Back when ASUS first released their initial line of Z97 chipset motherboards, they promised a Maximus VII Formula and Maximus VII Impact would follow. They held true to their word, and today, we’ll introduce you to the Maximus VII Formula. In typical ASUS fashion, this enthusiast level ROG motherboard comes packed with onboard and software features that make it a unique offering. The ASUS Formula series motherboards have been around for a few generations now, so let’s get started and see what this newest iteration has to offer.
Specifications and Features
The specifications table below was shamelessly plucked from the ASUS product page and shows the Maximus VII Formula (referred to as the M7F from this point on) supports all the latest technologies associated with the Z97 chipset. ASUS is offering the M7F in two different SKUs with the only difference being the inclusion of a free copy of the Watch Dogs game. The board comes equipped with a WiFi/Bluetooth mPCIE combo card that will also accept a M.2 socket 3 SSD. And as you can see, there is a lot of USB and SATA/SATA Express connectivity too.
|ASUS Maximus VII Formula Specifications|
|CPU||Intel® Socket 1150 for the 5th/New 4th/4th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors|
Supports Intel® 22 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 3300(O.C.) /3200(O.C.) /3100(O.C.) /3000(O.C.) /2933(O.C.) /2800(O.C.) /2666(O.C.) /2400(O.C.) /2133(O.C.) /2000(O.C.) /1866(O.C.) /1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory|
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support|
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort 1.2 ports
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 3840 x 2160 @ 60 Hz
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider
|Multi-GPU Support||Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology|
Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
|Expansion Slots||2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)|
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode)
3 x PCIe 2.0 x1
1 x mini-PCIe 2.0 x1
|Storage||Intel® Z97 chipset: |
1 x SATA Express port, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3, , with M Key, type 2260 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology
ASMedia® SATA Express controller:
1 x SATA Express port, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
|LAN||Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), featuring GAMEFIRST III|
Intel® LAN- Dual interconnect between the Integrated LAN controller and Physical Layer (PHY)
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
|Audio||ROG SupremeFX Formula 2014 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC|
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming
– SupremeFX Shielding Technology
– Cirrus Logic® CS4398 DAC: 120 dB SNR, -107 dB THD+N (Max. 192 kHz/ 24 -bit)
– WIMA® film capacitors
– ELNA® premium audio capacitors
– TI LM4562 high-fidelity audio OP AMP(s)
|USB||Intel® Z97 chipset:|
6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z97 chipset:
6 x USB 2.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, black, 4 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller:
2 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue)
|OS Support||Windows® 8.1 86×64|
Windows® 8 86×64
Windows® 7 86×64
|Back I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port|
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port
6 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to ROG Connect)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button
1 x ROG Connect On/Off switch
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x USB 3.0 connector support additional 2 USB 3.0 pors|
2 x USB 2.0 connectors suppors additional 4 USB 2.0 ports
2 x SATA Express connector: red,
1 x TPM header
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
6 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (6 x 4 -pin)
1 x Thunderbolt header
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x Front panel audio connector (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x MemOK! button
10 x ProbeIt Measurement Points
1 x Thermal sensor connector
1 x Power-on button
1 x Reset button
1 x mPCIe Combo III connector
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header
1 x KeyBot Button
1 x Sonic SoundStage Button
|BIOS||64 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.8,|
ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor|
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
Whether it’s hardware or software related, ASUS packed a boat load of features into the M7F motherboard. We’ll start with an image showing an overview of the M7F.
The MOSFET CrossChill Copper heatsink can be used passively, or it can be added to an existing water cooling loop. Because the threaded holes are the standard G1/4 size, you can choose what size or style fitting to use here. ASUS introduced a copper water channel this time around, which is an improvement from earlier designs.
You’ll find the newest Intel I218-V Ethernet controller used on the M7F, which is said to provide lower CPU usage and better throughput than other onboard solutions. The LAN ports themselves are outfitted with ESD guards and surge-protected components to protect against static electricity.
To complement the onboard Intel LAN, the GameFirst III network optimization software can be used to prioritize bandwidth. It’s not just for helping online gameplay either; it can be used with any application and allows you to choose from five priority levels ranging from low to highest. GameFirst III also includes network monitoring, bandwidth testing, and network information at a glance.
