Maximus VIII Formula LGA 1151 Motherboard Review
ASUS' Maximus VIII Formula is quite possibly one of the most amazing enthusiast motherboards we've ever reviewed; on paper at least. Where the rubber meets the road things are often quite different. At a price of nearly $400, ASUS can't afford any mistakes. We take the Maximus VIII Formula for a test drive and it was a hell of a ride.
ASUS is a company that needs little if any introduction. The company was founded in the 1980s and grew to be one of the most prolific and influential motherboard manufacturers of all time, and one of the very few that has managed to survive for more than a couple of decades. We've seen many manufacturers come and go. Names like DFI, Soyo, and ABIT were all titans of their day, but none stood the test of time the way ASUS has. If anything, ASUS as a brand is stronger than ever. ASUS offers a wide array of products in addition to its vast motherboard offerings. The motherboard we are looking at today comes from the Republic of Gamers brand. I remember when ASUS started the ROG line. My first experience was with the less than stellar STRIKER EXTREME in 2006. To date, the STRIKER EXTREME has been the only ROG motherboard that disappointed me.
On paper it was amazing, but issues with the chipset and BIOS plagued this motherboard without end. Since then every ROG motherboard I've reviewed was virtually the best in its class. Sure, MSI or GIGABYTE occasionally does something a bit better, or people might not use an ROG motherboard based on one or two features that they have or don't have. Overall though, it's hard to make an argument against using these ROG motherboards over anything aside from price. ASUS has been very consistent with its ever expanding ROG line. The products I've used within the brand have rarely disappointed, be it a laptop, monitor or motherboard. The STRIKER EXTREME seemed almost like a freak accident given the track record since. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop as consistency over a period of 10 years is hard to achieve. Even when ASUS doesn't quite "nail" it, the ROG offerings are still excellent in their own right. The recent Maximus VIII Impact comes to mind. The lack of M.2 support, favoring U.2 seems like a huge oversight and it certainly is. Despite that failing I'd still contend that it's the best mITX motherboard on the market.
The Maximus VIII Formula has the potential to be the best Z170 Express chipset based motherboard we've tested to date. Let's look at the feature set. It's obvious by the aesthetic design elements who this motherboard is targeted at. Obviously this is intended for gamers who tend to build flashier systems than developers, programmers, content creators or anyone building something for work purposes. The black and gray color scheme really sets the Maximus VIII apart from the competition in a sea of red and black motherboard offerings. That color scheme is so ubiquitous in the industry that even GIGABYTE has abandoned it, despite recently adopting it. The RGB LED lighting has been increased over other offerings in the line such as the Maximus VIII Extreme. The Thermal Armor and LED lighting give the Maximus VIII Formula a look like no other.
There are 28 integrated LEDs to provide ambient lighting. The lighting is scattered throughout the motherboard and can be found in a multitude of locations not traditionally lit, such as the MOSFET cooling hardware. ASUS also uses the Aura 4-pin LED header which allows for the use and control of standard 5050 RGB LED light strips with a maximum power rating of 2A (12v). One extension cable for these is included in the box. RGB LED strips have to be purchased separately. Control of these and the onboard LEDs is done via the Aura lighting control software in Windows. Control of the onboard LEDs and RGB header are actually separate giving the user a lot of flexibility in tuning the lighting effects.
All the flashy thermal armor and LEDs in the world don't make any difference if the performance features aren't there. The hardware has to deliver. The Maximus VIII Formula, like it's cousin the Maximus VIII Extreme is designed to be an overclocking monster first. Everything else is more or less secondary. The Maximus VIII Extreme is designed for LN2 cooling. That's the motherboard designed to shatter records. The Maximus VIII Formula on the other hand is a more practical offering. It's designed for water cooling enthusiasts, who are looking for a 24/7 stable overclock that that can be used every day. The Extreme is certainly capable of that, but the Formula is designed to surpass the Extreme in this area.
