Author: Pier-Luc Gendreau
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/asus_maximus_gene/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Back in October, we looked at ASUS' Maximus III Formula and were quite impressed by its feature set and overclocking capabilities. Now, we have gotten our hands on the Formula's little brother - the Maximus III Gene. On paper, both boards share most of their features and are vastly similar. However, there is one large difference between them : size. In fact, while the Formula is a run of the mill ATX form factor, the Gene packs everything onto a microATX board. In the process, it not only slashes the bottom 6 centimeters, but also a whooping $50, bringing the price down to just a buck under $200.
Just like the Formula, the Maximus III Gene sports Intel's P55 chipset, LGA1156 socket and supports Core i5 and i7 800-series processors. Faithful to ASUS' Republic of Gamers product line, the Gene carries just about every feature the engineers could think of. Needless to say that the board supports both CrossFire and SLI multi-GPU technologies and dual channel DDR3 memory up to 2133 MHz through overclocking.
The ASUS Maximus III Gene is a small board packing a promising bunch of features. Sounds interesting? Read on to find out!
On the outside, the Maximus III Gene is very similar to the Formula. It comes into a sturdy, yet elegant, dark red package showing off Windows 7 support. On the hardware side, the board is built around the P55 chpset and supports LGA1156 Core i5 and Core i7 processors. Both CrossFire and SLI are also supported.
On the opposite side, ASUS highlights some of the main features including ROG Connect, Go Button and CPU Level UP. If those sound a bit mysterious to you, don't worry, I'll elaborate on them later on.
In terms of looks, the board is very similar to the Formula, which also happens to look awesome. The black and red color theme with some white scattered here and there is very well done and arguably one of the best looking. Most importantly, the layout is excellent, especially for a mATX form factor. Connectors are exactly where we like them to be and the low profile heatsinks leave us with plenty of space to install hardware without coming in the way. On the back of the board, there isn't anything really exciting going on. ASUS opted for screws instead of simple push-pins to hold the heatsinks which generally helps them make better contact.
The area around the socket is entirely free of obstacles and the memory slots are far enough not to interfere with the majority of heatsinks. The top right side of the board is home to the four dual-channel DDR3 memory slots, which can handle memory running at up to 2133 MHz. Of course, running memory at such high speeds requires top of the line memory. The 24-pin ATX connector is right on the edge of the board, exactly where it should be. There's also one of the five 4-pin fan headers right behind.
The Gene has two full length PCI-Express slots, although only the first one actually runs at 16x and falls back to 8x, just like the second slot, once you add a second video card. The first black slot is a 4x PCI-E 1.0, which can be used for a network, RAID or even physics card. Lastly, there's also a legacy PCI slot.
At the bottom there is, from left to right, audio, FireWire, handy start and restart buttons as well as two 4-pin fan and three USB headers. As far as storage goes, ASUS supplied the board with seven SATA ports, six of which belong to the P55 chip while the seventh one is courtesy of the JMicron controller. On the bottom right edge is the header for front panel LED's and buttons. Under the relatively large, but thin, heatsink is hiding the cool running P55 chip.
On the I/O side, there is a single PS/2 keyboard connector, eight USB ports, a single SPDIF, FireWire and eSATA ports as well as a button to clear the CMOS in case the board refuses to P.O.S.T like it can sometimes happen after a failed overclock. The button and the USB port on the right are for the ROG Connect feature which I will discuss shortly. The board also supports 7.1 sound thanks to the SupremeFX X-Fi chip.
The Maximus III Gene uses the exact same BIOS as the Formula, which isn't a bad thing at all!
The first tab is definitely the most interesting one for enthusiasts. It is named Extreme Tweaker and does exactly that : provide a ton of option to tweak the computer's performance. This is a one stop shop for overclockers, beginner and vetarans alike. Up top are the target processor and memory clocks, the BIOS does the math for you so there's no need to keep a calculator at hand. The first third of the page is dedicated to clock speeds, including the processor's multiplier, base clock, PCI-Express, memory and uncore clock. This is also the place to enable or disable SpeedStep, Turbo and other advanced processor features.
