Asus X38 Formula Maximus Special Edition Review

Author: William Henning
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, December 17th, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/asus_x38_maximus/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition - a board for gamers?

Some time ago, the FedEx guys dropped a shiny new box off for us from Asus:

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition motherboards comes in a fold out case that lists its features - and it has plenty of them. Asus built this Gamers Republic series board around Intel's X38 chipset and DDR2 memory - and by providing two PCIe 2.0 16x slots, they are clearly targeting the CrossFire gaming crowd.

The back of the box talks about how the chipset can be water cooled, the "voltminder" LED's, the included full version of STALKER, and the HD audio card included in the package.

Here is the full specification sheet, straight from the Asus site:

 

CPU
LGA775 socket for Intel® Core™2 Extreme / Core™2 Quad / Core™2 Duo / Pentium® Extreme / Pentium® D / Pentium® 4 Processors
Support Intel® next generation 45nm Multi-Core CPU
Compatible with Intel® 06/05B/05A processors
* Refer to www.asus.com for Intel CPU support list
Chipset
Intel® X38/ICH9R with Intel® Fast Memory Access Technology
Front Side Bus
1600 / 1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz
Memory
Dual channel memory architecture
4 x DIMM, support max. 8GB, DDR2-1200*/1066/800/667 MHz, ECC, non-ECC and un-buffered memory
*DDR2 1200 is O.C. speeds.
*Refer to www.asus.com or this user manual for the Memory QVL(Qualified Vendors Lidts).
Expansion Slots
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 slot, support at full x16, x16 speed
3 x PCIe x1 ( the PCIEx1_1 (black) is compatible with audio slot)
2 x PCI 2.2
VGA
Support ATI CrossFire™ graphics cards
Storage
ICH9R Southbridge:
- 6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
- Intel Matrix Storage Technology supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10
JMicron® JMB368 PATA controller:
- 1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66/33 for up to 2 PATA devices
LAN
Dual Gigabit LAN controllers, both featuring AI NET2
Support Teaming Technology
Audio
SupremeFX II Audio Card:
- ADI 1988B 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Noise Filter
Coaxial, Optical S/PDIF out at back I/O
IEEE 1394
2 x 1394a ports(1 port at back I/O, 1 port onboard)
USB
Max. 12 USB 2.0 ports(6 ports at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
Special Features
LCD Poster
Onboard Switches: Power / Reset / Cls CMOS (at rear)
ASUS Q-Connector
ASUS Q-Fan 2
ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
ASUS MyLogo3
Overclocking Features
Extreme Tweaker
2-Phase DDR2
Loadline Calibration
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- CPU Level Up
- ASUS EPU (Energy Processing Unit)
- AI Gear 3™
- AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
- ASUS AI Booster Utility
- O.C Profile
Overclocking Protection:
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 Keyboard port(purple)
1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
2 x LAN (RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x IEEE1394a port
1 x Clr CMOS switch
Internal I/O Connectors
3 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector for two devices
6 x SATA connectors
8 x Fan connectors: 1 x CPU / 1 x PWR / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional
3 x thermal sensor connectors
1 x IEEE1394a connector
1 x S/PDIF output connector
1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x En/Dis-able Clr CMOS
System panel connector
BIOS
16Mb AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS
Manageability
WOL by PME, WOR by PME, Chasis Intrusion, PXE
Accessories
LCD Poster
ASUS Optional Fan
SupremeFX II Audio Card
3 in 1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
Floppy disk drive cable
SATA cables
SATA power cables
2-port USB2.0 + IEEE 1394a module
I/O Shield
Cable Ties
User's manual
Support CD
The hottest 3D Game: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Support DVD:
- Drivers and applications
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS Update
ASUS AI Suite
Futuremark ® 3DMark® 06 Advanced Edition
Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)

Taking a birds eye view of the motherboard, we see a clean layout with two PCIe 16x slots, two PCIe 1x slots, and two PCI slots.

If you use two double-width video cards, you will be sacrificing a PCIe 1x slot and a PCI slot as they will be covered by the GPU coolers - leaving you with only one PCI and one PCIe 1x slot for expansion.

The board comes with a fairly thick manual, a brief "Quck Start Guide", a driver/utility DVD, and a disk of the full STALKER game.

You want cables? You get cables... four SATA2, a sata two power splitter, a back panel USB/FireWire bracket, a POST LCD, UDMA and floppy cable, cable ties, cable retainers, and the quick connect header.

You also get the "Supreme FX II" HD audio card, which has nine audio connectors on it.

