ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Reviewccokeman - May 26, 2014
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ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Closer Look:
As a full ATX board, the ROG Maximus VII Hero measures 12 inch x 9.6 inch, allowing it to fit in any chassis that supports the standard. The PCB is a deep black in color, but ASUS added red accents strategically to highlight the board and give it a unique look. The board layout works well and is laid out to maximize functionality. The spacing between the 16x PCIe slots looks large enough to fit two of ASUS' Direct CU II cooled video cards in without any interference issues. ASUS has used a proprietary fiber weave design since the P67 launch several years back to both strengthen the PCB as well as improve signalling strength and minimize current leakage with its Digi+III Extreme Engine system. Meanwhile, a pair of heat sinks for the primary VRM cooling system keep the primary cooling system in place while keeping the PCB from being a flexi/flyer. The heat sink for the Z97 PCH and the primary cooling are held in place with spring-loaded screws. Visually, there is not a lot of difference when you first compare the M6H and the M7H. After you sit back for a few seconds, the differences start popping to the forefront and show how the looks have improved.
I/O connectivity consists of a combination mouse/keyboard PS/2 port, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, HDMI 1.4, D-Sub, and DVI-D ports for support of up to three independent monitors and up to 4K resolutions, an optical S/PDIF output, a USB BIOS Flashback button used with the USB 3.0 port right next to it, four USB 3.0 ports controlled by the Z97 PCH with True Volt USB support, an Intel I218-V controlled Anti-Surge Gigabit LAN port, and six gold-plated jacks for use with ASUS' Supreme FX 8-channel HD sound solution. There are a total of six expansion slots on the M7H: three PCIe 2.0 1x slots; two PCIe 3.0/2.0 16x slots (Red) that run at 16x with one slot occupied and 8x / 8x with both populated; and a black 16x PCIe 2.0 slot that runs at 4x speeds. When the M.2 slot is occupied, you lose PCIe functionality on all the PCIe 1x slots, as well as the black PCIe 2.0 16x slot. When that bottom PCIe 2.0 16x slot is running in PCIe x4 mode, the balance of the PCIe 1x and M.2 slot no longer function.
ASUS' Supreme FX sound solution is a continuation from previous generations and includes an isolated path through the PCB (a feature first seen on ASUS ROG motherboards), Supreme FX Shielding of the Realtek codec, ELNA audio capacitors, and some new items for this build. A Sonic Sense Amp is used to detect headphone impedance and adjust the amplifier output accordingly. ASUS' Sonic Soundstage button is used to adjust 3D amplification at the hardware level at the push of a button – ultimately tailoring the sound profiles for each user's preference. ASUS has taken the existing platform of the M6H and expanded it even further.
The bottom left-hand side of the multi-colored PCB is mostly dedicated to the sound solution. The first connection point is the front panel audio header followed up by the Sonic Soundstage button used to change sound profiles. Next is the Clear CMOS button with a jumper to do the same. The next two headers together are used with a cable that feeds directly to either the ASUS ROG Front Base assembly or the ROG OC-Panel. If you are not using either of those add-on devices, you can use the right hand side of the pair as an additional USB 2.0 header. Next are a pair of dedicated USB 2.0 headers, one of the 6PWM fan headers that can be controlled via ASUS Fan Xpert III software, the trusted platform header, front panel connectivity, and a 2-pin header for use with a thermistor.
Starting up the right-hand side of the PCB are the SATA 6Gbps ports. The left two are controlled via an Asmedia controller, while the right six are controlled from the Z97 PCH. The six ports from the Z97 PCH support Intel Rapid Storage Technology 13 RAID 0/1/5/10, as well as Intel Smart Response and Smart Connect technologies. Climbing further is a USB 3.0 header adding availability for two additional ports to bring the total from the Z97 PCH to six. A 24-pin ATX power supply connection supplies most of the power to the board and Digi+III Extreme Engine full digital control. Above the 24-pin power connection are the power and reset buttons, the MemOK button used for troubleshooting memory-related boot issues, another of the 6PWM-controlled fan headers, and the Digi+ controller. The Q-LED is used to display POST diagnostic codes as well as the sound profile when using the SoundStage button to change profiles; pushing the button will display the profile currently selected. Up to 32GB of DDR3 memory is supported using 8GB DIMMs in the four Q-DIMM sockets at speeds of up to 3200MHz (OC). ASUS uses a T-Topology trace layout to minimize latency and signalling issues between sockets to improve overclocking margins by providing the same length route back to the CPU socket. Over current protection is provided to the DRAM modules by way of a resettable breaker seen just to the left of the 24-pin socket, and is part of ASUS' Protection Suite for the board.
Across the top of the PCB is another pair of PWM fan headers; one dedicated to the CPU cooling fan, with the other one optional if your cooling solution has a pair of fans. The top side of the VRM heat sink comes close to the edge of the board, but still leaves room for the connectivity. Additional CPU power is fed through an 8-pin EATX power connection. Behind the I/O panel connections are a series of diodes used to mitigate electro static discharges and cover every external connection point on the PCB.
ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero is designed to be used with Intel's 4th and 5th generation Core series 22nm processors using the LGA 1150 socket. ASUS is using an 8+3 phase design for the CPU and VCCSA, and a 2+2 phase design for the memory on this iteration of its Extreme Engine Digi+ III all-digital VRM circuit. ASUS uses NextFet power blocks, 60 Amp Ferrite chokes with gold treated covers, and 10K Black Metallic capacitors to ensure a longer-lasting, cooler-running, and ergo more stable power circuit. Just under the CPU socket is the M.2 SSD socket for use with M.2 M Key type 2260/2280 storage devices of up to 80mm in length. ASUS provides mounting points for both 80mm and 60mm long drives. This is an option that allows transfer speeds up to 67% faster than SATA 6Gbps devices.
The heat pipe based cooling solution covering the VRM circuit is robust and transfers the heat effectively to the air flowing over it. As part of the image of the board, it meshes well with the overall design. The heat sink over the Z97 PCH works well with a device that does not put out a lot of thermal load. We get an all new design that has a lexan cover over the center of the heat sink, featuring the ASUS ROG logo that lights up when the feature is enabled in the BIOS. In a chassis with a case window, it is a good looking way to identify the board you are using to your LAN competitors.
The Maximus VII Hero on its own is a pretty solid piece of hardware. However, it is not the entire package. ASUS provides a comprehensive software suite and best-in-class UEFI BIOS; both of which have been revamped with this lineup.