ASUS has long since dispelled the myth that smaller form factor motherboards can’t be powerhouse performers. You need look no further than the Z87 based Maximus VI GENE and Maximus VI Impact to prove that point. Today, we’re moving onto the next generation Intel Z97 chipset and the ASUS Republic of Gamers Maximus VII GENE. This mATX form factor motherboard actually sits atop the initial ASUS Z97 ROG offerings, or at least until the Maximus VII Formula is released later in the year. For this release, ASUS has implemented quite a few new features on both the hardware and software side when compared to earlier versions. So, let’s dive in and see if ASUS managed to provide another enthusiast level motherboard worthy of the ROG name, all wrapped up in a mATX form factor.
Specifications and Features
Here are the specifications as provided by the ASUS product page.
|ASUS Maximus VII GENE 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.)/2600(O.C.)/2500(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/2000(O.C.)/1866(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory|
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Graphic||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support|
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 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 Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
|Expansion Slots||2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)|
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
1 x mini-PCIe 2.0 x1
|Storage||Intel® Z97 chipset : |
6 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
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2260/2280 storage devices support (PCIE mode)
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)
|Audio||ROG SupremeFX Impact II 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC|
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
– SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
– ELNA premium audio capacitors
– Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection
– DTS Connect
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic SoundStage
– Sonic SenseAmp
– Sonic Studio
– Sonic Radar II
|USB Ports||Intel® Z97 chipset :|
4 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z97 chipset :
7 x USB 2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, black, 3 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
2 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue)
|ROG Exclusive Features|
Extreme Engine Digi+ III :
– 8 + 2 phase power design
– NexFET™ Power Block MOSFET
– 60A Ferrite Chokes
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
– CPU Level Up
– Direct Key
UEFI BIOS features :
– GPU.DIMM Post
– Tweakers’ Paradise
– ROG SSD Secure Erase
– Graphic Card Information Preview
5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5
– Whole system optimization with a single click! 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ Power Control, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App together, providing better CPU performance, efficient power saving, precise digital power control, whole system cooling and even tailor your own app usages.
– ESD Guards on LAN, Audio, KBMS and USB3.0/2.0 ports
– DRAM Overcurrent Protection
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
– Stainless Steel Back I/O
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– USB BIOS Flashback
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger+
– USB Charger+
– USB 3.0 Boost
– Disk Unlocker
ASUS EZ DIY :
– ASUS O.C. Profile
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 2
– ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
– Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
– ASUS Q-Connector
Overclocking Protection :
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
|OS Support||Windows® 8.1|
|Back I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)|
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to ROG Connect)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
3 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x ROG Connect On/ Off switch(es)
|Internal I/O Ports||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 5 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 for M Key, type 2260/2280 devices
1 x TPM header
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (3 x 4 -pin)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
10 x ProbeIt Measurement Points
1 x Thermal sensor connector(s)
1 x LN2 Mode header(s)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header(s)
1 x KeyBot Button
1 x Sonic SoundStage Button
|BIOS||64Mb UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI5.0a, Multi-Language BIOS|
|Form Factor||mATX Form Factor|
9.6 inch x 9.6 inch ( 24.4 cm x 24.4 cm )
So, you might be asking… just what is the difference between the M7G and the previous M6G? The slide below should answer those questions for you. We’ll be getting into more detail on all of this later in the review, but it’s easy to see ASUS took this opportunity to add some unique features aimed at the enthusiast.
The Z97 ROG motherboards have had some aesthetic changes from previous versions, which include a dual colored PCB (red and matte-black). The heatsinks on the motherboard have been coated with black nickel to improve the overall looks. The slide below shows some images of the Maximus VII Ranger, but as you’ll see when we get to the photos, the same principle has been used on the M7G.
Something completely new for the ROG Z97 motherboards is the onboard KeyBot controller chip. This provides the user with an avenue to take an otherwise mundane keyboard and customize it in a variety of different ways. Macro keys, shortcuts, and function keys can all be programmed using the KeyBot feature. On the enthusiast level, one key activation for CPU Level Up, XMP profiles, and DirectKey are all possible too.
