We have a peek at the Mac Daddy of the ASUS Z270 motherboards, let’s all hail the ASUS Maximus IX Formula from the Republic of Gamers line. The board boasts everything you want and need, has a deep and profound AURA LED lighting system, is all shielded, comes with VRM area water-block from EK and then some. Though very little RGB bling is injected, this motherboard is compatible with the new generalized ASUS AURA SYNC, which is a software suite that allows for multiple choices in additional RGB gear to be driven from that one package.
The ASUS motherboard follows a standard ATX form factor (30.5 x 24.4cm). The motherboard is located in the ROG high-end range of the Skylake and Kaby Lake desktop processor product stack.
Right, ROG time, the really good stuff. The Maximus has that chic look, shields everywhere as well as an M.2 slot hidden under that lower cover and a secondary one with a vertical mount (we’ll show ya!). The motherboard comes with LED RGB AURA SYNC and is independently configurable throughout the motherboard or compatible connected LED devices (these can be controlled with AURA software). Next to that, great shielded looks and a certain military feel pops out due to a tint of green/grey in the black design.
Included with the motherboard are the regulars including; manuals, driver CDs, SATA cables and a rear I/O plate. It also has a couple of new features which we’ll talk about in-depth in this review.
- CPU support: Skylake / Kaby Lake class Intel Core processors
- Chipset: Intel Z270 Chipset
- 1x Gigabit: Ethernet Intel Gbe I219-V / I211
- 1x WIFI 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5 Ghz and Bluetooth 4.1 compatible
- 2 x M.2 Socket connectors (Optane supported) (one is vertical!)
- 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
- 3x PCI-E 3.0 x16 (single at x16 / dual at x8 / triple at x8 – x8 – x4)
- 3x PCI-E 3.0 x1
- USB 3.0 / 3.1
- 8-channel ALC S1220A Realtek chip
The I/O back panel reveals a combo of 3.1/3.0/2.0 ports. The audio unit has special noise reducing capacitors and shielding sitting next to that Realtek chip. You will spot one 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet jack. Missing is a PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port. Audio wise we spot an optical S/PDIF out port and five audio jacks. If you plan to use the integrated IGP of the processor, you can make use of one HDMI DisplayPort connector. The rear connectivity back-panel is loaded full, nice. Also present are clear CMOS and BIOS flashback buttons.
Included in the bundle is one interesting looking motherboard and gear like SATA cables, extra connectors and so on. ASUS again included a simple but proper HB SLI bridge connector and a really good dual-band WIFI antenna.
The board has 3 x physical PCIe 3.0 x16 slots which can be arranged in these slot configurations with graphics cards:
- 1-way mode – x16 / x0 / x0
- 2-way mode – x8 / x8 / x0
- 3-way mode – x8 / x8 / x4
As you can see, these are PCI Express Gen 3.0 configurations, that’s plenty for regular graphics card setups up-to 2-way SLI/Crossfire. The motherboard comes with one 8-pin power connector. You’ll get four DIMM slots that can be used for up-to 64GB of dual-channel memory up-to even 4000 MHz supported in OC mode. We’ll actually test a new 3866 MHz Trident Z kit from G.Skill which we’ll feature in detail in this review.
Back Panel I/O Ports
- 1 x HDMI port
- 1 x Display Port
- 1 x BIOS Flashback button
- 1x Clear CMOS button
- Multiple USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 ports (the black ones are all 2.0) all based on ASMedia and Intel type A and C.
- 1 x RJ-45 ports (Intel Gbit)
- 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
- 5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In/Mic In, Line Out, Headphone)
- WIFI Antenna jacks
Notice something unusual? Yes, the motherboard comes with a pre-mounted / pre-fitted rear I/O plate. I like that.
The Z270 motherboard will get you six Intel chipset based SATA 6 Gb/s storage ports. Combined in here are two M.2 PCI Express slots using x4 PCIe lanes, giving these (Optane compatible) ports not 10 GB/sec but 32 GB/sec of performance. There are plenty of USB 3.0 and 3.1 ports available through internal motherboard connectors, some Intel based, some Asmedia ASM2142 powered. BTW the industry calls USB 3.0 / USB 3.1 Gen 1 these days, a little misleading TBH. USB 3.1 Gen 2 would be the new and proper 10 Gbps connectors. This motherboard has both gen 1 and 2 connectors and thus you get at least 5 Gbps speed.
Here we can see the four DIMM slots which offer support for dual-channel DDR4 memory up to even 4000 MHz (OC). If you activate the XMP 2.0 profile in the BIOS, your memory will be automatically configured for you at its maximum clock speed and recommended voltage. You can install a maximum of 64 GB in total. Again, XMP 2.0 must be supported, we’ll show you this setup running at 2133 and extremely high XMP frequency measurements later on in the article.
