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Old 23-07-14   #1
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[Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review


Introduction:

Since their inception, the Asus ROG (Republic Of Gaming) series has been every gamer dream. They have got the ultimate performance, features and a unique sense of style, which worked well with the PC enthusiast and game markets, but often was just too expensive for most. This time, Asus decided that they would bring out a board for those fans as well, called the Ranger. Its the newest addition to Asusís ROG series of motherboards after the Hero and is their most affordable yet. So lets take a look at this new board and see if it still has all of the ROG DNA in it.


Before we start off with the review, lets take a quick look at some of the main features of this motherboard:
  • Support for 4th and 5th Gen Intel Core processors
  • 8+2 phase power
  • Intel Z97 chipset with M.2 support
  • SupremeFX 2014 Audio
  • Asusís Radar II utility
  • Asusís KeyBot technology


Package and Unboxing:

The Maximus 7 Ranger comes in the typical Asus Maximus styled box. On the top its got a flap which contains some features about the motherboard and also shows its complete layout.






Opening the box, we can now see the motherboard wrapped in an anti static bag. Below this, there is a section with the accessories. We get the user manual, 4 SATA cables, the IO backplate, an SLI bridge, some cable management stickers, an ROG badge and a door knob hanger. All in all a decent package for a motherboard in its price segment.






Board Layout

Now lets take a look at the board itself. The board carries the same styling as the rest of the Maximus ROG series boards, a beautiful red and black theme. Taking a quick look, you may notice the 4 RAM slots, 3 PCIe x16 slots, 3 PCIe x1 slots and the M.2 connector.


Taking a closer look, on the top edge of the board we find 8-pin motherboard connector, 2 4 pin fan headers for CPU cooling placed in a convenient location. Moving to the left, we can see the large start button, a reset button and an LED display for displaying error codes. These buttons are pretty useful when your running the system on an open bench as you donít have to mess around shorting some pins. Various error codes for the LED display can be found in the use manual. Next to that, we find the MemOK! button which is basically used to boot your system on fail safe memory settings, just in case your system got unstable while overclocking. Then we have the main motherboard power connector, a 4 pin fan header as well as the front USB 3.0 header.




Moving further down the same edge, we find 6 SATA 6Gb/s ports. Many Z97 boards these days offer the Sata Express connectors, but as you can see, Asus decided not to go for it. Todayís SSDs have started saturating the SATA 3 bandwidth, so the SATA Express, which uses PCIe lanes for much more bandwidth. Anyways, there are not many SATA Express drives available and I donít think most gamers would really need it for some time. But if you do, donít worry, you have other options, the board does have an M.2 connector, which we will talk about a little later.


Now moving to the bottom edge, we see a Keybot button, which we will discuss later, another Chassis fan header, 2 USB 2.0 headers, Sound Stage button and a clear CMOS button.




Moving to the back end of the motherboard, we notice the SupremeFX Audio with ELNA audio capacitors. SupremeFX is actually the Realtek ALC1150 codecbut comes with high quality components such as ENLA capacitors along with some emi chielding and PCB separation. Moving up, we have the rear IO ports. We got 1 PS2 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI port (supports 4K video), a DVI and D-Sub port. We then got the BIOS flashback button, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 1 LAN jack and your 7.1ch audio connectors.




Flipping the board over, we notice the 2 heat sinks for the MOSFETs and a couple of ICs, which are for the Keybot feature.




Board Layout Ė Part 2

ĎHybridí 8+2 phase power

Lets take a close look at the socket. As I had mentioned earlier, the board uses a Ďhybridí 8 phase power delivery system, what that basically means is that this board is using a slightly cut down version of the full 8ph design (which is found on the HERO) and employs 8 chokes, 8 MOSFETs but 4 shared PWM drivers. This is a measure to slightly cut down costs and at least in theory might impact your overclocking a little bit (remember, thatís on paper).




M.2 Connectivity

Hereís an interesting one. The port shown above is the M.2 port which allow much higher data bandwidth (uses PCIe 2 lanes) than the current SATA 3 standard (10Gb/s vs 6Gb/s). Since this board does not come with Sata Express, the M.2 essentially becomes the only other option. Currently not a lot of SSDs are available that use the M.2, but many manufacturers are expected to release them within this year. Do keep in mind, you can only use SSDs that fit with the size constrains and as mentioned in the manual, the SSD can have a maximum width of 22mm and length of 80mm. Also, pay attention, when you buy these M.2 drivers, some of them use the Sata 3 bus, which will not work in these ports.

