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Asus Maximus VIII Impact Mini-ITX Skylake Motherboard

The Asus Maximus VIII Impact is an absolutely loaded mini-ITX motherboard with high-end power regulation and audio, wireless connectivity, a U.2 port, an external temperature sensor, and an expansion card that boosts the number of controllable fans from two to five.

Asus Maximus VIII Impact

December 14, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Asus Maximus VIII Impact
LGA1151 Mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Asus
Street Price
US$240

The Asus Maximus VIII Impact is the first mini-ITX LGA1151 motherboard to hit our test bench. The smaller form factor offers less board real estate which usually means decreased functionality compared to larger ATX/mATX models. However, the Impact is a high-end product belonging to Asus’ Republic of Gamers (ROG) line, so they’ve stuffed it full of extras almost without compromise. It’s based on the Z170 chipset naturally and sports a 10-phase power regulation design, a dual band wireless 802.11n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1 adapter, a high class 5.1 audio codec, and USB 3.1 connectivity. There are also a smattering of enthusiast features both in software and hardware including an external card to expand fan support.

Compared to a "normal" sized Skylake motherboard, it’s really only missing SATA Express, which is understandable considering it requires a large block of standard SATA connectors, and more notably, M.2. The Impact tries to make up for this partially with the inclusion of U.2, a relatively new and compact SATA Express-based port that can offers up to 4x PCI 3.0 lanes. However, this is really a form factor for the future as only one U.2 SSD is currently on the market, the Intel 750 Series.


Box and contents.


Wireless antenna, CPU install tool and front panel extension cable.


Fan extension and thermistor cable.

The Maximus VIII Impact is the most fully loaded mini-ITX motherboard ever. Not only does it have an extensive enthusiast feature-set, the board is laden with accessories. Asus provides a plastic frame for making it easier to grip the CPU during the installation process, an antenna with a magnetic bottom (70 cm long cable), and a front panel extension cable that replaces the old Asus block style Q-connector. The most notable extra is Asus’ external fan card which is supported by previous ROG models but not included with most. With space being so limited, the board has just two fan headers which simply doesn’t cut it for high-end cooling setups. The external card allows for an extra three individually controllable fan headers as well as three external temperature sensors. A 43 cm long thermistor cable is included with the package.

