Introduction & Closer Look
Here we have it, ladies and gentlemen. It is the latest and greatest motherboard on the Z170 platform from the ASUS crowd. It is, of course, the Extreme/Assembly! It doesn’t get much more high-end than this. In the past, the Extreme series of motherboards from ASUS have been nigh on unrivalled in terms of performance and sheer efficiency that makes them stand out from the crowd when competing in a competitive environment, be it overclocking or gaming (let’s be honest, it’s all about the overclocking…) They are designed with only the very best of everything in mind, but it does of course have one of those price tags to match, which would put many of us out of its reach unless we had some kind of major disposable income to chase that final percentage of performance.
The Extreme series of ROG motherboards originally began on Intel’s X48 platform, which I remember dearly as I was fortunate enough to be able to own one of them. It was a monster and broke records in every which way possible. They were slightly more affordable back then, but you’ve got to remember that there is a lot of stuff that is now included with these motherboards that I have never had in the past. I’ll cover those in greater detail as we continue a little later on. What I want to know is if the ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme/Assembly – still an Extreme, but with extra bits included in the package – is the ultimate motherboard to have for the Z170 platform or not. Without any further ado, let’s open the box!
The Extreme takes after the Hero (or is it the other way around?) in terms of its initial looks. In reality, however, it is a completely different beast whilst sharing some similarities. The colour scheme isn’t so much a red and black ROG theme, but more of a deep copper that still has elements of red within the colour itself. It’s certainly very different from the usual black and red theme that was recently abolished by ASUS in light of getting with the times, and realising it was so yesteryear. You could easily argue that it is still black and red because it is at the end of the day, but the red accents are much more subtle and not so in your face compared to a time once gone by.
As you can see, the motherboard stretches past the typical ATX mounting holes in terms of its width. The Maximus VIII Extreme uses the E-ATX (Extended ATX) form factor as it allows for more components to be fitted to the board without compromising on other features in order to squeeze it all in. The entire top half of the board appears to be shifted over ever so slightly compared to typical ATX designs, but it also has some features that every overclocker, extreme or not, would want on this high calibre product.
The power delivery on the Maximus VIII Extreme consists of a hefty thirteen phase design with chokes that can handle more current than a small city requires all by themselves. Okay, not really, you’ve got me there. It would make sense to me that ten of the thirteen phases were to power just the CPU (and the cache for that matter), and the three remaining are to power the various components such as the memory controller and the graphics core. It is my belief that these chokes are rated at 60A each, giving you a combined total of 600 Amps just for the CPU alone. Yikes! That’s one serious jolt of electricity. Feeding the CPU is not only done by an 8 pin EPS power connector, but also by an additional 4 pin as well. It is not required for operation, but it gives extreme users a more stable power line when pushing for those world records. It requires a lot more than just power phases to break a world record, but having the right equipment to handle the task at hand is certainly a good starting point.
If you are a loyal follower, you will know that I like to publish a picture of the heatsinks on their own, coupled with their respective shrouds (if any) at this point of the closer look section. I aim to please, so here is a glory shot.
Four DIMM slots are of course the obvious choice for a motherboard like the Extreme. They can handle a total of 64GB combined when using 16GB modules in each slot, and they can operate at up to 3866 MHz (overclocked) by default. Anything past 2133 MHz is considered an overclock, though, as Intel only certify their memory controller up to 2133 MHz. I’ve not yet heard of a CPU being unable to hit 3000 MHz, but so long as Intel guarantee that every single CPU will do a bare minimum of 2133 MHz, you cannot technically fault the product. Within the shot below you can also see the overclocker-orientated features such as the power button (common on a lot of higher end motherboards today) and a reset button. Not so common features include the likes of the PCI-E lane switch a few others which I will explain a little more about in just a second. Towards the bottom of this shot, you can also see the two USB 3.0 headers which can give you an additional four USB 3.0 ports within your chassis; they are typically used for the front panel of your case.
