Software, firmware, and the regulars
Asus' programmers have been busy. The Wi-Fi GO! software accompanying the wireless-equipped boards offers DLNA support for media streaming. It can transfer files to and from Android devices, and there's even a remote desktop function. The RDC component of the Android app only works over local networks right now, but a version that allows connections over the web is on the way, as is a smartphone-friendly UI option. Right now, the app is optimized for larger tablet touchscreens.
There's a new version of Asus FanXpert Windows software. The app includes a fan profiling tool that determines the exact speed range for each of the attached fans, ensuring consistent speeds when dealing with a mix of fan types. The interface allows the user to identify where the fans are within the system, and each one can be given its own name.
The FanXpert extras aren't available through the UEFI, but thanks to a firmware tweak, all the on-board fan headers now support temperature-based speed control with both three- and four-pin fans. The fan controls are otherwise excellent, as is the mix of tweaking and overclocking options. As far as overall functionality goes, little has changed from Asus' existing motherboards. Once the firmware has been tuned for the final processor silicon, there are plans to add new features that take advantage of some of the freedom afforded by the UEFI standard. Since it's been responsive to my repeated ranting about fan speed controls, I can only hope Asus has been taking notes on what I'd like in next-gen firmware.
Speaking of ranting, Asus' firmware continues to monkey around with Turbo multipliers if unrelated system settings are modified. Do something as innocuous as define the memory speed manually, and the UEFI effectively overclocks the CPU behind your back by applying higher-than-stock multipliers to all-core loads. That's not how a modern enthusiast firmware should behave; modifying one setting should never affect something unrelated, and the CPU should never be pushed beyond stock speeds without informing the user—and, indeed, asking his permission.
Of all the members of the P8Z77 series, the Mini-ITX Deluxe model is perhaps the most exciting. Thanks in part to that VRM riser, Asus says the board overclocks just as well as its full-sized counterparts. Sandy Bridge's successor is expected to have tighter thermal envelopes, making the CPU a better fit for shoebox-sized systems.
The P8Z77-V Deluxe is the big daddy of the family, at least among the regular boards. As one might expect, it has more slots, ports, and power phases than the others. I quite like the look of Asus' new heatsinks, which remind me a little of the output from a graphical equalizer. They're nothing compared to the hunks of metal on the Maximus V Formula board, though.
A pair of barbs for liquid-cooling tubing can be found on the Formula's VRM heatsink, which contains an internal heatpipe and exactly zero cheesy gun imagery. Asus claims liquid cooling can decrease the temperature of the power regulation circuitry by 18-20°C. The heatsink is said to perform well with traditional air cooling, too, achieving lower temperatures than the heatsinks on the last generation of ROG mobos.
The Formula features three PCI Express x16 slots, so you can bet there's an Extreme model in development for four-way graphics configurations. Also in the works is a new integrated audio solution for the Formula, although Asus wouldn't provide any details. All the company would tell us is that it's been working closely with a well-known DAC maker.
On the microATX side of the ROG line, the Maximus V Gene provides a small-but-potent foundation for image-conscious gamers and extreme overclockers. The Gene has some fancy integrated audio of its own thanks a moat design that isolates the audio traces from the rest of the circuit board. It also features a nifty riser card with one mSATA slot and one Mini PCIe slot.
Asus couldn't get through a motherboard unveiling without talking about component quality, and it's particularly jazzed about the capacitors on the ROG boards. They're a higher grade than the ones used in the Sabertooth series, Asus says, and were chosen specifically for how they perform in highly overclocked systems.
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