The use of Intel Ethernet is a welcome sight and continues to be a favorite of enthusiast users. ASUS claims more throughput and less CPU usage when compared to other popular Ethernet controllers. For gamers, ASUS has revamped its GameFirst utility to version III to take full advantage of the Intel Ethernet controller. ASUS no longer uses a cFos based application here, but instead has developed their own prioritization software. ASUS has also added their LANGuard feature to the LAN ports themselves, which offers new ESD guards and surge protection components to the RJ45 jack. Additionally, it’s said the added signal-coupling technology and surface mounted capacitors will improve throughput.
The SupremeFX Impact II audio comes in the form of a daughter card, which plugs into a dedicated header on the motherboard. The audio card features physical isolation of analog and digital components, which will greatly reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI). All Japanese-made ELNA capacitors are used and are said to help in providing excellent sound quality.
Along the bottom edge of the motherboard, there is a button to activate Sonic SoundStage. By pressing this button, you can toggle between four different sound profiles geared towards different game genres. The post code LED display will change as you toggle through the options and will show which of the four presets you have chosen. Options include FPS(01), Racing(02), Fighting(03), or Sports(04). Sonic SenseAmp is another new technology ASUS has introduced this time around. It can be used to automatically detect headphone impedance and adjust the built-in amp according to the headphone specifications.
ASUS also provides a good amount of supporting software to compliment the SupreFX Impact II audio. Sonic Studio can be used for virtual surround sound and aural customization. Sonic Radar II offers real-time, in game audio mapping designed for FPS gaming. Perfect Voice is ASUS’ answer to noise cancellation and microphone volume stabilization. Perfect Voice is said to be capable of calculating ambient noise based on the spectral-subtraction algorithm method.
ASUS makes a point of ensuring long lasting and convenient system building through what it calls their “protection” features. This set of features encompasses ESD guards, the use of quality components, over-current protection, and their well known Q-designs. Other special design qualities include back plates for added cooling and PCB support. TrueVolt linear power to all USB ports is something ASUS has actually done for quite a while now, but never really marketed it.
If you build a system with a lot of memory, you might be interested in using the RAMDisk feature to allocate some of that abundant memory into a virtual storage drive. The 2014 iteration of RAMDisk now offers a “Junction” feature that will save and restore all files on the virtual ram disk. This magic takes place when you turn the system off (files saved to HDD) and again when you power back on (restored to virtual ram disk). Pretty slick!
You should have a pretty good feel for what the Maximus VII GENE has to offer at this point, so let’s get it in the benching room and have a look around!
Packaging and First Look
Not much has changed recently with the looks applied to ROG motherboard packaging. The familiar red and black themed box is loaded with information, especially on the back and under the flap. The front is pretty much a placard for branding and icons showing high-level capabilities. Around back, there is information on new features and a detailed list of specifications. Additional branding and a multilingual list of high-level features can be found on the box sides. Under the flap, even more details about the new audio, networking, interface, and protection features are outlined.
Inside, you’ll find the M7G protected with a plastic cover on top and a cardboard bed surrounding all sides. With the cardboard bed removed, we get our first look at the included accessories. The accessory stack is populated with plenty of goodies to quickly get you up and running – here is what’s included.
- 3 X SATA 6 Gb/s Cables
- 1 X SLI Bridge Connector
- 1 X I/O Shield
- 1 X ROG Cable Label Set
- 1 X Q-Connect Kit
- 1 X ROG SupremeFX Impact II Audio Daughter Card
- 1 X ROG Door Hanger
- 1 X ROG Motherboard Support DVD
- 1 X User Guide/Manual
Before we zero in for an up-close look at the M7G, here are several pictures taken from various angles. You’ll notice the PCB has an elegant black matte finish with red highlights around the PWM heatsink area. I like what ASUS has done aesthetically with this release of ROG motherboards. To me, the looks seem a bit more refined and clean looking. Of course, looks are subjective in nature, but kudos to ASUS for trying something a little different this time around.
