ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Review

ccokeman - 2014-04-28 17:57:38 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 26, 2014
Price: $229

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Introduction:

The ASUS ROG brand has morphed from a purely hardware centric build that featured everything including the kitchen sink, with ASUS now introducing lower entry points into the ROG line-up with slightly less hardware bells and whistles. ASUS pays attention to the feedback given online in any number of forums to get a good idea as to what its customer base is looking for in terms of feature set and reliability. The Maximus VII Hero is ready for sale at e-tailers at $229 and expands on the feature set for the gamer. The board is released concurrently with the Maximus VII Ranger and Gene, with Formula and Extreme models to follow in the future.

ASUS ROG Z87 offerings were excellent performers in their own right and now Intel and its board partners have introduced the Z97 PCH-equipped socket 1150 offerings, which includes the Maximus VII Hero I have here today. Not only do you get improvement through the Z97 PCH, but you get software updates to the ROG standbys, along with new implementations including Keybot, a new UEFI BIOS interface, and improved hardware.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Closer Look:

The packaging theme for the new Maximus VII Hero mirrors that of previous ASUS ROG releases. A deep red coloring easily sets the ROG Maximus VII Hero apart form other manufacturers' offerings in brick and mortar locations, making it easy to find on the shelves. The Republic of Gamers logo sits at the top left, the Maximus VII Hero is printed across the middle, and the bottom left lists compatibility with Intel's Fourth Generation Core series processors, both NVIDA SLI and AMD Crossfire, and resolutions up to 4K, along with an indication that it is Windows 8.1 ready. The back side of the box shows a breakdown of the I/O panel, the basic specifications, and highlights some of the features that set the ASUS ROG series apart from the competition.

 

 

Much like most of the ROG line, the front panel opens up to reveal a clear panel that shows off the board inside, providing you a feel for what you get. ASUS takes the opportunity and open space to educate the end user on the technologies that create a point of difference and how they benefit the gamer. In this case, we have: Supereme FX audio, with some new enhancements to both the software and hardware; Gamefirst III improvements, as well as NIC hardware level improvements with LanGuard; Keybot as a new tool to improve functionality, making any keyboard a gaming keyboard; and Gaming Gaurdian, which is a feature most of you will recognize wrapped into a new package.

 

 

ASUS ROG boards come with a full set of accessories that are tailored not only to the board, but a gaming feature set. The Maximus VII Hero comes with a detailed manual, "Do Not Disturb" door tag, SATA data cable labels, and the driver/software disk. You get a total of six SATA 6Gbps cables with locking ends, three of which have 90 degree ends. The Q-Shield I/O panel is designed to reduce EMI interference and protect against cuts from poorly cut out openings. Q-Connections have been used and pioneered by ASUS to make installing front panel connections to the motherboard easier. An SLI bridge connection is included in case you decide to run a dual-GPU solution from NVIDIA.

 

 

 

While not included in the package with the Maximus VII Hero, ASUS' newly released ROG Front Base is an available accessory that further expands the ROG feature set by allowing you to have a ton of control at your fingertips on a four-inch LCD panel. You get the normal stuff like speaker, mic and USB connectivity, but ASUS just adds on from there with multiple displays, CPU Level Up function, sound profile changes, and more. In the future we will look to get one of these and put it through its paces. Most readers will be familiar with the ROG OC Panel; an overclocking and monitoring tool available for use with the Z97 ROG lineup. With this tool, you get a ton of extreme overclocking options as a standalone tool. Pricing currently sits at $79 for the ROG Front Base and $99 for the OC Panel. Not bad prices for the added functionality you get. Both the ROG Front Base and OC Panel are fully compatible with all the Maximus VII series Z97 boards.

