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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA/WATCH DOGS is a top mid-range socket LGA1150 motherboard based on the new Intel Z97 chipset, supporting the fourth and the forthcoming fifth generation Core i processors. It brings a professional-level, high-end audio codec, ten SATA-600 ports (allowing two SATA Express connections), eight USB 3.0 ports, Wi-Fi interface, and comes with a free serial code for the Watch Dogs game. Let’s take a good look at it.

In this article, we will refer to the motherboard as MAXIMUS VII FORMULA, since the only difference between the two motherboard is that one of them comes with the Watch Dogs game bundled. Both models are part of the ASUS ROG (Republic of Gamers) family.

The “new” Intel Z97 Express chipset is a Z87 chipset rebranded for marketing reasons. They are identical and, therefore, have the exact same specifications. Most motherboards based on this chipset support the new SATA Express and M.2 (successor to the mSATA) connectors, but these are mechanical features provided by the motherboard, not by the chipset.

Like the Z87, the Z97 supports six USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.

You can see the ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 9.6” (305 x 244 mm). As you can see, the motherboard comes with a plastic frame on the component side, and a metal frame on the solder side.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 1: ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA motherboard

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 2: solder side

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA comes with two PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4 or x1 speed), and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.

The first two PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, so it is based on the 3.0 specification. They share bandwidth, so if the second one (PCIEX16_2) is empty, the first one (PCIEX16_1) works at x16 speed, but if it is populated, both work at x8 speed. The third PCI Express x16 slot (PCIEX4_3) is controlled by the chipset (so it is based on the 2.0 specification) and shares bandwidth with the first SATA Express connector: if a PCI Express x4 (or x16) device is installed, the first SATA Express connector is automatically disabled.

The motherboard supports CrossFireX and SLI arrays.

There is also an M.2 slot and a mini PCI Express slot installed on module that we will show later on.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 3: slots

[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Intel socket LGA1150 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1150 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz. According to ASUS, the MAXIMUS VII FORMULA supports memories up to 3,300 MHz.

The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA has four memory sockets. You can install up to 32 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GiB modules.

In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On this motherboard, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are red. When installing two memory modules, use two sockets with the same color.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 4: memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]

The Intel Z97 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA offers those six ports, plus two additional SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip (no RAID support) and one SATA Express port, controlled by an ASMedia ASM106SE chip.

One of the SATA Express connectors (controlled by the chipset) can be used as two individual SATA ports, but the SATA Express connector controlled by the ASM106SE chip cannot.

The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them. Unfortunately, ASUS used the same color for the ports controlled by the chipset and the ports controlled by the auxiliary chips.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 5: the two SATA Express connectors, the four SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset and the two SATA-600 ports controlled by the ASM1061 chip

The Intel Z97 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA offers six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are eight USB 3.0 ports (six at the rear panel and four available through two headers), six of them controlled by the chipset and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip.

The portrayed motherboard does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.

This motherboard supports 7.1 audio format, i.e., eight channels. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Cirrus Logic CS4398 codec, which is a professional-level audio codec, providing 120 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 107 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. These specifications are outstanding and will allow users to work professionally capturing and editing analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) without generating white noise on their work. The codec chip is shielded against electromagnetic interference.

The motherboard comes also with a high-fidelity audio amplifier and high-end audio capacitors. The analog audio outputs are independent even if you use a 7.1 analog speaker set.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 6: the audio section

The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by an Intel i218V chip.

The MAXIMUS VII FORMULA comes with a module called mPCIe Combo III, which features at one side an M.2 slot and, on the other side, a mini PCI Express slot, which comes with an AzureWave AW-CE123H Wi-Fi card, compatible with IEEE 801.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 7: mPCIe Combo III adapter and antenna

In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with Clear CMOS and ROG Connect buttons, PS/2 shared connector for mouse or keyboard, two USB 2.0 ports, optical SPDIF output, HDMI output, DisplayPort output, six USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and the analog audio jacks.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 8: motherboard rear panel

[nextpage title=”Other Features”]

The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA has a two-digit POST diagnostic display that shows, through a numeric code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on. In Figure 9, you can see a reset button and a power button, the POST display, voltage monitoring points, and the “MemOK!” button, which allows you to test the compatibility of the memory modules that are installed.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 9: buttons and POST display

The motherboard also comes with an water block at the voltage regulator circuit, as shown in Figure 10.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 10: water block

In Figure 11, you can see the accessories that come with the ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 11: accessories

[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA has eight phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses a Digi+ ASP1257 controller chip (digital design), and each phase uses one TI NexFET CSD87350Q5D (“87350D”) chip, that contains the two MOSFETs required for each phase.

