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AMD Radeon HD 7970 .........................

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Cooler Master Storm Enforcer Case ....................

AMD Phenom II X4 980BE CPU Review

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AMD ATI Radeon HD6990 Review

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AMD ATI Radeon 5670 Review

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AMD Athlon II X4 630 CPU Review

Intel Lynnfield i7-870 Processor Review

Kingston DDR3 Memory Review

ASUS Maximus III Gene Motherboard

ASUS M4A79T Deluxe Motherboard

Antec Midi Tower Case and PSU

Active Media SaberTooth SSD

More Power Protection Products ......................... ...............

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Lian Li PC37 Aluminum Mini Tower Case ...............

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ASUS P4SDX Deluxe Motherboard

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Global Win GAT-001 Case Review ....................

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AKASA Paxmate Acoustic Matting Installation Guide

Chieftec Winner Series: WX-01BD Case Review ..........

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80mm -> 60mm Fan Adapter

TDK USB Bluetooth Adaptor

Socket-A Cooler Roundup 

Promise FastTrak SX4000 RAID Card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASUS Maximus III Gene Motherboard

Before we get started we need to explain the format of our reviews over the past six years. Readers will have noted that an entire review is laid out on one long page instead of 15-20 short pages. While it takes longer for a single page of this length to load we have designed the layout so that text appears first and graphics last so you can start reading before completion of loading. We decided not to split over 15-20 pages as many people find it annoying to have interruptions once they start getting into a review. It also means you can use the bullet list of contents above to go straight to parts that are of interest. We'd like our readers to let us know which method they prefer by providing feedback in our Forums. In any case, by the time you finish reading this paragraph the page should have loaded. Another thing we try to do is shield our readers from a barrage of numbers so instead of the exact result of every benchmark, our charts show comparative performance without being speckled with numbers - although in each case the Y-Axis is clearly labeled so that information is readily available if needed. We also prefer to let benchmarks speak for themselves rather than over-analyzing in detail that may put off some readers.

 

Introduction

Buying a motherboard these days is quite a difficult task since, in terms of performance, there is very little to choose between the top contenders. Brand loyalty is one route but leaves the feeling that something good could be missed out on through lack of awareness of the various offerings. Manufacturers have had a tricky time and most have been forced into an "arms race" of adding more and more features to make their boards stand out. A recent example is the trend towards putting large amounts of copper onboard with little performance gain to show for it but at a disproportionate cost. Why did they do it? Simply because people choose motherboards based on reading the specifications in a quantitative fashion. We think that far greater value for the customer can be attained by putting features (software and hardware) in the package that gives them tangible benefits. 

ASUS are a prime example of this. Their strategy is to lead through innovation and not follow the herd. Readers will already be familiar with products such as the Eee range and other home entertainment products they have developed. The ROG (Republic of Gamers) brand is rapidly gaining popularity with extreme gaming and overclocking workshops and seminars being held in many countries. The selection of prizes given out at these events shows how closely ASUS understand the needs and aspirations of their target audience. We've been impressed for some time now with the feature set of ASUS motherboards and think it's now time to review them with a focus on those features and not a plethora of benchmarks comparing 20+ boards that happen to perform within 1% of each other. Today the board in question is the Maximus III Gene, a flagship socket 1156 product for Intel i5 and i7 (8XX series) processors.

 

Board Features

A brief summary of the main features follows:

Bearing the Hallmarks of their High-end Heritage
ASUS’ Maximus III Series motherboards are designed to deliver the no-holds-barred gaming performance and gamer-tailored features that have earned ROG its renown amongst gamers. Armed with the best components and top-end technologies, these motherboards ensure users the best possible and most immersive gaming experience on the P55 platform.

There is no doubting the quality of the components used here from the Japanese capacitors to solid buttons onboard.

Designed for Maximum Immersion
Maximus III Series motherboards are packed with advanced gaming features that deliver the best in-game experience, and give users a decisive edge over their opponents.

