ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z Motherboard
By Rafael Otto Coelho on March 14, 2012
We are going to take a look at the highest-end socket LGA1155 motherboard from ASUS, the Maximus IV Extreme-Z, which offers four PCI Express x16 slots supporting high speeds and a myriad of advanced options for the extreme enthusiast. We already wrote about its predecessor Maximus IV Extreme, which has pretty much the same features, but uses the Intel P67 chipset. The Maximus IV Extreme has a simpler voltage regulator circuit, also.
The Intel Z68 chipset is basically a P67 chipset with two new features added. First, the Intel Smart Response Technology (SRT), allows you to speed up disk performance by using an SSD unit as a cache unit for your conventional (i.e., mechanical) hard disk drive. This technology works by storing in the SSD the programs and data you access the most. Click here to learn more about this technology.
The second technology that was added is a video connection between the CPU and the chipset, called FDI (Flexible Display Interface). This connection was previously available on the H67 and similar chipsets but not on the P67 chipset. Socket LGA1155 processors have an integrated video processor, but the P67 chipset won’t allow you to use it since it is targeted at consumers who will have a physical video card. With the Z68, the use of an integrated video processor is possible if the motherboard manufacturer added video connectors on the motherboard. This way, Intel won’t be releasing an “H68” chipset.
The big reason for this change was that Intel licensed a software from Lucidlogix called Virtu, which allows the computer to dynamically switch video cards, depending on what you are doing with your computer. In a typical scenario, this software will make the system use the CPU’s integrated video engine when you are not playing games instead of using your add-on video card. This allows you to save energy, since the CPU integrated video consumes less power than add-on video cards. For this feature to be available on a given Z68 motherboard, the motherboard manufacturer must have licensed the Virtu software, and the motherboard must have video connectors soldered directly on the board. All motherboards in the current line-up from ASRock support this technology.
In Figure 1, you can see the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z motherboard.
The ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z comes with four PCI Express x16 slots, one PCI Express x4 slot, and one PCI Express x1 slot. As you can see, this motherboard doesn’t have standard PCI slots.
This motherboard uses an unusual configuration for its PCI Express x16 slots.
The first and the third PCI Express x16 slots are connected directly to the CPU integrated PCI Express controller. When only one video card is installed, the first slot works at x16 speed, but when you install two video cards, the first and the third slots work at x8 speed. When installing two video cards, this is the configuration you should use, according to the product manual.
The second and fourth PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by an NVIDIA NF200 chip, and work at x16 speed. When installing three video cards, you must install the first one in the first slot, the second one in the second slot, and the third one in the fourth slot (and not in the third, as it would be the logical assumption). This happens because when installing a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot, you “kill” the third PCI Express slot.
Even though this motherboard has four PCI Express x16 slots, you can only install up to three dual-slot video cards.
The PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
One advantage of this motherboard is that you won’t need a case with eight or more expansion slots if you decide to install three dual-slot video cards; the system will fit a standard seven-slot case.
This motherboard has two peripheral power connectors to provide more current to the PCI Express slots. One is located near the first PCI Express x16 slot, while the second one is located near the PCI Express x4 slot.
The Maximus IV Extreme-Z has four switches near the first memory socket for you to enable or disable each PCI Express x16 slot. This allows you to detect which video card is malfunctioning without having to remove all of the video cards from the computer.
In Figure 4, you can see one of the highlights of this motherboard, the NVIDIA NF200 chip.
Besides the NVIDIA NF200 chip, the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme comes with a PLX PEX8608 switch chip, allowing the motherboard to automatically “give” PCI Express lanes to the devices that need more bandwidth. On motherboards that don’t have this chip, you need to manually disable devices on the motherboard setup to give more bandwidth to other devices.
Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies, as well as the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but ASUS says the Maximus IV Extreme-Z supports memory up to 2,200 MHz through overclocking.
The ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z has four memory sockets. Since DDR3 memory modules can now be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
The first and third sockets are red, while the second and fourth are black. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules in order to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them in the red sockets. Otherwise, your computer won’t turn on.
