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ASUS Maximus II Gene Motherboard
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Date: Oct 30, 2009
Section:Motherboards
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

Although the Core i7 and X58 combo is a proven performance leader, there are still plenty of Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad CPUs out there in the wild.  The Core 2 is still a very capable processor with many models costing less than half the price the cheapest Core i7 processor, the Core i7 920.  Thus, systems based around the P45 chipset are still a viable option for getting good, if not great, performance at a vastly more affordable price.

Up until now, when users thought of a micro-ATX board, they typically expect find a slimmed down version of a full sized product, minus some of the bells and whistles and perhaps sacrificing some of the enthusiast-friendly features of their larger brethren.  Recognizing a need for high performance, yet smaller form-factor motherboard, ASUS stepped in with two offerings: the Rampage II Gene for Core i7/DDR3 owners, and the Maximus II Gene we are reviewing today, with support for Core 2 Duo/Quad processors and DDR2 memory.  Both of these boards fly under the 'Republic of Gamers' flag, and we intend on seeing if the Maximus II Gene can live up to its namesake.

Maximus II Gene Board & Package
ASUS Maximus II Gene  

ASUS Maximus II Gene
Specifications & Features

Processor Support 
Intel® Socket 775 CoreTM2 Quad/CoreTM2 Extreme/CoreTM2 Duo/Pentium® dual-core/Celeron® dual-core / Celeron® Processors Support Intel® 45nm Multi-Core CPU

Chipset
 Intel® P45 /ICH10R 
   
Memory 
4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB, DDR2 1300/1200/1066/800/667 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
   
Expansion Slots 
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (single max @ x16,dual @ x8 speed)
1 x PCIe x1
1 x PCI 2.2
   
Storage
Intel ICH10R controller
6 xSATA 3 Gb/s ports
Intel Matrix Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1,5,10

JMicron® JMB363 PATA and SATA controller
1 xUltraDMA 133/100/66/33 for up to 2 PATA devices
1 xExternal SATA 3.0 Gb/s port (SATA On-the-Go)
1 xSATA 3.0 Gb/s port

Multi-GPU Support
Support ATI CrossFireXTM Technology 
   
Audio
SupremeFX X-Fi built-in
8 - Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- EAX® AdvancedTM HD 4.0
- X-Fi CMSS®-3D
- X-Fi CrystalizerTM
- Creative ALchemy

LAN

Gigabit LAN

IEEE-1394
2 x 1394a ports (1 port at back I/O, 1 port onboard) 
 
USB
12 USB 2.0 ports (6 ports at back I/O, 6 ports onboard)
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x External SATA
1 x S/PDIF Out (Optical)
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x LAN(RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
8 -Channel Audio I/O
1 x PS/2 Keyboard port(purple)
1 x Clr CMOS switch  
 
Internal I/O Connectors
3 x USB connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
7 x SATA connectors
1 x IDE connector for two devices
5 x Fan connectors: 1 x CPU / 2 x Chassis / 2 x Optional
Front panel audio connector
System Panel connector
2 x thermal sensor connectors
1 x LCD Poster connector
1 x SPDIF_OUT connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x En/Dis-able Clr CMOS header
1 x CD audio in
 
BIOS
16 Mb Flash ROM
AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS 

Overclocking Features
Keyboard-TweakIt
Power Design
- 8-phase CPU power
- 2-phase DRAM power
- 2-phase NB power
CPU Level Up
iROG
Extreme Tweaker
Loadline Calibration
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- TurboV
- O.C Profile
Overclocking Protection:
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall) 

Form Factor
mATX Form Factor
9.6 inch x 9.6 inch ( 24.4 cm x 24.4 cm )


Packaging looks to be in line with all of ASUS' other Republic of Gamers offerings, such as the Rampage II Extreme we previously took a look at.  A splashy maroon box with the board name in stylized block lettering and the updated RoG logo marking this as "gamer-oriented" hardware.  Smaller call-outs for ASUS itself as well as support for Intel P45 chipset and ATI's CrossFireX technology are the only other markings to be seen.

Maximus II Gene - Box Front Maximus II Gene - Box Back
Tech Sheet   Bundle   Media and Decals

The box flap opens up to cover a few of the major selling points of the Maximus II Gene including: MemOK! which helps diagnose memory compatibility issues, CPU Level Up which allows overclocking with the click of a button, and SupremeFX X-Fi Audio.  There's also brief mention of the bundled software consisting of 3DMark06 Advanced and Kaspersky Anti-Virus.  With 3DMark Vantage being available for quite some time it would have been far better to have seen the newer version included as we have seen with other hardware.  The rest of the bundle consists of a decal, 4 SATA cables (two of which have right-angled connectors), and IDE ribbon cable, a handful of cable ties, an ASUS-branded case badge, ASUS' own Q-Connector and LCD Poster, the I/O shield, as well as the User Guide and Driver DVD-ROM. 

