Mini-ITX motherboards can be found in almost every motherboard manufacturer’s portfolio these days. Asus has several of these small-form-factor boards in its lineup, capped off by its enthusiast-oriented Republic of Gamers (ROG) line. The Impact models are Asus’ Mini-ITX boards for the Republic of Gamers, and the company has updated the concept for for the Z170 platform with its Maximus VIII Impact.
The limited board area of the Mini-ITX standard places tight constraints on what features and functionality can be integrated into these boards, especially for expansion slots. Enthusiast mobos like the Impact only come with one PCI Express expansion slot, and that space will almost certainly be occupied by a graphics card. As a result, it’s important that the board satisfy as many end-user requirements as possible out of the box.
The Maximus VIII Impact keeps with the same basic layout as its predecessors: the Z97 Maximus VII Impact and the Z87 Maximus VI Impact. This is certainly not a bad thing, because the formula obviously works. The biggest difference in aesthetics is that the expansion ports on the Maximus VIII Impact are now clad in muted grays rather than the striking red of previous designs.
Dimensions of only 6.7″ x 6.7″ (17 x 17 cm) leave Mini-ITX boards with less than 40% of the PCB area compared to their full-sized ATX brethren, and half as much as their microATX counterparts. That’s not a lot of room to for onboard components, especially when we’re still dealing with the same LGA 1151 CPU socket and 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots from those larger motherboards.
To make the most of Mini-ITX’s limited real estate, Asus builds upwards. The best example of this strategy is the daughterboard seen running along the top edge of the board. This houses the Impact’s VRM components.
The Maximus VIII Impact’s daughterboard holds a premium eight-plus-two voltage regulation complex. Digital PWM controllers power eight phases for the CPU and two for the memory. This design should let the Impact hold its own against much larger motherboards in the VRM department. A slim ROG-branded heatsink cools these components. The few VRM components found around the CPU socket feed the processor’s system agent and I/O voltage rails. Just as a reminder, Skylake processors once again rely on the motherboard’s VRM to supply each of the processor’s input voltage rails—the fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) used by previous-generation Haswell chips has fallen out of favor.
Voltage regulation isn’t the only area where we see Asus reaching for the skies. Onboard audio and Wi-Fi also have their own separate riser boards. Those vertical elements are large enough to interfere with CPU coolers that branch out from the socket. This complicates clearances around the CPU socket, which is already closer to the DIMM slots than we’d like.
Here are some measurements showing the distances between the CPU socket and nearby components:
On larger boards, we’re usually most concerned with the proximity of the first PCIe x16 slot to the CPU socket. In the case of the Maximus VIII Impact, it’s the audio riser that’s potentially most troublesome. Thankfully, that riser is only 36 mm tall. The VRM daughterboard is slightly taller, at 42 mm. Those who plan to install big heatsinks that overhang the CPU socket area should check clearances to avoid any nasty surprises.
Tight clearances on the Impact aren’t just a problem for large air coolers. The beefy water block of the Cooler Master Nepton 240M liquid cooler we use for testing runs afoul of the capacitors to the left of the CPU socket. This conflict prevents the block from making sufficient contact with the CPU’s heat spreader, removing two of the four possible orientations as workable options. Clearance issues between the DIMM slots and the hose connections to the block ruled out a third possible orientation. We finally pointed the hose side of the water block toward the I/O ports.
The two DDR4 DIMM slots can hold up to 32GB of memory when they’re filled with 16GB sticks. For single-DIMM configurations, Asus recommends using the slot closest to the CPU socket. To get the best performance, though, you’ll need to fill both slots for dual-channel operation. With the DIMM slots caught between the VRM daughterboard and the PCIe x16 slot, swapping DIMMs is likely going to involve removing the video card first. That said, I’m happy to see two full-sized DIMM slots rather than the SO-DIMM alternative. Asus also uses slots with locking mechanisms on only one end, which makes life a little easier.
