[section_title title=Introduction & Closer Look]
Introduction & Closer Look
People usually say, “Bigger is better”, but is that actually an accurate description? Not everything in the world is dictated by size, although it did used to be that way I’m afraid. I am of course talking about computer components here and not some cheesy attempt at innuendos; I save those for our YouTube channel. The concept of the ITX motherboard isn’t new and it certainly isn’t new to us here at Play3r, but one thing which continues to improve is performance and one particular company is at the forefront of ITX power – ASUS!
The ASUS Republic of Gamers range of boards has a new baby in the form of the Maximus VIII Impact; this is the 3rd iteration of the Impact and it was a given that it was coming due to the previous versions popularity with gamers, overclockers and enthusiasts alike. One thing that ASUS have re-worked from the last Z97 iteration (Socket LGA 1150) is the addition of a full scale power board, which is of course designed to give the power of a full ATX board, without sacrificing on MOSFET or phase quality. Although it may be limited to 2 x DDR4 DIMM slots, obvious sacrifices have to be made when cramming so much onto such a small PCB, but I think the question is, what have ASUS done this time round to make it the stand out ITX board for the Z170 (Socket LGA 1151) platform?
As you can see, the ASUS Z170 Maximus VIII Impact has a lot going on in terms of PCB real estate; even for such a small board (ITX), it seems to cram the components on without intruding in any way to the form factor. Other ITX boards feel like cut down ATX counterparts, but this one screams enthusiast to me. ASUS have put a large emphasis on the overall experience as opposed to just catering for one market; this includes an uprated audio chipset, full sized power phase on and of course the obligatory 802.11ac dual antenna wireless support, which now includes MU-MIMO support; providing you have a compatible client of course!
The main feature for me personally is the full size power phase which sits at the top of the board and has a vertical design. This not only allows for more phases to be used, but of course bigger and more powerful ones too. The fully digital VRM design also screams performance as overclocking will make good use of these as good quality VRMs and MOSFETS help deliver efficiency, quality and of course balance to any CPU load across the board.
The power phase also has shielding on the rear…
Two DIMM slots are present on the board, more so due to the fact of the conformal ITX form factor which the VIII Impact follows. This doesn’t mean the slots aren’t great quality, as the Maximus VIII Impact supports DDR4 memory up to speeds of 4133MHz; astonishing for such a small board and efficiency should automatically be higher due to the small length in the tracks which connects the slots to the CPU socket, for the IMC on the Skylake CPU to do its job.
Most motherboard manufacturers have spent years trying to perfect their on-board audio solutions, but ultimately they use the same Realtek ALC 115x chips across the chipset. ASUS however added the HyperStream ESS9023 DAC to the equation and quality nichion capacitors, which is complimented by an ultra-low jitter clock for top notch latency. Powering it is an updated version of ASUS’s Sonic Studio II software which gives functionality for virtual 7.1 surround sound as well as equaliser options which give a more immersive and customisable experience for users. It is worth noting that this is an add-on card and can be removed, although for ITX, it’s a massive positive due to the lack of PCI real estate which is of course due to the smaller form factor.
Although not totally empty in terms of storage options, the ASUS Z170 Maximus VII Impact has 4 x SATA III 6GB/s ports which are usable in RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. One thing which I’m very disappointed in is the lack of an M.2 port which I find a little strange. It has been replaced the new U.2 port for support with NVMe capable drives which offer up to 32Gbit/s worth of speed; NVM express is however in the early adoption stage, especially those with U.2 support, but they are available at a slightly increase cost due to their gains in performance.
On the I/O panel of the board, we have a whole host of connections and even tools which gives any ATX board a run for its money. A list of the connections are as follows:
1x LAN (RJ45) port
1x USB 3.1 Type-C
1x USB 3.1 Type-A
4x USB 3.0
1x Optical S/PDIF out
3x Audio jacks
1x Clear CMOS button
1x USB BIOS Flashback Button
1x ASUS Wi-Fi GO! module (Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth v4.0/3.0+HS)
1x LED display
1x Reset button
1x Safe Boot button
Plenty of options available for connecting all your wares, but with no USB 2.0 ports, those wishing to install Windows 7 onto their system using this board will need to slipstream the USB 3.0 drivers onto the installation media; it is a bit of a pain, but technology moves forward and although Windows 10 isn’t exactly brilliant, Windows 8.1 can be installed without issues.
So as you can see, this board obviously packs some serious hardware, but does it have the firepower to warrant a purchase? There aren’t many ITX boards which demand as much respect as the ASUS Republic of Gamer models do, but let’s see if it actually deserves it…