There are a number of well thought out features designed to complement each other and we're still experimenting with them.

GameFirst
A unique traffic shaping technology, GameFirst manages the flow of traffic according to users’ needs so that they can still perform web-based tasks, download and upload files and engage in internet chats while maintaining the low ping times needed to dominate their opponents during online gaming.

In practice we have never had problems with latency but are not avid gamers so this form of quality of service management will be valued by those who don't have a dedicated gaming machine and like to multi-task with Spotify etc. in the background.

Speeding HDD
Utilising a dual channel design, Speeding HDD doubles data transfer rates, slashing game loading and data access times. To enjoy this technology, users simply have to connect two HDDs to the specially-marked SATA connectors on the Maximus III Series motherboard. The drives are set-up automatically—no manual configuration is required.

Traditional drives may not yet benefit from this but many SSDs have already surpassed the capacity of SATA-2 (and SATA-3 is only double that of SATA-2) so many users will get significant value from this.

SupremeFX X-Fi
With its premium components and support for Creative Labs’ acclaimed Crystaliser, CMSS3D and EAX technologies, SupremeFX X-Fi delivers the most realistic and accurate audio in games. This iteration of SupremeFX X-Fi also supports Blu-ray output.

Previously a separate add-in card, the X-Fi delivers crystal clear sound and if your case supports HD Audio front connectors then the board has both HD and legacy connectors.

Designed for Maximum Tweakability
Maximus III Series motherboards feature a revolutionary overclocking interface dubbed ROG Connect. ROG Connect enables users to link up to the embedded iROG controller via a separate PC—such as a notebook—connected via a USB cable. This allows users to tune the main system at a purely hardware level in real-time, as well as view POST code and hardware status readouts, on a notebook or netbook.

Once this is enabled its like being able to remotely control the PC setup. We used an Eee PC 901 to help find the optimum settings and ROG Connect saved us many many reboot cycles.

Designed for Maximum Compatibility
Memory is temperamental and often difficult to tune. ROG Maximus III Series motherboards enable users to easily circumvent potential memory compatibility issues with the inclusion of MemPerfect, a tool that automatically tests, fixes and adjusts memory for the best possible performance. The result is greater system stability, optimised speed and the ability to resolve issues quickly without having to manually perform lengthy memory tests.

This BIOS memory checker can save much anguish as it detects memory problems before booting into Windows and having problems that may be hard to trace back to memory issues.

Designed for Users with Differing Needs
While both Maximus III Series motherboards feature the same rich complement of features to enhance users’ gaming and computing experience—such as ROG Connect, GameFirst and MemPerfect—they are available in two different form factors to cater to the needs of different users.

The ATX Maximus III Formula is designed for hardcore gamers and performance seekers who demand the very best specifications and superior extensibility. The mATX Maximus III GENE, on the other hand, is designed for case modders and budget-conscious gamers who prefer smaller machines, yet desire the power and features that only ROG can provide.

We prefer the smaller form factor of the Gene. Screen shots of the various tools and utilities will be added soon, after more detailed testing.

 

Board Layout

The box comes in a nice package that prominently displays the ROG logo showing that this is an enthusiast and gamers motherboard.

 

It truly is Windows 7 ready and everything was detected correctly during our 64-bit Windows 7 Pro setup. Installing the additional drivers and utilities that come with the enclosed CD is still highly recommended though.

 

The onboard X-Fi supports EAX 4.0 for advanced HD sound and comes with a filter to eliminate background noise while recording. We tested in both 5.1 and 7.1 channel modes with no distortion and good separation of channels.

 

There are so many features that the front and back of the box are not enough and an extra flap is used to elaborate further. It also adds to the "gift box" effect and may make a nice present this holiday season.