For beginners, the CPU Level Up feature let's you overclock up to 3.52 GHz, which worked without issues on my processors, but your mileage may vary. Memory Level Up lets you choose a memory clock up to 2133 MHz, providing your memory is capable of handling such high speeds. Both automatically increase voltages and, as of the latest BIOS, memory voltage isn't bumped above 1.65V.
The second part offers more options including memory timings and processor clock settings aimed at the select few advanced overclockers. It is also possible to use the full blown power distribution system or leaving to Auto in order to let the motherboard turn off phases when they aren't needed. ASUS has embeded voltage and temperature monitoring right there and the system's main voltages are located right below. Lower down the list, Extreme OV, for OverVoltage, allows voltage settings to be set much higher than you normally can. For example, the processor's core voltage can be set up to 2.5V, which is obviously not recommended unless the processor is under extreme cooling.
The last third of the Extreme Tweaker page has advanced memory voltage settings and provides the ability to disable spread spectrum, which tends to help when overclocking. At the bottom is ASUS' profile system.
The DRAM Timing Control page has a large array of timings that can be manually set. The most important ones are the first four as well as the DRAM Timing Mode. The others are secondary timings you can tweak to extract every last bit of performance out of the memory.
The ASUS O.C. Profile has enough space to store up to eight profiles. With this, it's possible to quickly and easily switch between very different BIOS settings without having to go through them one by one. The utility also allows you to back them up to a file.
Now comes the usual options you expect to find in each and every BIOS. The Main tab is where you can set set the time, date and language as well as display installed SATA drives.
Next up is the Advanced tab where seven submenus are displayed, some more interesting than others. First up is the CPU Configuration page which displays information about the processor. The main purpose of that section is to enable, or disable, power saving features such as SpeedStep and C1E.
Onboard Devices Configuration is self-explanatory, it lets the user enable or disable integrated components like LAN, FireWire and SATA controllers. ASUS also provides a neat option which can be set to Standard, for day to day usage, or disabled. The latter automatically disables everything except the LAN port. This is useful to easily get a few more points out of various benchmarks.
There isn't much of anything to customize in the Power tab. However, the Hardware Information submenu provides a complete look at the computer's current status. In there, you can take a look at the current voltages, which are more or less precise but give a rough idea. It's also possible to monitor temperatures and fan speeds. The last menu, Fan Speed Control gives the option to let the motherboard automatically control the fan's speed or to set them to a certain speed.
The Boot tab is nothing out of the ordinary. This is where, as usual, the user chooses which device to boot from and in what order.
In the Tools tab, the Speeding HDD configuration menu is used in conjunction with the hardware RAID controller. It lets you choose between RAID 0 and 1. The EZ Flash 2 utility is used to update the BIOS from a floppy, USB or hard drive or even a CD. It's also possible to update the BIOS directly from Windows. Asus O.C. Profile is pretty neat, it allows the user to save BIOS configurations so you don't have to type them back in every time you clear the CMOS.
Finally, the Exit tab is where the journey in the BIOS ends. You can either save the settings or revert back to defaults.
I'm rarely enthusiastic about automatic overclocking features, but I must admit this one is actually pretty impressive. First of all, it's available in the current latest BIOS (1105) so make sure to grab the latest update. Turbo Profile puts ASUS' proprietary iROG integrated circuit to good use, which checks out your hardware specifications and uses built-in profiles to overclock the processor while remaining within your memory's capabilities.
It was able to take the Core i5 750 slightly over 3.8 GHz and the i7 870 another 100 MHz further. Not bad at all, but, best of all and surprisingly enough, it was fully stable without pushing a ton of voltage into the components. This is an excellent overclocking tool which provides beginners with a solid starting point and ASUS is still working on other software features to improve it so the future is quite promising.
This is especially interesting for the hardcore overclocking crowd with a voltmeter within their toolbox. It provides hardware voltage reading points for the processor's PLL, PCH, memory, integrated memory controller and processor. They are located right on the edge of the board, beside the 24-pin ATX connector, which makes them very easy to access. They just work and provide accurate voltage readings for the most critical components. However, they could be larger to make them easier to target.
