With the release of the Maximus VII Impact, ASUS looks to improve on what many people considered the best available mITX motherboard in the Maximus VI Impact. Other than the obvious update to the Z97 chipset, the Maximus VII Impact offers several other noteworthy improvements that we’ll explore today. ASUS is out to prove again that good things can indeed come in a small package. Let’s go find out if they succeeded!
Specifications and Features
Given the size of the Maximus VII Impact (henceforth, the M7I), you’re not going to see a tremendous amount of SATA connectivity, dual LAN ports, or support for more than one video card like you see on larger motherboard form factors. There is plenty of USB connectivity with six each USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, and the bundled mPCIe Combo IV expansion card offers additional connectivity with its M.2 SSD support. The two memory slots support up to DDR3-3300 MHz (OC) at a maximum capacity of 16 GB. We’ll get into more detail as the review progresses, but the specifications table below is a good overview of the M7I’s capabilities. Specifications provided by the ASUS website.
|ASUS Maximus VII Impact 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||2 x DIMM, Max. 16GB, 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)
|Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort 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
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider
DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DP 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16
1 x mini-PCIe 2.0 x1
|Storage||Intel® Z97 chipset:
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red, with M key, type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology
PCI Express gen 3.0:
1 x M.2 Socket 3 on mPCIe Combo IV expansion card, black, with M key, type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
Support M.2 Type 2242/2260/2280/22110 SSD card (up to 110mm in length), support PCI express 3.0 x4 standard
|LAN||Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller, featuring GAMEFIRST III
Intel® LAN- Dual interconnect between the Integrated LAN controller and Physical Layer (PHY)
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
Support ASUS Wi-Fi Go! Utility
|Audio||ROG SupremeFX Impact II 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC:
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– 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||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) (4 at back panel, black, 2 at mid-board)
|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
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
1 x ROG Connect On/ Off switch
1 x Q-Code LED
1 x Sonic SoundStage button
1 x KeyBot button
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x USB 3.0 connector support additional 2 USB 3.0 port
1 x USB 2.0 connector support(s) additional 2 USB 2.0 port
1 x TPM connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector
3 x Chassis Fan connectors
1 x 8-pin EATX 12 V Power connector
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel
10 x ProbeIt Measurement Points
1 x LN2 Mode header
1 x Power-on button
1 x Reset button
1 x mPCIe Combo IV connector
1 x LN2 Mode jumper
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header
1 x Impact CoolHub connector
1 x SupremeFX Impact II connector
|BIOS||64Mb UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.8, ACPI5.0 Multi-Language BIOS|
|Form Factor||Mini ITX Form Factor
6.7 inch x 6.7 inch ( 17 cm x 17 cm )
Below is an overview of the M7I’s layout, which consists of a modular design for power delivery, audio, the mPCIe Combo IV card, and the CoolHub module.
The Impact Power II feature is a unique and space saving way to implement the motherboard’s power delivery. Its modular design mirrors that of an expansion card of sorts, but has the MOSFETs, chokes, and other power delivery components built into it. It’s mounted vertically along the top of the M7I, which frees up valuable real estate for ASUS to add additional features to the motherboard.
The latest Intel I218-V Ethernet controller is found on the M7I, which promises more throughput and less CPU overhead than competing onboard LAN solutions. The LAN port itself is outfitted with the ASUS LANGuard enhancements, which provide surge protection and a more reliable connection through the use of added capacitors. The accompanying GameFirst III software is a bandwidth prioritization utility with an eye towards giving game packets top priority, but can be used to set priorities for non-gaming applications as well. There are four preset packet priority modes you can choose from based on current usage or choose to set things up manually if preferred. The Utility also comes with a monitoring tool, network information at a glance, and even a bandwidth test.
The SupremeFX Impact II audio is another example of the M7I’s modular design. The SupremeFX Impact II audio card has many of the same attributes ASUS uses on their larger ROG motherboards where an onboard audio solution is used. EMI reduction is achieved with physical isolation and a shield over the Realtek CODEC IC. You’ll also find premium Japanese-made ELNA audio capacitors used. The Sonic SenseAmp microprocessor is used for automatic headphone impedance detection and will adjust the built-in amplifier accordingly. The Sonic Studio software suite is also available, which provides a serious amount of audio customizations including virtual 7.1 surround sound. Sonic SenseAmp and Sonic Studio will only work via the front panel analog connection, meaning they are intended to be used with headphones. Sonic Radar II and Perfect Voice are two additional utilities to enhance the audio experience. Sonic Radar II provides an in-game overlay that can be used to help determine the direction game sounds are coming from. Designed to be used with FPS games, the sounds it best works with are footsteps, gunshots, and call-outs. Perfect Voice is a noise cancellation utility that can benefit online or in-game chat sessions. Sonic SoundStage is a hardware-level audio profile switch that provides on-the-fly audio adjustment to best suit the game genre you are engaged in. When the onboard button is pressed, the post code LED display will change to indicate the choice you make. The options are FPS (01), racing (02), fighting (03), and sports (04).
