Lets take a close look at the board itself. Since its a mATX board, there is a crunch for real estate. Its a very busy board, with a ton of components, something I find aesthetically pleasing.
Starting from the business end, the socket. Its an LGA 1150 socket with support for 4th and 5th Intel core processors. The cpu is powered by an 8 phase power design and comes with 8 60A chokes and digital voltage control. The MOSFETs are cooled by heatsinks both on the front and back of the board.
Moving along the edges of the board, we notice a small expansion slot in a very odd place near the top of the board. Its a mini PCI express slot, mainly to be used for a wifi card (not included).
On the right, we have the 4 slots for DDR3 memory supporting up to 32GB of RAM, which is significant if you are thinking between a mATX or a mini ITX board, since the most mini ITX boards just support 16GB.
Next to the slots, we have a few nifty things. Above the RAM slots, we have what asus calls ProbeIt (read: probe it). They provide easy, direct access to various system voltages, saving you from any modding, very useful when doing some extreme overclocking, when you cant rely on software for the voltage and want to monitor things in real time. There are in total 10 points, they let you monitor the CPU, PLL, memory, PCH voltages (among others). When I was overclocking on this board, there was an issue with the voltage readings in the OS (as you will see in the overclocking screenshot) and I found these to be useful as well as dead on accurate. I did find it slightly difficult to make the right contact with my multi-meter probes and took a few attempts. If possible, a slight depression in the middle of the points would make it easier, because soldering it might not be everyone’s first choice.
Next to it are the LN2 mode jumpers. These help you get past the cold boot bug when overclocking in sub zero temperatures. Then we have the MemOk button, which basically a 1 step fix to any memory compatibility issues that you might face.
At the bottom of the board, we have an array of buttons. The most prominent being the start and reset buttons, which are great when your using the board on an open bench. Next to them, we have the KeyBot and SoundStage buttons. I have covered both of these features in another review and they are pretty useful. Keybot feature basically ‘hacks in’ into your keyboard interface and lets you create custom macros, features of a gaming keyboard on your normal one. SoundStage lets you set hardware level audio profiles (FPS, Racing, Combat and Sport) even without OS drivers. Can be useful if your running an OS without any supported drivers.
Now a unique part of the board. Asus initially started doing this on the mini ITX boards that are starved for PCB space, the created daughter boards that can be attached to the motherboard. This is the SupremeFX Impact II audio daughter board. This does not take up a slot, but attaches onto the board itself.
As for audio quality, it really isn’t my area of expertise, but there was a significant difference in gain as compared to my on board audio on my Z77 motherboard. This is to be expected, as the SupremeFX Impact is based on the Realtek ALC1150 codec and my motherboard uses the Realtek ALC898 audio codec. I did try doing some tests to quantify the difference, but the readings I got were really out of place and I think it was down to the testing equipment. Will try to fix that up in future reviews.
A surprise between the PCIe x16 slots is the M.2 slot. Its a high bandwidth slot that can be used for SSDs and uses a PCIe 2.0 2x lane. They provide greater bandwidth than current SATA 3 ports (10Gb/s vs 6Gb/s). These days, SSDs are getting quicker and quicker, some already saturate the SATA 3 bus during sequential reads, so its only a matter of time. There are some other vendors that provide M.2 slots that use a PCI3 3.0 4x lane, boasting of 32Gb/s, so I guess asus could provide a similar solution here.
Finally taking a look at the rear panel, we have 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 1 PS/2 port, 1 HDMI port and 1 optical audio out. You can also see the analog ports (speaker, line-in, line-out). On the left, we have a few buttons, the one on top is to clear the CMOS and the next one is the ROG connect button. This can be used for BIOS flashback, which is a pretty cool feature that lets you flash a BIOS even without having a processor (yes, sounds scary, but it won’t hurt !).
Being a micro ATX motherboard, you might want to know how everything fits in and if there were any issues with the layout of the board. Like with many other boards of this form factor, having a large air cooler can have problems. The cooler I use ain’t too large, its an SVG Tech AOC 120, size of which should be similar to other 120 mm coolers in the market. First up, if your cooler is really wide, you might not want to get very tall RAM modules as the cooler might extend over the RAM slots.
In my case, I had no issues since I use low profile RAM, but just keep it in mind.
On the other side, the SupremeFX Impact audio board does come close to the cooler as well. Most coolers should have no problem, as there is still some space, but may be a slight problem. If you guys know more on this, please leave a comment below.