If you call yourself a gamer, overclocker, enthusiast, or just someone that knows enough about computers to get themselves into trouble, then you will likely have heard about ASUS's Republic Of Gamers (ROG) line of motherboards. This model line of boards have been around for some time, heralding back to the old P965 Commando, whose black PCB have became synonymous with "ROG". ASUS have always been ones to make a great looking motherboard, often with performance to match, which history looks to be repeating itself here as well. The Maximus IV Extreme (or simply M4E from here on) is visually a work of art, but was also meant to be used and abused. Thanks to all its overclocking abilities and gaming potential, built on top of the high quality construction, the M4E will take whatever you can dish out; then some.
The design of the M4E is an ideal layout with ASUS having strategically placed everything right where it is of most use, right down to the eight (yes, 8) PWM fan headers. With most of the connectors and plugs mounted on the outer perimeter, out-of-sight cable management should be relatively hassle free.Along with the fan headers are thermal probe headers which is great for further safeguarding of the system. The layout is one thing but the size of the motherboard is another. The M4E is slightly wider than the average ATX motherboard due to being based on the Extended ATX platform, coming in a full 86mm wider (or 3.4 inches to us Yanks) than your typical desktop board, but familiar to server and workstation solutions. While squeezing it into a smaller/narrower case will no doubt present an issue, we don’t see too many people buying a motherboard of this caliber and cramming it into a small cheap case, but we still suggest double checking for compatibility.
The M4E is based around the P67 Cougar Point chipset and thus supports the Sandy Bridge processors. So obviously the board only has support for the LGA1155 processors, meaning previous generation socket 1156 processors are a no-go. With the unlocked multiplier Core i7 2600K being the current top end of such processors, it would be a match made in heaven for this board. The other ‘K’ series processor, the i5 2500K, would be an equally joyous pairing with this board, as it is able to be overclocked to very high levels (our own being capable of 4.8GHz w/o effort). The rest of the processors capable with the board would be the multiple other models from the 2100, 2200, 2400, 2500 and 2600 series of Core i3, i5 and i7.
ASUS implemented a new feature into the M4E that will protect the end user in the long run, dubbed CPU Socket Monitor. If you're the kind of person who finds themselves installing a new, or reinstalling your CPU repeatedly -- and what enthusiast isn't? -- then there is always the risk of bent pins. For a crude analogy, if you've ever bent a coat hanger over and over until the point of breaking, this is no different to what happens to pins which get bent too often. It may not be visually apparent but what occurs is the pins getting micro-fractures, causing increased resistance. One problem this could cause, at least on data pins, is system instability because of the high operating frequencies of today's CPUs. However, power and ground pins can heat up substantially, whereby creating more resistance, eventually burning out the contact through a short. CPU Socket Monitor is a thermal system that monitors the socket temps to make sure this doesn't occur.
Surrounding the CPU socket are a series of passively-cooled aluminum heat sinks, interconnected via a copper heat pipe. These heat sinks are used to cool both the Digi+ VRM for the processor it's memory controller, along with Intel’s PCH. The heat sink has a very appealing racy and aggressive look to them but we encountered no issues when test fitting a few of the larger coolers we had laying around the lab.
Speaking of Digi+, this is what ASUS labeled the phase power solution on the M4E ROG: Extreme Engine Digi+. ASUS uses a digital PWM to deliver a mixture of digital and analog phased power allowing for the most stable overclock. The high level of efficiency comes from the fact that ASUS’s circuitry can operate at a switching frequency as low as 250 lHz, up to a frequency of 1000 kHz (user adjustable in steps of 50 kHz), while most manufacturers uses a conventional VRM that requires operation at 800 kHz or even higher. All in all this means faster response due to the lack of switching delay, less heat dissipation, cleaner power delivery and more current available.
The DIMM area is chocked full of useful features, but we will start with the obvious and talk about the memory capabilities. The M4E has a total of four slots that can handle a total of 32GB of DDR3 ram operating at 1333MHz standard mode, but if you decide to overclock the ram frequency can go as high as (or higher than) 2200MHz. The two colors (black and red) represent the corresponding dual channels, and it is recommended to use the red slows first if only running two sticks of memory. ASUS also uses the Q-DIMM feature (bottom latch permanently locked) on the M4E to adequately secure the memory modules into each slot, but also make it more user friendly if ever upgrading as to not interfere with the video card. ASUS uses an advance phase array for DRAM stability. This comes very handy at very high overclocks.
