Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
During the launch of Z87 motherboards ASUS surprised a lot of people when they announced their “Hero” SKU of the Republic of Gamers line of motherboards. When the Hero was released it was an extremely popular motherboard simply because it brought an ASUS ROG motherboard into the reaches of most peoples’ budgets. A surprising move because ROG motherboards have traditionally been extremely expensive products that target a fairly niche market. It is unlikely that ASUS ROG would have made this move last generation without the price pressure of rival brands such as Gigabyte, with their G1 Sniper Z87, MSI, with their Z87-G45 Gaming and ASRock, with their Z87 Fatal1ty Killer. All of these competing products have driven the price of gaming motherboards down to the point where gaming motherboards are no longer exclusive or expensive products, but accessible to the fairly mainstream PC user and mainstream budget. Now ASUS have added the Ranger to sit just below the Hero for the Z97 platform which is another smart move given that Gigabyte and MSI have become even more aggressive with the pricing of their Gaming Series motherboards which start at just £100/$140. The main benefit of the ASUS Maximus VII Ranger is that it carries a 10-15% lower price premium (depending on the region and retailer) than the ASUS Maximus VII Hero but drops fairly little in terms of features or specifications. From our discussions with ASUS they have clarified that the main differences between the Hero and the Ranger are that the Hero has:
- Better power componentry (such as 4 more PWM drivers and 60A ferrite chokes) to provide more efficient power delivery and better overclocking potential
- Two more SATA III ports via an ASMedia controller for additional storage options
- A heat pipe joining the two CPU VRM heatsinks to provide more effective cooling and longevity
- Additional onboard lighting to provide more striking aesthetics
- A dual colour PCB design which includes red PCB accents around the heatsinks, audio codec and across parts of the motherboard
- A slightly better bundle which includes a few extra SATA III cables
Of course, while those extras on the Maximus VII Hero are nice and will be useful to a lot of people, they are not essential for the more value-minded user so the Ranger offers a way for users to save a bit of money by opting out of those extra features. That said the Maximus VII Hero and the Ranger both still have a place in the market but it is important to distinguish the differences between the two. We anticipate a fair amount of confusion about the differences between the two models, and we expect consumers interested in the Ranger will be interested in the Hero (and vice versa). Hopefully this has cleared up some of the differences so let us now move onto to taking a look at the specifications of the ASUS Maximus VII Ranger:
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging is the usual high quality we’ve come to expect from ASUS ROG. Once you open up the product you are greeted with a couple of glossy “marketing” sheets on an additional internal box. The basic jist of those can be seen on the product page.
The back details the specifics and features of the motherboard, of course you can find those in full on the product page.
The accessories include an ASUS ROG door hangar, user guide and some cable labels.
ASUS ROG also provide four SATA III ready cables, a black labelled rear I/O and front panel Q Connectors.
A Closer Look & Layout Analysis
The aesthetics of the ASUS Maximus VII Ranger really do trump other motherboards in this class. While the similarly priced Gigabyte and MSI Gaming 7 motherboards are attractive, I think they lack some of the finesse and sophistication that the ASUS ROG line offers in terms of the aesthetics. It is easy to see how enthusiasts have become so attracted to the ASUS ROG line. In terms of the layout there isn’t much for me to criticise ASUS, the power connections are in the ideal locations, the PCI lanes are sensibly placed and adequately spaced for a dual GPU configuration, the CPU fan headers are neatly tucked away behind the heatsink and the buttons that you might use when this is installed in your case (SoundStage and ClearCMOS) are the easiest to access. I am also impressed how ASUS have extended the audio PCB separation further down the motherboard than most other vendors to ensure the audio front panel connectors are as close to the front of the case as possible. My only minor criticism would be that I would have liked to have seen right angled USB 3.0 and 24 pin connectors to help with the cable management but this is bordering on personal preference on my part.
Around the CPU socket we can see a rather large heatsink implementation which has the Ranger branding. Additionally there is the 8 “hybrid” phase VRM tucked underneath the heatsink to assist with overclocking.
The area by the four DIMM lanes is fairly busy as we have a start, reset and MemOK button as well as a debug LED, USB 3.0 header and system fan header.
Down by the PCH we see six SATA III ports all provided through Intel’s Z97 Express chipset.
