We've looked at a number of Z97 motherboards since Intel lifted the veils on its new chipset. One thing was pretty clear, though, which was that only particularly poor overclockers have failed to push our Core i7-4770K to its maximum of 4.8GHz and most have performed similarly with more recent Devil's Canyon CPUs too.
The question that begs to be answered is why spend more than about £130 on a motherboard like Asus' excellent Maximus VII Ranger, which is a great overclocker and sports many of the features its more expensive rivals offer too. Asus's Maximus VII Gene was one motherboard that was undoubtedly worth paying the premium, thanks to its superb looks, extensive software features and high-end on-board audio.
However, another motherboard that most people consider is usually worth drooling over in the £200+ price bracket is the Formula, and today we're looking at the Z97 incarnation of this highly desirable range - the Maximus VII Formula.
Looks-wise we have no complaints. This is one great-looking motherboard, although the large plastic shroud does add a lot of bulk, especially around the top end of the board. Apart from a few subtle details, it's a very similar-looking product to its predecessor too. However, there are plenty of additional features this time round.
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While the Gene, Hero and Ranger lack SATA Express, it's here in abundance via the Intel Z97 and ASMedia chipsets. While there's no M.2 port on the PCB itself, the mPCIe Combo III add-on module, which is included, offers support not just for an M.2 SSD but also for mini PCI-E devices. This plays host to an AzureWave Broadcom BCM94352HMB 802.11ac dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth adaptor, with a desktop aerial included too.
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The onboard audio is similar to that in the previous Formula, though, sporting 120dB SNR and -107 dB THD+N using a Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC with premium Audio capacitors and High-fidelity audio OP AMPs. Power delivery consists of the 8+2 phases and again, like its predecessor, there are 60A BlackWing Chokes and 10K Black Metallic capacitors too.
Software-wise, there's plenty to get excited about and most of these features we looked at in our initial Asus Z97 preview article here, but special mentions go to KeyBot, which allows you to assign macros to functions to keys on standard USB keyboards as well as turn ordinary keys into media controls, shortcuts and tap into Asus' CPU Level Up. If you're reinstalling Windows on your SSD, the EFI-based SSD Secure Erase function is likely to be very handy and if you're a fan of Samsung's RAPID mode, then you can use Asus' RAMDisk to perform a similar function by dumping and caching certain files into your system's memory to boost performance.
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In terms of physical overclocking and testing tools, there's the full complement of power, reset and CMOS clear switches along with an LED POST error code readout, in addition to ten ProbeIt measurement points plus 2-pin thermal sensor connectors. Layout is, on the whole, excellent, with a 1 x PCI-E slot located above the main graphics slot so you'll always be able to drop a discrete sound card in, however many GPUs you have. It supports Quad-GPU SLI and 3-Way CorssFireX, although as usual with a non LGA2011 board, the top two 16x PCI-E slots will drop to x8 speeds with two cards with the third 16x slot only offering x4 speed.
Chipset Intel Z97
Form factor ATX
CPU support LGA1150 compatible (Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Broadwell)
Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 32GB
Sound 8-channel Cirrus Logic CS4398 ROG SupremeFX Formula 2014
Networking Intel® I218V
Ports 4 x SATA 6Gbps and 1 x SATA Express (compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports) via Intel Z97, 2 x SATA 6Gbps and 1 x SATA Express (compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports) via ASM1061, 1 x M.2 (2260 and smaller) 8 x USB 3.0 (2 via header), 6 x USB 2.0 ( 4 x via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DisplayPort
Dimensions (mm) 305 x 244
Extras LED POST code read-out, power and reset buttons, clear CMOS button, isolated audio circuitry, mPCIe Combo III card, integrated VRM waterblock, rear board cooling, Watchdogs redeemable code