Specifications: Asus Maximus VIII Impact
(from the product
web page
)
CPUIntel® Socket 1151 for 6th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
Supports Intel® 14 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list
ChipsetIntel® Z170
Memory2 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR4 2133/2400~4000 (O.C) MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
GraphicIntegrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Expansion Slots1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 mode, black)
StorageIntel® Z170 chipset :
1 x U.2 port, black,
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray,
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Intel® Rapid Storage Technology supports*1
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology*1
LANIntel® I219V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), GameFirst technology
Intel® LAN- Dual interconnect between the Integrated LAN controller and Physical Layer (PHY)
Anti-surge LANGuard
Wireless Data NetworkWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz
Supports MU-MIMO
BluetoothBluetooth V4.1
AudioROG SupremeFX Impact III 5.1-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– SupremeFX Shielding Technology
– ESS® ES9023P DAC: dB SNR, dB THD+N (Max. kHz/ -bit)
– 2VRMS Headphone Amp into (32-600Ohms)
– Front panel audio connector (AAFP)
Audio Feature :
– Gold-plated jacks
– DTS Connect
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic SenseAmp
– Sonic Studio II
– Sonic Radar II
USB PortsIntel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1 port(s) (1 at back panel, black, Type-C)
Intel® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1 port(s) (1 at back panel, red, Type-A)
ROG Exclusive FeaturesSlow Mode
ROG RAMCache
Overwolf
SupremeFX Impact III
Start Button
Reset Button
LN2 Mode
Mem TweakIt
ProbeIt
KeyBot II
ROG RAMDisk
Extreme Tweaker
Impact Power III :
– MicroFine Alloy Chokes
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
– IR3553 PowIRStage® MOSFETs
UEFI BIOS features :
– O.C. Profile
– GPU.DIMM Post
– Tweakers’ Paradise
– ROG SSD Secure Erase
– Graphic Card Information Preview
Special FeaturesOC Design – ASUS PRO Clock Technology
– Full BCLK range for extreme overclocking performance
5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5
– 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ Power Control, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App
ASUS Wi-Fi GO!
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– MemOK!
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger+
– USB 3.1 Boost
– Disk Unlocker
– Mobo Connect
– PC Cleaner
Remote Entertainment
– Media Streamer
– HyStream
ASUS EZ DIY :
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 3
– ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
– Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
Overclocking Protection :
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Operating System SupportWindows® 10 , 64bit
Windows® 8.1 , 64bit
Windows® 7 , 32bit/64bit
Back I/O Ports1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
1 x USB 3.1 (black)Type-C
1 x USB 3.1 (red)Type-A
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
3 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
2 x Wi-Fi antenna port(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
1 x Q-Code LED
1 x Start Button
1 x Reset Button
Internal I/O Ports1 x U.2 port
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (4 -pin)
1 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 -pin)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)*2
1 x System panel(s)
1 x ProbeIt Measurement Points
1 x Thermal sensor connector(s)
1 x 5-pin EXT_FAN(Extension Fan) connector
1 x LN2 Mode jumper(s)
1 x SupremeFX Impact II connector(s)
1 x Slow Mode jumper(s)
1 x SupremeFX Impact III connector
1 x M.2 socket pre-installed with a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module
1 x System panel connector
AccessoriesUser’s manual
ASUS Q-Shield
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant)
1 x Fan Extension Card (3 x 4-pin fan out)
1 x Fan Extension card screw pack
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
ROG Fan Label
1 x 5-pin to 5-pin cable
1 x Panel cable
1 x Thermistor cable(s)
Support DiscDrivers
ROG GameFirst technology
ROG RAMDisk
ROG RAMCache
ROG CPU-Z
ROG Mem TweakIt
Overwolf
Keybot II
Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
DAEMON Tools Pro Standard
ASUS WebStorage
ASUS Utilities
BIOS1 x 128 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI3.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 3.0, ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 3, CrashFree BIOS 3, F11 EZ Tuning Wizard, F6 Qfan Control, F3 My Favorites, F9 Quick Note, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information.
ManageabilityWfM2.0, DMI3.0, WOL by PME, PXE
Form FactorMini ITX Form Factor
6.7 inch x 6.7 inch ( 17 cm x 17 cm )
*1 This function will work depending on the CPU installed.
*2 AAFP connector is built-in on the SupremeFX Impact III card

PHYSICAL DETAILS

Given its vast feature-set, the Maximus VIII Impact uses every inch of space available, even going vertical in order to fit in a premium audio solution and a sophisticated 10 phase power regulation system. The layout is otherwise typical for an Intel-based mini-ITX model except for the 8-pin EPS12V connector which is conveniently located along the front edge next to the main 24-pin connector. Most boards place this plug in the difficult to access rear/top corner.


Measured from the PCB surface, the protruding VRM daughterboard and audio card stand 41 mm and 37 mm tall respectively. Short down-blowing CPU coolers with large footprints don’t have sufficient clearance and even some low-sitting tower heatsinks may contact the daughterboard.


The daughterboard appears to only be connected to the mainboard via multiple solder points but its backplate shares the top two motherboard mounting holes to provide additional stability. Though it’s an impressive looking piece of circuitry, the heatsink is rather modest in size and is decidedly low on surface area just like the PCH cooler.


The SupremeFX Impact III audio card is covered with a shiny reflective metal cover though the red paint chips fairly easily. The Impact has ProbeIt, points on the board that can be used to measure specific voltages using a multimeter, but they reside underneath the card necessitating its removal to access. This is another compromise to fit all the trappings of an enthusiast board within the mini-ITX form factor.