 

 

Since Intel has pretty much gotten out of the motherboard business, it has left all the innovation and build-outs to its board partners. The Z97 chipset launch is the first since this occurred. Intel's Z97 PCH brings support for upcoming and current socket 1150 processors. The chipset includes PCI Express M.2 storage options, which allows transfer speeds of up to 1 GB/s (as fast as SATA Express), are supported with Intel® Smart Response Technology, and can be used as a primary boot device. Intel Device Protection with Boot Guard is a new technology that "prevents repurposing of the platform to run unauthorized software, Protects against execution of boot block level malware and is rooted in a protected hardware infrastructure." Three specific types of Boot Guard are available: Measured Boot, which measures the boot block into the system storage device or TPM module; Verified Boot, which "cryptographically verifies the platform Initial Boot Block (IBB) using the boot policy key"; and Combined Boot, which uses both options. Also new for the Z97 chipset is support for Intel's Rapid Storage Technology 13, which allows "support for a single 16GB SSD to enable dynamic cache sharing". Basically, this allows the system memory image to be dynamically written to a caching SSD during deep sleep conditions. With a "resume" command, the image is written back into the memory and the caching SSD resumes full functionality as the cache SSD.

 

ASUS ROG offerings have always offered a complete mix of hardware and software options put together to deliver excellent performance, reliability, overclocking, and gaming specific features for gamers and hardcore enthusiasts alike. With this launch, I expect that trend to continue.

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.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Closer Look:

For the Z97 launch, ASUS revamped its entire set of utilities with a new look as well as added features like KeyBot, a utility that upgrades the functionality of any keyboard. The new look is something that ASUS worked on for a while and in the end provides the end user with a smoother operating, better functioning set of tools. ASUS still has included all the tools we are used to using and testing (eg. Sonic Radar, Secure Erase, and Ramdisk), but just bring more to the table. Let's dig into the tools and see what we have and see how it looks.

AI Suite III: Let's start off with AI Suite III, the latest version of ASUS' popular software package that aggregates almost all the software into one simple-to-use tool. If you are familiar with AI Suite, you no doubt have gotten used to the application and how to navigate through it. With this revision, we get an all-new look that takes a few minutes to learn the layout and then it's right back to the familiar tools. The main screen contains a lot of information about each of the seven tabs. For this generation, we have the 5-Way optimization tool using ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors to manage the functionality. Using this feature, we get a nice conservative, yet realistic overclock based on the variability of the CPU samples out in the market. The 5-Way optimization tool makes use of the five main tools (Turbo App, Fan Xpert III, TPU, Digi+ Power, and EPU), along with overclocking, sound profiles, and network setting. In all, it's a pretty comprehensive tool. Using the 5-Way optimization tool to tune the system resulted in a stable overclock of just over 4.2GHz, which required no other work on my part. All the parameters were set by the tool, including fan speeds and power profiles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 5-Way Optimization tool, much like I saw with the previous iteration, worked flawlessly to deliver a nice overall tune-up. We think we can always do better by manually tuning the system, but this tool just works. Under the TPU section of the main window, we can adjust the CPU ratio, CPU Strap settings, voltages by manual or adaptive modes, save and load profiles, and get into the warning setting mode by clicking the arrow in the bottom left CPU speed window. Here you can set the warning thresholds for voltages, temperatures, and  fan speeds, as well as set the desired temperature display in degrees Fahrenheit or degrees Celsius.

 

 

The EPU tab is all about managing the power profiles and rules for the system. There are four preset profiles under EPU: Auto, High Performance (power consumption is not a large concern), Max Power Saving, and Away (designed to minimize the power profile by adjusting sleep timers, fan speeds, and the wattage level). In the case of the wattage level in Away mod, the applied wattage was 42W, or half of the 84W TDP of the installed i7 4770K. Be aware that setting the wattage level will reduce the overall CPU speed and system performance, as you might expect. A Global setting mode is included to set the maximum CPU Power level allowable, along with a setting to turn off unused SATA ports to reduce the overall power consumption foot print.

 

 

 

Digi+ Power Control allows the user to set Load Line Calibration levels, CPU Current controls, Active Frequency switching, and CPU Phase control for the CPU with Current controls, Voltage phase, and frequency controls; for the ultimate in manual tuning. If manually tuning the system is not your bag, then the 5-Way optimization tool takes care of it for you. ASUS' "Auto" rules are set up to deliver the best possible performance without any user interaction other than selecting the feature.

