Firmware and software interfaces
Asus motherboards have some of the best firmware interfaces around. The Impact is no exception; its UEFI is largely similar to what's found on Asus' standard 8-series motherboards, just with different colors and a few extras. One of those extras is an integrated secure erase tool:
This tool empties all of the SSD's flash blocks, putting the drive into its highest-performance state. It's great for benchmarking, and I'd love to have the capability integrated into the firmware of our storage test rigs. Keep in mind that secure erasing wipes all user data, though. Most PC users will only need to secure-erase drives when setting up a new system or reinstalling their operating system.
In addition to its specialized SSD tool, the UEFI boasts the usual array of overclocking and tweaking options. It also has a bunch of esoteric tweaking settings not typically found on more pedestrian motherboards. These options are largely confined to a "Tweaker's Paradise" section of the firmware, and most of them are way over my head. I didn't even know "termination anti-aliasing" was a thing.
The extras settings are nice, but the underlying foundation is what makes the firmware really great. The interface is easy to navigate, the cursor tracking is perfectly smooth, and the options are laid out intelligently. Frequent tuners can customize a special panel with their favorite options from anywhere in the firmware. There are configurable shortcuts, too, plus a separate EZ interface with fewer options and more graphical flair.
The firmware isn't perfect, of course. I've been spoiled by the 1080p resolution of Gigabyte's 8-series UEFI, so Asus' standard-def GUI looks a little lo-fi. The firmware engages in illicit overclocking, too. The CPU multiplier is set to "sync all cores" mode by default, which causes the Core i7-4770K to run 200MHz faster than stock when all its cores are engaged. Most systems should be able to handle the higher frequency without issue, but I don't like the behavior. Motherboard firmware should never overclock the CPU without the user's permission—and certainly not as part of the default configuration.
Asus contends Republic of Gamers boards like the Maximus VI Impact are aimed at a performance-oriented crowd that wants this sneaky overclocking feature enabled. If you ask me, it's all about gaining a little bit of an edge in benchmarks. Most motherboard makers engage in similar trickery, and they've all been doing it for ages. Fortunately, the Impact behaves normally if the core ratio setting is changed to "auto."
I'm inclined to forgive the Impact's few firmware transgressions because of all the other goodness packed into the UEFI. Again, it's the little things, like having three distinctly different ways to apply extra voltage to the CPU. Configuration changes are logged and displayed upon exiting the firmware, providing a quick confirmation of what's been modified during the session. Users can save text notes directly to the firmware. The fan controls are pretty flexible, too.
Temperature-based fan speed control is available for all four onboard headers. The options are relatively basic, but they're still better than what's available on most other motherboards. They're also complemented by more robust fan controls in Asus' AI Suite software for Windows.
This motherboard tuning utility is the best I've used. Its fan controls are especially robust, with click-and-drag speed profiles that allow precise fine-tuning. Spin-up and spin-down times can be configured separately, allowing users to control how quickly the fans respond to changes in temperature. There's also a calibration function that gauges the actual speed range of connected spinners.
In addition to robust fan controls, AI Suite is loaded with overclocking options, power tuning functions, and system monitoring readouts. The options provide enough depth for most tuning endeavors, and newbies should be able to find their way around without too much trouble. The interface is laid out intelligently and skinned beautifully. Asus simply has the best motherboard software around.
The firmware and software both feature automated overclocking schemes. However, they rely on preset profiles rather than the iterative auto-tuner available with Asus' standard 8-series boards. The company tells us the audience for ROG boards typically prefers to overclock manually, making smarter auto-tuning less critical.
With our Core i7-4770K, pre-tuned profiles are available for 4.2, 4.4, and 4.6GHz. They all employ higher Turbo multipliers to hit those speeds, and the multipliers are applied across all cores evenly. Even the most aggressive profile limits the CPU voltage to 1.3V, which is a sensible ceiling for Haswell.
To test the Impact's overclocking chops, I kicked our Corsair H80 water cooler into high gear and went for broke with the 4.6GHz profile. The AI Suite software did its thing, and after a quick reboot, the system was running our combined CPU and GPU stress test at 4.6GHz. CPU temperatures spiked as high as 80°C, but the machine was stable, and there was no evidence of throttling after a few minutes under load.
Next, I turned my attention to manual overclocking via the firmware. I started by increasing the CPU multiplier, and 4.5GHz came easily, with no need to modify any other settings. 4.6GHz proved more elusive. The system booted at that speed without issue, but it either ran too hot, causing throttling, or it produced BSOD errors under load, causing a system crash.
I couldn't find a combination of voltage and power settings that kept the CPU stable at 4.6GHz. A second auto-tuned run at that speed proved more successful at first, but a BSOD error appeared after less than 10 minutes under load.
Haswell overclocking is typically limited by one's cooling apparatus and the characteristics of individual chips. This particular CPU-and-cooler combo is usually good for 4.5-4.6GHz. The Maximus VI Impact takes this CPU as far as the best Z87 boards we've tested. Meanwhile, the Impact's firmware and software interfaces make the overclocking process easy, regardless of whether you're a seasoned enthusiast or an uninitiated newbie.
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