 

All these features on a board that's not cluttered and is mATX! As well as the SLI/CrossFire capabilities we can see that it is passively cooled with a big heatsink in the bottom right. There is a twelve phase power design consisting of eight phase CPU power, two phase VTT power and two phase memory power. There are 7 SATA-2 ports and an E-SATA port header. The four DDR3 slots operate in dual channel mode and support memory up to 16GB DDR3-2133 through the BIOS. The red button allows for recovery without clearing the BIOS if settings are too extreme during overclocking. The addition of an on/off switch helps testers or those not using a traditional case. A legacy PCI slot is there for that old PCI RAID controller etc. you just cannot bear to part with. RAID 0 and 1 is supported on the SATA-2 ports and will be cost-effective until SSDs become mainstream.

 

PS/2 keyboard connectors are the only look to the past and 8-channel audio is fully supported and configurable when the full audio drivers are installed. The USB port on its side is actually the ROG connector and allows a notebook to monitor and configure the PC remotely. In practice this worked well with our Eee PC 901 using the supplied cable. Firewire and E-SATA (there's another E-SATA and Firewire connector on the other side of the board for cases which have those connectors on them) are included. The addition of a CMOS clear button on the back panel will please overclockers and save tension reaching for a jumper with a pair of long-nosed pliers while holding a torch between teeth and aiming it with tongue manipulation....

 

Included in the box are SATA cables with metal bars to make them easy to remove and still keeping them securely in place against accidental removal - a long way from the first SATA cables which are still supplied with many motherboards today. The ROG cable is just a USB (male to male) lead. Padding on the back shield forms a snug fit with the edge of the board and it is thickly constructed making it easy to fit and remove without bending. The SLI bridge is easy to install and the most notable thing is the Q-Connector for case wires (HDD, power, rest switch etc.) so that they can be fitted there and the entire connector taken out as needed for access. This is the sort of time saving feature that leaves people wondering why no-one has thought of it before.

 

Test Setup

Here's a summary of the test systems:

Test Configuration

System Hardware

CPU

Intel Core i7-870 (2.93 GHz, 8MB Cache

AMD Athlon 2 X4 635 (2.8 GHz, 2MB Cache)

Motherboard

ASUS Maximus III Gene

ASUS M4A79T Deluxe

CPU Cooler

Corsair H50

Corsair H50

RAM

Kingston KHX2133C8D3T1K2/4GX 4GB 2133MHz DDR3 Non-ECC
CL8 (Kit of 2) Intel XMP Tall HS CAS 8-8-8-24

Kingston KHX1600C8D3T1K2/4GX 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 T1 Series Non-ECC
CL8 DIMM (Kit of 2) XMP CAS 8-8-8-24

Graphics

ATI Radeon 5850 HD

ATI Radeon 5850 HD

Hard Drive

Maxtor 300GB SATA-2

Maxtor 300GB SATA-2

Sound

SupremeFX X-Fi built-in

Realtek® 1200 8 -Channel High Definition Audio CODEC

Network

Gigabit LAN controller

Realtek® 8112 Gigabit LAN controller

Chassis

Antec 902 Midi Tower Case

Antec Sonata Elite Ultra Quiet Case

Power

Antec TruPower 750W

Antec TruPower 750W

Software

Operating System

Windows 7 Professional

Windows 7 Professional

Graphics

ATI Catalyst 9.11

ATI Catalyst 9.11

Chipset

Intel P55

AMD 790

Applications

  • SiSoft Sandra 2009

  • 3DMark Vantage Pro

  • CPU-Z

  • Far Cry 2

  • HAWX

  • Resident Evil 5
  • SiSoft Sandra 2009

  • 3DMark Vantage Pro

  • CPU-Z

  • Far Cry 2

  • HAWX

  • Resident Evil 5

 

Overclocking

Socket 1156 processors, like their socket 1366 siblings are renowned for their overclocking capabilities so we started with high hopes for our i7-870 on this board using the extensive options available in the BIOS. The BIOS is too detailed for us to explore in this review but we recommend viewing this YouTube video here and if your appetite is whetted for more information you can download the manual from the ASUS Support Site.

