When we first saw the Maximus II Formula truth be told we were blown away by its style and level of innovation. It's not often that this happens because, for the most part, the Taiwanese are conservative about what they make. They often build to predetermined guidelines so as to maximise potential sales across all regions - this is partly why we keep seeing multi-coloured boards with floppy ports, PS2 mouse sockets and RS232 serial connectors on motherboards. Please let them fade into oblivion!
The Republic of Gamer range has cemented Asus in the heart of many-an-enthusiast. And while there will always be loyal followers to other specifically designed performance brands like DFI or even Foxconn's recent Quantum Force range, abit's recent departure from the market means the occasional unique influence of mixing things up a bit is gone.
Because of this, Asus finds itself in a great position to scoop up a few followers looking for something new. It not only releases products earlier than the competition (or should we just say, on time), but also continually innovates on both the hardware and software level.
As we said, the latest generation Maximus II is no exception, it's got such a bevy of important and relevant features I actually dreaded writing this review simply because I might forget something. That, and I'm a lazy so-and-so and this is going to take a lot longer than usual to write *sigh*. Well, there goes my weekend... but it's OK.
It's not all strawberries and cream though; £140-£150 is a lot of money to spend on an Intel P45 motherboard when the legions of X48 boards are not much more. Plus, some of the recent Republic of Gamer boards we've seen haven't been quite that great - when we reviewed the original Maximus Formula the BIOS was still very flaky a month after release and the CrossHair II Formula we looked at not so long ago was just far too expensive for the platform. On the other hand, the Asus P5Q Deluxe was a superb Intel P45 motherboard so can the Maximus II Formula live up to and exceed this reputation?
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Support for Intel LGA755 CPUs including 65m, and 45m Core 2 Extreme, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Pentium dual-core, Celeron dual-core and Celeron with 800-1,600MHz front side bus.
Intel P45 northbridge
Intel ICH10 southbridge
Four DDR2 memory sockets supporting up to 16GB of memory at 667-1,200MHz.
Two PCI-Express x16 slots (either x16/x1 or x8/x8) with support for ATI CrossFire graphics
Supreme FX X-Fi audio card, with ADI SoundMAX 2000B 7.1 channel High-Definition audio codec and Creative X-Fi technology
Three PCI-Express x1 slots
Two PCI slots
Six SATA 3Gbps ports with Intel Matrix RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5.
Silicon Image Sil5723 supporting two SATA 3Gbps ports with RAID 0 and 1.
Marvell 88SE6121 supporting one eSATA 3Gbps port and one IDE socket
Two Marvell 88E8056-NNC1 Gigabit Ethernet controllers featuring teaming technology
VIA VT6308P IEEE 1394a Firewire controller with two connections
Twelve USB 2.0 ports (six via pin-outs, six via rear I/O)
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In the box we get quite a familiar assortment of parts - the LCD Poster and spongy Q-Shield that are both unique to Asus are still included, however there's only six out of eight SATA cables included and a PCI bracket for just a pair of USB connectors (and the other 6-pin Firewire) leaving four free. More and more performance cases sold these days are include four USB ports in the front, so it's not unexpected for Asus to limit the extras, and it also keeps the cost down a fraction which is always great for consumers.
As usual the manual is very detailed and actually worth a read to know what everything does. The Asus driver disc auto-install package is among the best there is, but if we're brutal Gigabyte's is still marginally better produced as seems a bit faster, it gives a progress bar to let you know how it’s getting on and it doesn't automatically boot the disc when the system starts, without asking for a key press (this is the most annoying part).
What's still missing though, are the thermal sensors. On every Republic of Gamer board made in the last 18 months there has been three two-pin thermal sensor pin-outs, yet in the last twelve of those months hardly any RoG boards have come with the additional wired sensors to use them. They can't easily be bought elsewhere and because Asus fan control software in the BIOS is not as good as some would like (abit's uGuru was far better), why not offer something like a RoG-branded 5.25" or 3.5" bay controller for thermal sensors, manual fan control and somewhere to plug in the LCD Poster if users don't want it on their desktops?