Todayís SSDs are reaching close to saturating the existing Sata 3 bandwidth (~550 MB/s sequential reads) so its a good thing to have!

Overclocking

Overclocking was fairly easy on this board. Played around a little bit with an finally settled for 1.30v on the vcore for a fairly stable system. I could reach a very good 4847 MHz with a 48x multiplier and 101MHz BCLK.


Coming to the memory, pumped the voltage to 1.6v and left the timings on auto. To my surprise, I got up to 2600MHz which is the highest ever I could manage on these modules (maybe because I ran a single stick). As for the timings, they do seem a little horrible, but I am sure with some trial and error I could shave that down a bit.


BIOS

The motherboard comes with Asusís UEFI BIOS, which I generally prefer over other board makers. I find the EZ mode to be very clean and even with the advance mode, navigation is fairly intuitive.

In the EZ mode, you get this kind of a dash board that has all the essential information, such as CPU temperature, RAM and HDD information, even chassis fan information. The EZ system tuning lets you easily profile your system for higher performance or power saving, very easy for gamers who donít want the headache of manual overclocking but still want to derive more from their system.


EZ-Tuning

A really simple to use, auto overclocking utility. Its really easy to use this, all you have to do is answer a few simple questions ó What your system is used for and what kind of cooling you are using. It then gives you an estimate of the expected performance gains via overclocking and then you can decide if you want to use those settings or not.


Q-Fan Tuning

Q-Fan tuning lets you quick change you fan settings. You could go for more silent system or for better cooling, set the load line parameters yourself. The UI is great, even for new users, I donít think they would find it hard to use.




Advanced Mode

As usual, Asus has packed a ton of options when we switch into the advance mode (some of which I got no idea about!)

Under the Extreme Tweaker tab, you get various options for overclocking your system and this is where bulk of your overclocking will take place.






I wonít walk you through all the options and menus in the BIOS, you can look them up in the manual, but I will just highlight some of the unique things I found there.

In the Advanvced tab, you see this ROG Effects tab. From here, you can either choose to switch on/off the on-board LEDs and lighting. The ranger does not have as much as bling as compared to the other boards in the ROG series, but still does have some of its share.




Moving over to the Monitoring tab, we see various monitoring options for fan speed, voltage and temperature monitoring. Its not as extensive as the Sabertooth I had reviewed earlier, but it is still pretty good.






In the Tool tab, we can see various utilities such as EZ Flash, OC profiles. You can actually save your own overclocking profiles, which is really useful, specially for those who tinker a lot.




Bundled Software

Now lets take a look at the bundled software. First up, we will take a look at the AISuit III, which basically is a collection of various utilities. They include:
  • Dual Intelligent Processors 5 Utility
  • USB 3.0 Boost
  • EZ Update
  • USB Bios Flashback
  • USB Charger+
  • System Information
  • Push Notice




Out of these, ill be mainly talking about the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 utility. The utility comes with a lot of options from overclocking to power saving.

In the TPUsection we can find various overclocking options. Some people might prefer to overclock from the OS instead of the BIOS, so its very much do-able as there are plenty of options to play around with.




In the Fan Xpert section you get various fan speed tuning options for you to get the right air flow in your system without making the system too noisy


Next up is the Digi+ VRM section which lets you tweak the various VRM parameters. I think the options provided are are sufficient and users are abstracted enough, so as to make this utility useful and not too confusing.


Now lets move over to the EPU section. Here we have some power saving/profiling options. For most user, this is great because there are times when you switch between performance modes, after long hours of gaming, when you need the power, if you want to put you system up for some over night downloading, the quick switch to a power saving mode is very helpful.






Moving on, now for some ďgamerĒ oriented features. The Sonic Radar II utility basically gives you a visual aid to map the audio activity in a game. What this essentially means is, that it will point out the direct in which the sound is coming from. This might feel gimmicky and useless to real gamers, but its a pretty fun tool to play with. In this tool, you can also profile what sounds you want to track (gun shots, bomb ticker, etc) on a per app basis. So for a quick test, I ran this really old game we all have played in some point in our lifeÖÖ Counter Strike 1.6 (my apologies, new system and internet had crosses its FUP). It worked okay, but consider its such an old game, I am sure it will work better in newer games like BF4 and COD.








