BIOS is an acronym that stands for Basic Input/Output System. It is meant to control your product at a very low level. As of right now there are three regularly used BIOS formats (there are actually more than that but there are three common ones). These are the AMI (American Megatrends Incorporated), Award, and Phoenix. Asus is one of the manufacturers that have consistently worked very hard to improve their BIOS interface. Their latest UEFI offerings are not only easy to use and navigate around, but they are very responsive. This is something that has frustrated us with other implementations of the UEFI BIOS. Take a look at our video coverage of the UEFI BIOS on the Maximus V Gene below and you will see what we are talking about.
On our wish list for Asus is a search feature like we saw on the Intel DZ77GA-70K BIOS…
Normally when we pull out one of Asus’ ROG motherboards we know we are going to get very good performance from stock speeds and also plenty of headroom for overclocking. With Ivy Bridge we are not getting much more than we saw on Intel’s DZ77GS-70K. We were able to get into Windows at 5GHz and actually run a single run of Cinebench at 4.9GHz, but we could not get things stable until we dropped back to 4.8GHz. Even then we needed to run with a 1.36 voltage in the BIOS for stability.
Again due to NDA we do not have validation links at this time, but we will be tinkering around this this board quite a bit more and will have what we hope will be much better clocks and performance very soon
Of course overclocking is a picky subject. I can buy to identical CPUs from the store and they will not always perform the same way under stress. This is the same with motherboards, RAM and GPUs. So again it is important to keep in mind that our results represent a specific hardware configuration. Yours may be similar but will rarely be identical.
Overclocking Tools -
Like many other features Asus has been working on their overclocking tools and has combined them into their AI Suite II utility. This is a bundle of tools that allow you to control your motherboard from overclocking to the speed that you have fans running. Although AI Suite II covers more than just overclocking we are only going to touch on the overclocking features here. We will cover the rest of the software and APIs in this suit later in the review.
When you open up the AI Suite II you will get a slim toolbar that pops up on your screen. There are plenty of options here each has options to either help you tweak your system, or to monitor once you get things setup. For overclocking you will want to kick things off in the TurboV EVO utility. Once this was a standalone object, but now it has been completely integrated into the main AI Suite (which is a good thing).
The look of TurboV EVO has not changed much over the last couple of years even if Asus has added features to it. There is one thing that has still not been added; memory divider options. The biggest reason these are missing is that even if they were present changing the memory divider would require a reboot to register so Asus left it out with the thought that if you are looking into the Maximus V Gene and wanted to switch memory divider you were probably going to do that type of tweaking in the BIOS. Still even without the ability to enable XMP profiles or change memory dividers you get a good deal of flexibility here.
TurboV also includes a new utility to overclock the IGP on your CPU. This is handy especially with Lucid’s VirtuMVP running. Even if you have an add-in graphics card you can still get a benefit from overclocking the GPU. Something new in this generation of TurboV is the ability to change the ratio per core. This was only possible in the BIOS before. It is a pretty nice feature and can let you get a higher OC while maintaining stability; all without needing to disable the cores in the BIOS.
Asus has had digital power controls in the ROG ling for a long time now. These controls are very mature and give you a good deal of control over the way you motherboard handles power. A new feature in their suite of tools is something they are calling Smart Digi+ Settings. To put it simply Smart Digi+ is a way to implement the best settings for a certain performance envelope. As you can see in the image below you can adjust your board for overclocking with a simple mouse click. You can also setup your board and CPU for better power efficiency with a single click. These are some great controls and do not require you to know the ins and outs of each setting that is available (although you should). If automatic settings are not your thing then you will like the next three pages. Here are the manual controls for just about all of the Digi+ power settings that are in the BIOS. There are still some that you will need to manually setup (like current limits), but these are very complete.
Along with all of the manual overclocking tools Asus has (of course) included its auto tuning utility. This handy little item will get you the best overclock while keeping inside certain voltage, bootstrap and thermal envelopes. When we ran this on ours we managed to get to 4.6GHz right off the bat. Not too shabby for an automatic overclocking tool.
The Test System and Comments -
Our test system is built on an open bench. This has two effects on testing. First it allows us to see everything and also to setup and disassemble the test rigs quickly. Second it means that we cannot gauge the potential air flow found in a normal case. The air is pretty stagnant; some may say this is a great neutral testing method and it can be. However, it does mean that the temperature reading taken off of the components are not accurate to what an average consumer would see. This means that your thermal performance will vary from what we see here. As we have said before Asus understands the fact that many of today’s motherboards are very close in terms of specification and even the performance envelope you can expect them to operate in. Of course there are always going to be differences, and yes some boards will perform better than others (due to design components etc) but for the most part things are getting closer and closer. This is even more true now that Intel is putting everything on the CPU (something that AMD talked about for years, but never really managed to pull off). It is because of this that we see the improvement in the feature set that are being delivered on motherboards.