The bottom of the board offers front panel switch/light connectors, a TPM header, the KeyBot button (which we will explain more on the software page), two USB 2.0 headers, an ROG Extension header, a clearCMOS button, the SoundStage button (which we explain on the software page as well) and your front panel audio.
Just below the CPU socket we get the M.2 socket for M.2 based SSDs or other devices.
Near the back of the board we find the audio implementation which uses an isolated PCB, ELNA capacitors and an EMI shielded Realtek ALC 1150 codec.
The rear I/O offers up the following connectors:
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
- 1 x DVI-D
- 1 x D-Sub
- 1 x HDMI
- 1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
- 4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
- 2 x USB 2.0
- 1 x Optical S/PDIF out
- 6 x Audio jack(s)
- 1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
At the top of the motherboard, behind the heatsink, we find two CPU fan headers, the CPU 8 pin and what I believe is a temperature sensor connection if you want to use an additional temperature sensor to assist with system monitoring and cooling.
The back of the motherboard reveals the full matte black PCB, the tiny KeyBot microprocessing chip and additional PCB reinforcements under the CPU VRM heatsinks (something I haven’t seen other brands do).
The Test System and Test Software
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to review our test system and thank those sponsors who kindly provided us with test equipment to make our work possible. We offer our thanks to:
- Motherboard: varies by review
- CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K processor
- GPU: Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X graphics card
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance Pro 16GB 2400MHz kit (CL11, 2 x 8GB)
- Cooling: Corsair H100i with Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
- Case: Lian Li PC-T60A test bench
- Storage Drives: Kingston 240GB Hyper X 3K SSD, Patriot 120GB Wildfire SSD, Kingston Hyper X 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive and Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD
- PSU: Be Quiet Straight Power E9 680W
- Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit SP1
- Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router
- SiSoft Sandra Engineer – available here.
- WPrime – available here.
- Cinebench – available here.
- 3DMark – available here.
- Bioshock Infinite – available here.
- Tomb Raider – available here.
- AIDA 64 Engineer – available here.
- DPC Latency Analyser – available here.
- Rightmark Audio Analyser – available here.
- LAN Speed Test Lite – available here.
- Passmark – available here.
The ASUS ROG BIOS utility has had a similar revamp to what we saw on the ASUS Channel Series with the Z97-A BIOS. The main differences are the additions of
- A new Favorites tab which allows you to put your most frequently used settings into one section
- More advanced fan controls with the QFan Control interactive fan management utility
- The updated EZ Tuning Wizard which can auto-overclock your systems CPU and GPU based on your usage scenario and cooling
The BIOS is fairly attractive given its minimal 1024 x 768 resolution and the layout is well thought out in usual ASUS style. As we’ve come to expect from the ROG series the BIOS offers a sensible balance between advanced and basic features: you can adjust as much as you want when tweaking and tuning your system or you can just leave it on auto and it will work great too. Be sure to check out the look and feel of the new ASUS ROG BIOS below and see what you think:
As this is an ASUS motherboard it comes with the software features of the normal “channel series” but also those of the ROG Series. We already went over the Channel Series Z97 software in our ASUS Z97-A review so be sure to check that overview out if you’re interested. However, since this is an ROG motherboard we’ll be focusing on the main ROG software exclusives that warrant further attention.
The ASUS GameFirst III package is a successor to GameFirst II but at a fundamental level it is totally new. GameFirst III, unlike the previous versions, is a totally in-house ASUS software design and no longer relies on the CFOS team. GameFirst III has been written by the ASUS networking team and takes advantage of QoS programming and packet prioritisation features. GameFirst III is a very easy and unique piece of networking software that allows you to easily tweak and tune your network controller to whatever specific use-case scenario you need. In addition to application tuning you can also monitor your network and run a speed test. The GameFirst III software will work with any Network Controller not just the built in Intel Gigabit one so should you want to add a wireless card or USB adapter you can do so.
MemTweakIt and RAMDisk
MemTweakIt is another ROG exclusive product which allows you to make advanced changes to your DRAM timings and performance.
They also provide a free RAMDisk which allows you to set aside free memory to use as a RAMDisk. This is a very nice inclusion given that a lot of RAMDisk software is often quite expensive.