The ASUS Maximus VII GENE Up Close
We’ll start our up-close look by taking a tour of the outer edges of the M7G. Along the bottom-left, we find the TPM header and four buttons on the left side. The buttons include start, reset, KeyBot, and Sonic SoundStage. The KeyBot button is used for activating the feature for a USB keyboard plugged into the designated USB port on the back I/O area. Once the button is pressed, you launch the KeyBot software and configure your keyboard from there. The Sonic SoundStage button is used to toggle between the four preset audio profiles as described in the features section above. Over to the bottom-right, we find the T-Sensor, ROG EXT, and front panel USB 2.0 headers. You can use the T-Sensor header to plug a thermistor cable into and then monitor the temperature from it. The ROG EXT connector actually encompasses another USB 2.0 header. It can be used alone for additional USB connectivity or to install an optional ROG OC Panel or ROG Front Base. Rounding out the bottom of the M7G are a 4-pin fan header and the connections for the chassis wiring.
Traveling over to the right side of the M7G, we first land at the eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports. The upper six SATA ports are native to the Z97 chipset, and the lower two are controlled by ASMedia. Just above the SATA ports is the front panel USB 3.0 header. Further up the right side, we see the 24-pin ATX power connector, another 4-pin fan header, and the MemOK! button. If you run into a situation where incompatible memory is keeping the system from booting, the MemOK! button can be used for automatic memory configuration to a bootable state. Just next to the 24-pin ATX power connector are four Q-LEDs (a fifth one is located behind the SATA ports). These LEDs correspond to boot device, VGA, memory, CPU, and hard drive. If any one of those areas are keeping the system from posting, that particular LED will stay illuminated.
Moving to the top edge of the M7G, we find a few more enthusiast features to explore. The post code LED display is sitting on the right corner with the LN2 Mode jumper situated just below it. Setting the LN2 Mode jumper to enabled helps to get past the cold boot issue many extreme overclockers run up against. Extreme overclockers will also enjoy the Probelt voltage monitoring points found along the top of the board. There are two 4-pin CPU fan headers, one 8-pin CPU AUX 12 V power connector, and a mPCIe connector. Something to keep in mind here is that the mPCIe, M.2, and PCI-E x4 slots all share bandwidth. Whether you’re using only one or all three of these slots, you can determine how the bandwidth is allocated within the UEFI BIOS.
The left side of the M7G is home to the I/O area. At the top are the clear CMOS and ROG connect buttons. The ROG connect button has a couple of different uses, including the BIOS Flashback function and connecting external devices. A single combo PS/2 port and two USB 2.0 ports are next in line. The two USB 2.0 ports located here also have special attributes. The port closest to the PS/2 port is where a keyboard you plan to customize with the KeyBot feature must be installed. The other port is where a USB device with a BIOS file must be installed in order to use the BIOS Flashback feature. The next I/O block has the optical S/PDIF audio and HDMI display outputs. It may seem strange to only have one display output on this motherboard, but in all reality, it’s unlikely the type of enthusiast this board attracts will use the iGPU anyway. The next two I/O blocks house the Intel LAN port, four USB 3.0 ports, and two more USB 2.0 ports. The upper two USB 3.0 ports are controlled by ASMedia, and the lower two are native to the chipset. Because a daughter card is used for the onboard audio, there isn’t much going on at the bottom of the board’s left side. You can see the header where the SupremeFX Impact II audio card gets installed, which is just below the last I/O block.
Since we mentioned the SupremeFX Impact II daughter card, let’s have a look at it. It’s a pretty small little guy, but it packs a heck of a punch. You can see the EMI shield covering the Realtek ALC1150 Codec and the Sonic SenseAmp IC sitting mid-board. The seven capacitors you see are the premium Japanese-made ELNA audio caps we described in the features section above. At the back of the card is where the pins are located for the front panel audio cable. The SupremeFX Impact II supports up to 7.1 channel audio by using the front panel headphone jack for the side speaker out function. However, you can use up to a 5.1 channel setup by using the three audio out jacks built into the card.
