Finally (in our Z97 motherboard roundup) it’s Asus’ turn, here we have the Asus Maximus VII Ranger, a Z97 based ATX board from the Republic of Gamers! This particular example is the cheapest of three boards in the ROG range with the others being the higher specification Hero and the other being the Hero mATX based board. The Maximus VII Ranger supports both Nvidia’s SLI and AMD’s CrossFireX technologies and features ROG-exclusive SupremeFX audio technology with shielding. Other features include a debug LED, on-board power and reset buttons, M.2 (PCIe only) and support for up to 32GB of overclocked (up to 3200MHz) memory.
The Asus Maximus VII Ranger came in a smart red box with a lift-up lid providing plenty of detail on the motherboard and its features.
The back of the box highlights numerous other aspects of the Ranger including; SupremeFX, GameFirst III, KeyBot and Sonic Radar II. I have to say that there’s a wealth of detail provided on the box in general and it’s all very useful indeed, you can learn an awful lot about this motherboard without even getting it out of the box…
As you can see beneath that lid there’s a wealth of information on offer.
Once inside we can see the Asus Maximus VII Ranger packaged well (still not as well as ASRock) and in its anti-static bag.
Within the box, other than the motherboard itself we find the following:
4 x Serial ATA (SATA) Data Cables
I/O Panel Shield
Q Connector kit
Quick Start Guide
ROG cable labels
ROG door hanger
At the time of writing the Asus maximus VII Ranger is retailing for approximately £130 on Amazon and comes with an impressive 4 year warranty.
Intel® Socket 1150 for the 5th/New 4th/4th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors Supports Intel® 22 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
4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 3200(O.C.)/3100(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2933(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2600(O.C.)/2500(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/2000(O.C.)/1866(O.C.)/1600/1333 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).
Integrated Graphics Processor Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB ports - Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz - Supports DVI-D with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz - Supports RGB with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8, red) 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black) *1 3 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Intel® Z97 chipset : 6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray, Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10 Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology *2
Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC - Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking - SupremeFX Shielding Technology - ELNA® premium audio capacitors Audio Feature : - DTS Connect - Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel - Sonic SoundStage - Sonic SenseAmp - Sonic Studio - Sonic Radar II
Intel® Z97 chipset : *3 6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board) Intel® Z97 chipset : 7 x USB 2.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, , 5 at mid-board)
First impressions of the Asus Maximus VII Ranger are very good, as one would expect from Asus and from the asking price! The Ranger looks a little similar to the Platinum award winning MSI Z97 GAMING 5, which of course is no bad thing. The matte black PCB looks cool and the overall layout is also very good. Let’s take a look around the board, shall we…
Looking at the right side of the board (working right to left), in the far corner we find the debug LED, power and reset buttons and a the dreaded Mem OK button (never really understood what this is for, but I have had fun with memory on Asus boards before and even then the button never helped!). Just above this we have the four main DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB RAM with OC support for up to 3200MHz modules. Just below this we have the main 24-pin ATX power socket in its usual place, followed by the single USB 3.0 header and the first of three 4-pin fan headers (CHA_FAN2). Dominating the other corner of the board we have the main south bridge heat-sink (smart it looks too!) and the six Intel controlled SATA 3 6GB/s ports.
Taking a look at the bottom of the board from right to left we find the front panel connector, supported by Asus’ Q connectors (very handy little things they are!) and next to that we find the TPM header. Next to this we have the Asus KeyBot button (allows specific programming of your Function (F1-F10) keys when switched on), the second of three 4-pin chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN1) and two USB 2.0 headers. Next we have the ROG Extender header, the Clear CMOS button (CLR_CMOS) and the audio related Sound Stage button allowing on the fly switching of stereo and virtual surround sound modes. Finally we have the front panel HD audio header. Below is also a description of the Ranger’s PCIe lane specifications:
PCIEX1_1 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIE_X16/X8_1 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width graphics cards.
PCIEX1_2 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIE_X8_2 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width graphics cards.
PCIEX1_3 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIEX4_3 (PCIe 2.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width graphics cards.
Looking at the left side of the board in the right hand corner we find Asus’ SupremeFX audio solution with its associated headphone amp (small chip) to the right of it. Also note that the audio solution is surround by EMI shielding. The battery is next followed by the I/O ports (these are described in full below). Just above the I/O ports we also find the final of three 4-pin chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN3).
The top of the board is dominated by the Intel 1150 socket and the CPU power phase heat-sinks, the heat-sinks are screwed to the motherboard (always nice to see). In the right hand corner we find the main 8-pin ATX CPU power connector, then working to the left we find two CPU fan headers (CPU_OPT & CPU_FAN). In the centre of the board we can also (just about) see the M.2 socket, supporting PCIe devices only.