Although it's hardly advertised, I found this feature to be one of the most useful ones. Instead of displaying various meaningless codes you have to search for on a couple 7 segment LED displays, it simply uses four small LEDs to display the most common errors. There is one for the processor, memory, video card and boot device. When the system boots perfectly, they will light up one after the other and all is well. However, if for some reason the system fails to boot, it will remain stuck on one of the four LED's, clearly indicating what is the issue.
While the Maximus III Formula gets a discrete sound card, the Gene has to settle for a little less. It's based on similar SupremeFX X-Fi technology, except the Gene incorporates it onboard. It's basically integrated sound, but with a whole lot more features than the run of the mill Realtek chip offers. Since I have, at best, a sub-par computer sound system, I can't honestly say I noticed any difference though. However, the software bundle provides tools like an equalizer and built-in sound profiles.
Of course, the Maximus III Gene also features various other small, but notable details. Marketed as Q-Slot, the latches to release cards placed into the full length PCI-E are easily the best I ever used. Unlike other designs, their shape makes them perfectly suited for human fingers and I didn't feel like I was going to break something every time I removed a video card.
ASUS' Q-DIMM memory slots only have levers on the topmost side, making it painless to install or uninstall memory sticks even when a large video card is sitting right under. Even though they only clip on one side, they are still laying tight enough into the slot that it is impossible for them to release without human intervention. I did run into a minor issue though; memory fans such as Corsair's Dominator Airflow fan can't hold on perfectly to the slot. It still works though. Speaking of memory, running four 2GB sticks for a total of 8GB worked right out of the box without needing any sort of tweaking.
The board also has the now usual onboard power, reset and clear CMOS buttons. Finally, it also has five 4-pin fan connectors each supporting 24W or up to a total of 84W. When it comes to power delivery, ASUS supplies the processor with an 8 phase system while the integrated memory controller and memory each get two phases, one less than the Formula.
Their driver disc is extremely easy to use and contains all you need to get started and to even to keep going. Once you drop the disc in your drive, the window below will popup and then you can use the "ASUS InstAll" button which will automatically install every single driver and software, except Creative's which you need to install separately.
In the likely case that you don't need or want every application installed, you can also choose to install them one by one.
As a side note, all onboard peripherals worked out of the box using Windows 7, while Vista simply required the network driver. However, the Sound Blaster X-Fi driver provides aditional functionality for the supplied SupremeFX audio card.
This application is similar to the previous one, except that it is designed to run on your local machine. Unfortunately, it's still not the all in one tool I wished for. It doesn't offer any sort of monitoring, so it has to be used in conjunction with other software either from ASUS or third-parties like CPU-Z and RealTemp.
Otherwise, it works well for what it does. Easy Mode is, well, easy, but it goes overboard with voltage so I don't find it to be a wise choice. If you have little experience and just want a quick out of the box overclock, auto tuning is probably your best bet. However, manual mode is my personal favorite as it gives the most control. Turbo Key is basically on-demand overclocking. It allows you load a selected profile by hitting a customizable combination of buttons.
Nowadays, it seems like it's all about being green and ASUS is no exception to this rule. This program has built-in profiles to optimize the computer's power efficiency by changing some key settings. It can turn phases off when it detects utilization is low and only turn them back on when it figures it needs more power to achieve a task. This way, the full power delivery system is only working at full throttle when it needs to, ultimately saving some power. There is one caveat though, the processor has to be running at stock settings.
PC Probe II
This is ASUS' main hardware monitoring utility. It covers about every important voltage in the computer, fan speeds and temperatures. It is also possible to trigger alarms when one of them falls below or rises above a custom threshold. From the main window, you can choose which sensor to display or not. Each of those sensors you enable will then appear in a small box, as shown below. They can then be placed exactly as you wish to, the magnet feature will automatically make them stick to eachother so they can easily be located and moved as a group.
