[section_title title=Introduction & Closer Look]
Introduction & Closer Look
ASUS and their Republic of Gamers series, or ‘ROG’ for short, has been a brand that people have long associated with high-end motherboards. For those whom remember, ROG has been around since the Commando (Intel) and the very first Crosshair (AMD) era of motherboards, which were both launched when the brand took flight in 2006. Their typical colour scheme started off as blue and white. However, it remained as black and red for many generations until recently when ASUS turned a new leaf in their colour schematics; they’ve decided that it is time to get rid of it and go down a new path. The all new ROG image is a combination of subtle black, red and grey colours. The red is predominantly found on the heatsink(s) which would typically have been found on the various slots as well, but they are now in black and grey. I for one am glad to see a change as the black and red theme is becoming all too common, but as we all know, it is a favourite among many.
What we have on review today is currently the flagship model currently available in the UK for the ASUS Z170 ROG motherboards. This is set to change when the Maximus VIII Extreme gets released to the general public, but for now, the Hero is king of the castle. So, what does the Maximus VIII Hero offer for the price?
Upon a first glance, the Maximus VIII Hero looks like it has been well thought out, and it has good functionality when it comes to expansion, whether it is the PCI-E layout or the positioning of the PCI-E M.2 slot below the ICH heatsink. The decorative cover which sits over the motherboard I/O, as I mentioned when the MSI Z170A GAMING M7 was under the spotlight, is a very important feature in today’s higher end motherboard range. It adds to the aesthetic of the product rather than making it an eyesore, which is something that can be difficult to achieve if it isn’t done correctly.
Driving the CPU is a ten phase power design, which should be more than up to the task of providing some serious current when the need arises. ASUS have used something which they call NexFET MOSFETs which are over 90 per cent more efficient compared to previous MOSFETs and they are also 50 per cent smaller than previous generations too, and therefore the temperatures are reduced during operation. The MicroFine alloy chokes also allow for smoother delivery and when it is all put together with the Digi+ PWM controller and the 10K black metallic capacitors as a final smoothing component, they all work together to ensure smooth voltage delivery and aid in keeping the CPU voltage where it should be.
While we have the heatsinks removed, here’s what they look like on their own. It’s pretty sweet; right? The ICH heatsink has a see-through cut out which allows for the LED lights (three of them) that sit below the heatsink to give you a customisation choice like no other.
As it is an ATX motherboard, there are of course four DIMM slots present. The specifications state that it can support up to 64GB of memory, and rated up to 3800 MHz. Now this is not a nominal frequency and it will require overclocking, but then again, so does everything over JEDEC standards as that is all that Intel will guarantee their IMC (Integrated Memory Controller) to be capable of. I have yet to see any Skylake CPU struggle with at least 3000 MHz, though. Aside from the blindly obvious memory slots in the image, we also have a few other features in the shot such as the USB 3.0 header and the LED poster that is a godsend when you are overclocking. It came in useful in my testing as you will see later on in the overclocking section of this review.
The Intel Z170 chipset brings native SATA 6 Gbps ports to the table and has completely eradicated the SATA 3 Gbps connection option. However, they are backwards compatible with older generations of SATA connectivity. So, what we have is a total of six SATA 6 Gbps ports (grey) and four ports which come from the two SATA Express ports. The other connectivity option is of course one of Z170’s big selling points – the M.2 PCI-E port. These operate via the PCI-E bus to give you some incredible speeds (in excess of 2000 MBps) out of the next-gen solid state storage solutions. I’d have hoped to find two M.2 PCI-E ports on this motherboard, as with the MSI Z170A GAMING M7, but alas there is only the one. We have been told by ASUS that this has been done intentionally, as the M.2 PCI-E SSD market has not properly kicked off just yet, and in order to save your precious new drive from overheating due to the heat being kicked out by your GPU(s), it is as far away as possible to preserve your drive and stop premature failure. A smart idea? I’d wager so, if you value your hardware’s life span.
Between or above the PCI-E slots is typically where you’d expect to find the M.2 slots, but they’re not on this motherboard. We do however have some well-spaced PCI-E x16 lanes for dual graphics solutions, and a number of PCI-E x1 slots for various other components such as Wi-Fi or sound cards. The primary x16 lanes are spaced three slots apart for better cooling of the upper GPU, as that is the one that tends to run about ten degrees warmer than the bottom one due to the rising heat and lack of fresh airflow. Also in view is the SupremeFX plastic cover which of course is hiding the ASUS SupremeFX soundcard beneath it, as well as the isolation track which provides better EMI shielding. The track has LEDs that run down the line to give a red glow to the track. A host of other connection options are also visible in the shot such as the USB 2.0 header and the ROG_EXT port which allows you to connect the ROG OC Panel. Unfortunately, they’re only included in the Maximus VIII Extreme bundle (and of course the Rampage V Extreme bundle), but the option is there. The start (power on/off) and reset buttons are also present, which are really handy buttons to have when the motherboard is on a test bench.
The audio is something that ASUS have worked hard on, which they have called the SupremeFX 2015. There are many new things which the new and improved SupremeFX brings to the table, such as its shielded codec, an ESS ES9023 DAC, a dedicated clock generator, Japanese capacitors, 2Vrms amps and auto impedance sensing as well as a dedicated de-pop relay. The DAC alone is something which costs anywhere from £100 to £150 on its own, and to think that you get this on a £165 (at the time of writing) motherboard, it is a great inclusion. A great gaming experience requires great sound, and ASUS have gone all out to ensure that you get the best experience possible out of your on-board sound. The ESS ES9023 is a true Hi-Fi product, which combined with the dedicated clock gen, and all the rest of that wonderful stuff I just mentioned, gives an unprecedented on-board sound quality that has never been seen before on any motherboard in the past.
As per usual, we end up at the final stop of our motherboard tour – the inputs and outputs. On the Maximus VIII Hero, we have a plethora of connectivity options that range from old to new. There’s a very antiquated PS/2 port which is still useful to many gamers and overclockers alike. There’s a HDMI port as well as a DisplayPort which support a maximum resolution of 4096×2160 (24Hz) and 4096×2304 (60Hz) respectively. The LAN port is powered by an Intel controller, the Intel I219V chipset to be exact. It also sports an Anti-surge LANGuard feature which will keep your motherboard and other components safe in the event of a power surge via the Ethernet cable. A host of USB connections are available, and they include a USB 3.1 Type-C (black), a USB 3.1 Type-A (red), two USB 3.0 ports (blue), four USB 2.0 ports, which surprises me as I thought it was gone, and a USB BIOS flashback button which allows you to flash back to a previous BIOS when the button is pressed and a memory stick containing the previous BIOS file(s) is inserted. Finally, we have the audio jacks and the Optical S/PDIF out which are of course powered by the SupremeFX soundcard that was mentioned earlier.
Last of all, we have the included accessories that come with the ASUS Maximus VIII Hero. The list includes the following items:
6 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
ROG Fan Label
1 x ROG Door Hanger(s)