It has been a little over two weeks since Kaby Lake hit the scene. As seen in our i7 7700K review, Instructions Per Clock (IPC)-wise, there are not many tangible changes from the 6700K for the common folk. However, for the enthusiast overclocker, that higher base clock and higher top end are really enticing. Now that the CPU is out, we are starting to see Intel’s board partners, like ASUS, coming out with their Z270 motherboard lineup. In our hands right now we have the ROG Maximus IX Formula (MIXF moving forward). This board promises to be solid offering, specializing in (no particular order) overclocking, gaming, and in the aesthetics/looks area with its liberal use of shrouds and RGB LED’s that many enthusiasts love these days. Take a look below at the specifications, features, and see how the MIXF fared in our testing!
Below is a list of specifications from the ASUS website for the MIXF. As you can see, the Z270 platform supports both 6th Generation (Skylake), and 7th Generation (Kaby Lake) CPUs. This board has a total of four DIMM slots allowing for a capacity of up to 64GB DDR4 Non ECC, Un-buffered Memory. Memory continues to be dual channel on this mainstream platform. The Formula supports RAM speeds up to 4133 MHz (O.C.) which is a slight bump up from most Skylake based boards. The MIXF also supports Intel’s new Optane Memory when that comes out in either M.2 or DIMM form (not that anyone is holding their breath for caching redux).
If you are working on the integrated GPU, the MIXF has both an HDMI port and DisplayPort 1.2 to send the signal from the new Iris Plus HD630 integrated GPU. When using discrete GPUs, the board can handle 3-Way CrossfireX, or 2-Way SLI. The lane breakdown is x16 for a single card, x8/x8 for dual, and x8/x8/x4 using three cards.
The networking side of things is handled by the Intel I219-V. The NIC has the Anti-surge LANGuard further protecting your system from static electricity and EMI interference. ASUS also has their ROG GameFirst Technology, in its 4th iteration, to optimize and shape traffic in order to minimize lag while gaming. The board has integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac using both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies. Last, it supports MU-MIMO and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity.
The audio CODECS have been updated using Realtek’s new ALC1220 CODEC (SupremeFX CODEC S1220) over the last generation ALC1150. The new CODEC is said to bring a higher S/N ratio of 113db line-in and 120db stereo output on an ESS ES9023P DAC for the front panel, and a Texas Instruments RC4850 op-amp. Like most audio sections now, the chip is shielded to minimize EMI as well as using the higher-end Nichicon capacitors.
There are a slew of USB outputs on the board from the chipset, a total of six USB3 and six USB2.0. The Z270 platform does not have native support of USB 3.1, so those three ports (one front panel and two back panel) are handled by the third party controller from ASMedia. Plenty of USB connectivity here including USB 3.1 Type-C on the back panel, and a connector on the board for the front panel connector (located next to the 24-pin ATX power).
There is tons more to read here, so I will let the specifications table and the website do the rest of the talking.
|ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula
|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||4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR4 4133(O.C.)/4000(O.C.)/3866(O.C.)/3733(O.C.)/3600(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 *
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
** Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
|Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/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® 2-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8, gray)
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black) *1
3 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x1
|Storage||Intel® Z270 Chipset :
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)*2
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices support (PCIE mode only)*3
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s)
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology*4
Intel® Rapid Storage Technology supports
Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready *5
|LAN / Wireless / Bluetooth||Intel® I219V
ROG GameFirst TechnologyWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
Supports MU-MIMOBluetooth V4.1
|Audio||ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC S1220
– Impedance sense for front and rear headphone outputs
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– High quality 120 dB SNR stereo playback output and 113 dB SNR recording input
– SupremeFX Shielding Technology
– ESS® ES9023P
– Supports up to 32-Bit/192kHz playback *6
Audio Features :
– Gold-plated jacks
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic Radar III
– Sonic Studio III
|USB||ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1 front panel connector port(s)
ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
2 x USB 3.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, )