The back panel is home to a diagnostic display and physical power and reset switches. Also included is a Clear CMOS button and a BIOS Flashback button for automated BIOS flashing without a working display or even a CPU and/or RAM. There are four USB 3.0 ports, USB 3.1 type A and type C connectors, and a single HDMI 1.4 output. The U.2 port is visible between the WiFi antenna hookups and analog audio ports.


On the trace side of the motherboard we can see the audio card and PCH heatsinks are bolted down with screws. There does not appear to be any circuitry around the socket to interfere with backplate installation.


The distance between the centers of the mounting holes on the fan card is 79 mm which means the side of a 5.25 inch bay the only suitable place to install it. It’s powered by a molex plug and is connected to the motherboard via an almost meter-long 5-pin connector. It can also be attached via 4-pin female-to-female cable to a motherboard fan header which would turn it into a splitter, making all the external fans tied to a single control.

BIOS/UEFI

The Maximus VIII Impact seems to use the same UEFI BIOS found on all of Asus’ high-end boards from the last couple of years, except it’s skinned with the Republic of Gamer’s red color scheme. From what I can tell, it offers the exact same functionality detailed in our Maximus VIII Gene vs. Z170-A review, except for the number of controllable fan headers. It offers a wide array of frequency, voltage, and settings that allow overclockers to hit high clock speeds while also delivering consistent power to vital components to ensure stability. There are a variety of convenience features as well that just makes life a bit easier for the typical enthusiast including brief explanations of each setting, bookmark of specific settings for quick access, and a displayed summary of changes made on exit.


Extreme Tweaker Menu.


CPU fan control options.


Chassis/Extension fan control options.


Q-Fan.

Fan control is the biggest star here IMO, as it essentially gives users all the control options of the powerful ASUS Fan Xpert module at the BIOS level. There aren’t as many controls as the Maximus VIII Gene because there physically aren’t as many fan headers but they still work the same. For manual control, you can set three temperature/speed points and adjust step up/down delays. Using Q-Fan brings up a visual representation and allows for fan tuning and the ability to add extra plot points. The CPU fan responds to the CPU temperature only but the single Chassis fan and external card fans can be set to react to any of the onboard temperature sensors as well as the provided thermistor which can be placed anywhere in the system. Both DC and PWM control is fully supported by every fan header.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

  • Intel Core i7-6700K
    processor – four cores. 4.0~4.2 GHz, 14 nm, 91W, Hyper-threading, integrated Intel HD 530 graphics
  • Scythe Kabuto
    CPU cooler – stock fan at 800 RPM
  • Kingston Fury memory – 2x8GB DDR4-2667, C15
  • ADATA XPG SX910 solid-state drive – 128GB, 2.5-inch, SATA 6 Gbps
  • Kingston HyperX 3K solid-state drive – 120GB, 2.5-inch, SATA 6 Gbps
  • Seasonic
    SS-400ET
    power supply – 400W, ATX
  • Microsoft
    Windows 7
    operating system – Ultimate, 64-bit


Device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Clips

H.264/MKV 1080p: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container with a 22 mbps bitrate.

YouTube Flash 1080p: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, an HD movie trailer in 1080p.

YouTube HTML5 4K: RBG Rainbow, a dead/stuck pixel screen fixer in 4K.

Testing Procedures

Before testing, certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet, SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly.

Our main test procedure is designed to measure the overall system power consumption
at various states. We also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

Note: Motherboards sometimes vary in regard to the BLCK and Turbo Boost settings. Models that use higher clock speeds typically consume more power, making direct power consumption comparisons unfair. For these tests, boards using the same CPU have been tweaked to use the exact same clock speeds to ensure a level playing field. For Skylake models, the BLCK is manually set to 100 MHz and standard Intel prescribed Turbo Boost levels are used.

Under light load, the Maximus VIII Impact’s power consumption is in line with larger Asus models like the Z170-A and Maximus VIII Gene. Its idle usage is the most of the four boards compared but it’s understandable as it has both wireless connectivity and a discrete sound card to power.