 

 

ASUS Fan Xpert III is a utility that manages the fan speeds dynamically to provide the best possible noise/cooling ratio based on thermal need. Connecting your fans to the six on-board 4-pin PWM fan headers allows the utility to tune the fan speeds by finding the minimum and maximum values for the installed fans. This way, Fan Xpert III can slow down the fans' speeds to reduce the overall noise signature when max cooling is not required, as well as increasing the speeds when max cooling is needed. It is an interesting tool to watch as it goes through the tuning algorithms, but the end result is as you would expect. If the self-tuning feature is not to your liking, you also have the option of using four preset profiles or building your own profile by fan header. During my testing, I knew when the thermal load was increasing. Another part of the tool is that you can identify fans in your chassis and name them so you know what fans need to run at what temperatures. This part of the tool is easy to use and will stop all the other fans in the system to allow identification one by one.

 

 

Turbo APP is a new tool added into AI Suite III that allows you to set system operational parameters at the application level. You can set the priority of the application, what performance level you need for that application, the sound profiles, and LAN requirements. It's a nice tool to use when you do not want to stress the system all the time. Turbo App is all about maximizing system performance on an as-needed basis.

 

Once you get past the performance tuning DIP5 section, you have a wealth of other features to use pulled from a secondary menu. EZ Update is used to check ASUS' servers for the latest CrashFree BIOS 3 BIOS and motherboard hardware drivers. USB Charger is a more flexible application where you can choose your device type and enable fast charging while in a sleep state by connecting your charging plug to the ROG Connect port on the I/O panel.

 

 

System information gives you basic information about the installed hardware, including the CPU, motherboard, and memory SPD settings. USB BIOS Flashback is a tool introduced on the last generation boards that proves its worth. You can use this functionality without the DRAM or CPU being in their sockets to update the system BIOS. As long as power is applied to the board, the flash drive is installed in the ROG Connect port, and the USB BIOS Flashback button is pushed, the BIOS will flash the CrashFree BIOS. This tool can come in handy if you manage to corrupt the BIOS from some spirited overclocking. USB 3.0 Boost is a truly unique tool that uses optimizations to the BOT protocols and UASP support to drive improved USB 3.0 performance.

 

 

Version is a simple interface that tells the end user what version of the software tools are installed under AI Suite III. It's quick and easy to access and can be used for diagnostic purposes. Push Notice is a new tool that is used to send system alerts to a paired mobile device, such as your cell phone, laptop, or tablet. As long as you have an active connection, you can get the alerts.

 

 

 

ASUS' latest version steps up with a ton of added functionality that just works as it should.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Closer Look:

AI Suite III alone contains some of the proprietary software package, but there is more to be seen outside of it. ASUS includes a full version of Kaspersky's highly rated antivirus software with a one year subscription. Daemon Tools disk virtualization software is also included to help save your game discs and make/burn disk images. But that's not all you get...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MemTweakIt is used to set the memory sub-timings from within the Windows environment. This tool features an efficiency score that will help you improve the memory performance of the modules installed. ASUS is currently working on a solution to get it working on the Haswell architecture. In the past, this tool has been a great addition to the ROG software package. ASUS has its own ROG-skinned CPU-Z utility that sets up a point of difference from the standard version. The Boot Setting tool is used to enable FastBoot and utilize the DirectKey function from within the OS environment, rather than opening the chassis up or mounting an additional switch somewhere on the chassis. You will need this tool to get into the BIOS when FastBoot is enabled, since keyboard support is disabled during the FastBoot process.

 

 

Game First III is ASUS' own traffic-shaping tool to improve ping time and reduce latency by managing the network traffic flow. Teamed up with a LAN Guard-protected Intel-based NIC, Game First III has been completely revamped with a new interface that is much easier to manage. You have four profiles that can be selected based on the type of traffic that will be hitting the network: Optimization to manage traffic with equal priorities; Game to allow gaming traffic to take priority; Media Streaming; and File Sharing. There are four radio buttons that allow you to manage the application list, monitor the network traffic by the top five applications, monitor real-time usage and total usage results, run a bandwidth test that goes to an external link for a popular speed test, and look at the basic information on your network connection.