The Maximus VIII Impact’s single x16 PCIe slot is fed with sixteen Gen3 lanes coming from the processor. Once the graphics card is installed here, getting to the SATA ports may prove difficult. That problem will only get worse once the board is in your case, so be sure to connect your storage before installing your GPU.
Thanks to Intel’s 22-nm fabrication process, the Z170 chipset has a TDP of only 6W. This allows Asus to get by with the slim heatsink seen directly above the PCIe x16 slot. Immediately to the left of the chipset heatsink we can see Intel’s Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller, labeled Intel DSL6540. For the Maximus VIII Impact, Alpine Ridge is acting purely as a USB 3.1 controller with no support for Thunderbolt 3. It is connected to four of the chipset’s Gen3 PCIe lanes, endowing it with 32 Gbps of bandwidth. The tiny Intel chip to the left of the PCIe x16 slot is the I219-V Gigabit Ethernet controller. It connects to a single PCIe lane from the chipset.
Here’s a graphical representation of how the Maximus VIII Impact uses the platform’s PCIe lanes:
Now, on to the Impact’s storage subsystem.
Storage, ports and audio
The Impact’s SATA ports reside in the bottom right corner of the board, between the chipset heatsink and the DIMM slots.
Here we find four standard SATA 6Gbps ports. Given that the board will most likely be installed in small Mini-ITX enclosures, four SATA ports seems ample. Asus decided to eschew any support for SATA Express on the Impact. That omission is no great loss, considering how few drives on the market support the standard. Instead, the Maximus VIII Impact puts all its next-gen storage eggs in the NVMe basket with a single U.2 connector on the other side of the board.
The U.2 connector is normally sandwiched between the Wi-Fi card and the audio riser. Removing the SupremeFX audio card, we get a much better look at this next-gen storage goodness. PCIe SSDs connected via this interface, like Intel’s 750 Series SSD, get four Gen3 lanes from the chipset. Those lanes give PCIe storage devices up to 32 Gb/s (4 GB/s) of bandwidth, an impressive increase over their SATA-based counterparts.
Despite the board space it saves, the U.2 connector is a bit of an odd duck in the world of storage devices right now. It would have been nice if the Maximus VIII Impact came bundled with a U.2 to an M.2 adapter so that owners could use more common M.2 PCIe SSDs in the near term. U.2 devices are often 2.5″ SSDs that need bulky cabling and a dedicated drive bay. Both of those demands can be liabilities in Mini-ITX cases, and gumstick M.2 SSDs sidestep them entirely.
A welcome side effect of the limited expansion options forced by the Impact’s diminutive board dimensions is that there are no pesky “sharing” rules that place restrictions on which storage ports can be used simultaneously. What you see is what you get.
With the audio riser removed, we can also see the board’s eight voltage monitoring points below the U.2 connector. Asus’ engineers are using almost every square millimeter of board real estate. Hopefully those who would use these voltage monitoring points aren’t going to be needing audio.
Just to the right of the U.2 connector we can see the Impact’s socketed firmware chip. Slightly above and to the right is a two-pin header that connects to the CMOS battery. Previous iterations of the Impact board had the CMOS battery mounted vertically on the board’s surface. Presumably, moving the CMOS battery off the board itself freed up valuable PCB space for other components. Once again, it’s impressive how much functionality Asus crammed into just under 45 square inches.
One area where the Maximus VIII Impact has been forced to go on a diet is in the fan header department. The board itself supports just two fan headers: one CPU, and one system. Enthusiast-class Mini-ITX systems often require more than just one system fan header, though. To solve this problem, Asus bundles one of its fan extension cards with the board.
This extension module connects to the EXT_FAN header on the top-left corner of the Impact, and it provides three more four-pin fan headers and three more connectors for standard temperature probes. Thermistors attached to the fan module supply reference temperatures to the fan control intelligence managed by the board’s firmware and utility software. This bumps the number of temperature-controlled fan headers that the board can support to five. A very respectable number, even by full-sized ATX standards.