Intel® Z270 Chipset :
6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, , 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z270 Chipset : *7
6 x USB 2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, , 2 at mid-board)
|ROG Exclusive Features||CrossChill EK (Hybrid air and liquid cooling)
ROG Armor (including top cover and SECC steel backplate)
ROG RAMCache II
Pre-mounted I/O Shield
Safe Boot Button
– Aura Lighting Control
– Aura RGB Strip Headers
Extreme Engine Digi+ :
– MicroFine Alloy Chokes
– NexFET™ Power Block MOSFET
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
– Power On
UEFI BIOS features :
– O.C. Profile
– Tweakers’ Paradise
– ROG SSD Secure Erase
– Graphic Card Information Preview
|Back Panel I/O Ports||1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
1 x USB 3.1 (red)Type-A
1 x USB 3.1 (black)Type-C
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
2 x Wi-Fi antenna port(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
|Internal I/O Ports||2 x Aura RGB Strip Headers
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
1 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (SATA mode & X4 PCIE mode)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280 storage devices support (PCIE mode only)
1 x TPM connector(s)
6 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 H_AMP fan connector
1 x W_PUMP+ connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x AIO_PUMP connector (1 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)
1 x Slow Mode switch(es)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x LN2 Mode jumper(s)
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header(s)
1 x Safe Boot button
1 x ReTry button
1 x EXT_Fan header
1 x W_IN header
1 x W_OUT header
1 x W_FLOW header
1 x Thermal sensor connector
1 x Start button
1 x USB 3.1 front panel connector
|BIOS||1 x 128 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI3.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 3.0, ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 3, CrashFree BIOS 3, F11 EZ Tuning Wizard, F6 Qfan Control, F3 My Favorites, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information.|
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
The first major highlight, as far as I’m concerned, is the integration of the EKWB Crosschill EK II block which sits on the VRMs. As you can likely tell with the mention of EK, this VRM/MOSFET cooler can be used with air alone, or used in your water cooling loop! It comes pre-tapped with your standard G1/4 fitting so you can likely use barbs you already have around and screw them right on. ASUS and EKWB have re-engineered the block to have larger and thinner cooling fins, as well as lower resistance, yielding a 4 °C improvement over the previous design.
With water cooling becoming more and more common, even custom loops, ASUS has really set the bar for innovation by adding the ROG Water Cooling Zone on the motherboard. This “zone” located below the SATA ports consists of a couple of headers integrated on the board to allow you to plug in a flow rate meter (3-Pin), and x2 two-pin temperature sensors (labeled w_out and w_in). I have to say, adding these headers on the board are a pretty unique feature. It saves you the expense of buying a fan controller which supports such functions and allows you to control it right from the Fan Xpert 4 Utility.
As is the standard these days, the MIXF supports ASUS’ Aura Lighting Control which allows you to tweak the on-board LEDs to your heart’s desire. Not only can you control what is on the board, there are two on-board 4-Pin headers for additional 5050 RGB LED light strips (sold separately). Additionally, with ASUS’ Aura Sync Technology, you are able to make this board the one hub for your “illumination ambitions.” The Aura sync will allow you to control effects from those strips, GPUs, mice, and keyboards. Endless possibilities!
The next feature is ROG’s updated SupremeFX Audio Technology which sits on top of the Realtek ALC1220 CODEC. This new and updated CODEC uses ESS Sabre Hi-Fi ES9023P DAC on the front and a TI RC4850 op-amp to send great sound to your speakers. ASUS also uses Nichicon capacitors rounding out the major features of the improved audio section.
What ROG line board is complete without overclocking features, right? The new Formula isn’t left out in the cold so don’t worry. From the AISuite’s one-click overclock using 5-Way Optimization, to the 10-Phase Digi Power+, superior VRM part selection, and incredibly thorough BIOS, this board will easily take your CPU right up to its ambient cooled limits… and likely beyond.
Retail Packaging and Accessories
In the gallery below you will see a few pictures of the retail packaging for the Maximus IX Formula. A bit different from last year’s look, more simplified with just the ROG red color across the top two thirds, and what looks like a trace path/outline towards the bottom left third of the box. The back has your usual list of specifications and features. Opening it up you are greeted by the motherboard on top protected effectively by a single piece of plastic. Below the board is where you will find the accessory stack (see website for all that is included).
