Intel has recently released Union Point, the Z270 chipset, for their new desktop CPU lineup. ASUS has taken this opportunity to redefine their motherboard lineup a bit and go back to their ROG roots with the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex. The Apex line is made specifically with an eye on overclocking, particularly extreme overclocking, when looking at its feature set. Never fear! Enthusiasts, Gamers, and RGB LED lovers will not be forgotten either! Read on to see some of the great features the Apex has and we will look into its performance and overclocking.
Below is a list of specifications from the ROG Maximus IX Apex website (MIXA). One of the first things you may notice in the specifications is the use of TWO DIMM slots instead of your more typical four found on most other Z270 boards. This is done to keep memory traces short, signals stronger, and performance high. The Apex supports up to 32GB of ram with speeds of 4266 MHz (O.C.).
The board supports Quad-GPU SLI from NVIDIA (two cards, four GPUs) and 2-Way SLI. While on the AMD side, it supports 4-Way CrossfireX. Just in case the PCIE-slots gets borked, the board has support for an iGPU via HDMI 1.4b and DisplayPort 1.2 ports on the back I/O panel.
Storage-wise you are looking at a total of four SATA 6Gbps ports and two M.2 PCIe x4 NVMe slots on the neat new DIMM.2 slot. This unique design uses a DIMM slot and an add in board to mount two M.2 drives, up to 110mm, on each side of the board. You receive full bandwidth out of both slots. If you put these in RAID0 for some sick speeds, you will be limited by the 4x PCIe bandwidth (as it is on every board it seems).
Networking is handled by a single Intel I219V Gigabit NIC. You will not find wireless or bluetooth on this board. Can’t say those who will buy this board to use it properly will miss it. It probably saves a few dollars on the cost as well.
The audio side does still receive royal treatment with the latest CODEC being called upon for duty. ASUS has taken the improved Realtek ALC1220 solution and improved upon it with its own ROG SupremeFX using the S1220A CODEC. It has audio shielding, an ESS ES9023P DAC, and has impedance sense for both the front and rear headphones.
You can see this information and much more in the table below (from ASUS website):
|ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex
|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
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list
|Chipset||Intel® Z270 Chipset|
|Memory||2 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR4 4266(O.C.)/4133(O.C.)/4000(O.C.)/3866(O.C.)/3800(O.C.)/3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3500(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 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
|Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI 1.4b/DisplayPort 1.2 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 / Expansion Slots||Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports NVIDIA® 2-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD 4-Way CrossFireX Technology1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x8
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x1
2 x PCIe 3.0 x4
|Storage||Intel® Z270 Chipset :
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready
|LAN / Wireless / Bluetooth||Intel® I219V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
ASUS LAN Guard
Dual interconnect between the integrated Media Access Controller (MAC) and physical layer (PHY)
|Audio||ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC S1220A
– Impedance sense for front and rear headphone outputs
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– ESS® ES9023P
Audio Feature :
– SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
|USB||Intel® Z270 Chipset :
8 x USB 3.0 port(s)
Intel® Z270 Chipset :
6 x USB 2.0 port(s)
ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
2 x USB 3.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, , Type-A + Type-C)
|ROG Exclusive Features||ROG RAMCache II
Safe Boot Button
– Aura Lighting Control
– Aura RGB Strip Headers
Extreme Engine Digi+ :
– MicroFine Alloy Chokes
– NexFET™ Power Block MOSFET
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
UEFI BIOS features : 5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5SafeDIMM slot
– Aura Lighting Control
– Aura RGB Strip Headers
– Aura Lighting Effects Synchronization with compatible ASUS ROG devices
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– AI Suite 3
ASUS EZ DIY :
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 3
– ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-Connector
Gaming Aesthetics :
– 3D printing friendly
– AURA-RGB Lighting
Performance Optimization :
– Fan Xpert 4 featuring Fan Auto Tuning function and multiple thermistors selection for optimized system cooling control