To the right you can spot a physical power and reset button as well as a diagnostic POST LED. You’ll also find lots of fan headers hidden all over the board. I counted at least seven of them with a dedicated one for LCS coolers as well.
Yep, you may unleash some more power with graphics configurations. Support for up to 3 full length discrete VGA cards. Mind you, we can only recommend you to go with 2x multi-GPU. Three cards would bog down the 3rd card at a x4 link where two cards would both get x8 Gen 3.0 PCIe links. ASUS is doing it right, they include a High-Bandwidth SLI connector.
So if you are installing an M.2 SSD, you do not have to worry about the PCB color anymore as you can hide it. Designed to be compatible with any length of M.2 SSD. Look at the lower latch.
Simply pop the M.2 SSD in and close the lid. ASUS includes just one location where you can hide it, see that lower connector? The other, well, ehm… have a peek at the photo below.
Yup, that is a vertically mounted M.2 unit. You will receive a mounting kit here, but quite frankly I cannot for the life of me consider using an M.2 unit that way. Then again, for some quick action it might be handy.
- 2 x M.2 Socket 3 connectors
- 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
The audio solution is based on a Realtek ALC 1220 CODEC, ASUS however has upgraded the circuitry and applied their ROG Supreme FX audio suite to it including an ES9023P HD DAC alongside nice headphone connectivity slash quality. You can spot high audio grade fine gold capacitors. Fine gold capacitors are suited for high-grade audio equipment to provide rich sound in the bass and clearer high frequencies. There’s little else to say really, the audio solution is fine and is rated at a 110 dB SNR.
Once you zoom in at the motherboard you’ll find micro switches, buttons and FAN connectors everywhere. Also you will spot some LED RGB connectors so that you can add LED strips or other components that are LED controlled to the AURA infrastructure to control it.
Just one 8-pin connector to power that processor of yours, but it should be plenty though. The motherboard has (I think I spotted) a 10+2 phase power delivery design for the processor based on digital power controllers. ASUS, as always, follows their stringent component selection.
The VRM area is covered up in some places so the phases are a bit hard to count. 10 here + 2 or 4 for memory really. So did you spot the round buttons in the VRM shielding? Next photo:
Yes indeed, you can mount fittings here and add this EK water-block to your liquid cooling loop. Obviously it is not needed at all as air cooling really is fine with such a big lump of copper sitting on top of it, good stuff though.
The Light LED System
So we need to dedicate a page to the RGB LED system on this motherboard as it is rather unique and a primary feature of this product. It might only be LEDs but it is a big chunk of what this product is all about. One of the more cool LED functions is an RGB configurable LED that points at your DRAM which you can then light up and color to your preference.
Throughout the motherboard, hidden under the heatsink and shielding, are LED arrays. These are actually color configurable and called AURA, new is however AURA SYNC.
We do like the ASUS Aura SYNC initiative. Previously, the software was only able to control individual computer hardware such as LED lighting on the motherboard and additional RGB LEDs within the PC case connected to the motherboard. With the new synchronization capabilities, various hardware components’ RGB lighting control can be controlled via a single AURA software interface. The LEDs can be configured as ON / OFF with just one color of your preference, but also you can select animations. There’s an Aura RGB Strip Header on the motherboard as well which you can use to connect a compatible LED strip to. Basically you install the AURA application and you will notice new features:
Photos, I can tell you, do not do any justice so I made a quick video demonstrating some options and LED animations. Have a peek at the video to get a bit of an idea what the Light LED system is all about. So, the video below serves as an example of what you can relate to LED wise based on the motherboard. Alternatively, you can turn the LEDs off as well.
In an IDLE state, a PC (motherboard (Z270) / processor / memory / SSD) consumes roughly 45 Watts. Once we add a GeForce GTX 1080 we see an increase of roughly 8~10 Watts. This number depends and will vary per motherboard (added ICs / controllers / wifi / bluetooth) and PSU (efficiency). Keep in mind that we measure the ENTIRE PC, not just the processor’s power consumption. Your average PC can differ from our numbers if you add optical drives, HDDs, soundcards etc.
As always I want to make it very clear that power consumption measurements will differ per PC and setup. Your attached components use power but your motherboard can also have additional ICs installed like an audio controller, 3rd party chips, network controllers, extra SATA controllers, extra USB controllers, and so on. These parts all consume power, so these results are a subjective indication. Next to that, we stress all CPU cores 100% and thus show peak power consumption. Unless you transcode video with the right software your average power consumption will be much lower.
