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Z87 Hits The High End: Four Sub-$300 Motherboards

Asus Maximus VI Formula

Less than a nickel under this round-up’s $300 limit, Asus’ Maximus VI Formula adds enough features to compete with the –AC version of ASRock’s competing board. That means the Maximus VI Formula includes a Wi-Fi module, which plugs into a pin grid in the upper corner of its I/O panel.

Asus’ I/O panel is packed with more features than meets the eye, since its ROG Connect button also enables USB BIOS Flashback if you hold it for more than three seconds. These two features are Asus-exclusive and can come in quite valuable. USB BIOS Flasback allows firmware updating without any on-board components (even the CPU) installed, using an integrated logic controller that Asus values at around $20. ROG Connect allows users to access overclocking functions from a separate PC via a USB interconnect cable, so that the system can be tuned while running other applications that might have prevented access to its own overclocking GUI.

The Maximus VI Formula does come up a USB 3.0 hub short of its competition, but many overclockers will likely prefer those formerly-mentioned exclusive features. Also competitive are the Maximus VI Formula’s ten internal SATA 6Gb/s ports, four of which are served up by the same pair of ASMedia controllers as what we just saw from ASRock.

Rated at 120 db signal-to-noise ratio, the Maximus VI Formula’s CS4398 DAC edges out the specs of the Z87 OC Formula's NE5532 (115 db). Both boards include mini amplifiers specified for use with high-impedance (600 Ω) headphones. Asus also beats its competition in front-panel audio header placement by moving the connector forward around an inch, allowing easier reach for cables that far-too-often end up being around half an inch too short.

Asus saves a little money by not dropping a PCI Express bridge in front of the Z87 PCH's eight-lane controller. It instead omits the fourth four-lane slot that ASRock exposes. That extra-slow slot isn’t SLI-compatible anyway, so the move makes sense from a technical standpoint. If you find yourself in need of more display connectivity and a low-bandwidth slot does the trick, all three of the Maximus VI Formula’s x1 slots are open-ended. Dropping a longer card into any of them simply requires removing Asus’ ROG Armor decorative cover.

Like all of today’s competitors, the Maximus VI Formula automatically switches from x16-x0-x0 to x8-x8-x0 and x8-x4-x4 modes as the x16 slots are filled. Many gamers will find the Asus board's layout preferable, however, since it has an extra space between the first and second x16-length slots. Some graphics cards require a little more than two slots of separation, and those that need only two slots can still get cooling benefits from the extra breathing room.

The Maximus VI Formula includes a Wi-Fi module that fits its I/O panel, a dual-band antenna, an SLI bridge, Asus’ Q-connector cable-grouping extender, and eight internal SATA cables.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.