ASUS continues to push the boundaries of onboard audio with the SupremeFX Formula 2014 solution they implemented on the M7F. Aside from the high quality components used, you’ll find board isolation and a stainless steel EMI cover. A 600 ohm headphone amplifier, ELNA audio capacitors, and a Cirrus Logic DAC are other highlights here.
On the software side, there are no shortage of audio enhancements that ASUS provides. Sonic Studio is an audio tuning suite with six levels of audio control. It also features a one-click virtual surround function (7.1) that can even be used with a two-channel headset.
Sonic SoundStage features a hardware based surround sound technology for use with the front panel headphone output. By way of a programmable chip, you can choose to apply any of four presets that best match the game genre you’re playing. On-the-fly switching between the presets is accomplished by using the SoundStage button on the motherboard or via the software.
Sonic Radar II is designed to use with FPS games and provides an in-game overlay to help you determine what direction footsteps, gunshots, and call-outs are coming from. The utility comes with a control panel that lets you customize your game list.
The ASUS KeyBot microprocessor found on the M7F features the ability to upgrade your keyboard’s functionality. You can use the bundled software to set macro keys, function keys, or create shortcuts to any application or folder. If you use the S5 sleep mode, you can program the computer to wake up and boot into the UEFI BIOS, enable the XMP memory profile, or even activate the CPU Level Up overclocking function.
The M7F comes bundled with the mPCIe Combo III card that adds to the already stout connectivity options. It comes pre-loaded with wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities, but can be expanded via the mPCIe slot on one side and the M.2 (PCIe/10 Gbit/s and SATA/6 Gbit/s) slot on the other.
ASUS uses their TrueVolt USB feature to ensure a clean and stable 5 V power delivery to the USB ports. Two isolated linear power supplies provide the stable power to both the front panel and back I/O USB ports.
The Extreme Engine DIGI+ III power delivery handles the 10-phase power design found on the M7F (8 CPU/2 Memory). This new DIGI+ power control is fully digital and offers complete control over the CPU’s fully integrated voltage regulator (FIVR). The extreme overclockers will be pleased with the “Fully Manual Mode” option the DIGI+ power control offers, which lets extreme overclockers ignore the behavior of the FIVR for a steady supply of power to different parts of the CPU… think LN2. The other components that make up the 10-phase power delivery are as follows.
The ROG Armor found on the M7F provides a few useful attributes. The top ABS cover is intended to shield the PCB from heat generated by graphics cards. The SECC steel back plate provides board stiffening and removes heat from critical components via the thermal pads attached to it.
ASUS’ answer to quality, reliability, and durability can be found in the picture below. This includes such things as ESD guards, their DYI Q designs, a stainless steel back I/O area, the nickel-coated I/O shield, and the 10K capacitors used throughout the motherboard.
A quick look at the front of the box immediately reveals we were sent the M7F that’s bundled with the Watch Dog game. The box front also has several icons along the bottom mentioning several high-level features. Around back are the specifications, a schematic of the back I/O area, and several features that we discussed above. The box top has a flap that can be opened to reveal even more of the M7F’s features we talked about above. With the flap open, you get a first glimpse of the motherboard through a plastic window. If a potential customer is actually able to hold this box in their hands, they’ll get a great feeling for what they’re buying into.
Inside the outer carton are two black boxes; one houses the abundant accessories; and the other is home to the motherboard. Everything inside both boxes was held securely in place and arrived in pristine condition. Here is the list of all the accessories included in the kit.
Before we zoom in for a closer look at the M7F, here is a series of pictures for your viewing pleasure. As you saw in the features we covered above, the M7F is decked out with the ROG Armor plastic top and metal back. The board exhibits an entirely black and red theme, just as expected with an ASUS ROG offering.
The ASUS Maximus VII Formula Up Close
In order to get a close look at the M7F, we needed to remove the ROG Armor. The two pieces that make it up are screwed together through matching holes in the PCB, so you have to use both pieces or none at all. There are thermal pads applied to the metal back plate directly under the MOSFET area, which should provide an extra layer of cooling there.
