you need to use the “Go Button”.

“MemPerfect” is another new sub-section, which functionality will help you test the system memory. We are going to talk more about this function in the chapter of our review devoted to Asus brand name utilities and technologies.

Overall, the BIOS functionality of Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard leaves a remarkable impression. It is on an extremely high level, all the overclocking and configuring options are there together with a bunch of new features and functions. There are still a few comments we made about the convenience of use and the detailed description of the new functions could come in very handy. It will become especially obvious when we get to work with Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard.

Testbed Configuration

We performed all our experiments on the following test platform:

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 9.1.1.1019, ATI Catalyst 9.9 graphics card driver.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

While you hold a mainboard in your hands everything looks perfect. But often things start to change once it is installed into a testbed. And unfortunately, Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard is not a lucky exception. We have experienced all sorts of incidents. For example, there was one time when our USB keyboard got disabled in the BIOS when the board was working in nominal mode. The board didn’t hang, we could see the voltages changing, but it wouldn’t respond to any keystrokes. During overclocking experiments the board usually displayed POST status correctly. We didn’t have to use Clear CMOS jumper or button even once, the board would always restart in safe mode on its own and then stop and offer us to load the default settings or correct the existing ones. However, after the next restart all BIOS settings got reset. Of course, this particular configuration hasn’t been yet saved, so I had to reconfigure everything manually again.

We also didn’t avoid a well-known problem of many Asus mainboards connected with the adjustment of the CPU cooling fan rotation speed. If you enable it, the board will lower the fan rotation speed right away and will immediately get scared of its own actions.

To make sure that the board doesn’t stop and display this warning on every boot-up, you should disable processor fan rotation speed monitoring in the BIOS. I am sure they could have made this routine procedure automatic years ago.

However, these are just isolated incidents that can be easily overcome. And one of the biggest issues with Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard was the fact that every time after a “cold” start it recognized a new processor.

It is yet another typical issue of Asus boards, which we have heard about multiple times, but encountered in our own lab for the first time. The issue is not with overclocking, because we got this message even in nominal mode, and not with the battery, because all BIOS settings remain in place. All you need to do is access the BIOS, press F10 key and you can continue working, but it is very annoying to have to make all these extra steps every time we start the mainboard after powering the system off completely.

We experienced some issues during overclocking, too. However, I have to remind you that we have already discussed the basics, terminology and approximate overclocking algorithms in our earlier article called “Guide: Lynnfield Overclocking on Asus P7P55D Deluxe Mainboard”. Of course, we mostly focused on Asus mainboard and Intel Core i7-860 processor, but the basic overclocking principles typical of LGA1156 platform are the same on every mainboard and you will easily find the corresponding equivalents among the parameters of your mainboard and CPU.

At first Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard couldn’t work stably at 210 MHz base clock and we had to stop at 205 MHz. this is no big difference and we don’t really need such high frequencies to overclock our Intel Core i7-860 CPU to its maximum. However, we faced another problem here. So far only Asus and Gigabyte mainboards could easily overclock a CPU to 3.95 MHz, while all others stopped at 3.9 GHz. Unfortunately, Asus Maximus III Formula dropped out of this elite group and also stopped after we hit 177 MHz base clock.

Here I have to make one small but very important remark. When we say that some mainboard didn’t reach 210 MHz base clock or couldn’t overclock our processor to 3.95 GHz, it doesn’t at all mean that this mainboard is incapable of doing it. maybe a different mainboard of the same model will do it, maybe even this mainboard can work at the desired frequencies provided that you are patient and persistent enough. We definitely want to succeed, but unfortunately, we don’t have unlimited time to devote to resolving this matter. And that is the primary difference between certain mainboards: some cope with their tasks fairly easily and others cannot accomplish anything within a reasonable time interval.

However, far not every user will spend days trying to find the optimal overclocking settings. That is why Asus Maximus III Formula BIOS offers such options as “CPU Level Up” and “Memory Level Up”, which will allow you to easily increase the CPU and memory clock to one of the preset values. For example, our Intel Core i7-860 processor can be overclocked to 2.94, 3.06 or 3.36 GHz by raising the base clock to 140, 146 or 160 MHz respectively, provided the voltages are increased accordingly.