It may not be the best looking application, but it's certainly one of the most useful. It allows you to update the BIOS either from a file you downloaded off their website or it can automatically find the board's latest BIOS for you. Then, it will flash it and prompt you to restart. That's all, it just works. I used it three times without any issues whatsoever and needless to say that it's much easier and quicker than updating from a bootable device.
This is the application is an attempt to sort of brings everything together. It works more like a control center to launch every other application, so you still end having to open many different programs to get all the functionality. Hopefully future versions bring those six programs together in a more streamlined manner.
Not only this feature is unique to ASUS, it is also a really interesting one that is genuinely useful. After installing the software on another computer, enabling it is as simple as the push of a button located on the back of the board. Then, simply plug the supplied USB cable between the Maximus and your other computer, fire up the software and enjoy.
The RC TweakIt application gives nearly BIOS-like control over your hardware right from within your other computer's Windows. The only thing missing is any sort of control over memory speed and timings. Other than that, you can monitor voltages, temperatures and fan speeds, but not overall processor and memory frequency which is a shame. It's also possible to save and load profiles.
To test ASUS' Maximus III Gene, I will be using Intel's Core i7 870 paired with 4GB of memory running at 1600 MHz. The same platform is used for past and upcoming products as well. Turbo Boost will be disabled during testing in order to ensure consistent benchmark results and provide reliable comparisons between the motherboards.
Intel Core i7 "Lynnfield" (Socket LGA1156)
Here is a CPU-Z screenshot showing all the exact settings that are going to be used in this review.
Intel Core i7 "Bloomfield" (Socket LGA1366)
AMD Phenom II "Deneb" (Socket AM3)
There is be a set of system benchmarks and the other half is gaming oriented. Bioshock requires a custom run since it does not have a benchmarking tool. For this one, Fraps will be used to record the framerates, while for all the other gaming tests, the built-in benchmarking tool will be used. For all of these, the tests will be ran at three different resolutions : 1280x1024, 1680x1050 and 1920x1200.
Overclocking Asus' Maximus III Gene was just as pleasant as with the Formula. The board constantly behaved very well and never had issues recovering from failed overclocks. With the processor's multiplier down, I was able to hit 218 MHz baseclock with full stability. Past that, the board just wasn't stable enough to go through stress testing. However, 218 MHz gives you plenty of room for overclocking under air and water cooling.
Now that I knew the maximum baseclock, I set the processor's multiplier back up to 22x and started clocking it up. I went past the 4 GHz mark with ease and then slowly made my way up to right above 4.3 GHz. Using ROG Connect made that process very easy; I simply fired up Prime95 on the Maximus, and tweaked settings without ever having to reboot.
In the end, I settled for a 196 MHz baseclock which translates into a healthy 4.3 GHz overclock. Spending a little more time tweaking let me drop the processor's core and uncore voltages down to 1.36875V and 1.26V, respectively. Going just a few MHz higher than that speed required a lot more voltage on the Core i7 870 showing that it had reached its maximum clock speed.
For the overclockers out there, I also went ahead and pushed the limits of my processor on this board and ended up with a not too shabby 4.7 GHz! Of course it wasn't stable, but impressive nonetheless. In order to run a quick SuperPi run, I had to clock down to 4.6 GHz, but still broke the 9 seconds mark.
Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. The processor arithmetic and multi-core efficiency will be ran as well as the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks.
The Maximus III Gene is off to a great start, it certainly doesn't let its small size affect its performance. The Gene is right on part with the other motherboards we have come across.
HandBrake is an open-source application used to transcode media files to other formats. It is multi-threaded so it exploits the power of modern quad-cores really well.
POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photorealistic capabilities.
Once more, all our P55 boards using the Core i7 870 processor perform right about the same. Since those benchmarks are heavily processor dependant, overclocking leads to massive improvements.
Using WinRAR, I will compress our custom 100MB, 500MB and 1000MB files using the best compression setting in the ZIP format and time how long it take to do so.
Cinebench 10 is another rendering program, also optimized for many-core processors. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.