Starting with a look at the outer edges of the M7F, we’ll start at the bottom of the motherboard. On the left side, we have the front panel audio header, Thunderbolt 2 connection, TPM header, Sonic SoundStage button, 4-pin PWM fan header, and the UEFI BIOS chip. The Sonic SoundStage button is used to apply any of four available settings to match game genres and works only through the front panel audio. When pressing the button, the post code LED will display a number that corresponds with the available choices. The choices are FPS (01), Racing (02), Fighting (03), and Sports (04).
Moving over to the bottom-right area, we find the ROG_EXT header for use with the ASUS OC Panel or Front Base, one USB 2.0 header, another 4-pin PWM fan header, and the case wiring headers. Sitting on the very corner is the KeyBot button, which interfaces with a special KeyBot onboard microprocessor. Just plug any USB keyboard into the dedicated USB port and you can program macros, function keys, or create shortcuts to favorite programs using the bundled KeyBot software.
Moving over to the right side of the M7F, we find the SATA and SATA Express connectors. The block of six SATA/SATA Express ports you see at the bottom are shared between ASMedia and the Z97 chipset. The top row is controlled by ASMedia, and the bottom row is native to the chipset. Moving upward, we come to six more SATA controllers. The lower two ports are controlled by ASMedia, and the four upper ports are native to the chipset. Just above the SATA ports is the front panel USB 3.0 header.
At the upper-right edge, you’ll find the 24-pin ATX power connector, another 4-pin PWM fan header, and the onboard start and reset buttons. You can also see the four DIMM slots from this vantage point, which support a maximum of 32 GB of DDR3 at speeds up to 3300 MHz (OC).
At the top-right of the M7F are the Q-LED post code display, ProbeIT voltage read points, and the MemOK! button. The MemOK! button can be a useful tool if you find the memory you’re trying to use is causing a no boot situation. After pressing the button, the system will try to tune the memory settings to a bootable state. Just below the MemOK! button are the two 4-pin PWM CPU fan headers.
Moving over to the top-left edge, there are two CPU AUX +12 V power connectors (one 8-pin and one 4-pin), and yet another 4-pin PWM fan header. Not pictured are two more 4-pin fan headers located just behind the I/O area. Including the two CPU fan headers, that’s a total of eight 4-pin PWM fan headers on the M7F.
The left side of the motherboard is where all the I/O connections and everything SupremeFX Formula 2014 audio can be found. Above the I/O area is the mPCIe Combo III connector for use with the bundled card. Instead of stumbling through a long-winded description of all the I/O connectivity, I’ll let a couple of pictures do the talking.
The bottom-left area is home to the 7.1 (8 channel) onboard audio solution. ASUS managed to engineer its SupremeFX Formula 2014 onboard audio to what they claim is as good as a dedicated sound card. I suppose in some cases this may be true, but I doubt it’s as good as even their own Xonar and Phoebus sound cards. However, there is no doubt ASUS has beefed up this onboard Realtek ALC1150 CODEC to a performance level far beyond what it used to be just a short time ago. The SupremeFX audio uses PCB shielding, a stainless steel EMI protection cover, German made WIMA film capacitors, Japanese made ELNA audio capacitors, a Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, and a Texas Instruments LM4562 headphone amplifier. With all those features, I’m sure the Supreme FX Formula 2014 audio will rival some discrete sound cards on the market, and it certainly continues to push the capabilities of an onboard audio solution.
The M7F has two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI-E 2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode), and three PCI-E x1 slots. Up to 4-way SLI is supported if you happen to own a pair of dual-GPU graphics cards, and up to 3-way CrossFireX is supported as well. Single GPU setups will run in x16 mode, two GPU setups at x16/x8, and three GPUs at x16/x8/x4.
Looking at the CPU socket area, it’s pretty wide open for installing large air coolers and any water block I can think of. As always, pay attention to memory height when selecting an air cooler, and you shouldn’t have any problems here.