As with other motherboards from ASUS, the Maximus IV Extreme-Z comes with the “MemOK!” feature, which allows you to test the compatibility of the memory modules that are installed. On this motherboard, the “MemOK!” function is enabled through a button called “GO,” which also allows you to load an overclocking preset after the operating system is loaded. You can see this button in Figure 6, to the right of the main power supply connector.
The Intel Z68 chipset is a single-chip solution and is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). The manufacturer added two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9182 chip (RAID 0 and 1). The SATA ports are located on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.
Unfortunately, the manufacturer used the same color for all four SATA-600 ports, making it difficult to know which are the ones controlled by the chipset and which are the ones controlled by the Marvell chip. The two ports on the extreme right are the ones controlled by the Marvell chip.
Additionally, there are two eSATA-300 ports on the motherboard rear panel, controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip.
There is no support for a floppy disk drive controller or an ATA-133 port.
The Maximus IV Extreme-Z has nine USB 2.0 ports, one soldered on the rear panel and eight available through four headers located on the motherboard. It also has 10 USB 3.0 ports, eight available on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a front panel connector. Even though the motherboard has 10 physical USB 3.0 connectors, there are only four ports, as the motherboard has only two NEC (Renesas) µPD720200 chips. The additional ports are actually shared, using a VLI VL810 hub chip. This means that performance will drop if you try to transfer files at the same time using ports that are shared. The manual says that two of the rear ports are connected directly to one of the NEC controllers, while the other six ports located at the rear panel and the two ports for the case front panel are shared. It would be great if the manufacturer had used a different color on the two ports that are not shared.
The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket for you to use one of the internal USB 2.0 headers, since it comes with only one USB 2.0 port at its rear panel.
The Maximus IV Extreme-Z doesn’t have FireWire ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs with 24-bit resolution. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3 files, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.
The portrayed motherboard comes with independent analog audio outputs, meaning that you won’t need to use the line in or mic in jacks when connecting an eight-channel analog speaker set and an optical SPDIF output. You also can install a coaxial SPDIF output or route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in its HDMI connector using the available “SPDIF_OUT” header.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by the chipset, using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer, and one controlled by an Intel WG82583V chip.
The Maximus IV Extreme-Z comes with a Bluetooth receiver, which must be manually installed on the motherboard. This receiver has an external on/off switch, which can be very convenient.
In Figure 9, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with shared mouse and keyboard PS/2 connector, eight USB 3.0 ports, clear CMOS button, optical SPDIF output, two eSATA-300 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, the ROG Connect button, one USB 2.0 port, and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
The motherboard is loaded with additional features. The most important is the presence of two BIOS chips. If the main BIOS is corrupted by an unsuccessful BIOS upgrade or virus, you can still turn on your PC and fix the defective BIOS using the backup chip.
Like other members of the Republic of Gamers (ROG) series, it allows you to connect a laptop to your computer to remotely control the overclocking settings of your system. The inspiration of this feature is the racing car scene, where technicians connect a laptop to the car’s system in order to tweak the injection system and improve performance. To use this feature, you need to install the special white USB cable that comes with the product to the USB 2.0 connector available on the motherboard rear panel, and press the ROG Connect button located on the rear panel. See Figure 9.
If your computer doesn’t turn on, the product has a series of four LEDs that tell you which device (CPU, memory, first video card or boot device) failed to initialize. It also has a POST diagnostics display that indicates, through a two-digit code, which device failed.
The motherboard allows the installation of three thermal sensors for you to monitor the temperature of any device or spot inside your computer you want, also allowing you to control the speed of auxiliary fans based on the temperature levels read by these sensors. These optional sensors must be installed in the “OPT_TEMP1,” “OPT_TEMP2,” or “OPT_TEMP3” headers. They are available next to the “OPT_FAN1,” “OPT_FAN2,” and “OPT_FAN3” fan headers. The motherboard comes with these thermal sensors, which is great.