 

 

 

KeyBot is a new tool designed to improve the functionality of your keyboard. To start, simply plug your keyboard into the ROG Connect (KeyBot) USB port on the I/O panel and enable the software. Once enabled, you get control at the hardware level to wake the system from an S5 state, use the F11 key for the CPU Level Up funtion, F12 to set the XMP profile of your modules, and the DEL key to boot directly to the UEFI BIOS. Those seem to be standard fare, but further on you get the ability to set macro keys, use the Smart Login feature to log in with a single key stroke, assign functions to the F keys, and setup shortcuts to open files or games. It all adds up to a tool that can make any keyboard you are comfortable with into a gaming powerhouse keyboard.

 

 

 

RAMDisk for 2014 is even more useful than previous iterations with its ability to dynamically manage the size of the RAM disk by releasing memory back to the system if needed. The premise with this tool is that access to DRAM is much quicker than accessing an HDD or SSD to load files that you need, whether working in the OS or during gaming. RAMDisk is a utility that takes excess DRAM capacity and creates a virtual disk so that you can drastically improve load times of applications or maps during gaming. ASUS makes this tool simple enough for even the novice to use. Most of us are not fully utilizing the 16-32GB of DRAM in our systems, so why not take advantage of a way to improve the computing experience? At this point, DRAM is still relatively inexpensive, so this is often a relatively cheap solution.

Creating an 8GB virtual drive is as simple as choosing the capacity with a slider and applying the change. After a reboot, you can click on the Junction tab and add the applications or maps or games you would like to accelerate, and you are done. Newer solid state drives with the latest controllers can have sequential read/write results in the 500-550MB/s range at the high end of the spectrum. Running Crystal DiskMark on the RAMDisk virtual drive gives a graphic example of just how fast this solution can be when using 2400MHz memory. HINT: It's just brutally fast! And in case you were wondering, you do not lose data with this implementation; on system shutdown, all the data on the RAMDisk is written back to the disk drive and reloaded once the system starts up again.

 

 

ASUS' Realtek SupremeFX 2014 sound solution software gets a big upgrade with the addition of both Sonic SoundStage and Sonic Studio. Sonic SoundStage is a series of hardware-based profiles that can be dynamically changed by pushing a button on the lower end of the PCB, in the OS using SteamOS, the application, or via the ROG Front Base, if you have one installed. Sonic Sense Amp is used to detect the impedance of your headphones and amplify the signal accordingly for improved audio quality. Sonic Studio is a tuning suite that allows the end user to use the audio controls, including Reverb, Bass Boost, Equalizer, Voice Clarity, and Smart Volume to build a specific profile for their needs, which can then be saved and set as a profile. Inside Sonic Studio, you have the option of using the Virtual Surround radio button to give the impression of surround sound. After tooling through the settings, you can get a sound tailored to your liking.

 

 

 

Sonic Radar II is yet another tool that sees an improvement in the interface. Some have alluded to this software being used as a cheat, but if you are using surround sound speakers or a headset with surround capabilities. you are doing the same thing; using the sound system and your ears. Sonic Radar is a graphic representation of the sounds you hear. The key is the visual interface that works to point out the sounds directionally; a bonus if you are not utilizing a surround speaker system or headset. There are separate modes that can be optimized for footsteps, bombs, or gunfire. Shortcuts can be used to move the interface or change the transparency level, as well as toggle through the user modes. Overall it's a pretty cool tool for those of us that are less than good at FPS gaming. As you can see in the screen shot below, there is a ton of ambient noise in this section of Metro: Last Light.