The Maximus VIII Impact’s rear port cluster is part control panel, part I/O. Starting at the left, we have S/PDIF audio output. This port passes a pristine digital signal to compatible speakers and receivers, neatly bypassing the pitfalls associated with onboard analog audio. The digital out natively supports stereo playback and surround-sound sources like movies with pre-encoded tracks. Bundled DTS Connect software adds on-the-fly encoding for multi-channel output, allowing surround-sound game audio to be piped through the S/PDIF out, as well.
For tapping into Skylake’s integrated GPU, the Impact offers a single HDMI 1.4b connector, thanks to an ASMedia ASM1442K level shifter. Folks with discrete graphics cards don’t have to concern themselves with the onboard display outputs, of course.
A small vertical riser provides a handful of buttons and a two-digit diagnostic display. Asus calls this the Impact Control module. The top-most square button restores firmware defaults. The square button below is for Asus’ USB BIOS Flashback feature. The orange button powers on the system, while the black one resets it. Having these functions accessible outside the case is a huge bonus for Mini-ITX systems, whose internals are often too crowded to poke around inside easily.
A stack of four USB 3.0 ports, in blue, are connected directly to the chipset. The Impact also provides two more USB 3.0 ports from an internal header. The bottom-most port is the one that you’ll need to connect your keyboard to in order to use Asus’ KeyBot functionality. KeyBot allows you to configure and assign macros to specific keys and pre-record sequences of characters for immediate play back on a single key press. You can also assign hotkeys for tasks like powering on, clearing the CMOS, booting directly to the firmware, and more. The KeyBot software works in conjunction with onboard hardware to make this possible.
The USB 3.0 port second from the bottom is used for the USB BIOS Flashback functionality. This feature lets one update the firmware with nothing more than a USB thumb drive and a power supply. Although it’s not a feature you’ll use every day, BIOS Flashback could save you from having to beg, borrow, or steal a supported CPU to flash the firmware for a newer chip.
To the right of the USB 3.0 port stack are the connectors for the wireless antenna. Wi-Fi connectivity is provided by a Qualcomm Atheros QCA61x4A 802.11ac controller with a 2×2 antenna and dual-band support for 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks alike. This chip supports Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) and Bluetooth 4.1. The Wi-Fi adapter itself is an M.2 2230 card that connects to the board with a vertical M.2 slot adjacent to the USB stack.
The Gigabit Ethernet port is powered by Intel’s I219-V controller. Below this port are USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, powered by the onboard Alpine Ridge USB controller.
We generally expect motherboard makers to ship a cushioned I/O shield with their high-end products, and Asus doesn’t disappoint on this front. In the Impact’s box, we get a nicely cushioned I/O shield. Our Band-Aids can safely stay in the medicine cabinet today.
After all those words, it’s time to break out the crayons for a graphical representation of the Maximus VIII Impact’s port cluster:
Similar to previous Maximus Impact boards, analog audio is handled on an entirely separate audio riser, which Asus calls the “SupremeFX Impact III.” This card gets the sensitive analog signals and components off the main PCB, away from the electrically noisy environment below. EMI shielding around the audio board could help matters even more. The SupremeFX Impact III is something of a hybrid between a discrete sound card and a more traditional integrated audio implementation, where all the components are on the motherboard PCB.
Those three audio jacks have a little something extra up their sleeves. Each one is back-lit with a different colored LED: red for microphone in, green for line out, and blue for line-in. This can help you identify which output is which in the dark. It also looks pretty cool.
At the heart of the Impact’s audio implementation is Realtek’s familiar ALC1150 codec, backed up by premium audio components. Moving left, we can see high-end Nichicon SW series capacitors, an ESS Sabre ES9023P DAC, a Texas Instruments RC4580 headphone amplifier, a dedicated high-precision clock generator, and an NEC de-pop relay. The headphone amp is rated for headphones up to 600 ohms, and it automatically detects headphone impedance. That should cover most common audio headgear.