The bundled mPCIe Combo IV card comes equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities right out of the box. It’s expandable to accommodate a mPCIe device on one side and a PCI-E 3.0 x4 M.2 socket device on the other. The M.2 socket offers transfer speeds up to 32 GB/s. Another unique add-on to the M7I is the ASUS exclusive KeyBot microprocessor, which can be used with any USB keyboard to add macro, function, and shortcut keys.
ASUS continues to add features to their UEFI BIOS and enhance the capabilities of their EZ Mode page. Fan customizing, SATA information, clock adjustments, and XMP settings are all available from the EZ Mode screen. Once you’re inside Advanced Mode, you can take advantage of the My Favorites, Quick Notes, Last Modified Log, and SATA port renaming features. ROG SSD Secure Erase is a very useful tool allowing you to secure erase a SSD right from within the UEFI BIOS. If you have a supported ASUS graphics card, detailed information on the GPU is available from within the UEFI BIOS.
ASUS has a group of other features they list under the “Gamer’s Guardian” umbrella. Many of the Q-design features are listed here, as well as over-current and ESD protections.
ROG RAMDisk and other useful software and utilities are bundled with the M7I.
The box theme is what we’re used to seeing with an ASUS ROG offering. Most of the action happens at the back and under the flap covering the front. While the front is dedicated to minimal graphics and a few icons, around back is a more detailed list of the features and specifications. Lifting the flap reveals even more features the M7I offers. Most of what we see here was mentioned above, but the packaging does a nice job of letting a potential buyer get a feel for the motherboard’s capabilities.
Digging further into the box, we can see the motherboard sitting on top with a plastic insert holding it securely in place. Below the motherboard is where all the accessories are packaged. The generous accessory stack includes the following items.
Not surprisingly, the M7I is comprised of a red and black theme. Being only 6.7 inches square, you can see the PCB is pretty packed with components. It’s also pretty easy to see what a great idea putting all the power delivery components on the vertically mounted Impact Power II daughterboard was. We’ll explore the board more indepth next; but for now, enjoy the photo op!
The ASUS Maximus VII Impact Up Close
The bottom of the M7I is dominated by the single PCI-E x16 expansion slot and the PCH heatsink that’s just above it. The right side of the motherboard is much busier and is where many devices get connected to the motherboard. At the bottom of the right side are the case wiring connectors, front panel USB 3.0 header, and the onboard start and reset buttons. Moving upward, you’ll find the 24-pin ATX power connector and an 8-pin CPU AUX 12 V power connector. Also viewable from this vantage point are the four SATA 6 GB/s ports and the two DIMM Slots. All four SATA ports are native to the Z97 chipset. The two DIMM slots support up to 16 GB total system memory at speeds up to DDR3-3300 MHz (OC).
The Impact Power II daughtercard takes up almost the entire top area of the motherboard, but there is room for the 4-pin PWM CPU fan header at the far left corner. The left side of the M7I is where the I/O connections are found and some other nifty features as well. Beginning at the top, we have the optical audio out, HDMI, and DisplayPort connections. Below that, we have the post code LED display and the SoundStage and KeyBot activation buttons. Moving down, we come to the Clear CMOS button, ROG Connect button, four each USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 combo port, and the Intel I218-V LAN jack.
At the bottom of the left side, we can see the connection points for the mPCIe Combo IV card and the SupremeFX Impact II audio card. The M7I also comes with the ProbeIt feature and its series of voltage read points located in this area. A view from behind the I/O area reveals the headers for a TPM module and the bundled Impact CoolHub. Not pictured is the ROG_EXT header that’s also behind the I/O area, which is used to connect an optional ROG OC Panel or ROG Front Base unit. For a motherboard this size, the CPU socket area is pretty wide open and should accommodate a wide variety of air coolers. A CPU water block of just about any kind shouldn’t be a problem either.