With both heatsinks removed, we can see they were making excellent contact with their intended target. The CrossChill Copper heatsink covering the MOSFETs appears to be a pretty capable unit if used passively or if you take advantage of its water cooling option. Inside the CrossChill heatsink is a finned copper water channel much like you see on high-end water blocks. As we mentioned earlier, the MOSFET heatsink is outfitted with G1/4 threads… use any fitting you like! I really like that ASUS kept both heatsinks free of the gaudy branding we so often see motherboard makers use here… nice touch.
With the board stripped down, we can have a closer look at the 8-phase CPU power design and the two additional phases used for the memory. The CPU and memory power phases each have their own DIGI+ VRM, which give you a good amount of control over just how the power is delivered to these areas.
A motherboard with as many onboard features as the M7F requires a few 3rd party vendors to supply some of those features. ASMedia is called on several times to handle critical motherboard functions. Here is a list of the ASMedia ICs I found after poking around for a few minutes.
As mentioned earlier, the networking functions are provided by the Intel I218-V controller. The nuvoTon NTC6791D handles system monitoring and other Super I/O functions. The last picture below is of the naked Z97 PCH.
The UEFI BIOS
The ASUS UEFI BIOS leaves no stone unturned and gives users enough options to keep them busy for quite awhile. For a quick look at system vitals and the ability to set a few high-level parameters, the EZ Mode screen is very useful. You can set memory XMP profiles, work with fan speeds, set boot priorities, or perform EZ System Tuning. Pressing the F7 key will get you inside the UEFI BIOS advanced mode. The first tab is My Favorites, which is where you can create shortcuts to areas of the UEFI BIOS you most often visit. Across the top of every page are built-in shortcuts to a few of the utilities included in the UEFI BIOS.
Moving over to the Extreme Tweaker section, we find everything needed to get the most from your CPU and memory. All the voltage controls, CPU ratio settings, and memory options are located here. The five sub menus offer a plethora of memory timing controls, DIGI+ power controls, and even a section called Tweakers Paradise that offers even more detailed voltage controls. You’d be hard pressed to find another UEFI BIOS with as many overclocking options as found here… good stuff!
The Main tab is mostly informational in nature, but you do have options for language, date and time, and security settings.
The Advanced tab is comprised of 10 sub menus mostly related to system and platform configuration. Here is where you can enable/disable onboard devices and configure the PCH features. The motherboard’s lighting effects can also be controlled from here.
The Monitor tab gives you real-time voltage, temperature, and fan speed information and also offers complete control of fan speeds. Qfan tuning is also available, which will scan your fans for their minimum RPM and duty cycle. Once complete, those values are selectable when you enter the fan control area.
The Boot tab is where you’ll find all the system start-up options. Boot device priorities can be set here, and you even have an option to select either Advanced Mode or EZ Mode as the initial landing point when entering the UEFI BIOS.
Several useful utilities can be found under the Tool tab. The EZ Flash 2 utility is great for updating the UEFI firmware and is probably the safest way to do so. One of the highlights here is the Secure Erase feature, which makes the process a heck of a lot easier than having to use a Windows-based utility or booting from a disc to perform this task. Also found in the Tool tab is SPD information for the installed memory, and you have the ability to save up to eight profiles to the UEFI BIOS. In actuality, the amount of profiles you can save is unlimited because of the load/save to USB drive option. If you happen to own a ROG OC Panel, hot key configuration can be accomplished within the H-Key Configure sub menu.
The Exit tab needs no explanation, I think everyone has a handle on this!
Bundled Software – ASUS AI Suite 3
AI Suite 3 is a desktop system optimization suite of utilities that’s in a class of its own. Trust me on this… I’ve tried similar utilities from all the major motherboard manufacturers, and this one stands alone at the top. Once AI Suite 3 is launched, you’re presented with the main navigation screen where you can access all the different utilities. AI Suite 3 is highlighted by its Dual Intelligent Processors 5 utility. Once inside the DIP5 utility, you have the option to run the 5-Way optimization tool. Doing so will dynamically optimize your system based on real time usage scenarios. The optimization process covers CPU performance, energy saving, power delivery, and fan control. If you prefer to perform all these tasks manually, you can visit the five tabs that have the options to do so. Whether it’s overclocking or maximum power savings you’re after, everything you need can be found within the DIP5 utility. Rummaging through the thumbnails below will give you a good idea of all the features and options DIP5 offers… and there are many!
