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 1024x768. 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.