Look at the solid state caps near the CPU socket.... not to mention the massive heatsinks connected by heat pipes.

Notice the black caps? That's a water block on the northbridge, for those that like to water cool their motherboards.

The heat sinks do look good.

The I/O panel on the back has a PS/2 keyboard connector, six USB 2.0 connectors, two gigabit ethernet ports, SP/DIFF and optical output, a firewire port... and I really like the "Clear CMOS" button  :-)

When you power up the board, it comes up with a graphical "Republic of Gamers" BIOS into screen.

Fortunately, it is easy enough to disable it in the BIOS, so that we can have the more meaningful BIOS boot messages.

The AMI BIOS is pretty standard.

The fun starts here - in the Extreme Tweaker menu.

First thing I did was to set the "Ai Overclock Tuner" to Manual.

You can see the settings for one of the tests I ran.

The Advanced menu is pretty standard.

 

The Power Menu is also standard.

The Boot menu let's us set boot devices, priorities etc.

I really like the Tools menu - the built-in BIOS flashing utility that can read thumb drives is accessed from here, and you can also access two saved profiles here. I wish Asus allowed for more stored profiles!

 

The Exit menu is nothing special.

Test Setup 

We made the test systems as similar as we could, other than the memory - so it should give us some very interesting results!

Hardware used for testing the motherboards:

Benchmarks Used

For now, here is a listing of the tests performed:

Video drivers used were the NVIDIA ForceWare version 93.71 package & the 169.12 Nforce drivers for the 8800GT

Business Winstone

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition did very well at Business Winstone at stock speeds - but was left behind by the other boards when overclocked.

Content Creation

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition took top spot at stock speeds, and did very well when overclocked especially considering that it was running at a lower CPU speed when overclocked!

WinRAR

Unfortunately the WinRAR chart below is very misleading, as the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition results shown were for the multi-threaded WinRAR, and the other results were for single threaded tests.

Why?

We are in the middle of changing some of our tests, and we have discontinued using the single threaded version of many of the benchmarks we have used in the past.

HDTach

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition does extremely well at SATA HDTach, unlike the other motherboards show, it had no problems with SATA2 drivers not running at full speed.

Excellent IDE results for the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition as well!

There is basically no difference in the USB results.

LAME MP3

When it comes to LAME - MP3 encoding - the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition did quite well.

TMPGEnc

Again, the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition turns in a very good result for both stock and overclocked results.

XVid

The excellent SATA2 results are definitely helping the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition with XVid.

Call of Duty

Very good stock results and good overclocked results for the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition when playing Call of Duty.


Commanche 4

Again, the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition does well at stock and overclocked results.


 

Doom 3

Hmm... Do I sound like a broken record?

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition again had good results at stock - and when overclocked.

Quake 4

See above :-)

 

Halo

I bet you can guess the results.

Good at stock and OC'd.

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition looks like a good board for gaming.

Jedi Knight

Again, the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition does not disappoint.

UT4K

Umm... this is getting repetitive...

 

Sandra CPU

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition results are where we would expect - placed purely by CPU GHz achieved.

Sandra Bandwidth

Good stock results, but the overclocked results could have been better for the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition.

RightMark Read

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition disappoints us a bit here.

RightMark Write

But the Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition redeems itself with its write performance.

RightMark Latency

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition has extremely good stock latency numbers, but for some reason it does not do correspondingly well when overclocked.

Bandwidth

The Asus Formula Maximus Special Edition does well at the bandwidth test.

Gamer Tests

We are often asked why we are still using games as old as Doom 3, Commanche 4, Jedi Knight etc. for motherboard and processor testing.

The answer is simple - those games did not count on having extremely fast GPU's, and as such, scale much better with increased processor performance then newer games such as World in Conflict or Crysis. People forget that high resolution, high detail 3D games with AA and AF turned on are extremely GPU - and not CPU - bound; as such, they will demonstrate little difference in frame rates once you have a processor that is "powerful enough".

We decided to include some more modern games in this motherboard review, and if the observed differences warrant it, we will continue to use the new games in future reviews. 

World In Conflict

I am glad I ran this test - it clearly shows two things:

1) World In Conflict at 800x600 very low quality actually DOES show some scaling with CPU frequency, and the effect is best observed on the Maximum frames per second.

2) The 8800GT spanks the 7800GT at 1024x768 or higher resolutions in high quality :-)

With this result, I now welcome 800x600 low quality World In Conflict to our processor and motherboard benchmark suite.