This audio hardware is paired with Asus’ own Sonic Studio and Sonic Radar software. Sonic Studio is similar to the Nahimic software that we looked at in the MSI Z170A Gaming M5 review. It provides virtual surround support, a handful of tunable audio effects and an equalizer, as well as some default profiles for music, movies, and gaming.
Sonic Studio also has options for tuning incoming and outgoing microphone feeds, and it can route a recording or streaming session through its software stack.
Sonic Radar is an Asus-developed application that provides a visual representation of surround-sound game audio. It provides an overlay that shows the direction in-game sounds are coming from. The overlay itself is highly configurable with adjustable opacity, size, and positioning.
Sonic Radar’s different filtering modes allow you to focus on specific kinds of sounds: gunshots, explosions, voices, etc. Settings can be toggled using either the application itself, or via hotkeys.
My ears were happy during our audio testing. The analog output didn’t produce any unwanted feedback or noise with the system at idle or under load. That’s a good thing, because we’d have to resort to a USB sound card or another external solution if the Impact’s onboard audio wasn’t up to snuff.
The Maximus VIII Impact’s firmware is almost identical to the firmware on Asus’ other Z170 boards. It’s been given a once over with the Republic of Gamers paint brush, though.
One other obvious difference is that the first time you enter the firmware you’ll land in the Advanced Interface:
You can still use the EZ Mode interface by swapping to it using the F7 key, or by setting it as the default interface that appears when you enter the firmware.
Given the board’s target market of gamers and tweakers, I think it makes sense to default to the Advanced Mode interface. That is most likely where most users will spend the bulk of their time. The Republic of Gamers treatment means that the cool blue tones of the channel boards’ interfaces have been replaced with ROG-style red.
Rather than rehash what we’ve already covered in the Z170-A review, I’ll instead pull out a couple of the high points.
Let’s start with fan controls. The firmware’s fan control are full-featured and offer the same options as the board’s Windows software. There’s a built-in calibration routine to determine the exact speed range of each connected fan. Four pre-baked fan curves complement a manual mode that allows the creation of fan response profiles by simply moving three points on a graph of temperature and fan speeds. If you don’t want to install the Windows utilities—or you’re not running Windows—you still have complete control over your system’s fans.
The fan control logic works with both three-pin DC and four-pin PWM fans, and it gives you complete control over both the two onboard headers, as well as the three on the fan extension card.
The temperature source that is used to govern the fan speed for the system fan header and the three fan extension card headers can be the CPU, motherboard, chipset, the temperature probe connected directly to the motherboard, or one of the three temperature probes connected to the extension card. This offers a great deal of flexibility in managing the system’s thermals.
What once would have seemed like science fiction—motherboard firmware that can connect to Asus’ servers, download the latest UEFI update, and flash your board all by itself—is now available to us all. This Internet awareness takes the hassle out of updates, and it reminds me just how far we’ve come.
If there is one complaint that could be made about the Impact’s firmware, it’s that the interface is rendered at only 1024×768. That said, the GUI still looks great, even if the text and graphics aren’t quite as crisp as firmware interfaces sporting 1080p resolutions.
Just as with its firmware, the Maximus VIII Impact’s suite of tweaking software carries over from Asus’ other Z170 boards with a fresh coat of ROG paint.
As we’ve come to expect, Asus’ AI Suite is loaded with tweaking options for everything from multipliers and clock speeds to voltages and power controls. Most variables can be altered either by dragging mouse-friendly sliders around or by keying in values directly.
AI Suite’s Fan Xpert 3 function provides extensive fan speed controls similar to what’s available in the firmware. We’ve consistently been impressed with the quality of Asus’ software fan controls, and AI Suite doesn’t mess with success on this point.