Overall stress/load temperatures are very nice with temps at the ~47 C marker. These, of course, are default results and not tweaked. The processor idles at roughly 30 Degrees C. We used a fairly dated but good Corsair H110 here for cooling. Overall we are very content with the temperature results here.
We’ll address some key aspects and a technical overview of the technology and architecture first. Chances are good that you have already learned about this information over time. Right, let’s step back a few generations and start at Sandy Bridge at 32nm. Sandy Bridge really was a completely new architecture, its successor Ivy Bridge did share a lot of common denominators. When we look at Sandy versus Ivy Bridge, the foremost complicating factor was moving the architecture towards a smaller production node; Ivy Bridge is a 22nm processor series. Haswell then, is a 22nm product yet based on a FinFET process that uses a non-planar transistor that sits around the gate on three sides. Built using a 22nm process, Haswell is the “tick” in Intel’s “tick-tock” development cycle, so Ivy Bridge was just a process size shrink from Sandy Bridge’s 32nm to 22nm.
|CPU||Core i7-7700K||Core i5-7600K||Core i7-6700K||Core i5-6600K||Core i7-4790K||Core i7-4770K|
|Codename||Kaby Lake||Kaby Lake||Skylake||Skylake||Haswell||Haswell|
|IGP||Intel HD 630||Intel HD 630||Intel HD 530||Intel HD 530||Intel HD 4600||Intel HD 4600|
Then a jump to 14nm, Broadwell is a Tick in the release schedule to be followed by a Tock, Skylake. For Skylake several things changed, an increasingly more powerful graphics engine and that fabrication shrink to the 14nm node, this allows for an even more power friendly processor. There’s another TOCK though, that is Kaby Lake, a respin at 14nm.
For this motherboard review we will use the unlocked Core i5 7600K.
Intel Core i5-7600K Processor Key Features
- Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0: Dynamically increases the processor frequency up to 4.2 GHz when applications demand more performance. Speed when you need it, energy efficiency when you don’t.
- Intel Smart Cache: 6MB of shared cached allows faster access to your data by enabling dynamic and efficient allocation of the cache to match the needs of each core, significantly reducing latency to frequently used data and improving performance.
- CPU Overclocking Enabled (with Intel Z270 chipset): Fully unlocked core multiplier, power, base clock and memory ratios enable ultimate flexibility for overclocking.
- Graphics Overclocking Enabled (with Intel Z270 chipset): Unlocked graphics multiplier allows for overclocking to boost the graphics clock speed.
- Integrated Memory Controller: Supports 2 channels of DDR4-2400 and DDR3L-1600 memory with 2 DIMMs per channel. Support for memory based on the Intel Extreme Memory Profile (Intel XMP) specification.
- PCI Express 3.0 Interface: Supports up to 8 GT/s for fast access to peripheral devices and networking with up to 16 lanes configurable as 1×16, 2×8, or 1×8 and 2×4 depending on the motherboard design.
- Chipset/Motherboard Compatibility: Compatible with all Intel 100 Series chipsets with the latest BIOS and drivers.
- Intel HD Graphics 630: Integrated 3D performance with support for Microsoft DirectX 12 and Ultra HD 4K resolution display for immersive mainstream gaming. For Microsoft DirectX 12 testing, the performance-tuned Intel graphics driver is expected to be available for download on Intel Download Center by the 6th generation Intel Core processor family product introduction. The Intel HD Graphics 630 dynamic graphics frequency ranges up to 1150MHz.
- Vibrant Media: Enhanced, built-in visual features deliver a seamless visual PC experience for rich Ultra HD 4K entertainment and HD gaming.
- Intel Quick Sync Video Technology: Media processing for incredibly fast conversion of video files for portable media players or online sharing including support for HEVC (H.265) encode/decode to support Ultra HD 4K.
Of course there will be a distinction per processor segment with the 5th generation (i3/i5/i7). What you get in terms of features and what you need to remember limitation wise:
- Desktop Core i7 processors have four cores / eight hyper-threads / Up to 8 MB L3 cache
- Desktop Core i5 processors have four cores / NO hyper-threading / Up to 6 MB L3 cache
- Desktop Core i3 processors have two cores (unannounced)
|Microarchitecture||CPU series||Tick or Tock||Fab node||Year Released|
|Presler/Cedar Mill||Pentium 4 / D||Tick||65 nm||2006|
|Conroe/Merom||Core 2 Duo/Quad||Tock||65 nm||2006|
|Penryn||Core 2 Duo/Quad||Tick||45 nm||2007|
|Nehalem||Core i||Tock||45 nm||2008|
|Westmere||Core i||Tick||32 nm||2010|
|Sandy Bridge||Core i 2xxx||Tock||32 nm||2011|
|Ivy Bridge||Core i 3xxx||Tick||22 nm||2012|
|Haswell||Core i 4xxx||Tock||22 nm||2013|
|Broadwell||Core i 5xxx||Tick||14 nm||2014 & 2015 for desktops|
|Skylake||Core i 6xxx||Tock||14 nm||2015|
|Kabylake||Core i 7xxx||Tock||14 nm||2016|
|Cannonlake||Core i 8xxx?||Tick||10 nm||2017|
Quite a few processors will be based on Kaby Lake, we focus on desktop, let’s have a closer look.