The ASUS ROG KeyBot is one of the newest and most important features for the ROG line. It allows you to turn any old USB keyboard into something more advanced by programming your F1 to F10 keys as macros or shortcuts. You can even choose from a range of pre-defined function keys if you aren’t confident enough to get into creating your own macros. One of the most entertaining of those is “escape mode” which can only be described as akin to the “Panic Button” – it minimises everything that is running and takes you straight to the desktop (pr0ns anyone?). KeyBot can be easily turned on and off if it ever conflicts with other applications. ASUS have integrated an import/export feature to allow users to easily share and exchange their KeyBot profiles which will be useful for game-specific macros.
Sonic Studio and SoundStage
The Sonic SoundStage part of the audio implementation offers up some more cool features. The hardware has the ability to auto-detect the headphone impedance and set that for you so that you get the correct listening experience. The SoundStage button (which we mentioned on page 2) allows you to switch between four hardware register level “Op-Amp” settings, this is essentially like swapping out your “Op-Amps” but you can do it at a hardware level at the press of the button. This is similar to Gigabyte’s implementation that we saw last generation accept it is executed much better because the Op-Amps can be “switched out” without having to physically remove anything and the Op-Amps have been tailor made for this particular audio setup.
Sonic Studio is another audio enhancement program developed by ASUS. It is a complete overhaul of previous generation audio tweaking software and allows users to set pre-defined profiles as well as create their own by adjusting each audio element as much or as little as they want.
Despite the great lengths ASUS have gone to with their newest VRM implementations most people will still be CPU limited – whether that be in frequency or heat terms. In our case we know our CPU could theoretically do 4.9 or 5GHz, but the required volts to get there (1.3-1.35v) result in almost instant overheating under load. As a result our maximum stable overclock has been 4.8GHz at around 1.27-1.3 volts and the ASUS Maximus VII Ranger managed to achieve 4.8GHz with 1.27 volts with no issues at all. In that regard we do not anticipate any users will be limited by this motherboard, the CPU will be more of an issue.
CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s CPU performance. Cinebench R15 is a totally free utility and is available for download here.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. wPrime is a free utility that is available for download here.
The SiSoft Sandra Dhrystone and Whetstone benchmarks are widely used measures of compute power and performance for a wide array of real world usage scenarios. You can find out more details on these tests here or download SiSoft Sandra here.
3DMark Firestrike is Futuremark’s latest creation for testing the GPU performance of high end gaming PCs using Direct X 11 graphics. You can download a free basic version of 3DMark here.
Tomb Raider is a popular action-adventure video game published by Square Enix based on the Tomb Raider franchise. The game was released in 2013 and as of March 2014 had sold 6 million copies.
Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter developed by Irrational Games that is the third instalment of the Bioshock series. The game is the last to be produced by Irrational Games before they announced their closure in February 2014. The game has sold over 4 million copies since its 2013 release.
Combined Latency Test
SATA, M.2 and USB Performance
To test the storage performance in our motherboard reviews we use AIDA’s Disk Benchmark utility built into their AIDA64 Engineer Edition software package and run a variety of read and write tests. We run each of the benchmark tests on a SATA III, USB 3.0 and M.2 device. For SATA III testing we use a Patriot WildFire 120GB SATA III SSD, for USB 3.0 testing we use the Kingston Hyper X 64 GB USB 3.0 flash drive and for M.2 testing we use Plextor’s 256GB M.2 M6e SSD. The drives are always formatted before use.
For our networking tests we connect the test system up to our Intel Gigabit enabled ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 motherboard test system through the ASUS RT-AC68U router and run our tests. We opted for this over a direct point-to-point connection because we wanted to simulate real world performance.
LAN Speed Test Lite
LAN Speed Test was designed from the ground up to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and Local Area Network (LAN) speeds (wired & wireless). It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time. Download the free Lan Speed Test Lite utility from here.
Passmark Performance Test 8
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.
RightMark Audio Analyser (RMAA)
RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio device. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. Available here. We run the RMAA test using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable connecting the line out to the line in to test the quality of the motherboard audio codec not any external audio devices. We run the complete playback and recording test at default settings and then get RMAA to interpret the results giving the below outputs. We sync the playback and recording audio devices to the same setting as the test for accurate results.
