ASUS Asus Maximus V Extreme vs EVGA Z77 FTW (Part 1)

11/16/2012 9:12:40 AM

When you absolutely have to have the fastest PC in the room, accept no substitutes

While the vast majority of us plump for sensible hardware at sensible prices there are others whose ideal PC is a bank balance-destroying electricity bill-mangling giant of multi-GPU engineering. This review then is the latter, as we pi t two of the most premium Z77 boards against each other-the Asus Maximus V Extreme and EVGA Z77 FTW.

Description: Description: ASUS Maximus V Extreme and EVGA Z77 FTW

ASUS Maximus V Extreme and EVGA Z77 FTW

The Extreme is the larger at 305mm x 272mm and, as Asus’ current flagship board, it’s stuffed with extras to complement the Z77 chipset. Alongside the two large banks of VRMs and accompanying aluminum heartsick, the Extreme sports five PCI-E graphics slots, running one at 16x or five at 8x. These slots are connected to a PLX splitting chip beneath the backlit Republic of Gamers logo, which enables the board to support up to 4-way SLI and CrossFireX. There's also a single 1x PCI-E 2 slot, but this is blocked if you opt for a 4-way SLI dual-slot GPU setup.

Elsewhere, there are on-board power and reset buttons, a POST code reader, a dual BIOS arrangement with an on-board switch and a raft of extras for professional over clockers. These range from Asus' Subzero Sense ports, which enable you to accurately monitor system temperatures when cooling with LN2, to a VGA hotwire array of pin-outs for soldering on your own voltage regulators. These aren't particularly useful features unless you have a can of LN2 on hand though.

More practical is a set of PCI-E debug switches, with which you can enable and disable PCI-E slots. There are also on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the inclusion of Asus' OC-Key. The OC key is particularly handy, connecting to your DVI output and displaying a visual overlay showing real-time clock speeds and temperatures.

The Extreme is also the first board we've seen with Intel's Thunderbolt port. Its peak bi-directional speed of 10Gb/sec (1.25GB/sec) and ability to daisy-chain both display and storage devices makes it an intriguing proposition, not one that's essential yet.

There's also the requisite truck-load of USB and SATA ports. The rear I/O offers four USB 3 ports and four USB 2 ports, with an extra four of each available via on-board headers in the board's lower right-hand corner. Asus has expanded on the usual four SATA 3Gbps and two SATA 6Gbps ports of the Z77 chipset too, with an ASMedia controller offering an additional (albeit slower) four SATA 6Gbps ports. There's also an mSATA connection via a daughterboard connected at the top of the rear I/O pane, below which you'll find a CMOS reset and BIOS flashback switches.

As Asus' designated 'bonkers board' (not an official title), the Extreme also carries extra power connectors. The 8-pin EPS12V connector is joined by an optional 4-pin connector, while a 6-pin PCI-E connector sits above the expansion slots for multiple graphics cards. Basically, it’s the most comprehensively featured board we’ve handled to date.

Description: the Asus Maximus V Extreme

In comparison, EVGA’s Z77 FTW offers fewer features, but still distinguishes itself as a super-high-end board.

Instead of using a wraparound array of VRMs, the Z77 FTW's single large bank sits to the left of the CPU socket, cooled via a single large aluminum heartsick.

It too sports five full-sized 16 x PCI-E3 slots, running with either one slot at 16x, or five at 8x. There's also a single 1x PCI-E 2 slot but, as with the Asus, this is blocked if you kit out the board with the full complement of four dual-slot graphics cards.

On-board extras include a triple-BIOS switch, power, reset and CMOS-clear buttons, a POST code reader that doubles as a CPU temperature readout, and an actively cooled chipset, courtesy of a low-profile 40mm fan. There's also a handy array of switches for enabling/disabling the PCI-E slots-useful for troubleshooting multi-GPU setups - and an array of voltage read-out pins above the DIMM slots.

Looking to the rear of the board, the EVGA has six USB 2 ports and four USB 3 ports (with another four USB 2 and two USB 3 ports available via no-board headers), alongside a pair of eSATA ports powered by a Marvell controller. Dual Marvell 1 Gb/sec Ethernet ports (compared to the Extreme's single Intel 1 Gb/sec port) and a CMOS reset switch are also useful additions. Meanwhile, on-board display output is handled by a single mini­DisplayPort connector

The Z77 FTW also boasts lots of additional power connectors for use when extreme overclocking or if you use multiple graphics cards. Next to the 8-pin EPS12Vconnectoris an optional 8-pin connector, and there's a pair of 6-pin PCI-E connectors at the top and bottom of the bank of PCI-E slots too. As an extra neat touch, the 24-pin ATX connector is also equipped with a 90-degree adaptor, helping to make that top-end build look even neater.

Description: EVGA’s Z77 FTW

While both boards are loaded with extras to deal with even the pickiest of demands, it's clear that the Extreme is the better equipped of the two, with Thunderbolt, WiFi and Bluetooth being the most practical advantages. For those considering a 4-way SLI setup, the Extreme is also the only one of the two to include a 4-way SLI bridge, with the Z77 FTW only bundling dual-card and triple-card bridges.


Fitting our test Intel Core i7-3770K in each board, we found the Z77 FTW had an immediate disadvantage at stock frequencies, as its CPU only Turbo Boosted to 3.7GHz when all four cores were loaded, while the Extreme boosted to 3.9GHz regardless. This saw the Extreme return an overall score in our Media Benchmarks of 2,399 points, compared to the Z77 FTW's 2,265. In Crysis 2, there was no such gap, though, with both boards producing a playable minimum frame rate of 26fps.

Description: Performance watt

Overclocking performance is the important aspect for high-end boards, though, and we first turned our attentions to the Extreme. Asus' EFI has now matured, so overclocking the Extreme was straightforward. Clock speed multiplier and voltage adjustments are all closely grouped, and we had little trouble reaching our test CPU's maximum of 4.8GHz. To do this, we disabled Intel C-states, used a multiplier of 48x and a base block of 100MHz, set Load Line Calibration to 'Ultra High' and the CPU voltage to 1.33V.

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