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 12: voltage regulator circuit

The motherboard uses high-end “10K” solid capacitors and all coils on this motherboard are “BlackWing” ferrite ones.

If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

The portrayed motherboard has several overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (0501 BIOS):

  • CPU Base Clock: From 80.00 MHz to 300.00 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
  • CPU Voltage: From 1.050 V to 2.200 V in 0.003125 V increments
  • CPU Cache Voltage: From 1.050 V to 2.200 V in 0.003125 V increments
  • CPU Graphics Voltage: From 0.800 V to 1.920 V in 0.001 V increments
  • System Agent Voltage: From 0.850 V to 2.200 V in 0.003125 V increments
  • CPU Analog IO Voltage: From 1.000 V to 2.200 V in 0.003125 V increments
  • CPU Digital IO Voltage: From 1.000 V to 2.200 V in 0.003125 V increments
  • CPU Initial Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.440 V in 0.010 V increments
  • Memory Voltage: From 1.200 V to 2.400 V in 0.005 V increments
  • Chipset (PCH) Core Voltage: From 0.700 V to 1.800 in 0.00625 V increments
  • Chipset (PCH) VLX Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.000 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • VTTDDR Voltage: From 0.600 V to 1.400 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • Memory CTRL REF Voltage: From 0.395x to 0.630x in 0.005x increments
  • Memory DATA REF Voltage: From 0.395x to 0.630x in 0.005x increments
  • VCCIN Shadow Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.440 V in 0.010 V increments
  • Initial PLL Termination Voltage: From 0.000 V to 3.000 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • PLL Termination Reset Voltage: From 0.000 V to 3.000 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • Eventual PLL Termination Voltage: From 0.000 V to 3.000 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • PCH ICC Voltage: From 0.600 V to 2.200 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • Clock Crossing Boot Voltage: From 0.100 V to 1.900 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • Clock Crossing Reset Voltage: From 0.100 V to 1.900 V in 0.00625 V increments
  • Clock Crossing Voltage: From 0.100 V to 1.900 V in 0.00625 V increments

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 13: overclocking options

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 14: memory timings adjusts

ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULAFigure 15: voltage options

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA include:

  • Socket: LGA1150
  • Chipset: Intel Z97
  • Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6791D
  • Parallel ATA: none
  • Serial ATA: 10 SATA-600 ports, six controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) supporting one SATA Express connector, two SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip, and one SATA Express port, controlled by an ASMedia ASM106SE chip
  • External SATA: none
  • USB 2.0: six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
  • USB 3.0: eight USB 3.0 ports, six on the motherboard rear panel and two available through one header, six ports controlled by the chipset and two ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
  • Thunderbolt: none
  • On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one DisplayPort, and one HDMI connectors
  • On-board audio: produced by the chipset together with a Cirrus Logic CS4398 codec (7.1 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 120 dB SNR for the outputs, and 107 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
  • On-board LAN: one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by an Intel i218V chip
  • Wireless LAN: IEEE 802.11ac dual-band interface and Bluetooth 4.0, located at the ASUS mPCIe Combo III module
  • Buzzer: no
  • Infrared interface: no
  • Power supply required: EPS12V
  • Slots: two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0 or x8/x8), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4), three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, one mini PCI Express slot, and one M.2 slot
  • Memory: four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3300, 32 GiB maximum)
  • Fan connectors: two four-pin connectors for the CPU cooler, and six four-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
  • Extra features: POST status display, power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons, voltage monitoring points, and water block on the voltage regulator circuit
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one
  • Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
  • More Information: https://www.asus.com/
  • Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 350.00

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The ASUS MAXIMUS VII FORMULA/WATCH DOGS is an excellent top mid-range (or entry high-end, depending on your point of view) motherboard, targeted to the user who is building a computer using a “Haswell” CPU (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors) and wants it to be compatible with “Devil’s Canyon” (enhanced fourth-generation) and “Broadwell” (fifth-generation) “Core i” processors, and wants a little more than typical mid-range motherboards have to offer.

The highlights of this motherboard include the extra SATA-600 and USB 3.0 ports, a professional-grade, high-end audio interface, support for two video cards in SLI or CrossFireX, the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module, and the support for M.2 modules and SATA Express devices.

The Watch Dogs game bundled with the model we analyzed is a good marketing move, since it is one of the most recent “blockbuster” game launches.

However, the MAXIMUS VII FORMULA is not that much different from the ASUS Z97-DELUXE we analyzed recently. The main differences are the frame that covers the motherboard, and the audio codec that has a little more impressive characteristics. But both lack a true high-end slot configuration, which needs a switching chip to support up to four video cards with no drop in performance.

In short, the MAXIMUS VII FORMULA/WATCH DOGS is an excellent motherboard if you do not intend to install more than two video cards, but there are other models available that provies a better bang for the buck.