Exploring the heatsinks on the M7I leads us to the PCH and Impact Power II module. The PCH heatsink uses a thermal pad for its TIM, and it was found to be well applied and making good contact. The heatsink strategy used on the Impact Power II module is a two-piece design that again uses thermal pads. The two heatsinks are joined with screws that pass through the PCB and “pinch” the module between them. With the heatsinks removed, we can get a look at the Z97 PCH and the 10-phase (8 CPU + 2 Memory) power delivery the Impact Power II module provides. Just as found on larger ASUS motherboards, two DIGI+ VRM controllers are used on the Impact Power II module. One controls the CPU power phases, and the other controls the memory power phases.
Most of the connectivity on the M7I is native to the chipset, so there won’t be a lot in the way of third party controllers found here. The Realtek audio CODEC IC resides on the SupremeFX Impact II daughtercard and is covered by the EMI shield. Other than that, we only have the Intel I218-V network controller, nuvoTon NTC6791D Super I/O controller, ASMedia ASM1442K TMDS level shift IC for HDMI, and the ASUS KeyBot microprocessor.
The pictures below show all the daughtercards installed on the M7I. If you look closely at the CoolHub card, you can see it brings two additional 4-pin PWM fan headers with it. That makes a total of one CPU and three system fan headers available to use.
The ASUS UEFI BIOS
ASUS has made great strides in making the EZ Mode area of the UEFI BIOS as feature rich as the screen size allows. There’s lots of system information at a glance, system tuning options, fan control, and a few other items as well.
Pressing the F7 key will get you inside the Advanced Mode area, which has almost every imaginable option at your disposal. Regardless of where you navigate, you’ll always have basic system monitoring information along the right side of the screen. Quick access to a few unique features can be found along the top of each screen as well. These include My Favorites for creating shortcuts to often visited areas of the UEFI BIOS, Qfan control for controlling fans connected to the motherboard’s fan headers, the EZ Tuning Wizard, Quick Notes, and Hot Keys.
The Extreme Tweaker section is where the overclockers will be spending most of their time. The options here are numerous to say the least, but don’t be intimidated. I say that because ASUS does a great job with the “Auto” rules they program into most of the settings that may confuse you. The vast majority of CPU overclocking can be done by simply choosing the CPU multiplier and raising the voltage as necessary. Memory can be set to its XMP profile; and in most cases, all the other timings can be left on their Auto setting.
The more experienced overclockers will find everything they need to get every last MHz from their CPU and memory. One of the areas where the ASUS UEFI BIOS separates itself from the competition is in the DIGI+ Power Control sub menu. From here, you have complete control over power delivery to both the CPU and memory. From the nine available levels of LLC control, to VRM switching frequency and power phase controls, the DIGI+ Power Control sub menu has many useful features for getting the maximum overclock. The below pictures will guide you through the different areas of Extreme Tweaker and the abundant options available.
The Main section is mostly informational in nature, but does offer the language, date/time, and security settings.
Sliding over to the Advanced section, we find 10 sub menus related to system setup. Most of this can be left as is, but you’ll at least want to visit the CPU Configuration and Onboard Devices Configuration sub menus to set those to your liking. Again, we have a series of pictures to guide you through all the different areas of the Advanced section.
The Monitor section is where you’ll find everything you need to keep an eye on temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds. If you plan to control fans through the UEFI BIOS, you’ll want to launch the Qfan Tuning feature, so it can “learn” the minimum and maximum duty cycle of each fan connected to the motherboard. When you go to the Fan Speed Control section, you’ll be able to set fan speeds based off of the duty cycles and temperature thresholds.
In the Boot section, you’ll find all the system post behavior options. Most of these options can be found on most modern motherboards, but you do have the option to set boot device priorities and whether or not the boot logo is displayed during post.
The Tools section has some very useful utilities that are well worth exploring. The EZ Flash 2 Utility is a quick, easy, and safe way to update the UEFI Firmware. Secure Erase is my favorite tool in this section. You can secure erase your SSD right from within the UEFI BIOS, which is a huge time saver. No need to boot from a CD or install software to complete this task anymore! If you plug a supported ASUS graphics card into this motherboard, you can take advantage of the Graphics Card Information utility to view its specifications. The ability to save profiles to the UEFI BIOS or a USB storage device gives you the option to save as many profiles as you want. The SPD table for the installed memory is easily viewable by visiting the SPD Information utility. If you own a ROG OC Panel, the hot keys can be configured in the H-Key Configure utility.
The Exit section is pretty standard stuff, with one exception. When you choose the Save Changes & Rest option, a pop-up window will show all the changes you’ve made during the current session.