The M7G has two PCI-E x16 slots and a single PCI-E x4 slot. A single video card in the top PCI-E slot will run at x16 speed, while using both PCI-E x16 slots for multiple GPU setups will result in x8/x8 speeds. The board supports up to 4-way SLI and CrossfireX if you happen to have a pair of dual GPU video cards. Situated between the PCI-E x16 slots is the M.2 port (formally known as NGFF). The M.2 hard drive interface offers up to 10 Gb/s data transfer speeds in an extremely small package. Because of the well thought out location of the M.2 port, you can install drives up to 80 mm in length.
The heatsinks on the M7G have a black nickel coating with red accents and ROG branding. They blend very well with the overall aesthetics of the motherboard and do well at their most important function – keeping what’s under them cool. The heat sink covering the PCH is a rather large single-piece solution, while the MOSFET heatsink is a two-piece design joined with a heatpipe.
The four DIMM slots support up to 32 GB of DDR3 system memory at speeds up to 3300 MHz (OC). The slots themselves feature the Q-DIMM design, meaning there is a release lever on one side only.
The CPU socket area is clear of any notable obstructions and shouldn’t pose any problems using large air cooling solutions. I can’t imagine any water blocks that would have trouble fitting here either.
Having a closer look at the cooling scheme on the M7G, I removed the heatsinks and back plates. Under the PCH heatsink, we found that pink gooey TIM we commonly find at this location. The PCH heatsink was found to be well attached and making excellent contact with its target. The MOSFET heatsinks and back plates are held in place with common screws located on the back of the motherboard. The screws pass through the back plates, through the motherboard, and thread into the heatsinks. Thermal pads are used on both the back plates and heatsinks, which were all making excellent contact across the span of ICs they are intended to cover.
With the heatsinks removed, we can get a good look at the power delivery area. The M7G features an 8+2 all digital power phase design, which ASUS has designated Extreme Engine DIGI+ III. Included in this design are NexFET Power Block MOSFETs, 60A Ferrite Chokes, and 10K Black Metallic Capacitors. While eight power phases for the CPU might not sound like the most robust power delivery there is, 60A per choke is going to provide plenty of power for overclocking… quality over quantity they say! The other two power phases are dedicated to the memory and are located just next to the DIMM slots. The CPU and memory power phases have their own DIGI+ VRM controller.
We’ll conclude our up-close tour with a look at several ICs that make up many of the motherboard’s functions. As we typically see on many current generation motherboards, ASMedia is a popular third party solution for many important features. In the case of the M7G, ASMedia handles the following.
The BIOS chip used on the M7G is something new to me. Typically, we see ASUS using Winbond here, but this time the chip is marked GD25864BPIG. I was unable to find any information on it when doing a quick search. A more familiar IC is the nuvoTon NCT6791D, which provides system monitoring, super I/O control, etc.
As we mentioned earlier, Intel LAN controllers are a favorite among enthusiast users, and the M7G obliges by using the I218V LAN controller. Finally, the last picture below is of the Z97 PCH.
The UEFI BIOS
The M7G UEFI BIOS is as full featured as you’ll find anywhere. The EZ Mode page now has most of the commonly used settings at your disposal. The EZ Mode page presents you with real time monitoring information and the ability to set a host of hardware parameters.
If you prefer a more detailed UEFI BIOS experience, Advanced Mode is where you want to be. There are eight sections to explore here starting with the My Favorites tab. This is where you can make shortcuts to any UEFI BIOS setting you often visit. Worth noting is the monitoring information seen on the right hand side, which follows you everywhere you go as you navigate the UEFI BIOS. At any time while navigating through the UEFI BIOS, you can press F9 to access the Quick Notes feature. This allows you to write down any information you may want to retrieve at a later time. Also found along the top is the option to launch the EZ Tuning Wizard, which will guide you through an optimization process based on a set of usage and cooling parameters you choose.