Like most of ASUS's higher end motherboards the M4E also has a reset and power button directly on the PCB. Sitting on the corner of the board is the system's POST diagnostic LED debug display. Something that I have never seen on a motherboard before now though, is an LN2 Mode switch. This allows the user to eliminate the 'cold bug' issue, which normally crops up during extreme sub-zero cooling with LN2. An option that is very useful for the every day bencher would be the ability to measure true voltages directly from the motherboard using a pair of leads and a digital multi-meter. The voltage test points include: DRAM, VCore, CPU, NF200, PCH, and others. The Go Button while pressed when powering down will set the memory setting to a more suitable state when rebooting the system. Secondly, the button will access a saved profile (user set) in the UEFI to quickly post boot a stable overclock. Lastly, we have the four slide switches which will allow the user to activate and deactivate each of the four x16 PCIe slots. Handy for benching but also diagnostic testing for determining which GPU is inoperable if the situation may arise.
For those into multi-storage drive setups will be pleased with the M4E as it supports a total of eight devices: four being SATA 2 and four being SATA 3. All four of the SATA 2, and two of SATA 3 ports, are controlled via Intel's P67 PCH. The remaining two SATA 3 ports are controlled by a Marvell 9182 chip. Because of the PCIe 4x support and not 1x like the 9128 better read/write performance is guaranteed. Dual RAID support is also present with 0, 1, 5 and 10 capability. The M4E also features a dual BIOS for when things become a little hectic, and with a simple press of the BIOS Switch button you can easily get your system back up and running with a stock BIOS. Alerternatively, you could also keep your LN2-specific BIOS safely tucked away on one, quickly being able to switch to it during extreme cooling runs. The feature is also great if you want to switch between an overclock BIOS and a more modest BIOS setting. Look at it as an extra, highly configurable user profile.
The pair of iROG and TPU chips located in the corner of the motherboard allows for all the extra settings and options within the TurboEVO Windows-based application, providing system component communicate with other various devices like your laptop through ROG Connect, or your iPad/ iPhone through ROG iDirect. The latter of the two options each allows the user to keep a watchful eye on the system through the ability to view temps, voltage and other status options. The rather humorous part about these though, would have to be the ability to overclock the system remotely.
Now, in to the M4E's expansion slots of the M4E. There are a total of four full length x16 slots with each using ASUS's Q-Slot secure connector. A simple press downwards on the tab will immediately unlock the card from the slot for easy card removal. As for slot operations, when only one slot is populated it will operate at the full x16 bandwidth. If two GPU’s is going to be used then bandwidth is deceased and will operate at x8 per slot. Once a third card is added to the system the slots will operate at x8, x16 and x16. The M4E can support the standard SLI and Crossfire configurations, but also Triple and Quad Crossfire with the aid of Nvidia's NF200 controller integrated above the PCIe slots. In addition to the four x16 slots there are also one of each x1 and x4 slots available. If using all three of the longer slots with dual slot coolers, then these two smaller ones are unusable.
The PLX PCIe switch near the x4 slot helps by properly switching on/off the number of PCIe lanes to the port, based on the card installed. And if you are using all the slots for other devices and cards, ASUS provided dual Molex (EZ Plug) connectors; top for NF200 power, bottom for additional PCIe lane power. And because the PCIe lanes are shared across several features like USB ports these Molex connectors when powered helps stability to the added USB3 controllers and ports.
List of rear panel connections:
- PS/2 combo keyboard/mouse
- Bluetooth module (not installed, sits over vertical USB)
- 9 USB ports: 1x USB 2.0, 8x USB 3.0 (Single NEC controller+dual VIA USB3 hub)
- 1 eSATA (JMicron JMB362)
- 2x LAN port (Intel for better performance and driver reliability)
- 1 S/PDIF for 8-channel digital audio (optical)
- 8-channel analog audio (Realtek ALC889)
- Clear CMOS
- ROG Connect (vertical USB port)
- RC Bluetooth (via Bluetooth module)