In a change of pace from my previous reviews, today we will take a look at a high-end gaming board from ASUS, the Maximus VIII Formula. The Formula is pegged as the flagship gaming board in their product stack. Not only does it have gaming centric features, the design theme is also agnostic and will fit in perfect with any theme or color scheme. Missing are the colored logos, heatsinks, and shrouds, replaced with a basic black motherboard with grey/silver heatsinks and shrouds. A monochromatic look.
One of the unique features is the integration of their Aura software and a header on the board to control your external RGB LED lighting strips. The board also has its own RGB LED lighting (28 LEDs in total in 3 locations on the board) controlled by the same software. Outside of that, there is an integrated waterblock to keep the VRMs cool. Let’s dig in and see what else the board has to offer!
Specifications and Features
Below is a list of specifications from the ASUS website for the ROG Maximus VIII Formula. Our high-level look shows the board supports up to 64GB DDR4 3733 MHz (O.C) using four DIMMs. It supports non-ECC buffered memory and of course Intel’s XMP profiles.
There are a total of three full length PCIe slots. The top two (grey) are either x16 for one or x8/x8 for two. This setup allows for Tri-CrossfireX setups or quad SLI (two dual GPUs). Also, there are three x1 slots sprinkled in between the x16 slots.
For storage, there a total of six SATA 6 Gbps ports and two SATA Express ports as well as a single M.2 slot and U.2 slot. These are all controlled by the native Intel chipset. Two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports are handled by the ASMedia chip.
The LAN is handled by Intel’s latest and greatest NIC, the I219-V. The NIC and supporting software (GameFirst) include traffic shaping for an optimal online gaming experience by prioritizing traffic for the game instead of other items which may be using the bandwidth on your PC.
The audio is handled by ROG Supreme FX 2015 and Realtek ALC1150 CODEC. You are able to tweak the setup to your heart’s desires with the included Sonic Studio II software.
There should be plenty of USB ports, as the board has a total of 14! There are six USB 3.0 ports (four mid-board), four USB 2.0 ports, and two USB 3.1 ports (Type-A and -C) all controlled by the Intel chipset. There are another two USB 3.0 ports driven by an ASMedia 3.0 chip. Who needs USB 2.0?!
One of the main features on this board is the Aura software, designed to control your LED lighting on your rig. It will control both the onboard LEDs as well as any LED lighting strip plugged into the port on the bottom of the board.
See the list below for all Specifications:
|ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Formula Specifications
Intel® Socket 1151 for 6th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
|Chipset||Intel® Z170 Chipset|
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR4 3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3500(O.C.)/3466(O.C.)/3400(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 / Multi-GPU Support||
Integrated Graphics Processor
Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8, gray)
|Storage||Intel® Z170 chipset :
1 x U.2 port, support PCIe 3.0 x4 NVM Express storage*
1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)*
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s)
2 x SATA Express port,
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Intel® Rapid Storage Technology supports*2
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology*2
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller : *3
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), black,
|LAN / Wireless / Bluetooth||Intel® I219V, Dual interconnect between the Integrated Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY)
Anti-surge LANGuardWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
Supports MU-MIMOBluetooth V4.1
|Audio||ROG SupremeFX 2015 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
– SupremeFX Shielding Technology
– ESS® ES9023P
– 2VRMS Headphone Amp into (32-600Ohms)
Audio Feature :
– DTS Connect
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic SenseAmp
– Sonic Studio II
– Sonic Radar II
|USB Ports||Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at mid-board)
Intel® Z170 chipset : *4
4 x USB 2.0 port(s)
Intel® USB 3.1 controller :
2 x USB 3.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, , Type-A + Type-C)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
2 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue)
|Back I/O Ports||
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
|Internal I/O Ports||
1 x U.2 port
– 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, F9 Quick Note, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information.
CrossChill EK (Hybrid air and liquid cooling)
8 x SATA power cable
1 x ASUS 2-Way/3-Way SLI bridge
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n compliant)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
ROG Fan Label
1 x ROG Door Hanger(s)
1 x Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm)
|Form Factor / OS Support / Notes||ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )Windows® 10 , 64bit
Windows® 8.1 , 64bit
Windows® 7 , 32bit/64bi *1 The The M.2 slot shares bandwidth with U.2 slot and SATA Express 1 slot.
*2 This function will work depending on the CPU installed.
*3 These SATA ports are for data hard drives only. ATAPI devices are not supported.
*4 2 x USB2.0 ports at mid-board shares with ROG extension (ROG_EXT) port.
The features and images below are sourced from the ASUS wesbite. As usual we cherry pick a few of the major features and go into a bit more detail for you here.
ASUS worked with EK Water Blocks to bring the CrossChill EK block integrated right into the VRM heatsinks. Unlike a lot integrated designs which may cool the heatpipe, but not the VRM’s directly, this one makes contact with them which is said to reduce MOSFET temperatures by up to 23 °C. The block uses standard G1/4″ threads so you are able to utilize any size fitting you want so long as the base is G1/4″.