|Back Panel I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard (purple)
1 x PS/2 mouse (green)
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
2 x USB 3.1 ()Type-A + Type-C
6 x USB 3.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
5 x Gold-plated audio jacks
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x AAFP connector
2 x RGB Header(s)
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
3 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 6 USB 2.0 port(s)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s)
1 x W_PUMP+ connector
1 x AIO_PUMP connector
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
2 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Slow Mode switch(es)
1 x EZ Plug connector(s) (4-pin Molex power connector)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x LN2 Mode switch(es)
1 x BIOS Switch button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x LN2 Mode jumper(s)
1 x Safe Boot button
1 x ReTry button
1 x 14-1 pin TPM connector
1 x Slow Mode jumper(s)
1 x W_Pump+ Header
1 x AIO PUMP Header
1 x 3D Mount screw port(s)
1 x W_IN header
1 x W_OUT header
1 x W_FLOW header
2 x Thermal sensor connector
1 x Start button
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-L)
1 x Q-Connector
1 x 10-in-1 ROG cable label
1 x DIMM.2 extension card with 2 x M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (SATA & PCIE 3.0 x 4 mode)
1 x 3D printing mount package
1 x ROG coasters
|Form Factor||Extended ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 10.7 inch ( 30.5 cm x 27.2 cm )
As I mentioned in the introduction paragraph, ASUS is really going to back to its roots here with the Apex and focusing on extreme overclocking in this board. At the same time, they have not lost sight of what a complete board is for the masses. In redefining the limits of board design, they took your typical rectangle board and made it more of an “X” design on the edges, really setting this board apart from all the rest with just that feature alone. The dual DIMM slot enables an optimized trace layout in the PCB in order to improve signal integrity and reduce cross-talk. In other words, its better for overclocking memory!
The Maximus IX Apex has twelve hardware level controls across the right edge of the board. They call these the Overclocker’s Toolkit. These are (from top to bottom): QLED, LN2 Mode Jumper, Slow Mode Switch, Pause Switch, RSVD Switch (for CBB), PCIe switches, DRAM jumpers, Retry button, Safe Boot, ProbeIt, MemOK!, and finally a BIOS switch.
For the extreme overclocker, the MIXA has circuitry to detect condensation on the back of the motherboard. There are sensors in three key sections, CPU, DRAM, and PCIe area. This will help in those long or really humid sub ambient benching sections in giving you an LED alert there is a risk of short-circuiting due to moisture on the board. A great feature for this level board… well done!
We talked earlier about the memory traces and better memory overclocking, and we see here the MIXA supports up to 4266 Mhz on the memory. We have had some of our benching team leaders use this board and get well over that on their CPU/sticks (links in the PTL section!).
Also up in that area of the DIMM slots is a DIMM.2 slot. This module is a AIB/expansion card that will allow you to use two M.2 via a DDR4 interface. This incredibly unique setup allows for a memory fan cooler to be mounted on top to cool down the memory and the hot running M.2 drives. I like this location much better than in between the PCIe slots. It will especially help for keeping those things cooler and throttle free!
What board would be complete without RGB LEDs? The Apex has its fair share of RGB LEDs integrated on the board so we are set there. The LEDs are around the left, right and bottom back side of the board, the base of the PCH heatsink and the customizeable nameplate below the CPU socket, and around the DIMM area. You can also find them in the stealth aircraft theme inspired VRM heatsinks. These can all be controlled with the included Aura Sync Lighting control software. If that isn’t enough bling, you are able to add standard 5050 RGB LED strips to the header on the board. The Aura Sync technology can be used to control other compatible components including the extra RGB LED from the header, as well as ASUS graphics cards, keyboards, and even mice. Read more about it from link in the table!
We talked about the Apex being an great overclocker, well a great overclocking board has a great OC Design. ASUS uses their ProClock Technology, a dedicated BCLK generator as well as their TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) for improved voltage and BCLK control. Still in use is the Extreme Engine Digi+ to control the power going to the Texas Instruments NexDET MOSFETs, 10K black metallic caps, and MicroFine alloy chokes round out the robust 10 phase power.