By far one of the most impressive components of AI Suite is the auto-tuning wizard. This software-based wizard has more power than its firmware-based counterpart.
Not only does this wizard scale up clock speeds iteratively and test stability at each step, just like an enthusiast would, it’s also highly configurable. You can set temperature thresholds, voltage limits, and the frequency at which to start testing—either stock speeds or something higher. There are even configurable options for the duration and nature of the stress test. Do you want to include memory stress tests? How about an AVX workout to really stress those vector units? With a few simple mouse clicks, Asus’ helpful little overclocking minion sets off to do your bidding.
Saved profiles can be loaded manually or via the Asus Turbo App feature, which invokes them automatically based on application-specific preferences. Individual apps can be tied to a combination of performance, fan, audio, and networking profiles. The audio and networking settings are fairly simplistic compared to the other profiles, but they make Turbo App more of a full-fledged system tuner than a selective overclocker.
When it comes to tweaking memory timings from within Windows, Asus’ MemTweakIt utility should be your first stop. If there’s a knob that can be tuned in Skylake’s memory controller, you’ll probably find a corresponding dial buried in one of the timing options tabs.
Another useful little tool is the boot settings utility. It provides a quick shortcut to enter the firmware, without having to resort to mashing the delete key furiously on a reboot. In the age of fast boot, these are handy settings to have.
Asus also ships two RAM-based utilities with the Impact: RAMDisk and RAMCache. RAMDisk, as its name suggests, lets you carve off a portion of your system memory for use as a drive. RAMCache, on the other hand, allocates a chunk of your RAM to use as a cache for secondary storage, either solid state or spinning disk. These tools may be appealing to folks with an abundance of memory, but it’s important to keep in mind DRAM’s volatile nature—if you lose system power, the contents of your RAM disk or cache will be lost.
That’s enough time kicking the tires. Let’s take the Maximus VIII Impact for an overclocking spin.
A given processor’s top stable frequency is mostly determined by the limitations of that particular chip—also known as the silicon lottery—and the CPU cooler one straps on top. Still, whether your particular CPU is the golden child of the wafer or the runt of the litter, you want a motherboard that makes the process of finding out as painless as possible.
We tested the Maximus VIII Impact’s overclocking chops using a Core i7-6700K CPU with Cooler Master Nepton’s 240M strapped on top. The Nepton has a 240-mm radiator that can put a ton of cooling power in Mini-ITX cases where big tower heatsinks just can’t go, so it actually makes a fair bit of sense to pair it with the Impact. This liquid cooler should do a good job of keeping our four Skylake cores from getting too toasty.
First up, we gave the firmware’s EZ Tuning Wizard a shot. After letting it know that we were after an overclock for our gaming and encoding tasks, and that we had an all-in-one liquid cooler, the wizard boosted clocks to just over 4.6GHz using a 45X multiplier and a 103MHz base clock. To support these speeds, the firmware supplied the CPU with 1.456V. This config resulted in thermal throttling during our Prime95 stress test. The i7-6700K’s temperatures rose to 98°C within seconds. I was curious to see whether a less demanding workload would be stable, so I fired up Cinebench and kicked off its multithreaded CPU rendering test. That task completed successfully with no signs of thermal throttling, and CPU temperatures topped out at 76°C.
AI Suite’s auto-tuner was next. We configured it to start from the CPU’s default ratio and enabled the software’s AVX testing and its memory stress test. After the process finished, AI Suite settled on a 46X Turbo multiplier for 1-2 core loads and 44X with 3-4 cores engaged, on a slightly boosted base clock of 100.7MHz. Our chip was perfectly stable during our Prime95 stress test, which pegged it at 4.4GHz and 1.392V. Package temperatures reached 73°C, and we saw no signs of throttling.
With all of the automated overclock testing out of the way, we moved on to manual tweaking through the firmware. Using multipliers alone, with the voltages on their “auto” defaults, we made it all the way to a stable 4.6GHz. At this speed, the firmware supplied 1.408V to the CPU, and temperatures maxed out at 76°C under our Prime95 load.