As we mentioned a couple of times already, ASUS really wanted to give gamers a blank slate to create any colored theme you may want with this board. The design, color wise, is pretty basic with black and grey/silver on it. The only color on the board which isn’t greyscale comes from the built in LEDs around the board placed in strategic locations (PCH and the ROG symbol, the “Formula” name around the center of the board, under the Maximus VIII shroud for the rear I/O, and the audio area). On the bottom of the board is a four pin header specifically for use with LED color strips and will be controlled by the Aura software. From the overview supplied by ASUS, “The header is capable of supplying 2 Amps of current at 12 Volts (24W) – enough to power a 2 meter 5050 strip. The motherboard includes an extension cable for this header to create some distance between the strip and header for routing purposes.” In the accessory stack is an included extension to give you some separation from the header to the lighting strip. This is the most integration with LEDs I have seen on any motherboard. I will have some pictures later of the board lit up, as well as a pretty sweet looking LED strip.
The ROG Supreme FX 2015 audio uses “professional grade” hardware including 2V RMS drivers, a SS ES9023P stereo DAC, and Nichicon capacitors. The Sonic Sense Amp automatically detects and configures your headphones for optimum sound quality (32-600ohms). If what you hear needs to be tweaked, use the Sonic Studio II software to change things up to your specific tastes!
Just because this is a gaming board, doesn’t mean they have forgotten about the overclocker. ASUS includes a BCLK generator which can reach frequencies of 400 MHz or higher (right chip, cooling, etc). Working with the TPU chip, it will enhance voltage and BCLK control. This also helps reduce boot times, jitter, and stability when really pushing your overclock. Couple this with the solid power delivery area, and you can reach the thermal limits of your CPU on this board without issue.
ASUS includes their T-Topology for the DDR4 ram on the Formula as well. The second generation of this implementation has a custom trace pattern to minimize crosstalk and coupling noise for better stability at higher clock speeds. It can reach speeds of up to 3733 MHz with all four DIMM slots populated, which is an impressive feat.
ASUS’ full digitally controlled power gets even better by using “Texas Instruments NexFET MOSFETs, MicroFine alloy chokes, Digi+ PWM controller and 10K black metallic capacitors.” The use of these parts helps the board deliver the smoothest core voltages for better stability.
Last up is the use of the Intel I219-V NIC. This NIC is said to reduce CPU overhead and have increased TCP and UDP throughput for the best online gaming experience leaving your CPU to do other tasks.
For more detailed features, please see the ROG Maximus VIII Formula webpage.
Retail Packaging and Accessories
Looking at the retail packaging, we see the familiar ROG red and dark red theme. It lists the model of the board and some of the compatible hardware. The back of the box goes into some details on a few of its features, as does the inner flap of the box. The board sits in its own box well-protected in form fitting foam with a plastic cover over top. The accessories sit below it in their own box as well.
Meet the ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Formula
Before we get into the looks, I will mention, no, the pictures are not in grey scale! As you can see from the pictures below, the design of the board is pretty plain with the power off. It has the familiar armor from the Sabertooth which cleans up the look and helps fortify the PCB at the same time. I always disliked the look of the armor, but, it has grown on me and continues to do so. On the rear of the motherboard is a backplate which connects the armor/shroud on the front, protects the back of the PCB, and provides some structural rigidity.
A Closer Look
On the bottom half of the board, we will work our way from left to right, starting out with the Audio section. We know from the specifications earlier ASUS uses the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC (hidden under the shroud) for its latest Supreme FX 2015 iteration. Like many other boards there is a physical separation between the rest of the board and the audio section to minimize EMI and improve audio quality. We can see three full length PCIe slots as well as a total of three x1 slots. In between the last x16 PCIe slots is where you will find the single M.2 slot (handles up up 110mm). Remove the cover with a single screw and put your M.2 drive in there!
At the bottom of the board, towards the left hand side is a four pin header (white) made specifically for use with an RGB LED and the Aura software to control it (pictures a bit later in the review).
Sliding around to the DIMM area we see our usual compliment of four DIMM slots, a front panel USB header (under the shroud to the left of the 24 pin power lead). as well as your start and reset buttons. The start/reset buttons have a white LED under them as well. Above those (to the right in this picture) is the debug LED. One minor complaint or issue with armor around the debug LED; it is raised above the LED so your off angle viewing can be limited from the sides. This shouldn’t be an issue for most users as I would imagine this will be mounted in a case versus a test bench like I have for reviews.
There are three fan headers visible (one is specifically for pumps) just above the DIMM slots.
Nothing too much to see around the socket area except for some of the VRMs. The shroud covers the VRM heatsinks, but even at 4.8 GHz+ they were merely warm to the touch. Remember I am on an open test bench with no airflow.
In order to get this board to power up, you will need an 8 pin CPU connector.
The last picture shows the integrated Crosschill EK watercooling on the VRM heatsink. As the caption says, it uses the standard G1/4″ fitting. The other side is of course, your choice. The water channel actually makes contact with the VRM as opposed to other implementations which only touch the heatpipe. ASUS mentions using this over air could drop the temps over 20 °C.