The Maximus IV Extreme-Z also has a switch labeled “LN2_MODE” that must be used when you can’t turn on your computer under a very low temperature. A button labeled “Q_BUTTON” can be used if the “LN2_MODE” switch doesn’t work.
In Figure 14, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore) and four for the CPU VCCSA voltage (integrated PCI Express controller and memory controller). Therefore, it uses an “8+4” configuration, using a digital design.
This motherboard uses military-grade components, including solid ferrite-core coils, which present less energy loss than iron-core coils (i.e., they improve efficiency), solid capacitors, and high-end, low RDS(on) transistors (i.e., higher efficiency).
While most motherboards use a two-phase design for the memory voltage regulator, the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z uses a three-phase design.If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
Let’s first talk about the hardware-based overclocking features present on the Maximus IV Extreme-Z.
This motherboard has three LED sets to indicate at which range the voltages from the CPU, memory, and chipset are at any moment. They can be in three different colors: green (normal), yellow (high) or red (crazy). On pages 2-20 and 2-21 of the manual, there are a few tables showing the voltage ranges that trigger each color. On the motherboard setup you can configure which voltage each LED will be displaying. For example, you can change the CPU voltage LED to display the CPU core voltage (VCC), the memory controller voltage (VCCSA), the CPU I/O voltage (VCCIO) or the CPU embedded clock generator (VCCPLL).
The product allows you to manually monitor voltages using a voltmeter. The following voltages can be manually measured: CPU, VCCSA, VCCIO, CPU PLL, chipset (PCH), chipset PLL, memory, and NF200 chip.
As already mentioned, the “GO” button available on the product has two functions. If pressed while turning on the computer, it tests the memory modules for compatibility. If pressed after the operating system is loaded, it allows you to recover an overclocking profile you saved before.
Let’s now see the overclocking options present on the motherboard setup.
The ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z offers a myriad of overclocking options. We are listing the main ones below.
For a better understanding of what these options do, please read our Understanding All Voltage Configurations from the Motherboard tutorial.
The main specifications for the ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z motherboard include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z is a true high-end motherboard. The number of additional features provided by this product is simply breathtaking.
The most important feature, in our opinion, is the high-end PCI Express configuration. By using an NVIDIA NF200 chip, this motherboard allows you to install three dual-slot video cards in SLI or CrossFireX modes running at x8/x16/x16 speeds, which is amazing, since most Z68-based motherboards will run three video cards at x8/x8/x4 speeds. And the presence of a PLX PEX8608 switch chip allows the motherboard to dynamically switch bandwidth to devices that need more performance. On motherboards without this chip, you have to manually disable features in order to get some devices to work at their full speed. The presence of on/off switches for each PCI Express x16 slot make it easy to discover which video card is not working correctly, rather than requiring you to remove and reinstall all the video cards in order to determine the problem.
This motherboard comes with 10 USB 3.0 ports, which is impressive, but remember that there are only four “real” ports. The additional ports are connected to the “real” ports, sharing bandwidth. It would be nice if ASUS had marked on the board which are the shared ports.
The voltage regulator is top-notch, using high-end transistors. In addition, this motherboard has three phases for its memory voltage regulator, while most motherboards use a two-phase design. The product also has easy-to-access voltage monitoring points.
Also worth mentioning is the presence of six four-pin connectors for auxiliary fans. Three of them are able to change the fan speed according to the temperature measured by a probe, and the motherboard comes with the necessary thermal sensors for you to use this feature.
Most of those features could be found on the Maximus IV Extreme, but thanks to the Z68 chipset, the Maximus IV Extreme-Z also brings the Intel Smart Response Technology (SRT) and the FDI (Flexible Display Interface), which allows this board to use the Virtu software.
If you are an extreme enthusiast looking for the best possible performance, this is the motherboard you should buy. It costs twice as much as a mainstream Z68 motherboard, but it is worth every penny. Of course, if you are a “normal” user or don’t have the money to buy it, there are several other more cost-effective motherboards around.