Above is a shot of the CPU power phase heat-sinks, a little too subtle for my tastes though, but at least they are bolted to the board unlike some others we have recently seen…
It is nice to see a debug LED (although this one’s not as cool as MSI’s CPU temp sensing one!), power button, reset button and the like, although I’ve never been a fan of that Mem OK button!?
For the first time in all of the boards tested we’re also not dealing with a Realtek audio solution, here we have Asus’ own solution (SupremeFX), with a dedicated headphone amp and EMI shieling it should be good, we shall wait and see (I mean hear!)…
PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
x2 USB 2.0 ports (Intel)
Optical SPDIF Out port
USB BIOS Flashback button
x2 USB 3.0 ports (Intel)
LAN RJ-45 port
x2 USB 3.0 ports (Intel)
HD Audio I/O ports
Above we can also see the silver IO shield of the Asus Maximus VII Ranger on the left and installed on the right. Asus claims great things about their I/O shield calling it a Black Nickel-coated Q-shield, oooh! It’s also pretty difficult to see white writing on a silver background, IMHO…
Looking at the back of the Maximus VII Ranger we see pretty much nothing as is usual, but I do rather like those back-plates for the heat-sinks suggesting that they’re really securely mounted.
As the new Devil’s Canyon CPUs were not available at the time of review (and to be fair there’s very little (in fact almost nothing!) between a Haswell and a Haswell Devil’s Canyon anyway!), our testing was performed with an Intel Core i5-4670K.
A new build was put together to house the Asus Maximus VII Ranger motherboard and the Haswell 4670K CPU. The following components were used:
WARNING! We tried to use our test Kingston M.2 120GB SATA SSD, but no! It would appear that Asus is not supporting the M.2 SATA standard only the M.2 PCIe standard, why I have no idea!? Especially as all other boards tested (up to this point) have supported both!
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were then installed. The latest Asus Drivers were used and can been obtained here (I did not use the ones on the disc as I wanted to be using the latest).
* The latest BIOS version (1.3) was installed via Asus’ Flash utility within the UEFI and was used throughout testing…
Intel Chipset Driver (INF driver ver: 10.0.14)
SupremeFX Audio Driver (7272)
Intel LAN Driver (126.96.36.199)
Intel USB3.0 Driver (188.8.131.52)
NVIDIA Graphics (337.88 WHQL)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
Unigine Heaven 4.0
Metro Last Light
The Asus Maximus VII Ranger was easy to install, helped by a good general layout. This Asus board and others I have seen in the past have a habit of double booting, they still boot up but sometimes they boot, die and boot again. This is often the case when making BIOS changes too! I have to say that I’m not a fan of this strange behavior!
So once the Ranger had booted it was time to check all was ok in the UEFI, it was but something was missing! The Kingston M.2 120GB SSD was not found, and after upgrading the BIOS to version 1.3 (as M.2 compatibility was listed), it was still not found! But apparently this is by design as the Asus Maximus VII Ranger DOEST NOT SUPPORT SATA M.2 devices only PCIe. Strange, as all other boards tested so far have supported both…
After installing another regular 2.5″ SSD (Kingston SSDNow V+200 60 GB) the rig was good to go, with all UEFI settings looking good. With the Intel Core i5-4670K @ 3.4GHz and Kingston Beast at the default of 1333MHz (see below). Also take note of the UEFI, probably one of the best I’ve seen, but the layout of options seems a little odd (read on)…
After stability was proven at the Load Optimized Defaults setting it was time for a little overclocking. Now this is where I thought that the UEFI was a little confusing as there seems to be too many options, and the options/settings I am looking for are actually of the page! Which seems a little odd, as the options that I do see I don’t want to use, and probably never will! OK, so there is the My Favorites feature allowing you to mange what you see in your own customized UEFI. But to be fair all I want to do is come in, make one or two changes and get out…
The simplest way to overclock is to track down the CPU Level Up option, hidden half way down the Extreme Tweaker page. I set this to 4.600G and after an unusual Tuning screen prompt and a reboot, voila a nice 4.6GHz (at a sensible 1.275v) overclock with XMP support. Nice!
For testing purposes I ran the motherboard at both its Load Optimized Defaults speed of 3.4GHz (RAM: 1333MHz) and at 4.5GHz (RAM: 2400MHz). This was done by setting Ai Overclock Tuner to XMP and 1-Core Ratio Limit to 45 (ensure Sync All Cores is also set). This worked great with all other settings within the UEFI at their default, resulting in an Auto vCore voltage of 1.275v, perfect!
As you can see from the two sets of data there’s not much of a performance difference in the scores when looking at both Stock (3.4GHz – 3.8GHz Turbo) and 4.5GHz, but the additional performance is there, even if it’s negligible.
