ASUS Introduces the Maximus II Formula featuring the new Intel P45by Gary Key on May 30, 2008 12:00 PM EST
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We are currently in the process of reviewing several P45 motherboards from a variety of suppliers. We have to say that the P45 is shaping up to be a worthy successor to the P35 and might even make you think twice about buying an X48 or X38 based product. Just like the P35 launch last year, the current motherboards are very stable, but it is obvious the full performance potential of the chipset will not be realized until the BIOS engineers have had additional time working with the chipset. We have been impressed with the products we have seen from MSI, ASUS, ASRock, Biostar and others to date, but one board has stood out from the rest.
That board is the ASUS Maximus II Formula, which is part of the ASUS's ongoing Republic of Gamers series of products that cater to the gaming enthusiast. In this particular case, the Maximus II Formula board will also cater to the overclocking enthusiast based on preliminary results. As well as it should for a street price, that will be hovering near the $300 mark at launch. We will have a full performance review when ASUS releases the production level BIOS shortly. In the meantime, we are starting our Computex 2008 coverage by providing initial details and features about this unique board.
The Maximus II Formula board features the new Intel P45 MCH and ICH10R Southbridge. As such, the board supports PCI Express 2.0 capability along with dual x8 PCIe operation in a CrossFire setup. The P35 supported a x16/x4 PCI Express 1.0 configuration with CrossFire that generally offered performance results up to 11% lower than the dual x16 setup on the X38/X48 chipsets. Although CrossFire runs in a dual x8 configuration, current performance results show it to be even with the X48/X38 boards with the HD 3870 video cards.
ASUS went to great lengths to ensure this board had every possible option installed. These options range from the dual Marvell 88E8056 GigaE controllers, VIA 6308P FireWire 400 controller, Marvell 88SE6121 driver controller with PATA/eSATA support, Silicon Image SIL5723 SATA controller and the new ADI 2000B audio codec featuring Creative EAX 4.0HD support. The board also features 8 fan headers along with additional BIOS control support based on ambient temperature conditions under the Fax Xpert moniker.
The layout of the board is excellent with two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, three PCI Express 1.0 x1 slots, and two PCI 2.2 slots. The setup is designed to allow aftermarket coolers on the video cards while still retaining PCIe x1 and PCI expansion slot capability. The Maximus II Formula features ASUS's new Pin-Fin thermal heatsink system that offers better cooling performance than the previous stacked fin design plus in our opinion it just looks better. Early testing also shows it to be functional and an improvement over the Formula I.
ASUS has also redesigned the start and reset buttons, making them significantly larger and easier to reach. Also included are a series of onboard LEDs that indicate voltage ranges for the CPU, memory, Northbridge, and Southbridge. The LEDs will display green for normal parameters, yellow for high voltages, and red for extreme voltages. As an example, CPU Voltage set to 1.5V~1.69V will indicate yellow, while 1.7V+ will indicate a red status.
From a technical viewpoint, ASUS is introducing a true 16-phase power design for the CPU, 3-phase power design for the Northbridge, and 2-phase power design for memory. Our early testing indicates a pattern that continues from the P5E3 Premium in that most processors do not require high VTT, MCH, or PLL voltages to achieve high FSB rates or tight tRD settings when overclocking. With the right memory modules, realizing a stable DDR2 speed to the 1280 range with this board at decent Vmem settings is possible.
The BIOS options are extensive for clocking and we will go over these in our full review once the BIOS is finalized. ASUS has already provided us with a P5E3 Premium BIOS that offers extensive clock skew controls along with command and control delay adjustments for fine tuning overclock ranges without resorting to additional voltages. We hope to see the same level of MCH and Memory timing options in the Maximus II Formula board.
ASUS has included several additional features on the board. We will go over these features and others in detail shortly but for now, here is the Cliff Notes version.
Speeding HDD – If you install two newly formatted drives into the Silicon Image 5723 SATA ports, the system will automatically stripe the drives (RAID 0) without the need for drivers. A switch in the BIOS or the enclosed software utility allows for RAID 1 operation. The beauty of this setup is that the SI 5723 performs all array calculations in hardware and does not require special OS driver support. The OS sees the arrays as standard ATA devices. Performance is on par with the ICH10R in our testing.
CPU Level Up – This feature is still being tuned in the BIOS. It is automatic overclocking of the CPU at a basic level. The interesting feature is that you choose a processor speed to overclock to in the BIOS and it will adjust all required BIOS setting to reach that setting provided the processor and other components in the board are capable of overclocking. Proper cooling is required for the more extreme overclocks. This should simplify overclocking for the beginner who does not understand FSB and Memory ratios but does understand processor speed.
It also provides a quick sanity check for the intermediate user who does not want to spend a lot of time changing a variety of BIOS settings before figuring out the processor limits. Our Q6600 sample was running at 3GHz in about 15 seconds when using this system. Granted, more advanced users will want to tune the BIOS, but for beginners it is an easy to understand system for overclocking.
BIOS Flashback – Dual BIOS designs have been around for some time. ASUS is providing two sets of BIOS Flash ROM on the board. A set of manual jumpers on the board determines the settings; auto switch between the two ROM chips, ROM 1, or ROM 2 only. You can save separate BIOS versions on either chip and each BIOS version still features the OC Profile settings. This system will come in handy for a bad BIOS flash or corruption from overclocking.
Other notable additions include an external LCD POST unit that features short description of the POST code or errors instead of the standard 2-digit display that requires an informational booklet to understand the codes. ASUS also includes on optional fan cooler for the PLL/MOSFET area. ASUS has changed the audio solution from the ADI 1988B to the ADI 2000B that features Creative X-FI compatibility via drivers up to EAX 4.0 HD. The short story is that the ADI 2000B subjectively sounds better than the 1988B in all areas and makes for a good on-board audio solution.
The 2000B chipset features six ADCs with 96 kHz at 95dB rating, simultaneous recording of three stereo channels, support for quad microphone arrays, independent sample rates from 8 kHz to 96 kHz, and 16, 20, and 24-bit PCM resolution. The DACs are rated at 105dB with independent sample rates from 8 kHz to 192 kHz, 16/20/24-bit PCM resolution, 7.1 surround sound capability plus an independent headphone channel. One feature missing that is available on the Realtek ALC889 is the capability to encode DTS or Dolby Digital Live bitstreams in real time.
We will be back shortly with a full review of this feature laden board. In the meantime, please check our gallery of pics for additional product views of the ASUS Maximus II Formula.