ASUS Maximus VII Impact Review: Premium Gaming Z97 in mini-ITXby Ian Cutress on December 9, 2014 10:00 AM EST
Over the years we have reviewed a number of Republic of Gamers (ROG) motherboards, usually focusing on the high end Extreme and gaming ATX focused Formula. We probed the Maximus VI Impact late last year and it offered a sense of premium to the high end that no other mini-ITX did, but we concluded it would be a tough act to follow. The sequel is now here with the Maximus VII Impact, ready for Haswell.
ASUS Maximus VII Impact Overview
When we think about small powerful computers, many manufacturers and end users can produce something impressive in something smaller than a shoe box. Custom designs are what they are, but for general production, we tend to stick to the predetermined sizes of mini-ITX, micro-ATX and ATX. The ROG brand is constantly marketed by ASUS as one of the best places for gamers to source components, but in ASUS’ effort to offer more functionality it would seem that the mini-ITX sized PCB isn't enough. This is why the Maximus VII Impact (M7I) has five additional circuit boards alongside the actual motherboard itself.
Some of these we were familiar with from the Z87 version of the Impact - a right angled power board, a connected audio board, Impact Control for rear IO buttons and the mPCIe combo with M.2 support and dual band 802.11ac WiFi. For the M7I all of these have evolved into a new iteration, including the mPCIe combo with M.2 x4, and a new daughterboard for extra fan controls. This is in response to requests from users who needed more than two or three fan headers that normally accompanies this size of product. This new board gives two extra headers that are both PWM and DC controllable on a small PCB near the rear panel.
Asus is also supplementing the design with their ROG software and BIOS package. From the BIOS perspective this means more overclocking options and presets with features like “GPU.DIMM Post” to indicate if slotted devices are detected at turn on. The software revolves around AI Suite III in a red and black livery with 5-Way Optimization as the key app. Alongside these are GameFirst III, ASUS' in-house version of network prioritization software, and KeyBot which allows the users to define the top keyboard function key row as preset macro buttons. These features can work in conjunction with the updated version of Sonic Radar II which enables an onscreen visual representation of directional sound in game. As an update over the previous version of Sonic Radar, we can configure what frequency band of audio is the focus for the visual (low bass, mid-range or high frequency). On the audio side we get SoundStage which offers a selectable hardware filter adjustment.
Benchmark wise, the impact comes out from our test suite rather well, scoring top marks in most of the tests due to the aggressive multicore turbo implementation going from idle to the maximum turbo frequency whenever CPU load is detected. POST times come in under 10 seconds, and load power consumption in our test-bed was under 150W for the system.
The Asus Maximus VII Impact is currently available for $240, making it the most expensive mini-ITX motherboard on the market, but it continues to lead the standard for premium small form factor gaming builds.
Out of habit, one of the first things I check on a mini-ITX motherboard is the power connector locations. Throughout the years the mainstay for mini-ITX power has been in the middle of the motherboard near the rear panel, meaning that cables have to stretch over components and causing potential air flow problems (and affectingthe look). Thankfully the Impact puts both the 24-pin and the 8-pin power connectors on the extreme right hand edge, where cable management should be pretty easy.
One of the downsides of a motherboard like the Impact is CPU cooler placements, as the socket is up against the Intel designated limits in at least two directions. In this instance it would seem that a closed loop liquid cooler might be best or custom water cooling for overclocking, although a stock cooler for base CPU speeds works as well. The motherboard has four fan headers – a 4-pin CPU at the top left, a 4-pin CHA on the right hand side and the final two on the CoolHub add-in card just to the left of the socket next to the rear IO.
This extra PCB gives two fully controllable headers as well as access to an LN2 mode switch for extreme overclockers.
One of the extra PCBs is the power delivery, now in its third iteration. For Z97 this one gets the new ROG look with ‘Impact Power Tech Inside’ written in the red accents. As shown in the picture above, the DRAM slots near this PCB do not have latches in order to fit everything on. This means users should be wary that their DRAM is firmly in place when installing.
On the right hand side of the motherboard beneath the power connectors are the power/reset buttons followed by a fan header and a USB 3.0 header in red to match the livery. The front panel header comes next, with enough space for ASUS to write on the board where each of the chassis connectors should go. At the bottom right of the motherboard just inside the DRAM slots are four SATA 6 Gbps ports, which unfortunately are all pointing in the same direction. This means that if a user has locking cables, the bottom cable can be an issue to remove.
There is a single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot at the bottom of the board, and as we come round to the left hand side we approach the mPCIe Combo IV card. This is upgraded for Z97, featuring an 802.11ac 2T2R WiFi solution as well as an M.2 x4 slot for storage. The previous model relied on x1 connectivity , whereas this is a fully fledged M.2 enabled device.
Next to the combo card is the audio PCB, featuring the next iteration of SupremeFX. This means an enhanced Realtek ALC1150 solution with an EMI shield, filter caps, PCB separation (it would be hard to get more separated than this) with the front panel audio connector provided on the card. Due to the design the card only has three audio connectors despite being rated as a 7.1 solution – at some point ASUS might release an Impact with a full set of audio connectors, although this has to be engineered.
The rear panel of the motherboard integrates the Impact Control II PCB, giving users a two-digit debug LED as well as BIOS Flashback, ROG Connect, SoundStage and KeyBot buttons. Added into the mix are two digital video outputs (HDMI and DisplayPort), four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 combination port and the Intel network port. Further along to the right are the audio and mPCIe combo card outputs.