AI Suite 3 includes several other utilities you may be interested in as well. On the USB side of things, there are a couple USB charging utilities and a USB 3.0 Boost utility available. The System Information and Version utilities will give you details on major system components and the version number of all the different AI Suite 3 utilities. BIOS Flashback can be used to check for new BIOS versions and automatically save it to an attached USB storage device. The USB storage device can then be used to flash the BIOS with the hardware based BIOS flashback feature on the motherboard. The Push Notice utility is used to send alerts or messages to your smart device based on user defined parameters for system events, temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds. EZ Update is basically a Windows-based BIOS flashing utility that also has the option to integrate a custom boot logo into a firmware file. It can also seek out driver and software updates via the internet. Just as above, peruse the below thumbnails for a look at each these utilities and what they offer.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VII Formula|
|CPU||Intel i7 4790K Devil’s Canyon|
|Memory||G.SKill TridentX DD3-2400 MHz 2x8GB|
|SSD||Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified|
|Cooling||EKWB Supremacy EVO Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
I’ll be using a Devil’s Canyon i7 4790K CPU for today’s benchmarking. The ASUS MultiCore Enhancement option in the UEFI BIOS keeps the CPU locked in at the Turbo Boost speed of 4.4 GHz, which is typically how I like to run stock benchmarks anyway. Each benchmark was run at the Turbo Boost frequency of 4.4 GHz and again with a 4.8 GHz overclock in place. The memory was set to 2400 MHz for both the stock and overclocked testing.
Overclocking to 4.8 GHz was a rather simple procedure, which only required adding some voltage to the CPU, setting the LLC to a mid-range option, and manipulating a few power delivery options. The UEFI BIOS does a great job with its “Auto” setting rules, so most of the overclocking options can simply be left there.
I’ll be running my typical set of benchmarks to test compression, rendering, video conversion, and we’ll toss in a set of 2d benchmarks as well. We don’t typically see any notable differences when comparing motherboards, especially when the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU are used. So, instead of boring you with a bunch of charts showing almost identical results, we’ll just provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark runs.
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
7zip Compression Benchmark
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
Aida64 Cache & Memory
After spending a few minutes comparing the above results against a few other Z97 motherboards we’ve reviewed, the M7F performed quite admirably in comparison. On the performance front, things look to be in order.
Pushing the Limits
The i7 4790K I’ve been using since its release seems to always top out right at 4.9 GHz, and that held true this time as well. The M7F did allow me to achieve that overclock with the memory still set to 2400 MHz, which is only the second time I’ve been able to accomplish that. I wouldn’t call this overclock 24/7 stable by any means, but I was able to complete a run of SuperPi 1M and wPrime 32M.
The ASUS Maximus VII Formula is aimed at gamers and enthusiasts alike; but in reality, it’s much more than just that. With all the connectivity options and the mPCIe Combo III card this board offers, it could theoretically be used for an awesome HTPC or even a home server. Admittedly, the M7F might be a little overkill for usages like that, but it gives you an idea of the versatility it offers. As far as being the basis for a great gaming system? You bet. With multi-GPU support and a pretty darn awesome onboard audio solution supported by several gaming oriented utilities, you’ll be well on your way to creating a high-end gaming system.
ASUS does a good job of adding value to the M7F in several different ways. Being able to control the fans through the BIOS or with the Fan Xpert 3 software, ASUS has pretty much eliminated the need for a fan controller. The KeyBot feature can turn a standard USB keyboard into multi-functional device that may sway some people from spending a hefty sum on a gaming keyboard. And of course, let’s not forget about AI Suite 3 and your free copy of the Watch Dogs game. The list goes on and on.
As far as pricing goes, Newegg is currently selling the M7F for $349, which is comparable to similarly outfitted Z97 offerings. I think with all the value add items the M7F offers, the price is quite fair.
In the end, the Maximus VII Formula would make a great option if you’re looking to build a high-end gaming system. The overclocking crowd will enjoy the experience either through the UEFI BIOS or from the desktop using AI Suite 3. It’s really a no brainer this time around… Overclockers approved!