When you are really pushing things on ambient cooling, especially with Kaby Lake, chances are you are using a watercooling loop. We saw on the Maximus IX Formula review, they added a Water-Cooling Zone on the motherboard to monitor your system. It contains two water temperature headers and a flow rate header to feed data into Fan Xpert4 utility. You can find this area by the battery in the lower right hand corner of the board.
Last, but not least, the MIXA uses an improved audio solution with a souped up Realtek ALC1220 CODEC, the SupremeFX S1220A. According to testing, it is better than the native Realtek CODEC by a few dB on S/N. There is separation on the board for the audio section, audio line shielding, and premium Nichicon audio capacitors.
For more details, please see the overview page for the ASUS Maximus IX Apex website! (Images below sourced from that page)
Redefining the limits
*See website for details
Specialized circuitry allows Maximus IX Apex to detect when condensation occurs on the back of the board. Divided into three distinct sections — CPU, DRAM and PCIe — the feature provides a useful warning when an area may be at risk of short-circuiting.
Bar-Raising Memory Overclocking
ROG engineers adopted a two-slot memory design on an EATX motherboard, enabling a highly optimized layout for memory trace paths to minimize noise and improve signal integrity while allowing DDR4 overclocking to 4266MHz and beyond. ROG also works with all the major DDR4 memory vendors to ensure the best compatibility and real-world performance. But don’t take our word for it — see what Corsair and G.Skill have to say about Apex’s overclocking credentials!
Maximus IX Apex’s exclusive DIMM.2 module is a bundled expansion card that allows two M.2 drives to be connected via a DDR4 interface. You can then add a memory fan to direct cool air to the M.2 drives to prevent throttling, ensuring maximum performance.
Aura lighting control
Customize LED effects with intuitive ASUS Aura Sync lighting-control software. Aura allows you to cast a stunning multi-color glow across your build via the ROG Maximus IX Apex’s brilliant built-in RGB LEDs or attached RGB strips via the two onboard 4-pin headers. Fire up ASUS Aura and enjoy the creative freedom of nine lighting schemes ─ and watch all of the lights on your rig glow in perfect synchronization!
*The Aura RGB-strip header supports standard 5050 RGB LED strips with a maximum power rating of 2A (12V). For maximum brightness, strip length should not exceed 2m.
ASUS Aura Sync technology is the control hub for bringing your Maximus IX Apex illumination ambitions to life. With Aura Sync, it’s easy to synchronize incredible lighting effects between compatible components, including RGB LED strips, graphics cards, keyboards and even mice! Change all LEDs in unison or employ dynamic modes to flow the illumination effects smoothly across all synchronized devices.
*Visit the ASUS Aura microsite to learn more about Aura Sync.
The dedicated base-clock (BCLK) generator designed for 7th Generation Intel© processors is what allowed Apex to set an overclocked BCLK frequency record of 584MHz*. This custom solution works in tandem with the ASUS TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) to enhance voltage and base-clock overclocking control — providing an exciting new way to boost performance to extreme heights. And, of course, Maximus IX Apex includes Extreme Engine Digi+ — ROG’s revered digital power controller. With Texas Instruments NexFET™ MOSFETs, and with MicroFine alloy chokes, the Digi+ PWM controller with 10K black metallic capacitors and Extreme Engine Digi+ technology always delivers the stable and smooth core voltages.
Fully dominate your water-cooling system
Retail Packaging and Accessories
Below we see a slideshow of the ASUS Maximus IX Apex retail packaging. It follows the same updated theme as the Formula did with its red and black ROG themed front. Meanwhile, the back shows some features and specifications. This box also has the neat “hinge” type opening for the lid. The board rests on top under plastic and the comprehensive accessory stack is hidden below in its own box.
