- Review Price: £149.27
We gamers are a demanding lot, and many hardware manufacturers have acknowledged this by creating product-lines that cater for our high-end tastes. Of course in some (thankfully relatively rare) cases this means just slapping a ‘for gamers’ label on an inferior piece of hardware, but one area where this is most definitely not true is with Asus’ well-established Republic of Gamers (ROG) motherboards. Today we’re looking at the Asus ROG Maximus III Gene, though perhaps it should have been called the Minimus as we’re dealing with a micro ATX (uATX) board here.
Above and beyond your average mATX board, the Maximus III Gene offers such highlights as CrossFire and SLI support (albeit at 8x/8x), built-in Creative SupremeFX X-Fi sound, onboard power and reset buttons plus a rear-IO clear-CMOS switch, and a whole slew of overclocking features. The standout feature, though, is ROG Connect, which lets you extensively overclock your board using a laptop (or a second PC). Those are some pretty impressive extras!
First impressions continue to be positive, and everything from the box to the bundle feels premium. Aside from the usual manual, IO backplate, and driver plus utilities CD, you get a selection of coloured label stickers for all your data cables (so you can tell which connector on the motherboard leads to which drive), a large ROG sticker seemingly designed to be stuck on the corner of your case, six black SATA cables (three with straight and three with L-shaped connectors), a white ROG Connect USB cable and an SLI bridge.
The board itself is very attractive, with a distinctive black, red, white and gunmetal-grey colour scheme that’s the perfect match for ATI’s latest DirectX11 Radeon cards. The MSI P55-GD65 just about tops this as the best-looking motherboard we’ve come across, but Asus definitely comes a close second here. Its black heatsinks are very low-profile which both helps aesthetics and gives optimum CPU cooler flexibility. The southbridge cooler sports a unique red-backlit overlay with the ROG logo and some cool break lines.
Layout of the Maximus III Gene is also excellent. Primary slots are red for easy identification. There are no less than five fairly easily accessible fan headers which are fully speed-controlled from the BIOS. No ports are obscured with a full-length graphics card installed in the primary PCIe slot, and even with two 5870s in CrossFire you’ll only lose access to a single SATA port, leaving six free.
Four memory slots take DDR3 RAM overclocked up to 2,133MHz, though this is pretty much standard across Asus’ range. Also standard is the company’s QDIMM system, which means that there is only one latch holding memory sticks in, making it easier to install and remove them. Likewise MemOK! is an old familiar, and of the three it’s perhaps the best feature, as it automatically tunes memory for optimum compatibility and operation at the touch of a button (here labelled ‘go!’, though on most Asus boards it’s just labelled ‘MemOK!’).
To the left of the snazzy ROG cooler we have six angled SATA ports and a single port facing straight up running off a separate JMicron controller, though this will be completely obscured if a second graphics card is installed. There is no sign of legacy connectors such as floppy or EIDE, which is a welcome exclusion. Below this are three USB headers, a FireWire header, and headers for additional audio connections.
Nestled in between these you’ll find LED-backlit Start and Reset buttons. They’re differentiated clearly: the reset button is smaller, black and convex, while the start button is red, larger and concave. A clear-CMOS button can be found around on the rear I/O, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
In terms of PCI slots you get two red PCIe x16 slots with Asus’ unique easy-to-use latches, a PCIe x1 slot and one older PCI slot. Unfortunately using a dual-slot graphics card will block the PCIe x1 slot, though the second x16 slot will still be usable for expansion cards and with a high-grade sound-chip built in on the Gene, one of the more common reasons people might need one is removed.
As is essential for any board with gaming aspirations, the Maximus III Gene supports both CrossFire and SLI multi-card setups. Though you only get x8 bandwidth on each slot, this is good for a P55-based motherboard, as far too many sport x4-speed secondary graphics slots (which make a mockery of ‘CrossFire ready’ claims). Also, the x8 bandwidth will be more than adequate for all but the highest-end graphics card combinations.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Asus’ smallest gaming motherboard is its rear I/O area, though it must be said that in terms of connectivity there’s nothing too special here. You get a PS2 port, FireWire and eSATA connectors, and eight standard USB 2.0 ports. Notable by its absense, though, is USB 3.0, which is hardly ideal in such a high-end motherboard but given this board has been out for a while and USB 3.0 is only just arriving, it’s something we can forgive – here’s hoping a refresh will soon rectify this.
