The Maximus VI Gene has a logical layout with almost all of the internal headers and switches located around the outside edges of the board. The exception to this is the rear Chassis 4-Pin fan header. Whilst I can understand the convenience of having a 4 Pin fan connector close to where the rear fan is going to be, personally, I'd route the cable behind the board and connect the rear chassis fan to one of the headers along the edge of the board to keep things neat. The CPU and Optional CPU 4-Pin fan headers are at the top of the board for easy connection along with the LED readout for Error codes and MEM-OK button for memory compatibility issues. There are micro LEDs in front of the 24 Pin power connector that light up during the boot process to help troubleshooting and there is also an orange LED for hard drive activity near the SATA connectors. These lights are not overly bright but they are easy to see and identify. There are also a row of ProbeIt points for using a multimeter to check voltages when overclocking. Unless you are using an open air test bench, these are going to be almost impossible to access as they are along the top edge of the board, near the right corner.
ASUS has gone with a black board and highlighted it with red connections for one RAM channel, USB 3.0 header, all 8 SATA 3 6G connections and the PCIE X16/x8 ports - it isn't excessive but it's more red than the MSI Z87M Gaming that we reviewed earlier this month.
As with most boards that have an upgraded audio solution, the audio section of the board is isolated and highlighted by an LED lit channel and chipset branding - in this case it's the ASUS SupremeFX.
The top corner has a connector for the mPCIe Combo II adaptor. This allows the connection of a mini-PCI Express 2.0 card like the Centrino Advanced-N 6235 or Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 7260 network/bluetooth adaptors as well as a Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) M.2 SSD. If a NGFF M.2 SSD is fitted, the SATA_5 connector is disabled - this is not unusual for onboard mSATA so NGFF is not much different in the 'sharing' respect. The ASUS implementation of the mPCIe Combo II also means that the on-board SSD takes up less real estate on the board in contrast to an mSATA SSD that has a bigger footprint. Although M.2 SSDs are not as widely available as mSATA, they can be found online in Australia and are likely to become more widely available as the year goes on. I would have preferred to see a WIFI-GO! connector here instead of the mPCIe Combo II offering - a WIFI/BT mini PCI Express card can be bought for under $30 and easily installed so it isn't the end of the world if WIFI is required for your build.
The matte finish is effective on the heat sinks and they don't get overly hot to touch. The battery is located above the PCIE x16 slot so depending on the selection of CPU cooler, it might be possible to remove the battery without having to also remove the graphics card. It's a moot point though, ASUS has included a Clear CMOS button on the rear IO panel and they also have the USB BIOS Flashback that allows you to flash the BIOS without POSTing.
The DirectKey button allows you to boot straight into BIOS from a powered down state - great after an overclocking misadventure or if you have fastboot turned on and just want to tweak quickly without having going into windows to trigger a restart into BIOS.
When running SLI or Crossfire, the graphics cards are sandwiched close together which means that they will run hotter and louder than on a full sized board where there is usually a slot gap between the PCIe 16/8x slots. The other issue that this spacing presents is the difficulty in accessing the PCIe clip to release the cards. This is not a criticism of this motherboard but just something to be aware of if you intend to use dual graphics cards on a micro-ATX board. The upside is that all of the IO connections along the bottom edge of the motherboard are accessible when using 2 dual slot graphics cards. This also means that you can extend the gaming life of the board/CPU platform by adding second graphics card for SLI or Crossfire down the track rather than undertaking a full upgrade. As you can see below, the cards are tight - out right hand card hit 84 degrees on the open air test bench and the left card with unobstructed airflow maxed out around the 60 degree mark. As good as the Gigabyte Windforce 3 cooler is, it got loud trying to breathe with another card in the slot next to it. SLI/Crossfire capability is great in a micro-ATX board, however it isn't as forgiving as a full sized board where you get at least one slot of 'breathing space'. It worked really well but you need to pick your cards carefully.
Rear IO Panel
ASUS appears to have made a conscious decision not to focus on the graphics output and included an excessive amount of USB 2.0 (x4) and 3.0 (x6) connectors as well as leaving room for the mPCIe Combo II card. The reality for anyone who buys this board is that they will install at least one discrete graphics card and would be unlikely to use the onboard HDMI. We tested the onboard HDMI port with our 2560x1440 display @ 60Hz and while the i5-4670K didn't have the GPU grunt to power any games at that resolution, general use was crisp and clear without any issues at all. USB connectivity is excessive. 10 USB ports on the rear of their PC as well as the 2 on the front panel via the internal header seems like overkill to us. One of the USB ports is available for ROG Connect, USB Charge+ (increased power delivery for portable devices) and USB BIOS Flashback. The ROG connect feature will probably appear to a small minority but the USB Charge+ and BIOS flashback features are really handy. Anything that charges my phone faster is a welcome addition.
There are no eSATA ports on the rear I/O panel and the trade off seems to be the 8 internal SATA connections (including the shared SATA_5 / NGFF). With USB 3.0 drives now becoming the standard for portable large storage devices this is unlikely to be an issue for the progressive gamer but it's something to consider as there are a lot of people out there with eSATA backup drives.