 

Our first target was 3.5GHz and this was achieved without any noticeable increase in temperatures (the Corsair H50 sealed processor watercooler is truly remarkable and completely silent). All benchmarks were run without problems.

 

Incredibly, the system posted and booted into Windows at 4GHz on stock voltage. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark caused a lockup though and we increased the processor voltage to 1.35V before the CPU completed all tests without any problems. Even so, 1.35V is still on the low side compared to some extremes we have seen with simple cooling.

We conducted our tests at stock speeds though to allow readers to make comparisons on a fixed baseline.

 

Test Results

We should explain why we have selected certain tests and why we repeated them for 1, 2, 3 and 4 cores. People buy motherboards for different uses and whether you are a gamer who can make do with 2 cores or an avid video editor who will max out 4 cores determines which processor you will pair the board with.

We always advise not skimping on motherboard selection and purchasing a high end, fully featured one like the Maximus III Gene (high end by socket 1156 standards - half the price of a socket 1366 board) provides the greatest flexibility as we will see. The benchmarks will show which processor is best suited for particular uses. We are comparing the ASUS Maximus III Gene with the ASUS M4A79T Deluxe.

 

The advantage of DDR3-2000 versus DDR3-1600 and the Dual channel memory can be clearly seen. Synthetic benchmarks eliminate other bottlenecks and show the true potential of increasing cores. Only users of the AMD platform will be able to replace their current CPU with a 6-core "Bulldozer" one next year. There are no plans for 6-core "Gulftown" (aka i9) processors able to fit in a socket 1156 motherbaord.

 

Similar situation with very linear scaling.

 

The number of cores has no effect on memory bandwidth (fortunately there are no single core Athlons in the AM3 configuration).

 

The results here are quite interesting and a leveling off after 2 cores for the i7-870 but more linear for the slower AMD X4 CPU. The results are above average for boards of these chipsets.

 

Far Cry 2 is widely acknowledged as being the game to bring any system to its knees and we deliberately tested at the highest settings for each resolution and with 8x anti aliasing. Frame rates are perfectly playable at all resolutions (we don't have a 30" monitor for the ultra high resolutions).

 

Contrasting the FPS of Far Cry 2 is Tom Clancy's HAWX which is a cross between flight simulator and air combat game and we achieved over 60 frames per second at all resolutions.

 

Horror games are currently popular and Resident Evil 5 has a great benchmarking function built in. The board performed very well in this test.

 

Conclusion

We've deliberately avoided getting bogged down with dozens of benchmarks comparing many motherboards as this is one component where the performance varies by usually less than 1% across the range. Readers looking to see these types of benchmarks are pointed in the direction of AnandTech and similar sites. We have already explored in depth and rest assured that the Maximus III Gene is in the top 3 in virtually every test in available benchmarks. Instead we are focusing on the added features and bundled software that add unique value to each motherboard.

ROG motherboards have never disappointed in terms of features and the Maximus III Gene is no exception despite its mATX form factor which puts a pressure on available "real-estate". The choice for this seems to be to allow the board to be used for small form factor and easy to carry systems for gamers to use in LAN parties and gaming conventions etc.

Overclocking used to be the realm of the connoisseur requiring great skill/experience and  tenacity with nerves of iron required and the constant danger of equipment destruction adding tension over the hours it took to get a stable overclock. No longer is this the case now that ASUS have made it easy for everyone (and no longer can we impress women at parties by introducing ourselves as PC overclockers....) with PC stepup, iROG connect, MemPerfect and a host of utilities within Windows making it easy to get professional results in a fraction of the time and with little or no risk.

When everything is taken into account we are convinced that the ASUS Maximus III Gene is the best socket 1156 motherboard currently available and is keenly priced for its target market.

 

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