It is really quick and easy, but the board cannot possibly know what your particular processor or memory modules are capable of. It doesn’t know how efficient the cooling system is. That is why it sets some average frequencies and voltages, but not necessarily the optimal ones, which will provide operational working conditions. If for some reason you don’t dare overclock on your own, I would recommend using OC Tuner Utility – a new tool for automatic overclocking, which we have first seen by Asus P7P55D Deluxe. In this case the board will keep rebooting slightly increasing the base clock each time. As soon as it starts detecting errors, it will roll a little back from the latest setting to avoid them later on.

Of course, this is still a pretty primitive approach to overclocking, but it barely requires any user participation, is performed automatically and adjusts for the current configuration. But be careful, it turns out that only when you select “Good Performance” or “Better Performance” for “OC Tuner Limit Value” parameter on Asus Maximus III Formula board, the board searches for frequencies and tries to adjust overclocking for the capabilities of specific processor and its cooling system. But if you select “Turbo Profile”, the system will overclock in a preset mode, just like in case of “CPU Level Up”. The only difference from “CPU Level Up” is that the base frequency increases even higher, the memory frequency is lowered more and at the same time the processor clock frequency multiplier gets lowered, too. In my opinion, this “Turbo Profile” needs to be made into one of the options for “CPU Level Up” parameter, in order not to mislead the users and not to interfere with those features of “OC Tuner Utility” that are really interesting.

Asus’ Unique Technologies and Functions

MemPerfect

In fact, we have never had that many reasons for complaints about Asus manuals. It has been the case until lately. But now that they introduced so many new functions and technologies, we really lack detailed descriptions of their operational principles. For example, I still don’t quite understand what the purpose of MemOK! Technology is and how it really works. “MemOK!” function ensures that the system would load maximally fast even when there are system memory related errors, because it determines optimal system settings for correct boot-up. However, I have never had boot-up issues caused by system memory that is why I can’t really check how this technology works. However, we did figure things out with the “Go Button” button that activates this technology or switches the system into the mode described in “Go Button File” BIOS sub-section. However, it turned out more complicated to figure out how MemPerfect technology actually works, because the only thing mentioned in the manual was that it allows you to quickly check the memory settings and correct the mistakes automatically.

Optimize your memory without lifting a finger! Why risk crippling your system with poorly tuned memory? Now, with ROG´s exclusive MemPerfect optimizing your memory performance is a simple matter of selecting the frequency you desire, and letting MemPerfect do the rest! MemPerfect quickly checks your memory settings for errors and automatically fixes them—ensuring system stability and maximum efficiency.” It is a quote from the official Asus web-site, but you can find almost the same description in the BIOS context help. In my opinion, this description wasn’t complied by a technical specialist, but more likely by a marketing person, because you can hardly make anything out of it.

Let’s try and sort things out ourselves. We have just overclocked our processor on Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard to 3.9 GHz. The memory in this case was working at 1770 MHz and we also manually lowered its timings to 7-7-7-20-1T. Let’s check the memory stability with the help of MemPerfect technology. Just keep in mind that every test cycle takes about 20 minutes, so running it three times in a row will take about an hour.

After restarting the system we see a window that looks very similar to the windows of some other memory benchmarks:

We wait patiently and finally see that the test has been completed successfully.

We press F1, as we are prompted, system starts to boot, but everything ends up with a blue screen of death. So, let’s try and figure out what has just happened. It turned out that some of the BIOS settings that we adjusted manually before the test got changed when we selected MemPerfect tests. In fact, we should have guessed that it was the case. For example, the processor fan rotation speed adjustment got disabled: it worked at full speed during the test and didn’t slow down once the test was completed. However, it was a trifle. We also discovered that the adjusted voltages were all reset to their default values that is why no wonder that the system failed to boot at 177 MHz frequency. But this is not the saddest thing yet. We also found out that MemPerfect options have higher priority than the settings in the “Extreme Tweaker” section. The memory frequency wasn’t set to a fixed value, but remained at Auto that is why the board set the lowest possible frequency at this base clock – 1062 MHz. So, the stability test was actually performed at this particular frequency. I should have noticed this value during the test but I didn’t pay enough attention to it, as all I saw was the correct base clock of 177 MHz.