What can be seen from the data above is that when it comes down to it a Gaming PC that’s running at 4.5GHz & 2400MHz isn’t much faster than one running at 3.4GHz and 1333MHz! Sorry guys but it’s true…
The performance (both stock and overclocked) of the Asus Maximus VII Ranger is pretty much on par with the rest of the 97 chipset boards that we have recently tested. What can also be seen is that looking across the four Z and H 97 based boards there’s literally no performance difference between any of them, all results are within the margin of error! That’s why here at pcG we don’t really talk about motherboard performance as they all perform pretty much the same (as long as you’re comparing apples to apples of course!), like we are here.
Hardware (ASUS SupremeFX)
ROG knows the importance of flawless audio – pristine effects and full-range soundtracks make the game. That’s why we invest substantial engineering resources to perfect onboard audio. The result is SupremeFX. Cutting-edge isolation technologies minimize electromagnetic interference (EMI) and exceptionally premium components deliver best-in-class audio that’s as great as a dedicated soundcard. But we never rest on our laurels, which is why SupremeFX 2014 has been refined even further for Maximus VII motherboards. That means even finer components and superbly clever software innovations for gaming and multimedia experiences beyond compare!
Gaming Audio is also one of my favourite subjects, I guess I’m an aspiring Gaming Audiophile, if there is such a thing. And here we have a different SPU for a change, Asus’s own SupremeFX. Impressive it is too, with it’s dedicated headphone Amp, EMI Shielding and Sonic Sound Stage. Add to this Sonic Radar II, with its clever OSD and EQ settings and you’ve got a real nice set of features for Gamers.
Of course as always there’s a host of optional software installs for the Asus Maximus VII Ranger, in fact I was shocked (and somewhat horrified!) to see that there’s 23 listed in the downloads section here! Of course the main hub is Asus’s AI Suite 3, that we’ll take a look at below.
One of the main highlights here is the 5-Way Optimization tuning function. Outlined below, it will automatically overclock and tune your system to 4.2GHz and enable XMP support (see process below). Delve deeper into the Advanced section and you can increase this to 4.6GHz!
I have to say that this suite of software is probably the finest that I have seen, with a great interface and it’s very easy to use. The only question is; whether we actually need/want software like this, hmm…
There’s no doubt that the Asus Maximus VII Ranger is a great Z97 motherboard, packed full of features and with software that will excite the Gamer. The real question is whether you really need these bell ‘n whistles, and perhaps more importantly whether you want to pay for them…
The Ranger came well packaged in a smart looking ROG box, although packaging is still not quite as good as ASRocks. The box also contains a host of useful accessories and some not so useful, but the Q-Conector, SLI Bridge and x4 SATA cables are always nice to see. The board itself is also a thing of beauty not dissimilar to the MSI Z97 Gaming 5, with its clean looks and matte black PCB. Installation was also simple, aided by a good board layout.
Although the Asus Maximus VII Ranger booted first time (via a double boot of course, see main review!) I unfortunately ran into a problem as our test M.2 SSD (Kingston M.2 120GB) was not recognized. Spotting a BIOS update that referenced to M.2 compatibility, I embarked on a BIOS update, a nice simple affair it was too! Alas, the M.2 drive still failed to be recognized. This was later discovered to be due to the fact that the Ranger doesn’t support M.2 SATA only M.2 PCIe, strange as all other boards recently tested support both!
Once the board was up and running it ran like a dream, putting in both a good performance at the Load Optimized Default setting (3.4GHz and 1333MHz) and at our test OC setting of 4.5GHz and 2400MHz. Overclocking although stable was a little more frustrating than usual, as the settings that you want to adjust in the UEFI seem to be hidden from view. With the settings that you don’t want to see at the top of the list, and the ones you do want to see found somewhere below. Of course you can use the My Favorites to customize the UEFI (nice idea), but to be honest most of us Gamers just want to go into the UEFI, press a couple of buttons and get out! Other boards that we have seen make this easier than the Ranger does…
What makes the Asus Ranger stand out a little more than the boards we have seen before, is its Gaming features (GameFirst III (network optimization), Headphone Amp, Sonic Radar II, Sonic SoundStage (although this just alters sound, doesn’t make it any better IMHO!) and Keybot). Now while all of the features work and often come partnered with smart easy to use software, I debate their usefulness. Maybe I’m just a simple man (), but to be fair I just want to Game, I don’t want to spend my evening messing with hardware and software features.
Of course we shouldn’t complain about these features if they’re free, but of course they’re not! With the Asus Maximus VII Ranger commanding a good £20+ premium over excellent boards like the ASRock Z97X Killer, you need to really want those features…
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