Sometimes when you are using liquid nitrogen for example, it is a pain in the backside to get your graphics cards out of the system without tearing the rig apart. Thankfully, PCI-E lane switches have been brought to the scene, and although it happened some time ago, it is one very useful feature of an extreme motherboard such as the Maximus. They allow you to disable the lane(s) so that you do not need to remove the graphics cards, something that has come in extremely useful time and time again in the extreme overclocking community. Other features which you can see around this section of the motherboard, besides the on/off button and the reset switch is something known as ‘Slow Mode,’ which is exactly what it sounds like. Slow Mode locks the CPU multiplier to 8x when enabled and then allows you to clock it back up for full speed runs. It allows a user to save benchmark scores with far lower risks of the system crashing while saving that all important screenshot. Two jumpers on the motherboard allow you to manually disable or enable the DIMM channels, something that can also be done from within the UEFI. The last two buttons which come into sight are the Safe Boot and ReTry buttons. Safe booting is basically where you will boot at ‘safe’ settings, which is exactly as you’d expect, a stock boot up to avoid any hassles of incorrect speeds/voltages. The ReTry button also does exactly as it suggests, it tells the motherboard to try the previous configuration that may have failed to POST previously. Extreme overclocking is an art, and often things will work all day, but then it will refuse to work at all the next, even though nothing has changed. For those of you familiar with this rather unfortunate annoyance, I share your pain. Finally, we have the LED debugger which has saved me more times than I can even remember. It’s one of the most useful tools you could ever wish for when you are pushing the hardware to its breaking point.
When it comes to storage options, the Maximus VIII Extreme offers you eight SATA 6 Gbps ports, four of which can be used for two SATAe connections, and it also provides us with a single PCI-E M.2 port that shares bandwidth with the U.2 slot and the SATAe 1 slot alike. It means you will lose connectivity options if you’re wanting to use more than one of these options together, so you need to weigh up the pros and cons of using them dependent on your usage requirements, and then decide which you would want to go with to match. Two of the eight SATA 6 Gbps ports are provided by the ASMedia ASM1061 controller, and they cannot be used for anything but data drives.
An extreme motherboard calls for extreme graphics solutions, which is what the Maximus VIII Extreme aims to give you. While you still cannot use four slots for 4-way configurations due to a limitation of the platform itself, there are four PCI-E x16 lanes onboard. The bottom one is powered by the Intel Z170 chipset (so not from the CPU) and the top three get their bandwidth provided to them by the CPU. You effectively have up to three slots to use for configuration, but you should note that you can only use two NVIDIA cards and three AMD cards in total, unless you have dual GPUs on a single PCB, in which case you can use a maximum of four GPUs. The slots run in x16, x8/x8, and x8/x4/x4 for their respective speeds based on how many GPUs are installed. There are also two PCI-E x1 lanes available, although I not too sure how useful they will be when they are covered with graphics cards. If you’re only using two cards, you of course have the middle of the three x16 lanes and an x1 lane to play with, so there are some possibilities in terms of expansion other than GPUs with the Extreme. At the bottom, you can spot a Molex connector and a myriad of headers surrounding the bottom end of the motherboard. The most notable for overclockers is most likely the ‘ROG_EXT’ port which allows you to plug in one of those seriously fancy external monitors, known as the OC Panel. They allow you to overclock on the fly, including most, if not all voltage changes, speed/multiplier changes and it also acts as a thermometer for when you are using subzero cooling as well. Nifty kit, eh? Furthermore, you have the typical USB 2.0 headers and audio connections for your front panel (and the SupremeFX Hi-Fi!)