While a stable 4.6GHz clock speed was firmly within our grasp, pushing any higher was unsuccessful. When we set a 47X multiplier, the firmware dialed in a voltage of 1.424V for us. This gave us BSODs within minutes of starting the Prime95 stress test. Increasing the core voltage manually saved us from that BSOD, but ultimately one of our worker threads would encounter errors. Pushing the voltage any further caused thermal throttling step in to quash our dreams of higher speeds.
Our journey ended with a very respectable overclock of 4.6GHz, which is only 100MHz less than the highest we’ve ever managed to achieve with this particular Core i7-6700K and Nepton 240M cooler. Our Maximus VIII Impact can certainly keep up with the competition when it comes to overclocking.
Z170-based boards feature a revised reference clock architecture that decouples the PCIe and DMI bus speeds from the base clock. This setup gets base clock overclocking back in the game because it allows one to tweak the base clock without having to worry about running other system devices out of spec. As a quick test, we set the base clock to 200MHz in the firmware and left everything else on “auto.” The system booted perfectly, and our CPU was stable at 4.4GHz:
With a 200MHz base clock conquered, we were hungry for more. Bumping up the base clock in 33MHz increments, we got all the way to 266MHz:
To get us here, the firmware lowered the core multiplier to 17X, and it ran the uncore in sync with the cores. On the memory front, we had to first select our XMP profile and dial up the base clock before decreasing the memory multiplier. This approach let us keep our DIMMs humming along around 3000 MT/s. This config worked perfectly, and we were stable at just over 4.5GHz.
Pushing the base clock to 300MHz had the firmware drop the core multiplier to 16X. At 4.8GHz, we could boot into Windows, but our 6700K wasn’t able to pass our Prime95 stress test. Attempting to lower the core multiplier to 15X left to the system in a state where it wouldn’t even POST. Still, a 266MHz base clock tweak is impressive.
Overclocking our Skylake chip on the Maximus VIII Impact was a very smooth process. Not only was tweaking clock speeds a breeze in Asus’ firmware, but the auto-tuners in the firmware and AI Suite were easy-to-use, one-click solutions that gave good results. Auto-tuning solutions like these can be very beneficial for newbies as they get started with overclocking, and as a starting point for more seasoned tweakers. I’m constantly impressed by the configurability of the software-based auto-tuner.
Now that we’ve had our fun tweaking, let’s see how the Impact’s performance stacks up.
Since many traditional chipset functions now reside on the CPU die and there’s only a handful of third-party peripheral controllers out there these days, we rarely see meaningful performance differences between motherboards anymore. That said, we still test system performance when we review motherboards to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
When it comes to testing motherboard performance, we’ve usually gathered benchmark results using the CPU’s peak stock memory multipliers. Since DDR4 is so new, however, and Skylake’s 2133MHz maximum stock DDR4 speed is so conservative, we’ve continued a practice we began with our X99 reviews. We test our Z170 boards with the memory clocked at the highest XMP profile speed we can attain while keeping the CPU at its stock clocks.
We tested the Maximus VIII Impact against Asus’ own Z170-A, Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming 7 and Z170X-Gaming G1, and MSI’s Z170A Gaming M5. All the boards were able to keep our DDR4 DIMMs clocking along at 3000 MT/s while maintaining stock CPU clocks, so the results below were gathered with these settings.
When we power on the Impact, it boots slower than the speediest contender by over six seconds. Modern systems have perfectly functional sleep and hibernate modes that can mitigate these boot times, though, so we don’t think the lengthy boot time is anything to worry about.
While one’s choice of motherboard might not affect performance much, it can have a notable impact on power consumption. We measured total system power draw (sans monitor and speakers) at the wall socket for five minutes of idle time at the Windows desktop. We then repeated the test under a full load of Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo running at the same time.