Meet the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex
So here she is folks. Doesn’t it look fast, or maybe stealthy, just sitting there?! No board shielding, no 12 SATA ports, no integrated Back I/O cover, no watercooling on the VRM heatsinks. Very few extras that aren’t typically used with overclocking have been included. We can see the aircraft inspired shape of the PCH and VRM cooler, as well as the really cool “X” shape of the board in these top down pictures. You are also able to see the two DIMM slots and DIMM.2 slot in the upper right hand corner. The back doesn’t show too much. We can see only the first slot is 16x electrical while the rest of the full length PCIe slots are 8x max electrical.
Overall, the black board with grey really leads to another theme agnostic board which will fit in great with any themed build. Use the onboard RGB LED and Aura to make it work in any situation.
A Closer Look
We zoom in on the board starting with the bottom half. The left side holds the SupremeFX S1220A CODEC along with the Nichicon audio capacitors we mentioned earlier. To the right of those we see a total of four full length PCIe slots (three using the Safeslot insert-molding for the fortifying metal). Across the bottom are several headers for fans, RBG lighting, USB ports, and the BIOS button. You can also see the Water-Cooling Zone headers to the right of that little red BIOS swap button.
Moving around to the upper right corner where the DIMM slots reside, it’s pretty busy there, honestly. Outside of the two DIMM slots and the DIMM.2 for the add in card/m.2 drives, you can see several of the twelve items from the Overclocker’s Toolkit from the PCIe/DIMM switches, the the ProbeIt voltage read points, MemOK!, etc. It’s all there.
Back I/O connectivity is listed in the specifications above, but you can see it is pretty full featured including PS/2 ports, video out, plenty of USB3.0 and 3.1 G2 Type A and C. The storage connectivity is pretty limited, but should still be plenty for most users I would expect. There are a total of four SATA 6Gbps ports. No U.2. The only M.2 slots are of course attached to the DIMM.2 slot and add in board. In this picture, on the left side, you can see the Water-Cooling Zone more closely.
The socket area is pictured here with its 10 total phases for the system (CPU, iGPU, etc). For sub-ambient insulating purposes, it’s pretty busy around the socket with all the caps, but, it’s plenty workable. The VRM heatsink is a beefy hunk of metal cooling the power bits well. There is not integrated water cooling here as there was on the Formula. As far as incoming power, a single 8-Pin is required, but you will want to use the second one for extreme overclocking.
Below is a picture of the DIMM.2 add-in board, both front and back. Using the DIMM interface (with a key cut out for compatibility reasons) you can strap two 110mm M.2 SSD’s on this unit and drop it in the DIMM.2 slot. This proprietary solution allows one to use a ram fan to help keep the ram cool but more importantly the warm running M.2 drives.
I took all the heatsinks off the board and here is what we are left with! You can see the VRM heatsink made great contact, but will have to take my word the PCH heatsink also had good contact as it is not pictured here.
UEFI BIOS and Monitoring/Overclocking Software
Below is a slideshow showing the award wining UEFI BIOS on the Apex. It starts off with Easy Mode where you have a limited, but enough, buttons/options to play with. The rest of this slideshow works across the main section headers at the top.
The next set of slides shows the Extreme Tweaker section and the memory overclocking in a lot more detail. There are a TON of options here, including some built in profiles for the memory and CPU overclocking. Maneuvering around is always butter smooth and the locations for a lot of these options still remain in a place you are likely to look. Very intuitive design.
Last but not least is the AISuite III and Aura Lighting software.
Test Setup and Results
|CPU||Intel i7 7700K|
|CPU Cooler||Custom Loop with EK LTZ CPU Block, Swiftech MCP655 Vario,
Swiftech MCR320 + PA 120.2, 3x Yate Loon High @ 1K RPM
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex|
|RAM||GSkill Trident Z 2×8 GB DDR4- 3866MHz CL18-19-19-39 2T|
|Graphics Card||AMD R7 250|
|Hard Drive||OCZ RD 400 512GB|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic Platinum-1000|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro x64 (Fully Updated)|
|Benchmarks||AIDA64 Engineer (Memory Test)
Cinebench R11.5 and R15
x265 1080p Benchmark (Hwbot)
Super Pi 1M/32M
Below we see the results from our testing of the Apex. Nothing out of the ordinary here in any of our application testing.