 

 

 

That wraps up the look at this game-centric, full-featured software package.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Closer Look:

ASUS sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd in many ways with the software and hardware packages, but one of the best things the company has done over the past few generations has been the implementation of the Crash Free UEFI BIOS. Starting with the P67 chipset launch, the UEFI BIOS has been getting smoother and easier to use, with new features added as each new generation is released. New for the Z87 chipset and Haswell launch are some really cool features, such as a more in-depth EZ mode and a Last Modified tab that tracks changes as you work though the BIOS, presenting the user with a map to the options used to generate the performance settings or even just the mundane changes. You also get Quick Note to leave yourself messages in the BIOS or to list specific settings so you can remember them, F4 shortcuts menus for your favorites, SATA Port renaming, and what has to be one of the top additions to the ROG lineup: the ability to Secure Erase drives from within the Crash Free BIOS 3.

EZ Mode in the past was used when you really do not want or need to spend the time going through the advanced section of the BIOS. It can be daunting to the novice user, but the more adept can take advantage of the tuning abilities found in the Advanced section. All the basics are in place to set the boot order, EPU and fan profiles, and illustrate the hardware that is installed in the Maximus VII Hero. Here's where it gets interesting – ASUS has totally revamped the EZ Mode to deliver much of the functionality you get in the Advanced section of the BIOS all on a single page. Much like putting the AI Suite III 5-Way optimization tool in the BIOS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the top right section of the EZ Mode page is the EZ Tuning utility, which walks you through a series of easy-to-answer questions dealing with intended usage, cooling capabilities, storage configuration, and the estimated result from the changes. After the tool does its magic, you end up with a result based on your input. In this case, the EZ Tuning mode delivered an almost 4.6GHz speed using a 45 multiplier and 102.0 bclck.

 

 

 

Once you move into the Advanced mode, there are a total of eight tabs to explore, with the first section being My Favorites. Here is where you get some of the new tweaks to the Crash Free BIOS. You can build a series of shortcuts that allow you to jump straight to certain functionality. In this case, I put shortcuts in place for some quick and easy adjustments. You add shortcuts by pressing the F4 button and browsing for the items to add. Outside of the eight tabs are shortcuts across the top of the Advanced section to quickly execute the actions. You can set up hot keys for functions or access the EZ Tuning menu and Q-Fan tuning menu all with one mouse click. Quick Note allows you to leave yourself notes as to what may or may not work, or just simple reminders. Once you choose to exit the BIOS, you get a list of the items last changed.

 

 

 

The Main page option shows the system time, date, BIOS revision and build date, installed CPU and processor speed, memory capacity, system language, and security options including passwords. Not the section you will spend a lot of time in, but nevertheless a source of some valuable information and functionality.

 

 

The Advanced tab provides a way to manage much of the system functionality. The CPU configuration tab is used to modify the CPU operating parameters outside of the frequency and voltages. PCH Configuration is where you can enable or disable Intel's drive enhancements and PCIe assignments. Onboard device configuration is used to enable or disable onboard hardware. SATA Configuration is used to set up drive operating parameters, as well as showing the port availability. ROG Effects allow you to enable or disable the ROG Pulse, SupremeFX, and onboard lighting.

 

 

 

 

The Monitor section is just what the name implies. Under each category you can view the operating characteristics and current state of the pertinent voltages, the fan speeds, temperatures, and enable or disable the Q-Fan speed controls. Since Fan Xpert III manages things quite well, the latter should be left alone unless you are looking for full manual control. Lastly, Anti Surge support can be turned on or off in this section.

 

 

Boot: Under this section, Fast Boot can be turned on or off, SATA and USB ports can be enabled or disabled, and DirectKey functionality can be enabled to access the BIOS with Fast Boot enabled. Logo display at boot can be turned off so you can view the P.O.S.T. sequence.  Wait for ERROR F1 messages can be turned off (I find this helpful when not running a fan off the CPU fan header), and the boot sequence can be set up here.

 

 

Tool: Outside the Extreme Tweaker section, this section is one of the most useful areas of ASUS' UEFI Crash Free BIOS. ASUS EZ Flash utility is a simple-to-use option for flashing the BIOS on ASUS motherboards that has yet to fail on me after years of use. A new feature for a new age in disk drives is the Secure Erase function, which gives you the ability to "secure erase" your drive to improve performance. When using this feature with my Corsair Force GT Drive, it showed as locked and needed a reboot to unlock the drive. After a reboot, the Secure Erase finished as planned. No longer do you have to work through several means to run a secure erase. ASUS OC Profile lets you save and/or load profiles from the BIOS save files or from a USB Flash drive. Coupled with the Last Modified tool, you can make sure you save those important changes. ROG OC Panel H-Key adjusts a finite number of options, including CPU core voltage and frequency.