Bundled Software – AI Suite 3
If you’re remotely familiar with ASUS enthusiast-level motherboards, then you probably already know about their AI Suite 3 software. AI Suite 3 is as good as it gets as far as in-OS optimization goes, period. For the enthusiast and overclocking crowd, the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 area is where you’ll be spending most of your time. In many ways, DIP5 is almost like having a full fledged BIOS right from the desktop. Whether you’re looking to get the maximum overclock or looking for maximum power efficiency, everything you need is available in the DIP5 area. You can choose to set everything up manually, or select the 5-Way Optimization option and let the software do it for you. The recent introduction of DIP5’s Turbo App utility even allows you to customize system enhancements to any given application installed on your computer.
The rest of AI Suite 3 has several useful utilities as well. For USB enhancements, there are a couple of USB charging utilities and a USB boost utility to increase transfer rates for compatible USB 3.0 devices. The EZ Update utility lets you connect to the ASUS servers to check for software, BIOS, and driver updates. It can also be used to update the BIOS and even add a custom boot logo to the BIOS file. The USB BIOS Flashback utility can automatically check for BIOS updates and save them to a USB storage device, which can then be used to update the BIOS using the motherboard’s built-in BIOS Flashback feature. The Push Notice utility can send predefined alerts to your smart devices either over your LAN or over the internet. Internet alerts require you to sign up for and log into an ASUS account. The System and Version Information utilities provide a snapshot of motherboard, CPU, and memory information, as well as the version of each AI Suite 3 utility currently installed.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VII Impact|
|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|
We’ll be using a Devil’s Canyon i7 4790K CPU in the test system for today’s benchmark runs. The ASUS MultiCore Enhancement option in the UEFI BIOS keeps the CPU locked in at the Turbo speed of 4.4 GHz, which is how I normally run stock benchmarks. Each benchmark was run at the Turbo frequency of 4.4 GHz and again with a 4.8 GHz overclock in place. The memory was set to its XMP profile speed of 2400 MHz for both the stock and overclocked testing.
As I mentioned in the UEFI BIOS section above, overclocking the CPU to 4.8 GHz was extremely easy because of the “Auto” setting rules ASUS programs into the UEFI BIOS. All I really had to do was set the multiplier to 48X, raise the CPU voltage, and set the LLC to level seven. Everything else was left on auto, and the overclock flew through all of our benchmarks without any stability issues.
We’ll be running our typical set of benchmarks to test compression, rendering, video conversion, and we’ll even 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. Basically, what we are looking for are any abnormalities that may pop up during the benchmarks. I’ll spot check these results against previously reviewed Z97 motherboards to make sure performance is on par. So, let’s get to it!
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
Comparing these results to previous Z97/i7 4790K reviews previously published, the M7I performed just as expected. Very little difference was noticed between the M7I and other like systems. The M7I had slightly better scores on some benchmarks and slightly lower on others. As usual though, all the benchmark results compared were within the margin of error. Nothing to complain about on the performance front!
Pushing the Limits
With the i7 4790K CPU I possess, 4.9 GHz is about all I can get and complete a couple of quick benchmarks. I was still able to leave the memory set to 2400 MHz at this speed and complete a run of SuperPi 1M and wPrime 32M.
Once again, ASUS has raised the bar in the small form factor arena with their Maximus VII Impact. When you look at all the features it offers, it really is an engineering marvel. The M7I proves you don’t have to sacrifice performance to enjoy the benefits of a SFF build. Sure, you won’t be able to plug four sticks of memory or multiple video cards into the M7I, but a good 2X8 GB memory kit and a video card that meets your gaming needs are all you need to build a high-performance system.
ASUS did a good job bringing almost all of the ROG Maximus VII features to the M7I, including SupremeFX audio, KeyBot, Intel LAN, the mPCIe Combo IV card, and all of the software that compliments those features. The UEFI BIOS is as rich with options as any other Maximus VII motherboard, which allows overclocking just as good as its larger siblings.
Currently, the Maximus VII Impact sells for $239 at Newegg, which makes it the most expensive Z97 mITX motherboard available there. However, when you take the time to compare the enthusiast-level features, bundled software, and the unique layout of the M7I, I think the price is justified.
With the rise in popularity of SFF systems, it’s great to see ASUS give overclocking and gaming enthusiasts another option when considering their next system build. The Maximus VII Impact offers a great amount of high-end features and excellent overclocking capabilities, all wrapped up in a reasonably priced SFF factor design. If you’re looking to go “small” with your next system build, the ASUS Maximus VII Impact deserves serious consideration.