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Maximus II Gene Layout and Features



 Maximus II Gene Layout and Features
 Maximum power, minimum size

Maximus II Gene Overview
ASUS Maximus II Gene Overview 

With its LGA775 socket, the Maximus II Gene is compatible with a great number of readily available CPUs including Core 2 Duo/Quad/Extreme processors, as well as single or dual-core Celerons.  For a board this size, the CPU socket area is surprisingly open and clear of obstructive components.

CPU Socket Area   VRM Components   Heatsinks
ROG-branded Northbridge   ROG Logo   Passive Southbridge

There are three rows od components alongside the top side of the socket itself, one row made up of six solid-state capacitors, another consisting of 8 chokes and a final row of MOSFETs that are cooled by a small black aluminum heatsink.  This heatsink, in turn, tranfers heat away via a single heat pipe to a passive cooler placed over the Northbridge, with the ROG logo neatly built-in.  The Southbridge is also covered by a small passive heatsink as well.

DIMM Slots    Vertically-mounted CMOS battery   Expansion Slots

4 DIMMS are supported, up to a maximum of 16GB of DDR2 memory ranging from as high a memory clock of 1300 MHz to as low as 667 MHz.  Placed in the nearby corner is the CMOS battery, mounted vertically to save space.  Directly adjacent to the battery is the 24-pin power connector, while the 8-pin ATX connector is tucked up away between the socket area and the backplane.  2 PCI-E X16 slots provide the graphics card support - one card at a full 16 lanes while installing two requires them to share the bandwidth, leaving 8 lanes for each Radeon if installed and used in Cross Fire mode.  There are also single slots left for PCI-E X1 and PCI v2.2 based expansion cards, if needed.

Right-angled SATA ports    Audio CODEC   JMICRON JMB363 Controller

The Southbridge is Intel's ICH10R, which is capable of controlling up to six SATA II devices as well as supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 setups.  These SATA ports are all colored blue, and are mounted at a 90-degree angle from the board to not only facilitate connecting the SATA cables to each device, but to prevent said cables with interfering with the installation of longer PCI-Express graphics cards.  An additional chip, JMICRON's 363 controller, provides some additional drive options by adding in support for up to 2 more PATA devices as well as another internal SATA 3.0GB/s connection and external SATA port.  Audio is provided by the Supreme FX X-Fi daughter card, marrying an 8-channel Hi-Def Audio CODEC with Creative's EAX Advanced 4.0, X-Fi, CMSS-DD, X-Fi Crystalizer and Creative's Alchemy technologies.  It's not a true X-Fi component, as the architecture is decidedly not Creative's, but the combined support of Creative's software with the HD Audio gives you many more options that basic integrated audio.

 Power and Reset Buttons   MemOK! Button   Rear Output Options

Overclocking is anything but a secondary thought based on the way ASUS designed the Maximus II Gene.  8-phase CPU power, 2-phase DRAM and 2-phase NorthBridge power provide the necessary foundation for stable current flow through the board, while BIOS settings such as CPU Level Up and COP Ex are reminders that ASUS build in some easy-to-use tweaking options into the Maximus II Gene.  Other user-friendly options on the board include Power and Reset buttons, MemOK, and Voltminder LEDs placed throughout the board, warning you if voltages are set too high.  Finally, wrapping things up, the Back Panel I/O ports include 1 PS/2 port, 1 eSATA port, a RJ-45 LAN port, 6 USB 2.0 ports, 1 IEEE-1394a port, and the CLR CMOS switch.

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BIOS Options and Overclocking Results

BIOS Main   Storage Options   Boot Settings

On of the main things that makes a Republic of Gamer motherboard an enthusiast class product is its BIOS, and with the Maximus II Gene we find ourselves quite comfortable with the customized Phoenix BIOS layout. The first tabbed item, Extreme Tweaker, is where we will spend the most of our time, but we will quickly run through the more mundane sections.  'Main' consists of the most basic information, such as System Time and Date, and also gives the user a visual rundown of whichever drives are installed.  Entering the Storage Configuration module allows more advanced options including setting up a RAID configuration, although setting the boot device priority or which drive to boot from is handled in a completely separate section titled, simply enough, 'Boot'.

CPU Configuration   Onboard Peripherals   LCD Poster

'Advanced' lists a bunch of subheadings that are used to configure the various on-board components.  CPU Configuration is all about enabling or disabling CPU features such as C1E Support, Max CPUID Value Limit, Virtualization, CPU Trusted Module, Execute Disable Bit and Intel SpeedStep.  'Chipset' has two minor settings regarding the North Bridge, while 'Onboard Devices' lets you choose whether or not to enable the onboard Hi-Def audio, JMicron SATA controller, LAN and FireWire.  Finally, you'll also be able to customize the lighting and reporting abilities of the handy LCD Poster as well as the onboard LEDs through the LCD Poster and LED Control panel.