A Closer Look
Our first photos of the Formula show there are not really many differences in the appearance of the board. An item here or there, like the ROG badge says “Republic of Gamers” in LED while the Z170 Formula just said “Formula” in that area. They also removed the aluminum-looking circle on the shroud between the VRM’s. On the actual VRM heatsink, just above the CPU, you can see the EKWB symbol next to the one of the water ports. On the other end of the dual heatsink/waterblock, they have added the Formula name across the top. About the only other difference you can see without squinting is they took the reflective “SupremeFX” coloring by the audio section and made it blend in a bit more. The back plate appears to be exactly the same. Not much different, but, why mess with something that looks so good and plays so nice with most any theme?
On the bottom left of the board, hidden under the shroud, rests the new SupremeFX S1220 CODEC with all the fancy caps and op-amps also hidden beneath. We see a total of three PCIe slots, with the first slot being the only true slot wired 16x, the other two full length slots, are wired 8x each. Across the bottom of the board are a number of headers including USB, Audio, Mem OK, Retry, Safe boot, a slow mode switch, and one of the two RGB LED headers.
The larger interface below the PCH heatsink and shroud is actually M.2 slot 2. I can’t say I have ever seen this look for the M.2 slot. It appears to simply stick out from the header. Although there is mounting for it, its positioning allows for it to get bumped pretty easily. It will take some force to break the stick, so I don’t believe its a big concern, just something to watch out for. Most boards have the second/third M.2 slots between the PCIe slots. At least in this location, it should get plenty of airflow anyway.
Around the socket area you see some of the 10-Phase VRM staring us down. I’m certain with the quality of the power bits used here with its Microfine Alloy Chokes, 10K hour Japanese made black metallic caps, and smaller NEXTFET MOSFETs, we don’t have to worry about the motherboard limiting overclocks.
Next, we show you the rear I/O area which has a slew of connectivity including USB 3.1 G2 Type-C, the HDMI and DisplayPort we talked about earlier, the Wi-Fi connectivity, audio, NIC, etc. One cool thing I am happy made it “down” to the Formula is the integrated I/O plate. This gives things a really clean look on the back of a case and saves the hassle of putting the thing in and then placing the motherboard on the standoffs/in the right spot.
As far as storage connectivity, outside of the two M.2 slots, there a total of six SATA 6Gbps ports. To the left of those you can see the ROG Water Cooling Zone along with other headers. To the right is a front panel USB connection. Not a ton of SATA ports, six total, but with M.2 becoming more affordable and mainstream, coupled with the fact that there are few using more than six SATA devices, it should be plenty for most people.
Below I took off the shrouds and showed the motherboard in its birthday suit (OK, the VRM heatsink is on, think of it as covering the most private of areas). Nothing too exciting to see under the hood honestly. On the back of the PCB, you can see the PCIe electrical layout more clearly. The first full length slot is your 16x slot folks. Anything else is limited to 8x. Not a big deal though as we know.
Last up is a gallery showing a couple of the IC’s used to drive and monitor the board. We can see the Digi+, TPU, Nuvoton, ASMedia, and the AURA chip for controlling the LEDs.
UEFI BIOS and Monitoring/Overclocking Software
In the first slideshow, I show you the ASUS UEFI at a high level. Just the options across the top. Digging down much further in each we would have fifty screenshots! But this should give you an idea of how it’s setup. The UEFI is buttery smooth to maneuver around and things are placed logically and easy to find. No issues here, looks good and works great!
But, we are Overclockers.com right? So here is a more detailed, but good lord still not complete, shot of the Extreme Tweaker Section. Again, I didn’t show all possible screens, but, there is plenty here to tweak the heck out of any CPU you have in it and get the most out of it.
Last up are some shots of AI Suite III, their Windows-based monitoring and overclocking software, as well as the Aura Lighting Software used to control integrated and external (when connected to the two onboard headers) RGB LEDs. Finally, some pictures of the board in action along with the ASUS ROG Strix Gaming GTX 1080 we reviewed.