Because it's a newer design, ASUS has incorporated what they've learned since the launch of its older Z170 Express motherboards into the design. ASUS' offerings which get released later in the product life cycle of a given socket or chipset tend to be the best on the market. For this reason, we are always excited to see what these later offerings are capable of. ASUS teamed up with EK to provide the cooling solution for the motherboard. It features a hybrid air and water cooler. While hybrid hardware often has a reputation for having an inequity with dedicated parts, the offerings normally employed by ASUS for this purpose are usually very solid. The air cooling is often as good or better than what's offered by anyone else. The GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming G1 had one of the best water blocks I've ever seen for air cooling. So we know this is certainly possible for ASUS to deliver this on a technical level. From a water cooling perspective, unfortunately I didn't have time to test that. Generally speaking, dedicated water cooling is going to be better. The included coolers are generally very capable under air cooling, so running water through these should make them more than adequate for any air / water cooling efforts you'd ever want to undertake. Under water cooling ASUS claims a 23C reduction in MOSFET temperatures.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The package is standard for the ROG line. The box has a flap that contains some product information as well as showcasing the motherboard with a plastic window. Product information can be found on most of the box's surfaces. The material is almost a cardboard / plastic hybrid. It feels like it's laminated in something at the very least. It's also very resistent to being torn. Inside the box you will find one of the richest motherboard bundles I've ever seen. You will find the following accessories inside the package: User's manual, I/O Shield, 8x SATA power cable, 1x ASUS 2-Way/3-Way SLI bridge, 1x M.2 Screw Package, 1x CPU installation tool, 1x Supporting DVD, 1x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n compliant), 1x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1), 1x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s), ROG Fan Label, 1x ROG Door Hanger(s), 1x Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm)
The motherboard layout of the Maximus VIII Formula is excellent. Despite the massive amount of hardware integration there isn't a lot to complain about.
The CPU socket area is very clean and the installation of larger heat sinks shouldn't be any worse than it would be on any other, similar motherboard. You can see the Texas Instruments built NexFET MOSFETs and MicroFine alloy chokes around the CPU socket along with 10k rated, black metallic electrolytic capacitors. The MOSFETs are cooled via an EK designed hybrid air/water block. The interior cooling fins are made of copper. The fittings are standard G 1/4" threads.
The Maximus VIII Formula has four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total of 64GB of RAM. These slots use single sided retention tabs and are color coded to denote proper dual-channel memory mode operation. Memory speeds up to DDR4 3733MHz are officially supported through overclocking. ASUS second generation T-Topology enables higher speed memory clocks through carefully timed transfers and optimized trace path architecture for reduced crosstalk and signal degradation. Near the memory slots there are onboard power and reset controls, modeled to look like part of the thermal armor system.
The chipset is located in the bottom left hand corner of the motherboard. It is cooled via a flat heat sink. In front of the chipset you'll find 2x SATA Express ports, 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports, and one U.2 port. The chipset is adorned with the ROG logo, which is back lit. Additionally there is a plate covering the chipset that's part of the thermal armor system. Once you remove this, the M.2 slot is exposed. M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 drives are supported. My only concern about this is that the SSD inside won't have sufficient airflow to keep it cool. Unfortunately, I didn't have a high performance SSD on hand to test this theory. The thermal armor system usually works pretty well at keeping things cool enough so long as an active fan is used in conjunction with it. Unfortunately, the Maximus VIII Formula doesn't have one included.
The expansion slot area is well designed. There are three PCIe x16 slots supporting both Quad-SLI (dual GPU cards) and 3-Way Crossfire with any combination of cards and GPUs up to three. Lane configurations of 16x16 or 8x8x4 are supported. There are also three PCIe x1 slots.
The I/O panel is full of connectivity options There are 6x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 ports (1x Type-A, 1x Type-C), 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x optical output, 5x mini-stereo jacks, 1x HDMI port, and 1x DisplayPort, 2x WiFi antenna ports, 1x BIOS flashback button and 1x clear CMOS button.