Temperature Monitor   Voltage Monitor   Fan Speeds

To keep an eye of the health of the system, one needs to take a peek at the 'Power' section.  Within, all of the voltages, temperatures, and even fan speeds are lumped under the more user-friendly title of Hardware Monitor.  Each and every voltage meter is readily displayed on the Voltage Monitor screen, while temperatures can be not only viewed, but overheat protection settings be determined where the system will automatically shut down once the determined temperature has been reached.  These include not only the North Bridge and South Bridge, but any other devices that are monitored using thermal sensors.  Five fan speeds can also be monitored.

Extreme Tweaker   Tuning Mode   Advanced CPU Features

Extreme Tweaker is where all of the real tweaking and overclocking is accomplished.  The very first option, Tuning Mode, offers up two options to the user, allowing them to view all of the options with the 'Extreme OC' selection, yet hiding some of the more advanced or obtuse settings when going with 'Gaming'.  'CPU Level Up' is for the casual overclocker; one who just wants to get a quick boost to their system performance without upgrading their CPU or delving deep into the BIOS settings.  In our case, the BIOS recognized that we had installed an E6550 processor, and gave us the opportunity to boost it to the level of an E6600, E6700, X6800, or E6850 while handling all of the FSB and voltage changes necessary to do so.  To keep memory speeds in check, a number of ratio options are made available, allowing us to downclock the memory as far as 667 MHz, yet reach as high as 1335MHz.  These ratios, along with the numerous voltage options, will sure come into play when we get to overclocking the Maximus II Gene. 

Overclocking the ASUS Maximus II Gene
Getting out what you put into it

CPU Level Up   DRAM Frequency   Voltages

We started off by selecting CPU Level Up in the BIOS and choosing to upgrade our E6550 to the E6850's performance level, an instant 667 MHz upgrade, but the system would not boot.  We powered down, reset the CMOS, and tried again, only this time we tried a more moderate approach, aiming to reach the levels of an E6600 - a very slight overclock to 2.42 GHz.  The system asked for a restart to automatically make whatever changes are deemed necessary.  When we arrived at the POST screen the next time, all options seemed to have the expected values and Windows launched normally.  There was one slight hiccup in that we had to re-install our LAN driver, but otherwise everything was OK.  Next up was choosing an E6700.  Another restart, and we were at 2.66 GHz with the DDR2 clocked at 761MHz.  The CPU Core Voltage was listed in CPU-Z at 1.384V, more than a half volt higher than default settings.  We ran through a series of tests without fail, and re-tried the E6850 CPU Level Up setting.  This time we were able to POST correctly and launch Windows.  CPU-Z reported a front side bus speed of 428 MHz, voltage at 1.432V, and benchmarks showed a decent upgrade in performance.

Unfortunately, that's as far as CPU Level Up could take us in the BIOS, leading us to TurboV - a Windows utility that offers some of the basic settings that the BIOS has, but also includes directly setting the BCLK Frequency, CPU Voltage, and DRAM Voltage as well as an Advanced Mode with minor tweaks including individual voltage options for the CPU PLL, ICH, and DRAM Reference Voltages, per DIMM.  With some concern regarding the memory frequency ratios available, we started out in BIOS to set the DRAM frequency to a lower speed than available to us through the Windows app, then went back to TurboV to raise the BLCK Frequency to 450 MHz.  This immediately resulted in a BSOD.

So, back into the BIOS we went, and we set the DRAM to DDR2-1081.  This allowed us to complete the POST and get back into Windows once again.  However, modifying the CPU Frequency this time in TurboV crashed the system, and we could no longer boot after this latest setback.  Cycling the system on and off a few times finally let us back in, albeit at default clock speeds.  From that point on, we made all of our changes in the BIOS alone, bumping the FSB up in 5MHz increments with minor adjustments to the voltages when any instability was encountered.  We also repeatedly lowered the memory frequency so that the resulting speed would stay in line with SPD ratings for our DIMMs.  In the manner, we were able to move up slowly towards the 500 MHz mark for the FSB, reaching a final stable overclock of 502MHz, equalling 3.53GHz for the CPU.

 

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Test Setup and PCMark Vantage Results

How we configured our test systems:  When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set the memory for DDR2-1066 with 5-5-5-18 timings. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel Inside

Motherboards:
ASUS Maximus II Gene
Gigabyte EP45-UD4P
MSI P45 Platinum
Intel DG45ID

Processor:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.33GHz - Dual-Core) 

RAM:
2x1GB OCZ PC2-9200 DDR2
CL 5-5-5-18 DDR2-1150

Components:
GeForce 8800 GTS 512
Onboard Ethernet
Onboard Audio

Hard Drive:
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
7,200 RPM SATAII

OS / Drivers
Windows Vista Ultimate
INTEL INF Update v9.1.0.1007
NVIDIA Forceware v175.19




Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

We first ran our test motherboards through PCMark Vantage, Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads, including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so they can exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core CPUs.