  78GT Avg 78GT Min 78GT Max 88GT Avg 88GT Min 88GT Max
2.66GHz 800L 157 99 322 184 99 324
2.66GHz 1024H 30 17 53 54 26 129
2.66GHz 1280H 23 13 38 48 25 94
3.20GHz 800L 172 101 357 179 102 347
3.20GHz 1024H 29 16 53 60 27 134
3.20GHz 1280H 22 12 38 51 30 94
3.43GHz 800L 173 47 389 197 112 384
3.43GHz 1024H 29 16 53 64 32 136
3.43GHz 1280H 22 12 37 53 31 95

800L = 800x600 Very Low Quality
1024H = 1024x768 High Quality
1280H = 1280x1024 High Quality

Crysis

First, let's take a look at the results without AA and AF:

Without AA/AF at 800x600  we can actually observe a slight performance jump from 2.66GHz to greater than 3GHz - however there is basically no difference between 1024x768 and 1280x1024 results, showing that the game is GPU limited.

  78GT Avg 78GT Min 78GT Max 88GT Avg 88GT Min 88GT Max
2.66GHz 800L 103.8 63.4 154.1 121.8 92.8 162.9
2.66GHz 1024H 96.7 67.7 150.1 119.2 86.7 159.3
2.66GHz 1280H 76.8 47.4 111.3 119.9 88.3 159.7
3.20GHz 800L 105.3 68 163 134.5 100.6 185.9
3.20GHz 1024H 97.2 67.3 150.3 132.2 113 175.4
3.20GHz 1280H 76.9 48.7 115.8 132.8 110.3 175.7
3.43GHz 800L 105.6 71.7 159.2 143.7 102.4 186.9
3.43GHz 1024H 97.4 67 149.8 141.1 118.6 183.8
3.43GHz 1280H 76.8 49.4 119.5 140.9 118.8 184

Now for the AA/AF results, we will only run 1024x768 and 1280x1024 tests:

With the 7800GT there is essentially no change in maximum FPS performance regardless of processor speed.

The 8800GT does show improvement due to processor speed.

  78GT Avg 78GT Min 78GT Max 88GT Avg 88GT Min 88GT Max
2.66GHz 1024H 96.7 59.4 152.6 119.3 85.9 159.3
2.66GHz 1280H 76.9 51.9 121.7 119.5 87.9 159.3
3.20GHz 1024H 97.2 59.7 152.1 133.1 110.8 175.4
3.20GHz 1280H 76.9 48.9 118 132.7 112.8 175.9
3.43GHz 1024H 97.4 67.2 149.8 141 117.8 183.1
3.43GHz 1280H 76.8 49.8 112.8 141.3 117.9 183.4

 

Overclocking

The Formula Maximus Special Edition is a pretty good overclocking board - even without water cooling.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the FSB stable at above 490MHz (1960MHz data rate); so a 2000MHz FSB is out of reach for us. But before it seems like I am complaining, 490MHz is a very good FSB to reach - especially since Intel is selling the X38 chipset as a 1333MHz chipset (never mind that it was supposedly originally designed for 1600MHz FSB, which now is reserved for the upcoming X48 chipset) - and 1600MHz FSB was rock solid, and easy to reach.

The DDR2 performance was decent, however the P35 chipset turns in better memory benchmark results with DDR2 than the X38 chipset; and very expensive DDR3 memory can outperform DDR2 for some benchmarks on DDR3 equipped X38 boards.

How did we reach 3.43GHz?

Conclusion

The stock results show that the Formula Maximus Special Edition performs well; and the overclocked results show that it can reach clock speeds fairly close to the maximum of other X38 and P35 boards.

The dual PCIe 2.0 16x slots mean that you will not run out of PCIe bandwidth for high end CrossFire setups; frankly, video cards are no where near saturating even a PCIe 1.0 8x link in dual card configurations, so the Maximus leaves you with plenty of headroom. The SATA performance of the board was excellent.

The BIOS is quite flexible, with a lot of parameters that will allow you tweak the board to your heart's content; however I wish Asus would allow for more saved overclocking profiles. The "Clear CMOS" button on the back I/O panel is a nice touch, it allows for pretty extreme overclocking experiments even once you have built the motherboard into your case - without having to open up the case to clear the CMOS in case you got a bit too aggressive with your settings.

The bundle is decent, and STALKER is a better than average pack-in game for a motherboard - however I'd rather have seen a lower price point for the board without the game.

Overall I like the board; it is a solid performer and should be on your shortlist if you're looking for a Core 2 performer.

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