You can say that it was solely our own fault, since we didn’t tell the board what memory frequency to use that is why it picked the minimal possible one. Ok, let’s try a different approach to avoid possible issues caused by resetting of the BIOS parameters: let’s perform the stability test in the nominal CPU mode. With the base clock set at 133 MHz the maximum memory frequency will be 1600 MHz. In this mode the memory timings will be 9-9-9-24. These timings are too high and they do not comply with our memory modules capabilities: at 1600 MHz OCZ DDR3 PC3-12800 Blade Series Low Voltage OCZ3B1600LV6GK can work with 6-6-6-24 timings, which is its nominal operational mode. However, this memory kit doesn’t support X.M.P. technology, these timings are not recorded in the modules SPD, so we won’t complain that Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard couldn’t lower these timings as necessary. Let’s run the tests, maybe the board will be able to lower these timings after MemPerfect test?

The test was successfully completed, but the timings remained where they were. Well, let’s not demand too much: MemPerfect can’t improve the memory settings, but at least it promises to fix all mistakes that might be there. Let’s check if this is indeed the case and go back to CPU overclocking to 177 MHz base clock. In this case the board can set maximum memory frequency at 2124 MHz. this is too much for our modules, especially since we set very aggressive timings for this frequency of 7-7-7-20-1T. Normally, the board wouldn’t even start with this memory frequency setting, but it starts and works just fine during MemPerfect test.

Moreover, the test is successfully completed even though it takes only 14 minutes instead of 20. We had no doubts that after this “successful” end we should inevitably see the BSOD again, when we try to start the system at 2124 MHz memory frequency.

We are familiar with a lot different memory tests: DocMem, GoldMemory, Microsoft Windows Memory Diagnostic utility, and one of the most well-known tests - Memtest86+. MemPerfect test may be based on one of these utilities or may be Asus’ own proprietary solution. But the tests show that all these utilities do detect errors when they are related to modules physical issues, but do not work that well when the problem lies with too low memory timings or too high memory frequency settings. Therefore, frankly speaking, I didn’t anticipate MemPerfect technology to work wonders, but also didn’t expect it to turn out absolutely useless either. However, unfortunately, this is the conclusion we arrived at as a result of our today’s test session of this intensely promoted feature. Anyway, I would still really love to find a detailed technical description of MemPerfect technology functionality and working principles that would actually make sense.

ROG Connect

“Plug and Overclock - Tweak it the hardcore way! Monitor the status of your desktop PC and tweak its parameters in real-time via a notebook—just like a race car engineer—with ROG Connect. ROG Connect links your main system to a notebook through a USB cable, allowing you to view real-time POST code and hardware status readouts on your notebook, as well as make on-the-fly parameter adjustments at a purely hardware level.” As you may have already guessed it is yet another marketing quote from the official Asus web-site. We, however, are going to find out how ROG Connect actually works and what it is good for.

As we already know, Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard comes with a special ROG Connect cable with USB connectors. It is about 185 cm, so it will be very convenient to connect a second computer or notebook to it. There is a stand-alone USB port on the mainboard back panel, so we plug one end of the cable into that port, press the ROG Connect button, and plug another end of the cable into any available USB port of the second computer system.

ROG Connect application must be installed onto a second computer system. This program offers very diverse functionality. For example, you can use RC Poster utility to monitor Asus Maximus III Formula startup status in text form or as POST-codes.

RC TweakIt utility is somewhat similar in functionality to TurboV EVO, which we are going to discuss a little later today in the chapter devoted to Asus’ brand name software. It allows us to monitor current system parameters, such as frequencies, voltages, temperatures, fan rotation speeds. We can remotely overclock Asus Maximus III Formula or load one of the presaved settings profiles.