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 Formula|
|RAM||GSkill Trident Z 2×8 GB DDR4- 3866MHz CL18-19-19-39 2T|
|Graphics Card||ASUS ROG Strix Gaming GTX 1080|
|Hard Drive||OCZ RD 400 512GB|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic Platinum-1000|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro x64 (Fully Updated)|
|Benchmarks||AIDA64 Engineer (Memory Test)MaxxMEM
Cinebench R11.5 and R15
x265 1080p Benchmark (Hwbot)
Super Pi 1M/32M
In our results, as is typical, we are not seeing much of a difference when comparing like parts (Z270/i7 7700K). However if you are running at stock for 4790K, you are seeing a few percent difference, but this is because of clockspeeds. We know that IPC increases were, for the most part, non existent from our i7 7700K Kaby Lake review.
|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|
|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|
Pushing the Limits
Using the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula, I was able to push up to 5.1 GHz as I did with the other board in the Kaby Lake review at a similar voltage all around. One good thing is when setting XMP profile, I did not get the way too high 1.45/1.4V on SA/IO. So that was good. When I set the memory to 4000 MHz, The MSI board didn’t really want to play nice as it automatically raised some of the primary timings a notch, while the MIXF just left it as is requiring a manual adjustment. I was able to get through some short multi-threaded benchmarks and Super Pi 1M so this was again at least benching stable. These chips seem to really hit a steep voltage wall that needs some work to get through. I tried over 1.5V to reach 5.2 GHz but it just wasn’t having it on this CPU. Too bad…
ASUS has yet again managed to pack more cool features in the next generation chipset on the Maximus IX Formula. This Z270 based motherboard has improved on the integrated EKWB waterblock in flow rates and performance. In addition to this, the ROG Water Cooling Zone gives you onboard headers for flow rate monitoring and temperature in/out as well. Saying you would not like a more complicated system, between these features, the number of headers for fans and pumps, as well as the software to control it, you likely won’t even need a fan controller. Love that integration!
I also like that the Formula level board (now about 3rd in pecking order, it seems) is using the pre-mounted I/O shield. It looks good and you don’t have to fuss with it. Although if I had to pick out a gripe about plate, I would want it to actually cover the entirety of the slot. On both boards I have with this feature, there are gaps around the edges/doesn’t sit flush. Granted, it’s the back of the PC which nobody sees, so its not a huge deal. Maybe ASUS would consider putting brush grommet around the edge. This way you don’t have any fitment issues, and you have an improved look overall.
My only other concern is with the covered M.2 slot. Although I did not see any throttling, the temperatures were up a couple of °C compared to other boards where it’s free. I know at least one vendor who has a metal cover for it with a thermal pad on the bottom to help cool off some of these warm running units. Why not make it aluminum and do the same? Again, not a huge deal, but something to keep an eye on, particularly if you beat on the drive a lot.
Speaking of looks, not much has changed really. A highlight gone here or there and adding the EKWB naming are really about the only changes. Don’t worry though, I thought the last gen looked good, and wouldn’t have any trouble fitting it in with any theme, this one won’t either.
Overclocking was, as expected, a pleasant experience on this board. The UEFI brings you right to the Extreme Tweaker section (which you can change your landing page), with all the options you need to overclock. This Maximus IX Formula, nor any midrange board on up, honestly, will not hold things back. As in recent past generations from Intel, it’s truly a function of the CPU and your cooling these days. If only I didn’t get a dud from Intel…
Ok, bitterness aside for the quality of my silicon, we haven’t talked price yet. The ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula comes in at $394.83 at Newegg.com. Currently this puts the board as the second most expensive Z270 out there, costing less than only the Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 – a $500 board. Behind it is the venerable MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium. This is a pricey board, no doubt about it. Really, at this point, it’s up to the buyer if they want to pay for the kitchen sink, because, it comes with it. Ability to control RGB LEDs on the board…check. How about on your ASUS GPU? Keyboard? Mouse? You can do that. Watercooling you say? It has those headers for flow rate and two temperatures sensors. Overclocks like a beast? You can do that too. So far, I really haven’t seen many (any?) boards like this in that it can act as a true one stop shop for your system needs. That coupled with the high-end hardware used in VRM, the newest Audio CODEC, really make this board look much more palatable at that price tag. If you are looking for a board that can do it all from overclocking to controlling nearly everything ASUS you can attach to it, you have found what you are looking for. This board is Overclockers.com approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)