 

We find the Maximus II Gene putting up PC Mark scores that are quite comparable to other, full-sized P45 boards.  It's nearly impossible to make a succinct comment as to its specific performance, as the scores range from the lowest performer in the Memories suite of tests to just about the highest in gaming.  However, we did notice that the Maximus II Gene tended to find itself in the lower end of the testing results, and second to last in the overall PCMark scoring.

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3DMark06 and LAME MT MP3 Encoding

 

Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU Testing
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems. This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance. Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering. The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

 

Where we felt that it was somewhat unjust to label the Maximus II Gene as a top performer or bottom feeder based on the PCMark Vantage results, we are less in the dark with 3DMark's CPU Performance Module.  Here, the ASUS board is placed in dead last, 5 points behind the G45-based board from Intel. 

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
Single and Multiple threaded Audio Encoding 

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.  We created our own 223MB WAV file and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in both single and multi-threaded modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.



We don't often see much of a difference when it comes to encoding MP3s with LAME and our most recent attempts using a trio of P45 boards and a single G45 proved to be equally dull.  When paired with the same CPU - a Core 2 Duo E6550 - and 2GB of RAM, each of our board posted the exact same completion times: exactly one minute when using a single core and almost half that, 38 seconds when using both of the CPU cores.

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Cinebench and POV-Ray Rendering



Cinebench R10
3D Rendering

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

 

Cinebench testing results showed a very close knit grouping of at least three of the boards, with the MSI P45 Platinum being the sole exception.  Single-threaded as well as Multi-threaded performance was nearly identical with the Intel DG45ID, and just a shade slower than Gigabyte's P45-based board. 

POV Ray Performance
Details: www.povray.org

POV-Ray, or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard included benchmarking model on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each.  Results are measured in pixels-per-second (PPS) throughput.

 

Competition was also tight with the POV-Ray Rendering.  On the bright side, there's a mere 10 pixels-per-second difference separating the top performing board from the lowest.  Unfortunately for the Maximus II Gene, however, it just happens to be the board that finds itself at the bottom of the charts once again.

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Gaming Benchmarks

 

Low-Resolution Gaming: ET:  Quake Wars and Crysis
Taking the GPU out of the Equation

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with ET Quake Wars and Crysis. When testing processors and motherboards in these games, we drop the resolution to 800x600 and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible. However, any in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.



With the Republic of Gamers logo plastered all over the packaging and board, we had hoped that the Maximus II Gene would somehow stand-out when it came to the gaming benchmarks.  It might not have produced the highest frame rates - those went to Gigabyte's EP45-UD4P - but the performance was right up there with the rest.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion



Performance Summary: Although we have been more focused on newer platforms as of late, there is still some life left in the Core 2 platform and P45 chipset.  The value proposition is quite favorable for those who don't quite need the bleeding-edge hardware that's out there.  For the most part, the Maximus II Gene held its own when compared to a couple full-sized P45s we had in the labs, as well as a G45 Bonetrail board from Intel.  While the Maximus II Gene did tend to fall on the lower end of the performance spectrum, the ease of the overclocking process and features of the board more than make up for it.  Tools like CPU Level Up and TweakIt making overclocking a possibility to even the most novice user. 



Typically many users expect micro-ATX boards to perform on a level somewhat below, highly-tuned, full-sized enthusiast class motherboards, as the focus of many micro-ATX boards is on form factor and not necessarily optimal performance.  ASUS has totally blown away these notions with their new Gene line of boards.  Utilizing the P45 chipset and supplemented by a highly tunable BIOS, the only real difference between the Maximus II Gene and the other ATX Republic of Gamers boards that precede it appears to be the form factor.  Stylish design, support for high-end CPUs, RAM, and multi-GPU configurations are the hallmarks of a powerful PC, and this board can handle it all.  

Ultimately, we realize that the Maximus II Gene, as well as the other P45-based motherboards used in this review, are geared towards the mainstream.  If pure power is your thing, then going with a Core i5 or i7 may be in your best interest.  In fact, ASUS even has you covered there with their Rampage II Gene motherboard - another micro-ATX board that flies under the Republic of Gamers flag.  But for those who still need or want to keep their Core 2 or other socket 775 processor and DDR2 RAM, and can't afford the full upgrade price of newer platforms, the Maximus II Gene is a perfect way to get good performance in a small form factor without much sacrifice. 

 

•  Well thought-out layout 
•  Fully featured micro-ATX board
•  Overclocks well
•  Onboard Hi-Def audio with X-Fi support
•  Passive coolers get somewhat hot
•  Not "true" X-Fi audio


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