The only thing I don’t get in this case is why would we need a second computer for that? Yes, the comparison with race cars is indeed very appealing, but it is hardly appropriate. It doesn’t make sense to install a super-computer onto a bolide where each kilogram of weight affects the speed dramatically. A racecar should have a ton of sensors that would monitor operational parameters of its engine, brakes, transmission, but it is much more convenient to process all this data in a special lab or center. However, Asus Maximus III Formula is not only equipped with sensors and diodes, it also boasts significant computational potential, i.e. it can process all the data, overclock the processor and memory and adjust any of the operational system settings. You can overclock from the BIOS with the “Go Button” button or Asus TurboV EVO utility that also supports hot keys for switching between settings profiles as needed. You can monitor all system settings using Asus PC Probe II or any other monitoring utility of choice. So, why would you need a second computer? Why would anyone want to perform all these actions remotely?

Some may say that there are people out there who have already found a way to put this technology to good use. It may be used to falsify the performance readings. The test program records current system settings before it starts working, but you can use RC TweakIt to remotely overclock the system after the tests has already started, so that you could end up with higher scores. I am sure that it is possible to find a few more unique applications for ROG Connect technology, but I am not sure that it was the intention when they developed this technology. Otherwise, it would be called “RC CheatIt” instead of “RC TweakIT”. And at this point it is simply further development of Asus technologies, which we are already familiar with. We first saw a small LCD display on the back panel of Asus Commando mainboard. Later on Asus mainboards acquired an external LCD screen that could not only display the POST codes or time, but also some monitoring data: temperatures, voltages and fan rotation speed were rotating on this screen. Today small and not very convenient screens were replaced with larger displays of notebooks or second PCs, and besides the startup status and monitoring data, we can also overclock, adjust frequencies and voltages.

I may not have found anything positive in ROG Connect technology, if it hadn’t been for one more feature that is currently in the testing stage. If you press and hold the “B” key for 4 secodns in the RC TweakIt window, you will get access to another ROG Connect feature. You will be able to remotely reflash the mainboard BIOS. This feature is called RC BIOS FlashBack.

Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard must be shut down, and all other programs must be closed on the secondary computer system for you to be able to reflash or restore the BIOS.

At this time it seems to be the only really useful application for ROG Connect technology. However, no one knows what other hidden features it has or are currently developed in Asus labs. I am sure that in time we will be able to appreciate the convenience and functionality of Asus ROG Connect, but at this point, we are not raving yet.

Asus Brand Name Software

Mainboard, BIOS functionality, brand name programs and technologies – all these are closely connected with one another. Therefore, we have already told you about “Go Button” button within the BIOS Setup chapter, and about ROG Connect – within a chapter devoted to Asus Unique technologies. Of course, this multi-functional utility is not the only one on Asus’ list of brand name applications and tools. However, we are already pretty well familiar with many other utilities, so in this chapter we are going to briefly remind you what they are and how they work.

Asus mainboards have long been featuring a very convenient built-in utility for BIOS updating called EZ Flash. However, you still have to perform a number of actions on your end to make it work, while Asus Update program can find a new BIOS version and relfash it completely independently.

Asus Ai Suite is a set of applications including CPU Level Up, Fan Xpert, TurboV EVO and EPU-6 Engine. Note that two last ones must be installed separately.

EPU-6 Engine is a program for managing the power-saving profiles.

We have a few preset profiles to choose from, but you can adjust their settings to your liking manually.

You can only select one of the three preset models for the CPU fan in the BIOS of Asus mainboards. Fan Xpert utility offers you more choices. Moreover, it also allows you to calibrate the fan and add your own profile.

CPU Level Up utility is the most annoying one: we couldn’t quickly find the settings that would prevent it from launching on every boot-up. The only thing it does is CPU overclocking. In fact, it is the analogue of the “CPU Level Up” function in the mainboard BIOS.

You can overclock your Intel Core i7-860 processor to 2.94, 3.06, 3.36 GHz just by a single mouse click.

TurboV EVO program is intended to allow system overclocking from Windows OS. You can change frequencies and voltages manually or use automatic overclocking function.

You can save the settings as profiles and quickly switch between them using pre-assigned hot keys.

Asus Ai Suite allows you to monitor basic settings, but it would be much more convenient to use PC Probe II utility for that purpose, as it provides much more detailed readings.

All parameters controlled by PC Probe II are displayed in small windows. They can be grouped in any convenient way or distributed over the screen, even minimized.

Adjustable PC Probe II settings include acceptable intervals for temperatures and fan rotation speeds. Once your system gets beyond any of them, you will receive a warning message.