In both WinRAR and Cinebench, ASUS' Gene comes out slightly slower than Gigabyte flagship board, although it is faster than its big brother -- the Formula. Both tests scale very well with frequency, resulting in a significant speedup once overclocked.
HD Tune is a benchmarking program for hard drives. Beside the drive itself, their speed they can reach heavily depends on the chipset.
PCMark is a benchmarking suite from FutureMark, who also make the reknown 3DMark. It includes many tests to calculate overall system performance like hard drive speed, memory and processor power. It is a fairly good indicative of general real-world performance.
In HD Tune, the Maximus III Gene's average read performance is just that, average. However, it takes the top spot when it comes to burst speed. It's also strong in Vantage where it takes the lead both at stock and overclocked speeds.
Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack of the original Crysis. It uses an enhanced and optimized version of the CryEngine.
Bioshock is a creepy first person shooter. It is the oldest of the games in our benchmarking suite, hence the high framerates.
Just as expected, whichever motherboard you choose, gaming performance will end up right about the same.
Far Cry 2 is yet another first person shooter, but this one has been developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to get rid of an arms dealer.
Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter developed by Valve. It uses the Source Engine. Four survivors must fight against infected people in order to reach a safe area.
Once more, all our P55 motherboards equipped with the Core i7 870 perform identically across all three resolutions.
The Maximus III Gene is another excellent product out of ASUS' Republic of Gamers series of motherboards. While the Gene gives up a few features due its much more compact mATX form factor, it still borrows most of the Formula's features and includes pretty much everything you expect from a high profile motherboard and then some.
The motherboard's layout is very good and well thought out -- especially considering its size. Just about everything is right where it should be. Actually, It might be hard to believe, but there really is nothing wrong with the layout! The power connectors, SATA ports and various headers are located exactly where we like to have them.
As usual, the start, reset and clear CMOS buttons are appreciated and come in handy, while the five fan connectors are strategically scattered around the board, making it easy to find the right spot for your fans. Just like the Formula, the headers are each capable of handling a whooping of 24W and total up to 84W of power, which is more than enough for most users.
Even though the Maximus III Gene comes with all the cables and accessories you might to get going, there are no extras beside some zip ties and a RoG sticker. Just a little something such as a game, a Steam voucher or anything along those lines would definitely be welcomed especially considering this is, after all, a Republic of Gamers product.
ASUS' bundled applications are complete, work as advertised, although as I mentioned before, they are a bit of a mess. They aren't the only company guilty of this, but you really shouldn't have to install a program for every little bit of functionality. An all-in-one tool would ensure a much smoother and pleasant experience.
When it comes down to performance, the Gene performed right up there with the competing boards. With the memory and PCI-Express controllers integrated onto the processor's die, there is very little a manufacturer can do to improve performance. However, overclocking is an area where some boards are friendlier than others and the Gene does very well in this domain. Although it couldn't quite reach the same base clock as its big brother, I could still hit 218 MHz, which isn't too shabby! Using the Core i7 870, I was able to easily break 4 GHz and end up with the same 4.3 GHz the Formula and Gigabyte's UD6 have given me. During the whole time, the board didn't exhibit any trouble recovering from failed overclocks and, at worst, a quick press on the Clear CMOS button on the back got me back on my feet.
Overall, this yet another solid P55 motherboard out of ASUS's Republic of Gamers lineup. It's a great motherboard for a LAN box or even your main computer, assuming you don't need the extra expansion slots a full ATX board provides. The layout is basically perfect, it performs and overclocks very well, but I do see a downside to the Maximus III Gene though. Considering the accessory bundle, I find the $199 price tag a tad high. It's an awesome board, in that there is absolutely no doubt, but I'm not entirely convinced it is $50 better than Gigabyte's P55M-UD4 we looked at a couple weeks ago. Then again, ASUS is comitted to their RoG boards and the latest BIOS updates have brought a couple more interesting features and they are still working on some promising software features, making the $50 difference that much easier to swallow. Is it worth it? I think so.
Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.