The Extreme Tweaker tab is where all the overclocking magic happens. There are several overclocking presets you can choose to use, or you have a plethora of options to overclock manually. There are several sub menus that deal with memory timings, power delivery, and CPU power management. The memory timings sub menu is as detailed as they come and offers several presets you can try out as well. The DIGI+ Power Control sub menu is where ASUS separates itself from many of the competitor motherboards. All your power delivery options are located here, which give you full control of both the CPU and memory power phases. Your LLC options, switching frequencies, and current capabilities are also found here. In case you need even more toys to play with, there is a sub menu called Tweaker’s Paradise for accessing several additional voltage controls.
Moving over to the Main tab, we find information on installed components and firmware versions. You can also set your system date/time and security settings from here.
The Advanced tab has 10 sub menus dealing with system configuration settings. From here, you can set all your storage preferences and CPU power management options. There are a host of other options available to configure onboard devices, USB ports, system agent parameters, and even control the ROG lighting effects.
The Monitor tab gives you critical system component temperature readings, which also includes a reading for the T-Sensor thermistor cable if you add one to the system. Complete fan control and monitoring can be accomplished here as well. Fans can be customized manually, or you can choose from four presets.
The Boot tab has the familiar options to set how the system behaves during the boot up process. In addition to setting HDD and ROM drive priorities, you can also choose the default landing page when entering the UEFI BIOS.
The Tools Tab has several useful utilities including EZ Flash 2, Secure Erase, and the ability to save up to eight overclocking profiles. If you own an OC Panel, you can set your Hot-Key function from here as well.
The Exit Tab rounds out the UEFI BIOS tour and provides the typical set of options for saving or discarding any changes you have made. When you choose to save changes, a window will pop up showing you what changes you have made during the current session.
The ASUS support DVD is loaded with many items you’ll want to browse through once your system is up and running. Free utilities such as Kaspersky Anti-Virus, DAEMON Tools Pro, and WinZip are available to install. Most of the other software we already discussed earlier in the review, but here are a couple pictures of what’s available to install.
AI Suite 3 is the most comprehensive motherboard software there is, bar none. The Dual Intelligent Processors feature now sits at version 5 for this release. Whether you’re looking for maximum performance, power savings, or the ability to customize and fine tune your system in a variety of different ways, DIP5 has you covered. Manual overclocking is available in the TPU section, and you can also control the power delivery by diving into the DIGI+ Power Control area. If power savings are more your cup of tea, then the EPU section has everything you need to control power usage. The Turbo App area is something new for this release and offers the ability to customize system performance, network priority, and audio settings to a particular application. Fan Xpert 3 is available for total control of system cooling. There are four presets you can choose, or you can opt for manual configuration of any fan hooked to one of the fan headers on the motherboard. You’ll want to run your fans through the fan tuning operation first, so any customizations you make will be fine tuned to what Fan Xpert 3 “learns” about your particular fans. Peruse the thumbnail images below for a tour of all DIP5 offers.
AI Suite 3 contains several more useful utilities you may want to explore. There are a couple different USB charging options, a USB 3.0 Boost utility, and the USB Flashback utility to name a few. Most of these are self explanatory by looking at the images below.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VII Gene|
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K Haswell|
|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||EK-Supreme LTX Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
During our review of the ASUS TUF Sabertooth Mark I, we already determined the performance difference between Z87 and Z97 chipsets are minimal at best. This holds especially true when the same CPU and memory are used on both platforms. So, there is no reason to compare the two chipsets this time around, and we’ll revert to our normal motherboard testing suite of benchmarks. Before we dive into the benchmarks, we need to check for stability at stock and our 4.6 GHz overclock speed. Getting to 4.6 GHz required setting the CPU voltage to 1.35 V and then toying around with LLC and DIGI+ VRM settings. It wasn’t difficult to get there because the UEFI BIOS does a good job when most of the settings are simply left on auto. The memory was set to 2400 MHz throughout all the benchmark runs and stability testing. Here are the pictures of the AIDA64 Stability test runs at stock and overclocked.
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
7-Zip Compression Benchmark
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
Aida64 Cache & Memory