Moving on to the memory side of things, we don’t see much difference here in all of the AIDA64 testing. However in my setup, MaxxMem, the Apex is a couple percent slower in writes, and over 10% slower in copy. Not sure what is going on with that result. But, it seems others with the board and the same settings it isn’t happening so, I can only look at my machine for the anomaly.
Raw Data Tables:
|AIDA64 Memory Benchmarks – Raw Data (MB/s)|
|MSI Z170A MPower Gaming Titanium||42742||44302||38894||44.6|
|MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium||50183||55076||46103||43.2|
|ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula||49383||55192||45688||44.4|
|ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex||50254||55250||46090||40.6|
|Maxxmem Memory Benchmarks – Raw Data (MB/s)|
|MSI Z170A MPower Gaming Titanium||27249||34427||33094|
|MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium||27989||33784||34905|
|ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula||27858||34048||34809|
|ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex||28247||33216||30916|
Pushing the Limits
So, how well did a board made specifically with overclocking in mind do? Better than the other boards! I was able to push the CPU to 5.2GHz using 4c/4t. The reason I dropped down to a total of 4t (disabled HT), is simply due to the heat. I can’t run any multi-threaded benchmarks or the CPU cooks.
The second screenshot shows me leaning on the memory a bit. I was able to reach a bench stable 4300 MHz CL18 using 1.575V on the DRAM itself and 1.35V/1.30V for SA and IO respectively. One thing to note is that the 4266 memory multiplier did not work. I had to walk it up to 4300MHz with BCLK. Not a big deal, but worth mentioning.
There are certainly better results out there on this board to be had, for sure. Check out one of our resident memory guru’s, Woomack, and his results on some 3200 MHz sticks. Or, how about 5000 MHz? Put this board in the hands of a pro and there are no limits, well, at least from the board!
I cannot wait to get this thing cold. Keep an eye out in the forums/front page and maybe even a livestream!
ASUS has done a great job with the Apex in making it lean a lot more towards an overclockers dream board. Its been a couple of years really since any AIB partner really separated things like this as it was just a few generations ago. Today, all the rage is “gaming” and “RGB LED” and, while that satisfies 95% of the market, there is still the 5% of us out there who want a track car for the track… or in this case, a proper overclocking motherboard without a lot of the foo foo, tacked on features that most may not need.
The enthusiast or gamer wasn’t forgotten. Multi-GPU capable, superior on-board audio in the tweaked SupremeFX S1200A CODEC, as well as the popular and fast Intel I219V NIC, should please any gamer when they aren’t busy tweaking clocks and trying to break records. All the bases are covered.
Aesthetically the board is really quite unique with the “X” shaped PCB, DIMM.2 slot for the M.2 drives, and aircraft/stealth inspired brushed aluminum VRM and PCH heatsinks. Just a few changes in the Aura software and the integrated RGB LEDs go to any color you like. You are even able to customize the nameplate just below the CPU socket and have your own creation shine through.
I was able to overclock the CPU to 5.2 GHz up above which was further than on other boards (still temperature limited). This is in part due to familiarity with the chip as well as some board prowess. I plan to take this thing cold as soon as I receive the de-lid kit and take a trip to my local nitro hot (cold?) spot.
Pricing on the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex comes in at $288.99 at Newegg. The price is less than I expected, really. It comes in slightly cheaper than the Maximus IX Code, and the EVGA Z270 Classified K (typically a strong performer for extreme overclockers, but at present has limits on speeds). It currently sits higher priced than some other full featured motherboards. That said, not sure I would take them to the extreme either. The features the Apex has for extreme overclocking will really set it apart from the rest. We have seen some incredible results by the ASUS team, and even our own benching team playing around with this board. It will arguably be the best for extreme overclocking and more than hold its own in gaming or other activities. If you are looking for a reasonably priced board that does everything well, but can also overclocks with the best of them, look no further than the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex.
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)