BIOS Options and Overclocking Results
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'.
'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.
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 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.
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.