On the Asus Maximus V Gene the feature set is simply impressive. Between the audio segmentation and the add-in card for WiFi or even a MicroSATA SSD there is not really anything like it on the market right now. Unfortunately during our testing we discovered that our call on the length of the SSD card that would fit into the mPCIe combo card was off by about 3mm. You cannot put a 72mm SSD card into this and have it fit. It is just too big. Unfortunately out 55mm card is in another system and not easily removed or we would have dropped that in. don’t worry though, we have plans to spend some additional quality time with the Maximus V Gene both with Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge.
On the other side of the coin Asus has really ramped up the tools at your disposal in the AI Suite II. You have tools like EPU, FanXpert2, AiCharger and USB 3.0 Boost. All are available in the AI Suite II utility. As you can see below, there is a lot you can do with this one tool. Some of these options we will talk about more in their respective sections.
Performance testing overview -
Our testing is a little different than most. We combine both synthetic and real-world applications to simulate the types of performance common to the individual products. For motherboards this means that we run roughly six synthetic tests and two real-world. We will be expanding the real-world testing in the near future. But there is more to performance than just the raw numbers. As there are multiple components and sub-components on a motherboard there each item can have a distinct impact on the way the product will perform once you get it in your system. It is important to note not only the actual results but what they mean to you as a potential consumer. We will try to give this information to you. But we do not just cover the performance aspects that are measurable. We also talk about the components that might not have a direct benchmark. These are items like Audio Quality, ease of use and installation.
Section 1 Subsystems
Memory performance is very important on a motherboard, especially when you have a CPU with multiple cores and threads. If you have slow memory your cores and threads can become starved for data to execute. To test memory performance we run both Sisoft’s SANDRA and AIDA64. These two combine to not only give us accurate numbers but to validate each other. For testing at stock speeds the memory is hard set to 1333MHz while overclocking testing is done at the highest stable speed for the voltage of 1.65v this is due to the different memory dividers for each CPU. As such, the memory speeds will vary greatly. This means that the overclocked numbers are a little misleading and while they can show a trend are really only included to show if a board has a problem with memory performance at high clockspeeds.
As we noted in other reviews the memory bandwidth with Ivy Bridge is not like what we saw with Sandy Bridge; it is simply lower. However, between different motherboards you should still see differences. On the Asus Maximus V Gene we see that the memory performance was a little slower than the Intel DZ77GA-70K. The difference was not major and would not be noticeable unless you ran a test like this, but we have to wonder about the performance as we would have normally expected Asus to be out in front.
Drive performance -
Drive performance is also one of the major subsystems that goes to make up the performance of a motherboard. For our testing we use Sandra and AIDA64 again. We only test with single drives for each type of controller present on the motherboard (unless it is a professional product where we will use RIAD 5 and/or 10). We have also begun using a Seagate PS-110 USB 3 external HDD and a Kingston HyperX USB 3.0 Flash drive for our USB 3.0 performance. As a side note, we include the overclocked numbers here to make sure (again) that you are not going to see a major drop in performance due to minor instabilities at high clock speeds.
The drive performance on the Maximus V Gene was good. In fact it was good enough to put it at the top of the group for both stock and overclocked performance. This was both SATA 2.0 and SATA 3.0 performance. For USB 3.0 speeds the Asus Maximus with the ASMeida USB 3.0 controller and the Intel controller does a great job. Even running your USB 3.0 flash drives at normal speeds is very fast (as fast as many SATA 2.0 SSDs). In turbo mode we saw speeds of upwards of 280MB/s. The new USB 3.0 Boost really does work. We will be covering this feature across a few of Asus’ motherboards in a later article. The drive speed will be a benefit later on in many of our other tests.
Power efficiency is another of those misnomers that we get caught up in. We hear about idle states and power gates. But what does that mean to you and I? On the surface having power management that reduces idle power sounds great and can be a benefit to someone that leaves their system on for long periods of time (and inactive) but how a system handles power under load and the delta between the two states is often more important than the idle power usage numbers. We use only P3 Kill A Watt instruments for measuring power.
The Maximus V Gene did well when it comes to power, even with an HD6870 in the system. With the inclusion of Asus’ new Smart Digi+ controls and their two green settings you can really reduce this if you want to though. With the Z77 and Ivy Bridge’s much lower power needs we are not surprised to see this.