Besides, PC Probe II utility also reports detailed information about the system. Namely, it allows you to monitor the usage of disk space, memory and CPU resources.

ROG GameFirst program uses cFoS Software technologies. It should accelerate web-access with the help of “Traffic Shaping” parameter. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to fully test the functionality of this program, because it needs a few days to study your preferred web-browsing patterns and habits. However, you can single out priority applications or add a new application to the priority list right after program start.

Performance Comparison

Time has come to check out the performance numbers and compare the results in two different system modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. First we are going to talk about the results in nominal mode, when the boards set the most optimal parameters on their own, almost without any help from the user. Due to Intel Turbo Boost technology the clock frequency multiplier of our Intel Core i7-860 processor could increase to 26x. Our today’s hero will be competing against previously tested mainboards. The mainboards are listed on the diagrams according to their performance (from high to low). The results of Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard are marked with a darker color for your convenience.

In order to estimate the results of Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard correctly, we have to remind you that Gigabyte mainboards increase the base clock in nominal mode, but ASRock P55 Deluxe board increases this setting even more. That is why these two solutions are faster than everyone else. Biostar TPower I55 mainboard also has peculiarities of its own: even with Turbo technology on it doesn’t always increase the CPU clock frequency multiplier, which often leads to the lowest scores in the nominal mode. So, the only mainboards working in the same conditions as Asus Maximus III Formula are Asus P7P55D Deluxe, DFI LANPARTY DK P55-T3eH9 and Intel DP55KG, therefore you should take their performance numbers into account in the first place.

The second comparison was performed during maximum processor overclocking. This time we disabled extended processor power-saving modes in the mainboard BIOS using “C-STATE” parameter, which limited the maximum processor clock frequency multiplier setting with 22x. In this case the CPU could work at higher base clock than with 26x multiplier, which meant that we ended up with higher resulting performance although it happened at the expense of higher power consumption in idle mode. During the performance tests with overclocked CPU and memory the boards were also split into two groups. Only Asus P7P55D Deluxe, Gigabyte GA-P55-UD6 and GA-P55-UD3R could overclock our processor to 3.95 GHz, while all others including Asus Maximus III Formula stopped at 3.9 GHz.

Overall, Asus Maximus III Formula performance in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking is not surprising at all. The performance is mostly at the level with other mainboards with a few rare upsurges and even rarer drops. In any case, the performance difference between our hero and other testing participants in these modes is minimal.

Power Consumption

We measured power consumption using Extech Power Analyzer 380803 device. This device was connected before the system PSU, i.e. it measured the power consumption of the entire system without the monitor, including the power losses that occur in the PSU itself. When we took the power readings in idle mode, the system was completely idle: there were even no requests sent to the hard drive at that time. We used LinX program to load the Intel Core i7-860 CPU. For more illustrative picture we created a graph showing the power consumption growth depending on the increase in CPU utilization as the number of active computational threads in LinX changed in nominal mode as well as during overclocking. Besides Asus Maximus III Formula we also included the results for all previously tested LGA1156 mainboards.

We noticed that during CPU overclocking Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard increased the voltages set in the BIOS quite noticeably, so we had to correct the settings accordingly. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this board consume more power during overclocking. However, in this case the power consumption of this solution appears to be at about the same level as that of the others. At the same time, I was quite disappointed with the high power consumption readings in the nominal mode: it turned out the most resource-hungry LGA1156 solution of all tested. Under any loads and even in idle mode the board consumed considerably more power, which is a pretty serious issue.

Conclusion

As a rule, after a few days spent with a board, after numerous benchmarks have been completed and all the data analyzed and sorted out in a review, we usually shape up certain opinion about the product that can be summed up briefly as: great board, good board, not very good board or very poor board. It is hard to call Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard something definite like that. Any board has a lot of small issues, and Asus Maximus III Formula has them too, so we won’t mention them here again. And speaking of some serious problems, I believe Asus Maximus III Formula has two like those: very annoying habit of seeing a new processor after every start-up following power off, and extremely high power consumption in nominal mode. We realize that we can’t call Asus Maximus III Formula an excellent solution, but it is also difficult to claim it is a good one.

