ASUS Maximus VI Impact Z87 ITX Motherboard Review
There was a time not so long ago when ITX and even micro ATX motherboards were thought of as underpowered and lacking the necessary capabilities and features that would endear them to enthusiasts. Now that more gamers are looking to downsize the physical dimensions of their respective systems, there’s a burgeoning market for small form factor boards and manufacturers are rushing to fill the void. ASUS has been on the leading edge and their Maximus VI Impact clearly demonstrates how much can be crammed onto an ITX motherboard.
Being part of the Republic of Gamers series automatically makes the Maximus VI Impact an enthusiast-oriented motherboard and that may be a lot to ask considering its diminutive size. Due to past experiences we’ve got an unusually high set of expectations for anything that comes out of ASUS’ version of Skunk Works and this is, well, a really small board that just can’t be stuffed to the gills with features. Right? Not so fast. If you’re still tied at the hip to those low-grade mini ITX system expectations, prepare to be floored by what ASUS has accomplished here.
Fueled by the significantly diminished power consumption needs of today’s Haswell processors, boards like the Impact perform up to expectations without insane VRM designs and upgraded circuitry. The miniaturization approach may lead some to believe things like overclocking have been sacrificed but ASUS’ primary goal here was to retain the RoG pedigree. That means plenty of clock speed headroom.
All of this has been accomplished through a careful design process which led to the Maximus VI Impact becoming one of the more unique motherboards currently available. It may have the same form-factor and similar PCI-E / RAM slot limitations as others in the small form factor class, but this is where the similarities with traditional ITX designs end.
Instead of designing on a flat plane and being limited by the small 17cm² PCB area, ASUS has implemented a unique three dimensional layout like they did with previous micro ATX designs. This means key components like the VRM, debug LEDs and wireless communication modules are placed on a quartet of integrated daughter cards which sit at a right angle to the board. A layout like this frees up space for feature-specific chips which simply wouldn’t have fit onto a normal ITX motherboard. Think of ASUS’ approach as building skyscrapers in a landscape dominated by suburban housing.
These types of small motherboards are often cramped affairs and while the Impact certainly doesn’t have acres of free space, there’s a surprising amount of breathing room. It also looks like ASUS took into account the possibility that some users would want to use LN2 cooling since there’s more than enough bare PCB for insulation.
The layout is also quite well done with sensible locations for every major component. There are three fan headers clustered near the leftmost corner alongside which ASUS has installed FastBoot and LN2 jumpers. Four well placed internal SATA 6 ports (which won’t conflict with any GPU installation) and onboard power / reset buttons round out and impressive setup. Some of these may be hard to access when the board is used in a claustrophobic SFF enclosure but the more enthusiast-oriented features are meant to be used outside of cases anyways.
You may have noticed that the Impact’s PCB is remarkably devoid of any power delivery components since, other than a small line of capacitors, the VRM and PWM stages reside on a secondary, vertically mounted riser. This hardwired daughter card consist of two large heatsinks which cover a large 8+2 phase all digital PWM.
Being part of the ROG line, the Maximus VI Impact uses an all-digital, eight phase DIGI+ III Power Controller paired to 60amp 'Blackwing' chokes and 10K-hour 10K Black Metallic solid capacitors. As an added benefit, ASUS’ design is only as tall as the rear I/O ports which reduces compatibility issues.
Next to this hardwired daughtercard is where you will find the the24-pin and 8 pin power connectors followed by the large power button, a small reset button, the single internal USB 3.0 header, a front panel header and the two DDR3 DIMM slots. Just like its larger RoG counterparts these two slots officially support DDR-1333 all the way to DDR-3200 speeds along with Intel's Xtreme Memory Profile 1.3 standard. As an added benefit they are offset from the CPU socket enough to make installation of larger heatsinks an actual possibility, something almost unheard of in the ITX motherboard marketplace.
Two removable daughter cards have also been included, both of which house features which usually either require using the x16 slot or taking up a large portion of real-estate. First up we have the mPCIe Combo II card which combines a dual band 802.11AC and Bluetooth wireless adapter on one side with a M.2 (NGFF) SSD port on the other.
While M.2 solid state drives are extremely rare at this point they combine high performance into a form factor which is even smaller than most mSATA based cards.
Next to the mPCIe Combo II is a relatively long SupremeFX Impact discrete sound card which is an absolute must for an enthusiast board that lacks secondary PCI-E support. The SupremeFX boasts some pretty impressive specs such as Texas Instruments LM4562 op-amps, an EMI shield and is based upon the Realtek ALC1150 controller.
While the op-amps are soldered directly to the board they allow for a dedicated port which can support up to 600 ohm high end headphones. When this is coupled with the SupremeFX’s output SNR ratio of 110dB for headphones out and 115dB on the loseless line-out port, it’s hard to imagine gamers wanting anything else.
The rear I/O panel is also not your typical mini ITX affair. In addition to the usual assortment of USB 2.0 (4), USB 3.0 (4), HDMI, DisplayPort, SPDIF, eSATA, and single Intel i217 based Ethernet ports, ASUS have also included a fourth add-in card here.
This 'Impact Control' panel has a two digit debug LED, USB BIOS Dlashback button and reset button, along with support for ASUS’ excellent MemOK and DirectKey buttons. The DirectKey button allows for instant overclocking once it’s configured in the BIOS. The BIOS Flashback on the other hand only needs to be pressed and you can then flash the board’s firmware via USB even if a CPU, RAM or GPU is not installed. This is particularly handy when an overclock or BIOS flash goes horribly wrong.
When taken as a whole, the Impact’s nearest competitors are actually mATX boards such as ASUS’ own RoG Maximus VI Gene while the only other ITX board which can come close to matching features is ASUS' own Z87I- Deluxe. Considering this mITX board has an online asking price of $220 this long list of features is certainly necessary since MSI's Z87I Gaming AC and EVGA's Z87 Stinger can be found for much less.
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