Another gamer oriented feature of this board, the KeyBot gives you the ability to program macros on any normal keyboard, much like what you would do on a gaming keyboard. All you have to do is use the allotted USB port for the keyboard, press the keybot button on the board to activate it and then use the KeyBot software to program your macros ! Sweet!


The Verdict:

Finally an ROG maximus board that gamers can really afford. I really appreciate asus trying to cater to this market with their premium line of boards. The board has a lot going for it even though asus had to cut down on a few features. I think they made the right trade-offs to bring the board to its current price point. The black mat finish looks awesome and the back red theme just never gets old. For a price of around $150 or ~Rs14,000 (could not source it in india though, taking a guess) its a decent buy. If it is available for a tab bit cheaper (~Rs12k ish) it would be just amazing. Iíll give it an 8.5/10, its a great board for gamers, its got the right balance between performance, looks and expandability.

Pros:
  • Good performance and overclocking
  • Great looks
  • M.2 port
  • Lots of features for gamers

Cons:
  • Not pure 8ph power delivery (not a real biggie)
  • No Sata Express

Feel free to point out mistakes/feedback !

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Old 23-07-14   #2
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Re: [Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review

Nice Review mate
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Old 24-07-14   #3
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Re: [Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review

Great review and well in-depth!
And indeed the board costs around 14.5k here.

Everything seems fine, except given this as a ROG board, i'm simply surprised to see (just like you) how the PWM phase used in this board.
Even though Asus used same MOSFET package, i.e. TI NexFet (that is used in Hero/Gene and is of top quality), Asus used doublers for the PWM.
That means true phase count of this board is 4+1, which is both shame and alarming.
Doubling the number of MOSFETs and inductors (like Asus did) without increasing the driver count is a very cheap and not very good way to double the phases.
Hell, i hate doublers.

I'm waiting for AsRock to launch their Z97 Ex4 & 6 here in India, which will provide atleast better PWM phase count (12+2, i.e. 6+1; they used doublers), same MOSFETs (TI NexFets), and still will be cheaper.

Anyways, great job
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Old 24-07-14   #4
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Re: [Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review

thanks for the nice, detailed review with lots of pic
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Old 24-07-14   #5
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Re: [Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review

thanks guys
@realandR3cys I think you are being slightly harsh by equating the phase count to be 4+1, cos the current is still distributed over 8 MOSFETs, I got no idea if the drivers get 'choked'. I am not too sure on this, maybe you can tell us what this really means, or how 'bad' is it having shared PWM drivers. Anyways, the board is aimed at mainstream gamers and for their purpose, the board has sufficient overclocking potential. For 14.5k its a good board, I remember trying to fix a Z87 for 14-ish last year and found none that were good, I think the board sits well at that price point.
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Old 24-07-14   #6
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Re: [Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review

Originally Posted by rajan1311 View Post
@realandR3cys I think you are being slightly harsh by equating the phase count to be 4+1, cos the current is still distributed over 8 MOSFETs, I got no idea if the drivers get 'choked'. I am not too sure on this, maybe you can tell us what this really means, or how 'bad' is it having shared PWM drivers.
Actually, in doubler schemes it's better to always see the true phase count. Doublers schemes are mainly used for marketing purposes.
A board with marketed as 12 phases (doubler used, so actually 6) will never be as efficient as a board with true 8 phases (no doublers), provided both have same quality MOSFETs & PWM.

The IR3548 PWM used in Ranger has a TRUE output of 4+1
The same PWM is seen in Asus Z97-K & A.
The advantage that Ranger has over those two is that it uses higher quality MOSFETs, i.e. Texas Instruments' NexFets over LF-PAK/PowerPAK (which are lower in quality than TI), and thus you'll see it has more OC stability at lower voltages over those two.

Now the twist is that even though Ranger uses TI NexFets, the same used in Hero/Gene, the chokes are not rated at 60A like those two have.
So, the bottomline, you have several mix & match of hardwares used in M7 Ranger.

But still, until AsRock launches their Ex4 & Ex6, this is ATM a very good buy
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Old 24-07-14   #7
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Re: [Review] Asus Maximus 7 Ranger Z97 Motherboard Review

thanks for those details buddy
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