We’ve reviewed quite a number of ATX Z97 motherboards recently so now it’s time to take a look at the mini-ITX form factor. Although mini-ITX motherboards might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they grow strong in the market because of unique mini-ITX casings such as the BitFenix Prodigy, SilverStone Fortress FT03, Corsair Obsidian 250D, and Lian Li “Spider” T1.
The motherboard that we are going to review today is the ASUS Maximus VII Impact, which is the second iteration of last year’s Z87 Impact. ASUS designed the Impact to cater for mini-ITX lovers who want to have the Republic of Gamers (ROG) features and decent overclocking potential.
Product Link: http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/MAXIMUS_VII_IMPACT/
Suggested Retail Price: RM 999
The ASUS Maximus VII Impact ships in a cherry red colour as you would expect from any Republic of Gamers (ROG) motherboard. Across the bottom of the front side there are some labels showing the motherboard’s features such as the support for Intel’s Core processor and Z97 chipset, native support for resolutions up to 4K as well as Windows 8.1 ready.
You will find a flap that explains the main features of the Maximus VII Impact such as the SupremeFX Impact II audio, Impact Power II, mPCIe Combo IV, KeyBot Technology, LANGuard networking protection, and GameFirst III network optimization.
The back of the retail packaging is also dominated by cherry red colour. Here you will find the specifications of the Maximus VII Impact and its main components of the feature set, which include the SupremeFX Impact II audio solution, mPCIe Combo IV connectivity, Impact Power II power delivery system, and Impact Control II. There’s also a diagram illustrating the connectivity interfaces available at the rear I/O panel of the motherboard.
The accessories bundled in the package are plentiful. You will get a detailed user’s manual, driver and software disc, a 12-in-1 ROG cable labels, an ROG case badge, a total of four SATA 6Gbps data cables, a ASUS Q-Cable, a ROG I/O Shield, a dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas, and washers for CPU cooler backplate. ASUS also provided the SupremeFX Impact II audio daughter board, the mPICe Combo IV module, and the Impact CoolHub board.
The Maximus VII Impact motherboard itself features a traditional ROG’s red and black colour scheme. Measuring 17 x 17 cm in dimensions, the matte black PCB complies with mini-ITX standard. The Z97 chipset heatsink also comes in a matte black finish with a silver ASUS logo on top of it which looks very nice.
The first thing that you will notice around the CPU area is the Impact Power II daughter board which is mounted vertically above the LGA1150 CPU socket. ASUS also decided to include an eye-catching heatsink which covers the Japanese-made 10K Black Metallic Capacitors and 60A BlackWing Chokes. The vertical mounting allows ROG engineers to create a full-scale power delivery system that would otherwise be impossible on a mini-ITX board. The NexFET Power Block MOSFETs are driven by high quality International Rectifiers that are put through numerous tests to ensure their reliability and stability even under the extreme conditions.
Sitting between the Impact Control II and the CPU socket is the Impact CoolHub which features two 4-pin fan headers and one LN2 switch. These fan headers makes connecting fan easier even with large CPU coolers. The LN2 switch is of course a welcome addition to the extreme overclocking.
On the right side of the motherboard you will find a pair of red coloured memory slots which support up to 16GB of capacity in dual channel and 3300MHz of frequency via overclocking. Next to the DIMM slots is the 24-pin and the 8-pin 12V CPU power connectors which supply power to the entire motherboard and the CPU socket, respectively. You can also see the Start and Reset buttons, a fan header, and a USB 3.0 header.
ASUS equipped the Maximus VII Impact with the best audio solution in the form of a separate daughter card, they called it SupremeFX Impact II audio card. It features Stainless Steel EMI protection to minimize electromagnetic interferences, Japanese-made ELNA premium audio capacitors for immersive sound quality, Sonic SoundStage, Sonic SenseAmp, Sonic Studio as well as Sonic Radar II technology. Sonic Radar II will allow you to see your enemy behind walls or distances very clearly and precisely.
The mPCIE Combo IV daughter board features dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and PCIe 3.0 M.2 x4 to provide a lightning-fast storage option which is compatible with the upcoming PCIe M.2 Solid-state Drives (SSDs) and offers over six times faster than traditional M.2 solutions.
Across the bottom of the Maximus VII Impact, we’ve got a single PCIe x16 expansion slot in red colour. Also spotted, four 6Gbps SATA 3.0 ports which are located just above the PCIe slot. These SATA ports support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10 configurations.