Cooling (Board Level) -
Board level cooling is an important factor in product performance and longevity. Components like the chipset, VRM modules and even capacitors need to be kept relatively cool to prevent failure. As these parts are made of silicon, they have a thermal breakdown threshold; or melting point. At that temperature the actual transistors built into chip will begin to deform and break down. Granted, the threshold is often very high, but you still need to make sure that components stay away from this level of heat for longer product life.
The cooling around the voltage regulation components is good; even when overclocked things were still more than cool enough. However, the Z77 PCH was not all that cool. The Asus Maximus V Gene was the warmest out of the group. This was not expected at all and although we will admit that much of this is from being in an open environment with no air flow it is still not what we expected.
As we talked about under the features section of our review Asus has improved the fan controls available on the Maximus V Gene and all of their other boards. This is the new FanXpert2 software combined with the Q-Fan controls in the BIOS. One of the best features here is the auto tuning feature. Here (as we talked about) you can allow the motherboard to read the fans and determine their low and high settings which are then put into different profiles to help keep things cool. You can also label what fans are plugged into each header to find them quickly. - Update- It appears there was an issue with our Fluke 62 Mini. The internal switch that changes the reading from Farenheit to celcius was not working as it should. we have made the calculations to adjust the temps and you can see the results below. We apologize for this as the reading still showed c in the display. However it is obvious that it was not reading properly when we used a second IR thermometer for verification after user comments
Audio is highly subjective. What we find pleasing may sound “off” to you. That is always going to the problem with testing audio; results will vary too widely depending on the tastes of the listener. However, there are ways of measuring the audio output with an objective ear. There is also the issue of audio causing performance issues in gaming and video playback. The reason this is a potential source of concern is that all onboard audio CODECs (Compression/Decompression) are CPU controlled. This means that while the audio chip controls the audio levels and effects of the audio the actual work is done on the CPU. Usually this will not be a problem with today’s powerful CPUs. Even the lower and consumer level products can handle high-end audio these days. But again there is the chance that a bad design or software will hinder your system and performance. On the other side the limits of board space, cost, etc will also prevent the level of audio quality you can get from an add-in board. We test all audio parts with three media types, Movie (DVD), MP3 Music, and Gaming. These are pushed to our Tec On model 55 Tube Amp to see if we can detect any signal issues in the reproduction.
The audio on the Maximus V Gene is the Supreme FX III. This audio CODEC has been improved by a physical separation in the motherboard PCB. To show this Asus has run an LED into this separation which lights up as an indicator. The separation should theoretically help to reduce electronic noise that affects the audio playback signals. On top of this Asus has added in some very nice Creative Labs audio software. As part of the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Console you have options to run THX TruStudio Pro audio enhancements. THX is a studio standard for audio reproduction and when working correctly adds a clean and vibrant boost to any audio. Listening to the audio on the Maximus V Gene we could definitely hear the difference with this on and off.
This one is something that is a requirement anymore. If you have a computer, the chances are good (like 99%) that you are also connected to high-speed internet. With this you need a good and solid LAN chip to make sure that your data flows properly out and back.
As you have probably come to expect the Maximus V Gene has an Intel Lan controller. This is coupled with their Game First software. Game First is a software based QoS (quality of service) application that can help to improve your online gaming performance. In our testing it did help to reduce the ping times in Counter Strike, but we did not test it much beyond that because our firewall was having a bigger impact that anything else. This software can still help to prioritize packets traveling in and out of your system, but it is not going to help if your firewall or router has no support for this, or has any type of active scanning or detection routines.
Section II - Performance Tests,
In this section of testing we cover the synthetics. These are tests that run a scripted sequence of internal APIs or that use another installed application to perform a series of scripted events. They are great in that they can provide reproducible results across various platforms. On the down side, synthetic tests can be fooled with driver tweaks and optimizations. In some cases it is necessary to rename the .exe file to something generic to discover if this is the case. In any event when this is needed (when a test shows a drastic difference in performance over the renamed exe) we will note this and show both results for comparison.
PCMark7 is the latest general performance test from FutureMark. As each generation of this benchmark has evolved and developed we have watched them add more and more realistic tests to this suite. With this generation we find more media tests, (audio and video transcoding) moving of large files, multiple web page rendering, and much more (the even added DX10 gaming). We use the Overall Performance and Common Usage suites in our testing.
The Asus Maximus V Gene is right behind the Intel Desktop board (the DZ77GA-70K) at every turn. We can also see that Intel scores much higher in the Computation and creativity scores when only running the GMA 4000. This was unexpected in many ways, but also you have to figure that Intel might know what they are doing and set things up right. Still we can see that the combination of the Gene and Ivy Bridge should more than cover you for most general computing and do very well with anything that requires complex computations.