For connecting storage there are a total of eight SATA ports, six of which are native to the Intel chipset. There are two SATA Express ports (which would knock out four SATA ports). We can also find the, rare, U.2 connector on the left.
The back I/O has its fair share of everything,from a BIOS reset button to Wi-Fi/Bluetooth antenna connections, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, USB3.0 and 3.1 Gen2 (both Type-A and Type-C), and even a PS/2 port! A complete list is found in the specifications table above.
More details on the wireless, “This motherboard also comes with an IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi module which supports 2.4/5 GHz MU-MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and 3.0+HS.”
After working out a few screws on the backplate I was able to take the armor/shroud off to expose the board (it’s not shy, go ahead and stare!). We can see the VRMs without a heatsink as well as the bottom of this heatsink which made good contact, same goes for the PCH heatsink.
Listed below are some of the IC’s used on the ROG Maximus MVIII Formula.
UEFI BIOS and Aura Software
Below are screenshots of the UEFI BIOS. As with the Maximus VIII Extreme the first screen is the EZ Mode, which allows one to see the system state and make a few high-level changes. When you move into advanced mode, the first screen is Main, followed by the Extreme Tweaker (where the overclocking options are). The Advanced section digs down to the peripherals on the board and its connectivity. The Monitor section gives you control over the fan and pump headers. Boot is self explanatory and the Tool section is where you will find the BIOS flashing utility, the ability to Secure Erase your SSD through the BIOS (I still love this feature!), and flash the BIOS back.
The slideshow below shows many of the screens in the Extreme Tweaker section.
Next is the Aura software which controls the onboard LEDs found on the PCH, the VRM heatsink area, and around the middle of the board just above the top PCIe slot.
Below are some pictures of the system with an RGB LED strip attached to the header. I am more than sure this would look WAY better in a case, but, the review system doesn’t sit in one. I am personally not a fan of the bling, but I have seen it in action with some incredible builds!
Performance and Benchmarking
|CPU||Intel 6700K @ 4.7 GHz|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Formula|
|RAM||2×4 GB DDR4 G.SKILL Ripjaws 4 @ 3000 MHz 15-15-15-35 2T 1.35 V|
|Graphics Card||AMD R7 260|
|Solid State Drive||OCZ Trion 100 480GB|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 (Fully Updated)|
|Graphics Drivers||Crimson 16.1 Hotfix (Latest at the time)|
Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
- Cinebench R11.5 and R15
- PoV Ray R3.73
Single Threaded CPU Benchmark
- Super Pi 1M and 32M
Multi-Threaded CPU benchmarks
- WPrime 32M and 1024M
- 7Zip (Compression)
- Intel XTU
The results on the Formula fall right in line with all the other motherboards I chose to put up in this comparison. If I added all boards I reviewed on this platform, these graphs would be even more busy and tough to see what is what. The interesting part of this is the Formula was, on average, just slightly better than all the other boards in the test. The difference is, for all intents and purposes, margin of error, but in the majority of tests it did come out on top… again if only by a margin of error difference.
Below are the actual results from this testing:
Pushing the Limits
Pushing the limits on my chip was pretty easy as I know the chip by now. On the Formula, I was able to easily push up to 200 BCLK while keeping the memory at high speeds and overclocked. I managed to reach 4.872 GHz with 1.425V (actual). The memory came in at 3200 MHz for this attempt at pushing the limits. We can see this board easily has enough for most any user on ambient cooling.
In the end, ASUS has brought a really interesting board to market with the ROG Maximus VIII Formula. It is marketed as a high-end gaming board with many features supporting the targeted functionality. From a hardware perspective there is the Intel I219-V NIC which, with using the GameFirst software, can shape traffic and allow your game to take priority over the network traffic on your system. The reinvented Supreme FX 2015 sound with its Sonic Studio II software and 5 Way Optimization (auto tuning, second generation T-topology, and the Crosschill EK cooler) round out just some of the gaming features.
It also looks the part with the monochromatic color scheme it has with the black PCB and grey armor/shrouding on the board. Instead of forcing a color scheme on a user, the board is plain enough color-wise to fit with any proposed theme. This is particularly true due to the onboard LED’s and its ability to control an RGB LED strip when it’s attached to the board using the Aura software.
The only negative I can think of off hand is the shroud around the debug LED doesn’t have a great viewing angle since it is is up over the level of the LED by around 1/4″, but this isn’t a huge deal. One other drawback is the price.
The price for the ROG Maximus VIII Formula comes in at $399.99 at Newegg.com. This puts it in direct competition, price-wise, with MSI Gaming 9 ACK. Comparing between these two only, it really depends on the feature set or theme you are going for. With the MSI board, you are almost locked in on a black and red theme, but with the ASUS board, whatever floats your boat will not be a worry! The MSI board does have two M.2 slots, but is missing a U.2 port. Again, it depends on what features you need in a motherboard.
Performance lands where it should, it has all the options the Z170 chipset offers, and it has the ability to fully customize the color scheme. It’s a great choice if you are looking for a high- end gaming board. If you need or want to make it the center of your themed build, the Maximus VIII Formula is the board for you and is Overclockers.com approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)