Core i5-7600K and i7-7700K
Both models released are unlocked (multiplier & voltage) quad-core processors based on the aforementioned architecture and supersedes the Core 4000 and 6000 processor range (in design). The Core i7 model has hyper-threading and your OS will see it as an 8-core product. The CPU has 1 MB L2 cache (256 KB per physical core). Then there is an 8MB shared L3 cache. The integrated memory controller remains dual-channel, officially supporting up-to 2400MHz, but we all know how high these puppies can clock. The TDP for this processor is now rated at 91 Watts. The Core i5 model is a fairly similar product, yet clocked a notch slower at a 3.8 GHz base clock and 4.2 GHz Turbo allowance. This processor, as stated, does not have hyper-threading. Also it has slightly less L3 cache at its disposal, 6 MB.
Core i7 7700K – 4 cores and Hyper-Threading, 4.2 GHz frequency, 4.5 GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency, 8MB last-level cache, dual-channel DDR3/DDR4 memory controller with 1600MHz, 2133MHz or 2400MHz support, Intel HD Graphics 630-series integrated graphics core, LGA1151 packaging.
Core i5 7600K – 4 cores, 3.80GHz frequency, 4.20GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency, 6MB last-level cache, dual-channel DDR3/DDR4 memory controller with 1600MHz, 2133MHz or 2400MHz support, Intel HD Graphics 630-series integrated graphics core, LGA1151 packaging.
There will be more variants available later this year though (bear in mind that we do not have a final list of supported clock frequencies so the table below will be updated once the numbers get in:
Turbo Boost (GHz)
Intel HD Graphics
Dynamic Frequency (MHz)
Socket 1151 Standard Power (95W)
|i7-7700K||4.20||8 MB||4/8||4.50||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||Yes||TBA|
|i5-7600K||3.80||6 MB||4/4||4.20||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||Yes||TBA|
Socket 1151 Low Power (65W)
|i7-7700||3.60||8 MB||4/8||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
|i5-7600||3.50||6 MB||4/4||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
|i5-7500||3.40||6 MB||4/4||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
|i5-7400||3.30||6 MB||4/4||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
Socket 1151 Ultra Low Power (35W)
|i7-7700T||2.90||8 MB||4/8||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
|i5-7600T||2.70||6 MB||4/4||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
|i5-7500T||2.40||6 MB||4/4||TBA||Next Gen HD Graphics||TBA||No||TBA|
- K – Unlocked
- T – Power-optimized lifestyle
The Kaby Lake cache memory consists of a 32 KB L1 Data cache, 32 KB Instruction cache (= 64 KB L1) and then we spot a 256 KB L2 cache per core (1MB total) and then there’s a L3 cache that is shared in-between the CPU cores which is 8 MB in total for the Core i7 processors and 6 MB for the Core i5 series. This has been the same for many generation Intel processors in this class.
The L3 cache sits in the physical form of a ring-bus. Thus the L3 cache can be used by the processor cores and also the graphics core. You can house the new processors on motherboards with the H270 and Z270 chipset and will be introduced later on other business oriented chipsets as well. The H170/Z170 chipsets are compatible after a motherboard BIOS update. For end consumers like you and me the H series chipset is less performance targeted and comes with better support for HTPC monitor connectivity. The Z series chipset is targeted at performance and enthusiast end users allowing much more tweaking and providing performance features. It also brings USB 3.1, SATA Express and PCIe M.2 SSD connectivity to the platform.