The SoundStage button switches between four op-amp profiles in the audio in order to adjust various elements of the audio via the hardware rather than software in real-time. This works in conjunction with Sonic Studio to help enhance audio clarity in voice or boost in the low frequency spectrum, depending on the use. ASUS call this latter implementation a ‘smart EQ’.
|ASUS Maximus VII Impact|
|Memory Slots||Two DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 16 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1333-3300 MHz
|Video Outputs||HDMI (4096x2160 at 24Hz, 2560x1600 at 60Hz)
DisplayPort (4096x2160 at 24 Hz, 3840x2160 at 60 Hz)
|Network Connectivity||Intel I218-V
802.11ac 2T2R Dual Band WiFi
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC1150 via SupremeFX|
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCIe 3.0 x16
1 x mPCIe 2.0 x1 (WiFi)
|Onboard Storage||4 x SATA 6 Gbps, RAID 0/1/5/10
1 x M.2 x4
|USB 3.0||4 x Rear Panel Ports (PCH)
1 x On-Board Header (PCH)
|Onboard||4 x SATA 6 Gbps Ports
1 x USB 3.0 Header
1 x USB 2.0 Header
4 x Fan Headers
Front Panel Header
LN2 Mode Header
ProbeIt Measurement Points
|Power Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 8-pin CPU
|Fan Headers||1 x CPU (4-pin)
1 x CHA (4-pin)
2 x CHA (4-pin) via CoolHub PCB
Two Digit Debug
USB BIOS Flashback Button
ROG Connect Button
4 x USB 3.0
4 x USB 2.0
PS/2 Combination Port
Intel Network Port
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
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Gigaplex - Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - link"However due to the detachable audio card, replacing it doesn't require a completely new motherboard."
Unless they actually sell the audio cards separately, you're likely to need to replace the whole package anyway.
Laststop311 - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkYou could find a used mobo for cheap on ebay by the time an audio card dued and just buy it for the audio card. Probably even be able to find boards that aren't working correctly with a salvageable audio card.
Laststop311 - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkdied*
just4U - Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - linkTough call between this one and MSI's Z97i gaming ac. I'd say the two sit atop the heap as far as quality goes. I am actually not bothered by the price of either.. as your trying to go small but that doesn't necessarily mean a budget build. Curious what Gigabyte has in their pipeline.. but all in all I like what I see from Asus here.. especially where the power connectors are. Nice review Ian.
Laststop311 - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkIt's really not a tough call Asus are the ones who started using separate boards for the power delivery and they have the experience and know how to do it best. Before Asus did that manufacturers were just using rly skimpy cut back heavily power delivery so it would fit on the board. Rather than go that route asus pioneered using a separate board so they had the room to make a beefy power delivery design and not have to sacrifice any OC potential compared to a larger board. Also as this review shows the bios and the software that controls asus motherboards is more advanced and more technically capable than MSI's.
The pcie-3.0 x4 slot for m2 ssd's is also huge. That's an incredible 4GB/sec of bandwidth. This also allows you to keep the build incredibly tiny as you can attach no storage drives other than the m2 card such as this one:
"The Samsung SM951 is expected to be NVMe compatible, and will be capable of up to 1,600/1,000 MB/s sequential reads/writes and 130K/100K IOPS 4K random reads/writes – slightly faster than the XP941 rated for 1,400 MB/s sequential reads. The drive is also NVMe low power (L1.2) certified and is rated to draw <10mW power at idle (probably DevSleep mode). Available in capacities up to 1TB"
So even with no 2.5" or 3.5" drives you can still have 1TB of storage space on a drive with 1600/1000 speeds 3x-4x faster than anything used now. This board is just the perfect starting point for an ultimate incredibly fast small form factor pc. With no 2.5" or 3.5" drives, no optical or any other outside media drive you only need enough space for a PSU (a small 600 watt 80+ gold silverstone sfx sized psu) your graphics card (a small mini itx sized gtx 970) and then since no optical or any other drives u can fit a nice 240/280mm rad on the top and you can overclock like you are inside a regular large tower.
You can build a really neat really powerful tiny mini PC and by using this board you end up with more power and features than even many ATX sized boards. This board allows you to go small without making a single real sacrifice and in most cases adds more features then many big boards. You can't go wrong with this board. Hell its even a nice board to choose even if you can fit an atx sized board. At 240 this board has the same features as atx sized boars that are 275+
Laststop311 - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkAlso since this is a mini itx board and haswell cpu's only have 20 pci-e lanes coming directly off it you can freely use the 4x m2 ssd slot and since there is only 1 pci-e expansion slot you don't have to worry about making any sacrifices since you are using the m2 slot you still get full 16x gpu bandwidth (even tho 8x is basically identical performance still nice to eek out that 1% better on 16x.)
just4U - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkNo .. it's still a tough call. I like both boards. :)
dwade123 - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkStupid price. I rather get an x99 setup if i want to spend that much on a freaking motherboard.
krazy_olie - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkNo x99 itx motherboard exists....
krazy_olie - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - linkPicked up this board in a bundle.
The fan headers is a bit of a stupid situation, on the plus side you get 3 headers in 2 locations. on the downside these aren't pwm. I have a fan plugged in to cha_fan3 and it runs at full whack and can't reduce the speed. I need to try channel 1 to see if it's a problem generally or just with the coolhub.
Worth noting that the z97i plus actually has pwm headers with fan xpert 3