The Z170-A lacks efficiency under heavy loads while the Maximus VIII Gene struggles under light load. The Maximus VIII Impact takes more of a middle road, not falling to either extreme, nor impressing either way. High-end power regulation circuitry tends to result in superior power consumption under higher stress. However, the VRM heatsink is very small compared to larger boards and efficiency may suffer under hotter conditions.

Cooling

To test the board’s cooling, the CPU is stressed for ~15 minutes with Prime95 and FurMark. Temperatures of the boards’ chipset heatsinks are recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures are taken for comparison.

Under maximum load, the Maximus VIII Impact draws 8W more than its the Maximus VIII Gene, but both its chipset and VRM heatsinks exhibit much higher temperatures. The VRM cooler in particular, measures a balmy 67°C, 14°C hotter than its big brother. Both the Gene and the Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 are equipped with dual VRM heatsinks connected via heatpipe, and the Z170X-UD5 is the most efficient of them all. It’s clear that board cooling has some impact on efficiency and/or vice versa.

Boot Performance

To test boot time, the BIOS/UEFI is optimized by setting the hard drive recognition and other delays to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality like full USB support, POST messages, etc. and the time it takes to reach the Windows loading screen (it’s stopped here because this is the point where the O/S and drive become factors) is measured.

The Maximus VIII Impact follows in the footsteps of our previously tested Skylake motherboards, taking an unusually long time to get past the POST screen. The boot delays of all four LGA1151 models are about twice as long as that of LGA1150 boards.

Wireless 802.11n Performance

Our WiFi performance test is a simple one consisting of a single large file (700MB) transfer over 802.11n to/from a desktop connected to our network via gigabit ethernet. The task is timed to calculate the average transfer rate. It should be noted that the 802.11n router used is not the greatest, an Actiontec combination router/gateway from our ADSL provider. It’s located in a central location in the lab, only a few feet away from our testing area with only one wall in-between, so it should produce close to ideal results.

The Maximus VIII Impact’s Atheros wireless NIC exhibits excellent performance, pushing about 93 mbps down and 73 mbps up. It’s one of the fastest wireless adapters we’ve ever tested, beating out all previously reviewed wireless-enabled desktop motherboards and laptops. The Logic Supply ML100G-10, a fanless mini-PC, is the only machine that managed to produce a better overall result, and only by a razor thin margin. The Atheros adapter is a huge upgrade over the Broadcom card included with the older (Z87) Maximus VI Impact.

SOFTWARE

The included software is similar to the previous two Asus Z170 boards we’ve reviewed, especially the Maximus VIII Gene as both the Gene and Impact belong to the Republic of Gamers line. Rather than rehashing most of what we’ve covered before, if you’re unfamiliar with Asus’ latest software suite, take a gander at all of the important details in our Maximus VIII Gene/Z170-A review.

Fan Control

The Fan Xpert module within Asus’ AI Suite is just as capable as on the larger Maximus VIII Gene, offering full customizable DC and PWM control for every fan header. After tuning the fans, the software determines the minimum safe speed and allows users to adjust the fan speed curve within the supported range or to set a fixed speed. Fan spin up and spin down times can be adjusted and you can even select what temperature sensor the chassis and individual external fans react to. AI Suite has real-time monitoring in its UI though the graphing function is limited due to the amount of space allotted. You can also only look at three sensors at a time without scrolling down and the unit scale is very small.

When using previous Asus motherboards, I’ve seen these external fan panels in Fan Xpert but this is the first time seeing them functioning. The external fan headers work exactly the same way as the two onboard ones, and the included temperature sensor shows up and its reading appears to be accurate.

Overwolf

There is one notable piece of software included with the Maximus VIII Impact that is absent on the Gene, the strangely named Overwolf. It’s another strictly gaming feature but unlike most of the other ROG utilities, its capabilities can’t be reproduced with alternate third party software. Overwolf is an interface that overlays onto games to provide additional functionality/enhancements.