The Maximus VIII Impact has the lowest power consumption under load, but it ends up in the middle of the pack under idle conditions. The most interesting result is that under load, the Impact manages to shave off 7W of power when Asus’ EPU power-saving feature is enabled. This is a larger power savings than we’ve seen from previous Asus boards, including the Z170-A.
The following page is loaded with detailed motherboard specifications, system configurations, and test procedures. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep—or you just really love tables filled with data—feel free to peruse. For those who jump straight to the conclusion, my lips are sealed.
We’ve already gone over the Maximus VIII Impact’s most important details, but for completeness, here’s the full spec breakdown.
|Platform||Intel Z170, socket LGA1151|
|DIMM slots||2 DDR4, 32GB max|
|Expansion slots||1 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU|
|Storage I/O||4 SATA RAID 6Gbps via Z170
1 U.2 via Z170 (PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe)
|Audio||5.1-channel HD via Realtek ALC1150 with ESS Sabre ES9023P DAC
Real-time digital encoding via DTS Connect
Asus Sonic Studio and Sonic Radar
|Wireless||Qualcomm Atheros QCA61x4A 802.11ac 2×2 dual band 2.4/5 GHz supporting MU-MIMO
Qualcomm Atheros Bluetooth 4.1
|Ports||1 HDMI 1.4b via CPU
2 USB 3.1 (1 Type A and 1 Type C) via Intel Alpine Ridge controller
4 USB 3.0 via Z170
2 USB 3.0 via internal header and Z170
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Intel I219V
3 configurable analog ports (front, center, rear, mic, headphone, line in)
1 digital S/PDIF output
|Overclocking||All/per-core Turbo multiplier: 8-83X
Base clock: 40-650MHz
Min. CPU cache ratio: 8-83X
Max. CPU cache ratio: 8-83X
Base:DRAM ratio: 100:133, 100:100
DRAM clock: 800-4266MHz
CPU voltage: 0.6-1.7V
CPU VCCIO voltage: 0.7-1.8V
CPU system agent voltage: 0.7-1.8V
CPU standby voltage: 0.8-1.8V
PLL termination voltage: 0.36-2.1V
DRAM voltage: 1.0-2.0V
DRAM CTRL ref. voltage: 0.395-0.63V
DRAM DATA ref voltage A, B: 0-0.63V
DMI Voltage: 0.3-1.9V
PCH core voltage: 0.7-1.8V
LN2 mode jumper
Slow mode jumper
Probelt voltage measurement points
|Fan control||1 x CPU (DC and PWM), 1 x SYS (DC and PWM), 3 x SYS via fan extension card (DC and PWM)
Predefined silent, standard, and turbo speed profiles
Manual profile with three temp/speed points per fan
Our testing methods
As a reward for making it this far, you may now gaze upon our test system:
Performance testing and overclocking were carried out on an open-air testbed.
We used the following configurations for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6700K|
|Cooler||Cooler Master Nepton 240M|
|Motherboard||Asus ROG Maximus VIII Impact||Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming G1||Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7||MSI Z170A Gaming M5||Asus Z170-A|
|Platform hub||Intel Z170|
|Audio||SupremeFX Impact III (ALC1150)||Creative Sound Core3D (CA0132)||Creative Sound Core3D (CA0132)||Realtek ALC1150||Realtek ALC892|
|Memory size||8GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 SDRAM at 3000MHz|
|Graphics||Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost with Catalyst 15.7 drivers|
|Storage||OCZ ARC 100 120GB|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master V750 Semi-Modular|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro x64|
Thanks to Antec, Cooler Master, Corsair, and OCZ for providing the hardware used in our test systems. Our thanks to the motherboard makers for providing the boards, too.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- 7-Zip 9.20 64-bit
- TrueCrypt 7.1a
- Chrome 40.0.2214.115
- x264 r2431
- DiRT Showdown demo
- Fraps 3.5.99
- Cinebench R15
- Unigine Valley 1.0
Some further notes on our test methods:
- All testing was conducted with motherboard power-saving options enabled. These features can sometimes lead to slightly slower performance, particularly in peripheral tests that don’t cause the CPU to kick into high gear. We’d rather get a sense of motherboard performance with real-world configurations, though; we’re not as interested in comparing contrived setups with popular features disabled.