16 Bit, 44KHz (DVD Quality)
16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
16 Bit, 192KHz (Studio Quality)
DPC Latency Analyser
Thesycon’s DPC Latency Checker is a Windows tool that analyses the capabilities of a computer system to handle real-time data streams properly. It may help to find the cause for interruptions in real-time audio and video streams, also known as drop-outs. Available here.
Power Consumption and Thermals
To measure power consumption we use a killawatt meter and measure the total system power draw at the wall. We run three different use-case scenarios for 5 minutes and take the average reading.
To measure the thermal properties of each motherboard we take the temperature of three different locations using a Rosewill infrared thermometer. We measure the hottest point on the PCH (chipset) heatsink, the first VRM heatsink (which is closest to the rear I/O) and the second VRM heatsink (which is closest to the RAM lanes).
The ASUS Maximus VII Ranger has an MSRP of about £129.99 in the United Kingdom, it can currently be found for £135-140 on Amazon, £129.56 at Scan Computers and £129.95 at Overclockers UK . The Maximus VII Ranger is not available in North America but based on UK pricing it would retail for $180-190 and sit below the $229.99 Maximus VII Hero. The Maximus VII Ranger is currently an EU product and is unlikely to be made available in North America. The ASUS Maximus VII Ranger has a 3 year ASUS warranty.
The ASUS Republic of Gamers series has a reputation for quality and excellence for a reason, and I think this board has demonstrated why quite clearly today. This is the most affordable ROG motherboard ASUS have ever produced yet it is ram packed with features and quality components. On a hardware level you might be tempted to compare it to rival products and note that it doesn’t offer “equivalent specifications” and so is “overpriced”. However, this would be a very misleading thing to do for a number of reasons, not just because you should be wary of comparing quantity without comparing quality. Firstly, the VRM implementation isn’t just about the number of phases but how they are implemented – and ASUS have always been at the forefront of digital power delivery so their 8 phases can be just as good if not better than a rival 12 phase solution. Secondly, the audio codec may be equivalent to what is offered by other brands but ASUS know how to get more out of it at a hardware and at a software level, probably in part due to their extremely talented audio division. We saw some of the strongest ALC1150 results from this motherboard and if you combine that with the added Sonic Studio and SoundStage software features it is a winning audio combination for this price point. Finally, on the networking front we see ASUS opt for Intel’s latest Gigabit NIC and I can’t praise them enough. While the Killer and Intel Gigabit solutions perform broadly the same under real use case scenarios in terms of throughput and latency the Intel NIC is a clear winner when it comes to CPU usage and software options. Intel’s Gigabit NICs have a great reputation for a reason and I am glad to see ASUS take advantage of them. I have also been highly impressed by the ASUS GameFirst III software which they have developed totally in-house.
The feature set doesn’t just stop there because we’ve already noted the extensive software package, the innovative KeyBot implementation to customise your keyboard at a hardware level, the beautiful aesthetics, the sensible layout and of course the very reasonable price given all the aforementioned points. There isn’t much to dislike about the Maximus VII Ranger other than the fact ASUS are unlikely to sell it in North America which may bug a lot of our readers who are from North America. It also feels like ASUS could have done a better job elaborating the differences between the Ranger and the Hero SKUs. As it stands a lot of people still feel like they are virtually identical motherboards except the Ranger is dramatically cheaper and this isn’t really true, as we discussed quite extensively in the introduction. However, with all that said I do believe that ASUS Maximus VII Ranger is a fantastic motherboard and if I were to put my money where my mouth is with Z97 then this would definitely be the motherboard I would buy.
- Intel Gigabit NIC
- Beautiful Aesthetics
- Competitive Pricing
- Advanced audio implementation
- Extensive and sophisticated software package – GameFirstIII, RAMDisk, AISuiteIII
- Strong Performance
- 3 Year warranty
- Relatively low resolution BIOS at 1024 x 768
- Not available in North America (yet?)
“The ASUS Maximus VII Ranger is a brilliant gaming motherboard that brings all the hallmarks of the ASUS ROG brand: functionality, quality and performance, yet at a surprisingly low price point. As the competition in the gaming motherboard market continues to increase ASUS have shown once again that they still have what it takes to be ‘the choice of champions’ by deploying innovative new features and quality components.”
Thank you to ASUS for providing this review sample.