However, under no circumstances my intention would be to voice out a negative verdict for Asus Maximus III Formula. You know, sometimes people say: “I wouldn’t have this mainboard even for free”. This is definitely not about Asus Maximus III Formula, I would have it for free, and that is the issue. Once I got to know this board I didn’t not get the urge to rush to the store and buy one for myself, and in reality this is the feeling you expect to get from an easy to work with gaming board from the “Republic of Gamers” series. And the price is really not the issue here. There are a lot of expensive things out there: watches, cars, boats or homes, which you would never buy, although you’d love to own them. Asus Maximus III Formula price is high, yet affordable, but we do not feel like buying one. It is hard to work with, tricky to overclock, overloaded with features and technologies, which lack a clear description that is why it is hard to single out really handy ones that would suit great for everyday use. Overall, Asus Maximus III Formula is not a bad solution, but at the same time not a very good one either. Maybe we should wait for Asus Maximus IV Formula or maybe even Asus Maximus V Formula…

Update: February 17, 2010

During our review of Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard, we discovered one very annoying issue: after each power down the board assumed that there was a new processor installed. As a result, the startup was stalled and the board offered us to enter the BIOS to configure the parameters or continue booting with the default settings. All the previously configured settings were saved, so all we actually had to do was enter the BIOS and then quit and save right away in order to continue booting successfully. This issue didn’t formally affect the mainboard performance in any way, but we were pretty annoyed with the necessity to perform all these actions every time after powering the mainboard off. Unfortunately, neither battery replacement, nor complete change of the system configuration helped resolve this problem at that time. Obviously, we were plain unlucky and has a defective Asus Maximus III Formula sample at our disposal that is why we were extremely excited about the opportunity to check out another mainboard like that in action.

I believe I don’t have to tell you that as we suspected, the new mainboard didn’t have any boot-up issues of the kind. However, this was not the only positive change that we noticed during the tests, even though it hasn’t been that long since we posted our Asus Maximus III Formula review. Namely, we reflashed the latest BIOS version 1305 and when we decided to check the memory timings, we uncovered a very pleasant surprise. We have already mentioned multiple times that Asus mainboards have very inconvenient way of displaying the memory timings. There are a lot of timings that can be adjusted and they are split into several groups for additional convenience, but it was still pretty tricky to figure out what value stands for what parameter, when all the timings are listed in a string form: 7-7-7-20-4-59-8-6-16, for example. The new BIOS version does have the same string of values as well, but there is also a column with values:

Now each value is located next to the corresponding parameter that is why it is easy to determine at first glance, which each of the timings is set at. It is a very useful and long awaited change. Now we just need to make sure that it will also be introduced for mainstream Asus mainboards from the Republic of Gamers series.

Asus boards have long allowed the users to select one of the three fan rotation speed control modes right from the BIOS: “Standard Mode”, “Silent Mode” or “Turbo Mode”. Overall, we have never had any issues with that, as we could always find the mode that would suit our purpose best of all. For most demanding users as well as non-standard fans one could always use software rotation speed management for putting in special settings and then save a unique fan rotation speed control profile for future use. Now things got even simpler, because besides the three preset rotation speed modes for the processor cooling fan, you can also set your own parameters right from the mainboard BIOS.

We can set maximum allowed CPU temperature in the interval from 40 to 90°C with a 10°C increment. We can limit the maximum fan rotation speed in the interval from 100 to 20% with 10% increment. You can also control the minimum fan speed or even stop the fan altogether, because the supported interval goes from 0 to 100% with 10% increment.

We have mentioned only a few significant improvements that we managed to uncover at this point, however, there is also a bunch of less obvious but still very important changes. Namely, the new mainboard samples we tested overclocked the CPU and memory better and caught up with the best competitor solutions in this respect. It is a little sad that every new mainboard revision as well as any new BIOS update our reviews become more outdates. However, we are much more pleased with the fact that mainboard makers never stop improving their solutions after the launch and do not stick just to fixing the pointed out issues. It is great that they pay attention to users’ comments, continue to optimize their functionality of their solutions to ensure that working with their product delivers highly positive experience. As you see, everything we have just said is absolutely true for Asus Maximus III Formula mainboard.