However, where the Maximus III Gene starts to come back into its own is with the features that can be found here. First among these is a small button marked with a circular arrow which acts as a clear-CMOS switch. While not essential, it’s a great addition to any enthusiast board and easy to access (though obviously it doesn’t compare to the ingenious wired remote found on the Asus P7P55D-E Premium).
Next up is ROG Connect, which features both a dedicated button and a proprietary USB port (though it can operate as a standard USB port too) oriented perpendicular to the rest. ROG Connect takes overclocking to a whole new level, allowing you to fine-tune pretty much everything on the fly using a laptop or secondary computer as a ‘controller’ – we did mention this board is high-end, right? It makes a certain sense though, as with netbook ownership going through the roof these days it’s far from unreasonable to assume that anyone who can afford a premium motherboard will likely have a second machine at their disposal. We’ll get to how well it works in just a bit.
As you might expect from a premium board such as this, the BIOS is more extensive than Asus’ already-prestigious usual efforts. Making it plain that enthusiasts are first and foremost in the Maximus III Gene’s targeting, the first tab in the BIOS is Extreme Tweaker. As its name suggests, this lets you overclock, overvolt and otherwise alter a whole boatload of settings, manually or automatically and with a series of presets to boot. For example, “CPU Level Up” can be set between Auto or three different “Crazy” presets (though none of these are quite high enough to warrant the name).
Manual is usually best though, and just like with the excellent Asus Sabertooth 55i TUF motherboard, overclocks with the Maximus III Gene were limited only by our cooler. Thus it was no problem getting our Core i7 870 CPU to run at 4.3GHz (from 3.6GHz) by merely ramping up the bus speed, and for our Core i5 750 results were even more impressive: 4.2GHz (from 3.2GHz) was easy to attain without even altering voltage or any other settings than the BLCK, and the system ran rock solid.
Unfortunately, our experiments with ROG Connect didn’t go quite so smoothly. After installing the ROG Connect software on the laptop or second PC you want to use as your ‘controller’, it’s simply a matter of hooking up the cable and switching the seventh USB port on the motherboard into ROG-mode. The software takes care of any further details, and booting up the attractive RC TweakIt utility gives you sliders to play around with almost any setting to your heart’s content – or at least that’s the theory.
In reality, minor overclocks worked most of the time, but anything approaching a decent boost resulted in the Maximus III Gene system freezing and failure to boot into Windows after a reset. Naturally this might have been due to some element in our particular setup, and it’s worth keeping in mind that at worst this is a cool extra: it doesn’t change the fact that this board is an overclocker’s dream.
When it comes to value for money, the Maximus III Gene doesn’t carry as much of a premium as one might expect, since it’s available for around £150. This compares quite well to other high-end P55 boards available at the moment, especially considering premium extras like the SLI and overclocking capabilities, GameFirst software (which optimizes your network’s packet priority and traffic to give you maximum ping rates) and integrated X-Fi sound chip.
Unfortunately, as already mentioned, you don’t get either SATA 6Gb/s or, more significantly, USB 3.0, and it’s worth keeping in mind that you can get overclocking-friendly Micro-ATX Intel boards with these features for around £110. However, whether these will match the incredible potential of Asus’ small ROG board is another matter.
An overclocking champion (despite ROG Connect’s failure to impress) Asus’ ROG Maximus III Gene is attractive, well laid out and packed with genuinely useful features – in fact it’s only really let down by its lack of USB 3.0. If this isn’t important to you it’s definitely worth its £150 asking price, but otherwise you might be better off waiting or looking elsewhere.
Score in detail
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