3DMark 11 -
3DMark 11 is the other Futuremark test that we run on our motherboards. This test simulates the typical tasks that a GPU (and system) would have to perform to provide you with a good gaming experience. It is based on the DX9, DX10 and DX11 engines but can only be installed on Windows Vista or later. The suite of tests covers DX9, DX10, and of course DX11 rendering; it also covers AI computations and physics. That’s right I said Physics the latest version of 3DMark uses a Havok physics engine. This removes the advantage that nVidia had with 3DMark Vantage.
With 3DMark11 the Gene is back on top at stock speeds. We see it top out the Intel DZ77GA-70K when running only the GMA4000 by 23 points. This is a nice thing to see. When we drop in our HD5870 it manages to sneak past all of the others. During our overclocked tests it again came out on top for the GMA 4000, but did not scale as well with the HD 5870. This is good for stock gaming, but we have a feeling that we might see frame rates drop when overclocked.
HyperPi 0.99b -
HyperPi is a front end application that allows you to easily run multiple instances of the SuperPi application. SuperPi, for those that are not familiar with it, is an application that measures the time it takes to calculate the number Pi out to as many as 32 million places. This calculation is then checked and run multiple times (up to 24 for a 32M run). This test stresses the CPU, Memory and HDD as data is handed off between the three. If there is a weak link, HyperPi will show it. For our testing we run the 32M test on as many cores (and threads) as the CPU has available. The slowest CPU time is then recorded.
The Maximus V Gene can certainly run some pretty fast calculations. This is even though the 3770K does not have the same memory bandwidth we saw with Sandy Bridge and the 2600K. Unfortunately HyperPi did not scale well with our overclocking. The times decreased over a full minute, but the drop was not as much as other motherboards running Sandy Bridge.
Cinebench R11.5 -
Cinebench R11.5 is the 11th release of Maxon’s rendering test. This test is based off of the Cinema 4D engine, which is one of the industry standard tools for digital animation. It is a powerful product with many different modules that can be “plugged” into it to increase its effectiveness. With Cinebench you get to see how your computer would do using this application. There are two tests; one tests the CPU’s ability to render an image across multiple cores or threads. The other tests your systems ability to handle OpenGL based rendering.
The Maximus V Gene was able to push through the CPU rendering test in Cinebench without any problems it pulled off the high score in our stock testing group and still managed a very respectable showing when overclocked only losing to the 5GHz 2600K on the Maximus IV Extreme.
In OpenGL rendering the GMA 4000 was not so spectacular, but then again it is not intended to be. Still as far as IGPs go when the GMA 4000 was on the Maximus V Gene it managed to outperform all of the others.
|Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL Stock||Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL Overclocked
Section III - Performance Tests
Here we have two tests that are designed to put the performance of the motherboard and its subsystems to the test. Both require good CPU, Memory, HDD and even to a lesser extent audio and network performance. The two tests we chose were Lightwave 3D 9.6 and AutoGK 2.55. We will be adding at least one more real-world test to this battery in the near future, but for now these two cover quite a bit.
Lightwave 3D 9.6 x64 -
Lightwave is another industry standard application for 3D animation and rendering. It has a large tool base and the rendering engine is highly threaded (when using the right render model). This application is also capable of expanding to 4k resolutions as well as ray tracing for rending the light sources. For our testing we use frame 470 of the Pinball scene found in the LW 9 Content folder. This uses the newer perspective camera that is better suited to a multi-CPU/Core environment. This camera style also uses ray tracing and a much improved anti-aliasing method. Settings are shown below in the attached screen shot. Of course these are single frame renders and they are not a complete picture; for that you have to take into account the number of frames an average project would have. In a typical 30 second commercial you will have around 840 to 960 frames (at 28 – 32 FPS) this means that you have to multiply the time of a single frame by that number just to get a vague idea of how long that 30 seconds would take. This is because each frame will have a different render time based on complexity.
Once again the Maximus V Gene pulls off a win at stock speeds here the difference is a pretty healthy 3 seconds. This translates into 12 minutes in your average 30 second project. 12 minutes is a long time when you are rendering for money. The performance here is a mix between the great HDD speeds and the new AVX instructions in the 3770K.
CyberLink Media Espresso 6.5 -
After having various issues with AutoGK and Intel CPUs with more than four cores we have changed our Media Encoding test to use Media Espresso from CyberLink. Although this new utility does not have the same ability to transfer directly from DVD it is still a good test to transfer different media types into a usable format for your iPad, iPod, or other media player. Our test involves using multiple (Six) 20 minute media files and transcoding them for an iPad. This gives us a very good indication of how well a motherboard can handle this type of work load.