The connectivity of the rear I/O panel look quite plentiful. The first thing that you will see is the Impact Control II board which is consisted of Q-Code, the Clear CMOS, ROG Connect, SoundStage, and KeyBot buttons. You will also find a normal sized DisplayPort (DP), an HDMI port, an Optical S/PDIF out, four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, one LAN (RJ45) port, as well as three audio jacks from the SupremeFX Impact II module.
Although it’s a small board, ASUS didn’t skip equipping the Maximus VII Impact with massive features like you have seen on bigger ROG motherboards. Impact Power II brings the most precise control of power delivery towards the CPU the memory controller, as well as the system memory, hence maximizes the overall stability of the system. Impact CoolHub features two 4-pin fan headers and one LN2 switch for extreme overclocking. Gamer’s Guardian boosts protection for gamers. GamerFirst III helps gamers assigning top priority to game packets and allocates more bandwidth to the game, ensuring the best online gaming experience. The in-game visualized Sonic Radar II detection is designed for better hearing during heavy gaming. ASUS also loaded the motherboard with the world’s most advanced audio solution called SupremeFX Impact II to give the best audio quality. Besides that, you will also get LANGuard network protection technology, KeyBot, RAMDisk, and so on.
The UEFI BIOS
Overall, ASUS has done a great job in updating their UEFI BIOS for the latest Z97 motherboards and the Maximus VII Impact has no exception. The layout design of the new UEFI BIOS is quite informative with the descriptions of every option displayed on the bottom of the screen.
The Maximus VII Impact comes with the traditional two modes for the UEFI BIOS that we have seen since a few generations of platforms ago, the EZ Mode and Advanced Mode. The EZ Mode is easy to learn, use, and manage for users who do not want to spend the time going through the Advanced Mode of the BIOS. It displays the frequently used settings. Users can choose system performance mode on demand and also drag and drop to set the boot priority.
The Advanced Mode is suitable for experienced performance enthusiasts that demand for more tuning abilities for higher level of overclocking.
The EZ Mode is easy to learn, use, and manage for users who do not want to spend the time going through the advanced sections of the BIOS. It displays frequently-accessed setup info. Users can choose system performance mode on demand and also drag and drop to set the boot priority.
The AI Suite III
ASUS AI Suite III is an intuitive central hub that provides access to the vast majority of ASUS monitoring and control utilities on the Maximus VII Impact. The utility offers a thorough control for the TurboV Processing Unit (TPU), Energy Processing Unit (EPU) to enhance energy efficiency, DIGI+ Power Control for enhanced performance, increased efficiency and optimum reliability, and Fan Xpert2 for unrivalled customizable fan control, allowing you to supervise overclocking, energy consumption, fan speeds and voltages. These are the main features of 5-Way Optimization driven by Dual Intelligent Processors 5. Overall, the software worked perfectly during our testing.
Test Setup & OverClocking
With minimal tweaking, the Maximus VII Impact managed to take our i7-4790K “Devil’s Canyon” processor to 4.6GHz. We were able to get it stable on AIDA64 Stability Test for about 1.5 hours without any error or thermal throttling. The CPU core temperature recorded was 75°C in average under water cooling. This showed that small form factor is not preventing the motherboard from achieving impressive overclocking results as good as its bigger brothers. In this case, the polished Impact Power II daughter board did a very good job in providing a consistent power delivery to the motherboard under overclocking.
We took this 4.6GHz overclock for a spin on our test bench and compare the benchmark results with other motherboards. As usual, we used our favourite Samsung-based G.Skill TridentX memory kit which was set to run at a frequency of 2666MHz and timings of 10-12-12-25-1T. Besides that, our beloved ASUS ROG Matrix R9-290X Platinum was responsible to process the graphic-intensive benchmarks.
ASUS equipped its Maximus VII Impact with four 6Gbps SATA 3 ports, which are natively connected directly to the Z97 chipset. The end results are within expectation in which it showed some similarity compared to other motherboards in the competition.
The game benchmark settings are listed in the table below:
The game titles selected demand GPU power over CPU power therefore in each test the difference is negligible. We didn’t test the games with the integrated HD4600 graphics iGPU because we believe that nobody is going to use it for gaming especially with the ultra-high quality texture used on these modern game titles. Normally gamers will most likely add a dedicated graphics card for better gaming experience.