The desktop browser experience vastly improved when they began offering add-ons/extensions, so much so that Chrome is now the basis for an entire operating system. Overwolf could work the same way for games, and its potential is only limited by the participating developers. This system means that common gaming-related activities like streaming and VOIP can be accomplished in a more seamless fashion.

Companion apps tailor-made for specific games seem like a great way to cut down on inconvenience. Finding game information during gameplay is especially tedious and usually involves alt-tabbing out of the game and launching a browser to search for what you need. With Overwolf, tips, guides, recipes, and other gamely knowledge could be just a click away. You may also get access to timers and better stats and maps, things that can give you a competitive edge.

Gaming often means isolating yourself from real life and social media but for games that are less demanding of your attention or have frequent breaks between action, you can stay connected to the outside world without exiting. Chat from within the game through GTalk, IRC, Steam Chat, Yahoo! Messenger, and Facebook Chat. Keep up on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ without ever returning to the Windows desktop. Some users play games in a window to keep track of other things but with Overwolf you can stay in full-screen mode for a more immersive experience.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Asus Maximus VIII Impact is the most capable and feature-packed mini-ITX motherboard I’ve ever seen. Aside from the usual features provided courtesy of the Z170 chipset, the Impact is outfitted with a high-end audio solution, a proficient wireless module/antenna, a premium power regulation system, a U.2 port, up to five independently controllable fan headers via the included fan card, and an external temperature sensor that can be placed anywhere in the case. They’ve even crammed in physical power, reset, clear CMOS, and BIOS Flashback buttons, a diagnostic readout, and voltage measurement points, things one might expect to be omitted on a board of this size. It’s astonishing how much they’ve jammed in from larger ROG models into this mini-ITX version.

Hardware-wise, the Impact’s only real weaknesses concern compatibility. The sound card and daughterboard are rather tall and can interfere with some CPU cooling solutions, especially the larger low profile variety. Watercooling and tower heatsinks with fin-stacks positioned higher up are your best bet in this regard, though it’s likely anyone considering this board will have such a cooler in mind. Storage is another sore point as the U.2 port is really only good for future-proofing at this point. The high-end SSD form factor du jour is M.2 and its omission is absolutely glaring. The external fan card is a fantastic extra but Asus didn’t seem to put much thought into physical installation. Without drilling holes, the only place where it can properly mount is on the side of a 5.25 inch bay, a location that doesn’t exist in some mini-ITX enclosures.

From an operational standpoint, the Impact is a pleasure to use. Board cooling is subpar and energy efficiency isn’t the best, though the latter is perhaps as good as one can expect considering all the features and physical limitations. Asus’ software is not too heavy on resources and the fan control is outstanding. I find many of the ROG applications be superfluous and I wish they could be combined into a single interface like AI Suite, rather than existing as individual separate apps. Overwolf is a notable inclusion as the way it overlays on top of games has tremendous potential. It can actually change the way people play and dedicated add-ons for specific titles could be incredibly useful. Along with streaming/capturing and voip apps, social media and chat clients are well represented in the app store and Gmail and even a browser can be installed. If the ecosystem becomes developed enough, a dedicated gamer may rarely need to access the Windows desktop at all.

Currently selling for US$240, this is the most expensive Skylake mini-ITX motherboard on the market, carrying a ~$40 premium over the next most costly model. Expensive motherboards make poor value propositions but if there’s value to be found at the high-end, it’s definitely here. That extra $40 goes a long way as the Impact is clearly unrivaled in most respects and should command a higher price. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone but if you’re going to build a tricked out but smaller Skylake system, this looks like a winner.

Our thanks to Asus for the Maximus VIII Impact motherboard sample.


The Asus Maximus VIII Impact is recommended by SPCR

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Intel Core i7-6700: Skylake i7 at 65W
Skylake Memory Scaling with Kingston Predator DDR4-3000
Asus Skylake Z170 Motherboards: Maximus VIII Gene vs. Z170-A
Intel Core i7-5775C: Broadwell for Desktops
Skylake: Intel Core i7-6700K
AMD Kabini: Athlon 5350 Desktop SoC

* * *

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