Final words & conclusion
The Maximus IX Formula is a thing of beauty, in fact it might be even too nice for a mainstream quad-core processor platform. Still, Kaby Lake is bound to deliver enough performance for another year or two and combined with the features this Maximus IX Formula is offering you could build something really nice. Obviously you’ll receive all the benefits from the new Z270, so let’s just focus on the extras that ASUS offers as there are quite a few. First and foremost I have to admit that I love the design with all the shielding. That shielding doesn’t limit features as there are plenty of extra buttons and fan connectors on the board. Then stuff like the ability to liquid cool the VRM area, the two niche M.2 slots and the excellent WIFI solution that ASUS offers. The motherboard is properly functional, offers all tweaking options you need, two M.2 slots (albeit the vertical one is a bit of a loss really) and furthermore offers everything you’d need for a proper Z270 platform, including an Intel Gigabit WLAN connector. Despite my somewhat salted view of Kaby Lake (no real gain over Skylake) in general I do have to say that the motherboard manufacturers did a lovely job with the new ranges being released. This Maximus IX Formula will cost 400 USD, but please do realize that you will get the very same tweaking results as a 200 USD/ Euro range motherboard, your processor and cooling are the decisive factor here, not the motherboard. The ease of use with XMP memory rocks, the UEFI BIOS is just very advanced. If you have upgraded in the last year or two to a new PC, well, the upgrade remains a hard sell. This motherboard however does have aesthetic improvements as well as your platform will be upgraded towards full compatibility with USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) as well as two M.2 slots.
The RGB trend
Strangely enough, January 2017 motherboard releases are all about RGB LEDs. Personally I like the implementations at hand and do like RGB LED bling. The reality is also that after a day or two of constant LED animations and flickering RGB LEDs inside a system, that constant light movement will wear you out, and yes, it can get annoying even. In the end (we feel) people are going to choose simply one color and after a week leave that enabled in a static mode and probably never look back. I am saying this because you need realize that you are paying extra for complex RGB systems, and for you to spend that money the RGB LED systems need to be of massive interest. I mean, this is a 400 USD motherboard, that in the end can do just as much with nearly the same features as a 200 USD one, and that is the reality. That said, we certainly like the ASUS Aura SYNC initiative. Previously, the software was only able to control individual computer hardware such as LED lighting on the motherboard and additional RGB LEDs within the PC case connected to the motherboard. With the new synchronization capabilities, various hardware components’ RGB lighting control can be controlled via a single AURA software interface.
Performance & tweaking
The overall performance for this ASUS Maximus IX Formula motherboard with a Core i5 7600K I’d rate as ‘excellent’ for the results as tested with a Core i5 7600K. Temps remain very acceptable (depending on choice of cooling) and temperatures when the CPU is overclocked with added voltage definitely seem to be a notch better opposed to Haswell and Skylake. We have been able to reach 5.0 GHz stable enough on liquid cooling. At that level you are looking at up-to 1.35V needed on that CPU core. Bear in mind that ALL, seriously, ALL Z270 motherboards we have tested reach exactly 5 Ghz on the Core i5 7600K. Meaning the processor and cooling are the decisive factor when it comes to generic overclocking and tweaking, not your motherboard so much.
If we step back and take the Intel reference board with a Sandy Bridge processor (2600K) without a dedicated graphics card, that platform idled at roughly 50 Watts. Once we stress the processor 100% on that platform we’d see ~120 Watts power consumption. With Kaby Lake (7600K) we noticed roughly 40 Watts in idle and 100 Watts with processor load at 100%. Things again remain relative.
The bottom line
The ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula is a terrific motherboard loaded with features that got stripped from the stuff we do not use anyway. SATA Express and U2? Not on this motherboard, good as it makes room on that PCB for stuff that actually matters like two M.2 slots, extra USB connectors, extra FAN headers and so on. ASUS offers something really special here albeit the vertical M.2 slot once again does not compute in my brain, it just is not a sexy solution for long term usage. You’ll have plenty of USB, display, M.2 and storage connectors. You’ll purchase a motherboard with a nice audio solution that got optimized with an ASUS software suite. Like it or not, the LED RGB system with AURA software works nicely, but we do wonder much people are willing to pay extra for such intricate features. The AC WIFI is lovely to see and work with, it is proper fast when configured properly. We do miss 10 GBit Ethernet jacks, it would be nice to see the industry move forward with on-board jacks as slowly but steadily the Gigabit jack is maxing out (much like the SATA3 interface). A big YAY! for a dedicated LCS PUMP FAN header (most people these days have some sort of liquid cooling going on). All in all the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula is what it is, a terrific product. It is expensive though as historically you’ll see prices launch in the 400 euro range. We love the EK waterblock on the VRM area, yet also realize that maybe 1% of end-users are actually going to use it. Perhaps for the next Maximus release that money is better spend on 10 GBit Ethernet something, I dunno, it’s just an idea though. The board comes highly recommended, but obviously will serve just a small portion of the market due to its price level, but that doesn’t make this any less of a quality product, to the contrary, it is a kick-ass product.