ASUS designed the Maximus VII Impact with memory overclocking in mind. So they equipped the motherboard with memory profiles for easier memory tweaking. All you have to do is to verify which memory chip is used inside your memory kit and then load the memory preset according to desired overclock frequency and timings. Of course you have to manually set the RAM voltage, System Agent voltage (VCCSA), Digital IO voltage(VCCIO-d), and Analog IO voltage (VCCIO-a). For that you will need your own experience and knowledge.
Basically my memory overclocking journey with the Maximus VII Impact was extremely impressive. The board had no problem pushing all of our memory kits to their limits. Most of overclocking settings were done with the provided memory presets.
Further overclocking with excessive voltage allowed us to reach a suicide clock of 3412MHz with timings of 14-31-13-45-2T. But we believe that the overclock should be able to reach higher with further tweaking.
Thoughts & Verdicts
When it comes to mini-ITX boards, understandably that you can’t expect that their feature sets are comparable to bigger motherboards. But it’s not the case with ASUS’s Maximus VII Impact. ASUS loaded the tiny board with almost all the attractive features that are usually found on their normal sized ROG motherboards.
ASUS offers strong 8+2 phase DIGI+ VRM power design, high quality Japanese-made 10K Black Metallic Capacitors, 60A BlackWing Chokes, and NexFET Power Block MOSFETs to push overclocking to its limit. To provide a great gaming experience ASUS employed LANGuard network protection, Gamer’s Guardian protection program, GameFirst II network optimization, and in-game visualized Sonic Radar II detection. Besides that, you also get world’s most advanced SupremeFX Impact II audio solution for the best audio quality as well as KeyBot Technology which offers a free upgrade for your existing keyboard. So basically you will get everything that you might need for gaming.
Aesthetic-wise, the Maximus VII Impact looks extremely gorgeous with its unique ROG design. As you might have expected with any mini-ITX motherboard, the tiny board offers a very limited space. To solve that, ASUS decided to pack the Maximus VII Impact with a total of five daughter boards which are mounted vertically to save space as maximum as possible. These daughter boards include Impact Power II, Impact CoolHub, Impact Control II, mPCIe Combo IV module, and SupremeFX Impact II audio card. For storage needs, you get plenty of 6Gbps SATA3 ports as well as a PCIe 3.0 x4 based M.2 connector that offers over six times faster than conventional M.2 ports.
The new UEFI BIOS features a plethora of overclocking options. Although a bit clustered, the each of the BIOS options is described clearly on the bottom side of the BIOS interface. You might also read the included user’s manual to familiarize with the BIOS settings. When it comes to software package, the included AI Suite III application worked flawlessly to fine tune the overclocking at your desired frequencies.
In terms of performance, the Maximus VII Impact performed in line with other Z97 motherboards that we’ve tested. On overclocking aspect, the Maximus VII Impact is as great as its bigger brethren. With minimal tweaking applied it was able to take our i7-4790K to 4.6GHz. The Maximus VII Impact is designed with memory overclocking in mind. The included memory profiles make memory tweaking even easier with bunch of presets to choose. We managed to push our beloved Apacer ARES memory kit to an impressive frequency of 3333MHz and timings of 12-16-15-35-2T on air. Further overclocking allowed us to reach a suicide clock of 3412MHz with timings of 14-31-13-45-2T. But we believe that the overclock should be able to reach higher with further tweaking and the use of Windows XP.
The only downside of this tiny board is the price which comes in at RM 999. While some of us might think that it’s too expensive, we have to take into account that the Maximus VII Impact is packed with massive gaming and overclocking features that you need for the best gaming PC based on mini-ITX platform.
Performance/Price Value: 4/5
- Impressive stock performance
- Excellent overclocking performance, especially memory overclocking
- Eye-catching red and black colour scheme
- Nice board layout and design
- Space saving features with the vertically mounted daughter boards
- High grade premium components
- High quality SupremeFX Impact II audio card
- mPCIe Combo IV module offers wireless connectivity and ultra-fast M.2 interface
- Impact CoolHub offers additional fan headers along with LN2 switch
- Improved Impact Control II
- UEFI BIOS comes with massive overclocking options
- State-of-the-art AI Suite III overclocking tuning suite
- Informative user’s manual
- Fast booting
- Price can be lower
- Some CPU coolers might have incompatibility issues
ASUS Maximus VII Impact received Recommended Award from OCDrift.com
Disclaimer: OCDrift.com gives out our own award based on the Hardware Performance, OverClocking Ability, Innovation, and Value as determined by the reviewer