- DiRT Showdown was tested with ultra detail settings, 4X MSAA, and a 1920×1200 display resolution. We used Fraps to log a 60-second snippet of gameplay from the demo’s first race. To offset the fact that our gameplay sequence can’t be repeated exactly, we ran this test five times on each system.
- Power consumption was measured at the wall socket for the complete system, sans monitor and speakers, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. The full-load test combined Cinebench’s multithreaded CPU rendering test with the Unigine Valley DirectX 11 demo, which we ran with extreme settings in a 1280×720 window. We then recorded the peak power consumption during the Cinebench run. Our idle measurement represents the low over a five-minute period sitting at the Windows desktop.
- Our system build was performed using all of the hardware components listed in the configuration table above. Completing this process as our readers would allows us to easily identify any pain points that arise from assembling a system with this particular motherboard.
The tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. All tests except power consumption, were run at least three times. Unless otherwise indicated, we reported the median result for each test. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
The Maximus VIII Impact is the third generation of Mini-ITX motherboards from Asus’ premium Republic of Gamers family. Since the first Impact board came out, Asus has been busy refining its formula for a premium small-form-factor board. At $250 online, the Impact is the most expensive Mini-ITX LGA 1151 board on the market right now, more expensive than a lot of premium ATX boards. That price sets the bar quite high for this mobo. We’re happy to report that the Impact delivers, though, aside from one minor complaint.
We do wish Asus had found room for an M.2 slot on the Maximus VIII Impact. The included U.2 connector may save board space, but few next-gen storage devices can plug into this connector right now. To be fair, there are worse things in life than being stuck with Intel’s 750 Series SSD, but the U.2 version of that drive needs a bulky combo cable for power and data, as well as a dedicated drive bay. Those space requirements could be a liability in tiny Mini-ITX cases, and M.2 gumstick SSDs neatly avoid them. Gigabyte’s GA-Z170N-Gaming 5 motherboard hides an M.2 slot on its back side, so the feature isn’t unprecedented on Mini-ITX mobos.
Despite that one hitch, the Impact still packs some impressive hardware into a tiny board. We get USB 3.1 courtesy of Intel’s Alpine Ridge controller, a VRM array that wouldn’t be out of place on a high-end ATX board, an impressive onboard audio implementation, built-in Wi-Fi, and more. Performance is right up there with full-size ATX boards, too. The hardware itself is backed up with Asus’ excellent firmware and software. The firmware and Windows utilities are friendly enough for newbies to get the most out of them while presenting enough knobs and sliders to keep even the most die-hard tweakers happy.
On the overclocking front, the Impact got our Core i7-6700K to within 100MHz of the best overclocking results we’ve achieved on any board. It’s also no slouch when it comes to base clock overclocking, with a stable speed of 266MHz. It’s nice to know that if you opt to build a Mini-ITX system with the Impact, the board won’t be the limiting factor for overclocking.
Asus’ fan control suite remains the best in the business. The Impact offers one of the most comprehensive fan control setups we’ve seen on a Mini-ITX board, too. Its included fan riser card lets system builders take full control of system fans in Mini-ITX cases without resorting to annoying stopgaps like fan splitters or manual fan controllers. Little touches like the power buttons and diagnostic display in the rear port cluster, along with the cushioned I/O shield, make building a small system with the Impact that much more pleasant, too.
Overall, it’s impressive how much good stuff Asus has crammed into such a small motherboard. If you’re in the market for a premium Z170 board for Mini-ITX systems, the Maximus VIII Impact would be an excellent choice to build your small system around.