The inputs and outputs on the Maximus VIII Extreme are a little crowded, to say the least. You’ve got an entirely massive range of connectivity options to choose from, and you most certainly (I should hope) won’t be short on any. The BIOS Flashback and Clear CMOS buttons are up first on our usual left to right regime, and they are followed swiftly by a stack of USBs which consist of two USB 3.0 (blue) and two USB 3.1 Type-A (red) ports. Three antenna connections can be seen next in line which supports the ASUS Wi-Fi GO! module, something that is 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (up to 1300 Mbps) capable, and it feature Bluetooth v4.0/3.0+HS as well. Next up are the two display outputs that consist of a DisplayPort and an HDMI port, both of which are version 1.2 according to the specs; therefore they are able to give a maximum resolution of 4096×2304 @ 60 Hz and 4096×2160 @ 24 Hz respectively. The Ethernet port that is powered by the Intel I219V chip is on top of two more USB ports, this time a USB 3.1 Type-A and a USB 3.1 Type-C port. Legacy connections such as PS/2 may never die out as they are almost essential to any overclocker, so there is going to be one on here. It is a combo port, so it can be used for a mouse or a keyboard (or both if you have a splitter.) The last of the USB 3.0 ports are beneath the PS/2 port and the back panel is finally finished off with the audio connections – five jacks for surround sound capable audio and an S/PDIF out as well.
My oh my, if you’re a little on the weaker side of the human race, you may struggle to pick this box up due to the sheer amount of bits and bobs that come inside the box. There are an absolute plethora of parts, which you shall see in the image(s) below, after the list of the parts that come in the box. I will also go into a little more detail about the parts that are specific to the Assembly part of this product just a little further down. For now, here’s the list;
8 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x ASUS 3T3R dual-band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant)
1 x Fan Extension Card (3 x 4-pin fan out)
1 x Fan Extension card screw pack
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x CrossFire cable(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
3 x Thermal sensor cable pack(s)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
ROG Fan Label
1 x 5-pin to 5-pin cable
1 x ROG Door Hanger(s)
1 x OC Panel II(s)
1 x OC Panel II 5.25-inch bay metal case
1 x OC Panel II Cable(s)
1 x OC Panel II screw pack(s)
The Maximus VIII Extreme/Assembly comes with all of your regular accessories, except for the OC Panel II. I’m not entirely sure as to why this is the case, but it would be my guess that it is due to the SupremeFX Hi-Fi and ROG 10G Express card which is a 10GbE networking card of fury being bundled instead. It’s a fair trade if you aren’t going to use the motherboard for extreme overclocking, although it is a unique feature that no one else has.
Fortunate enough for all of you, ASUS thought it would be a smart idea to make the SupremeFX Hi-FI out of some sort of shiny, finger print magnet material. I cannot deny that it looks good, because it does, but it is a pain trying to get a clean picture for you guys to see. I wanted to take a picture of the innards, but it escaped my mind. Thankfully, ASUS have taken a rather stunning picture of it to show you just what is inside. Now you know that it is not just a fancy headphone jack coming out of your 5.25″ bay, but rather a fully-blown amplifier as well, hence the requirement of a 6 pin PCI-E cable to power the daughter board. The audiophiles amongst you will be able to appreciate that your headphones should sound amazing when listening via the SupremeFX Hi-Fi. It adds a boost to the award-winning SupremeFX 2015 sound card that is already on the motherboard, providing you with one of the very best onboard experiences you’ll see on the market today. The TPA6120A2 headphone amplifier has an output of over 6V RMS to drive 600 Ohm high-fidelity headphones, according to what I could dig up. Unfortunately, my area of expertise does not lie within audio components, but it should provide you with a much clearer sound with less audio jitter and lower distortion.
The second goodie in the Assembly package is the ROG 10G Express – a 10GbE networking card. It is powered by a combination of both the Aquantia and Tehuti Networks chipsets. I’m 99% sure that only the top 0.001% of you out there may even be running a 10GbE network at home, but the option is there for your machine to be able to make the very most of it. I believe that this is more of a gimmick than a practicality for the foreseeable future, though. It does of course scale backwards and offers you connectivity speeds all of the way down to 100 Mbps, for what it is worth. Don’t forget, if Wi-Fi is required, the Maximus comes with an AC card onboard and offers you up to 1300 Mbps throughput as well.