Under CyberLink’s Media Espresso the AVX and quick sync extensions in the GMA 4000 are really showing off here. However it is the faster drive speed that gives the Maximus V Gene the edge here.
Section IV - Performance
Gaming as a test of motherboard performance is sort of a joke these days. The big player in the gaming arena is the GPU. Everyone but a few hardcore PR teams know this. However, it is important to run at least a few (one from each current DX version) to see if there are any issues with the combination of components on a motherboard. These are items like Audio lag, memory lag and of course problems with the PCIe lanes and signal traces. If there are issues in design, drivers or BIOS then you can have odd gaming performance. So without much more preamble let’s dive into the three games we currently use; Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 for DX9 FarCry 2 for DX10 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 for DX11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 DX9 -
As the third installment in the Modern Warfare franchise you are picking up some old roles while adding a couple of new ones as well. The game play is almost identical to what you are used to in Modern Warfare 2 as are the graphical settings. The AI is a little different thought it is still similar to the bar fight style AI we like in the Call of Duty series. For our testing we run the first mission (Black Tuesday) from start to finish. Settings are shown below
Gaming under the GMA 4000 was not as bad as we expected. The engine in Modern Warfare 3 is not that rough on a system (although it can be at times). We were able to get some decent minimum frame rates and the average FPS was more than acceptable. Gaming with the HD5870 showed the type of gaming you can expect with the Maximus V Gene and a good add-in GPU.
FarCry2 DX10 -
Although not one of my favorite games this tedious game does have some good graphics. The large sandbox style of the game lends to mission based play. The only problem is that the AI is rather low grade. Still the more CPU power the more the bad guys try to do. Over all the game was a little bit of a disappointment to play, but still not a bad DX10 representation. Our testing run starts right after you get your first mission to clean out the safe-house and ends after the hostage rescue. Settings and performance numbers are shown below.
For FarCry2 the GMA4000 is not up to the task; of course it was never meant to push high-end games. We are happy to see the Maximus V Gene squeeze out a little more performance running the IGP, but it is not consistent. Gaming with the HD5870 really brings out the performance of the V Gene though.
Crysis 2 DX11 –
Another sequel Crysis 2 follows up on two other Crysis games (making the title a little misleading). You take the role of a Force Recon Marine who is given a battle suit by a character named Profit (you will remember him from the other two Crysis games). From there you run around an Infected and Invaded New York City trying to survive and, of course, save the planet. For our testing we ran through the first “mission”. Settings are shown below.
On the V Gene the GMA4000 struggles with Crysis 2 for some reason. The frame rate was much less than what we expected. With the HD5870 it was back to the top though as it managed to take the lead quite nicely.
Gaming wrap-up -
Gaming on the Asus Maximus V Gene was good when using an add-in GPU. With just the GMA 4000 we did not see anything to get excited about. As we have said many times the GMA 4000 is not meant to play high-end games with although it is certainly more than enough for most mainstream games and probably many real time strategy games if you do not go crazy. It was when we dropped in the HD5870 that the Maximus V Gene really started to shine. We not only saw the improvement in gaming we also heard it from the SupremeFX III audio CODEC and Creative Labs enhancement software. It was a very nice experience.
Value is another very subjective topic. What is expensive to some might be a deal to others. You can look at this topic in multiple ways. One is raw price and the other is what you get for the money. Each is accurate and both are correct ways to look at price/value. We tend to look at features, performance and real-property when we discuss value. However, we also take into account the raw cash cost of the item. Believe it or not you can have all of this performance and flexibility for only $199.99 at more etailers. This is a great price for a board with all of these features and the performance that we are seeing. Of course to get the full potential out of the Maximus V Gene you might still need to spend another $150 to $200.
What can we say about the Maximus V Gene that the performance and feature set has not already? It is a great board with a ton of features, options, and excellent performance and all for $200. Really what is not to love? Asus is continuing to show that they are listening to their customers and giving options that people will really want and use. The Maximus V Gene shows this off in a very impressive way. Knowing that the V Gene will most likely be built into a smaller case they have options to still use SSD caching on the mPCIe combo card. The same is true for the WiFi option; it was not forced onto the board as the Maximus V Gene would fit perfectly into a small LAN party system where wireless could get in the way. Overall there is not much on the Maximus V Gene that needs improving we do wish that a 72mm SSD would fit, but really that is not a problem considering the cost of 55mm cards.
The Maximus V Gene has earned our Gold Key Award for although it was not the top performer for a few of our tests it has a simply awesome feature set, price and solid performance.
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