 

 

 

 

The Extreme Tweaker section of the BIOS is where you will spend a good majority of your time if you are used to overclocking manually. This section provides all the CPU and DRAM specific settings to get the most from your hardware. Up front, ASUS has said the "auto" rules for the vast majority of settings are tuned well enough that no manipulation or adjustments are needed for most of the settings. In fac,t I used only the CPU vcore, CPU Ring voltage, DRAM Voltage, DRAM Frequency, CPU and Cache ratio, and the basic timings to reach a 4.7GHz overclock on the CPU I have. However, you have access to pretty much every option as far as voltages, Load Line Calibration, current limits, and overrides.

The top of this section shows the current state of the hardware. AI Overclock tuner can be set to Auto, Manual, or three preset speeds that mirror the vast majority of CPU capabilities on the market. DRAM Timing Control allows the end user to tune the timings of the installed modules for improved frequency margins or outright performance. GPU DIMM Post shows the installed DRAM modules' current frequency, as well as the installed discrete GPU type and PCIe Lane allocation. Digi+Power control is used to set and apply a value for LLC along with the current limits, phase controls, VRM Switching frequency, and more. Again, the auto rules are pretty good. Tweakers' Paradise lets you get a little more granular as far as power settings go. Towards the bottom of the page, we finally get to the voltages that can be tweaked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASUS' UEFI Crash Free BIOS is pretty much the gold standard by which all others are measured when it comes to usability right out of the box. I had no issues navigating through the BIOS with several different mice; the mouse clicks and selection works every time. One issue I did have with saving OC profiles was quickly fixed with a BIOS update to 0508, which should be available now on the ASUS Support site for the Maximus VII. ASUS' ongoing support is one thing many of you are aware of, but if not, the long term BIOS support is there for ASUS and especially the ROG series. In addition, ASUS has its own forum that encourages members to participate in the ROG Exchange process, which puts tried and tested BIOS settings packages out and available to try for all users. The ability to upload a BIOS from a file is key to this ability. If by chance you corrupt the BIOS, the end user can recover the BIOS in about two minutes using ASUS' USB BIOS Flashback procedure, easily squashing the fear of a permanently hosed up board due to a bad BIOS flash.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Specifications:

CPU
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
Chipset
Intel® Z97
Memory
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.)/1800(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).
Graphic
Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
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
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Supports up to 3 displays simultaneously
Multi-GPU Support
Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots
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 *2
Storage
Intel® Z97 chipset :
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology *3
1 x M.2 Socket 3, black, with M Key, type 2260/2280 storage devices support (PCIE mode)
ASMedia® PCIe SATA controller : *4
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
LAN
Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), featuring GAMEFIRST III
Intel® LAN- Dual interconnect between the Integrated LAN controller and Physical Layer (PHY)
Anti-surge LANGuard
Audio
ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
- ELNA premium audio capacitors
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection
- DTS Connect
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
- Sonic SoundStage
- Sonic SenseAmp
- Sonic Studio
- Sonic Radar II
USB Ports
Intel® Z97 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z97 chipset : *5
7 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, black, 5 at mid-board)
ROG Exclusive Features
Extreme Engine Digi+ III :
- 8 + 2 phase power design
- NexFET™ Power Block MOSFET
- 60A Ferrite Chokes
- 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
KeyBot
- CPU Level Up
- XMP
- Direct Key
UEFI BIOS features :
- GPU.DIMM Post
- Tweakers' Paradise
- ROG SSD Secure Erase
- Graphic Card Information Preview
ROG RAMDisk
GameFirst III
Extreme Tweaker
Special Features
ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors 5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5 :
 
Gamer's Guardian:
- ESD Guards on LAN, Audio, KBMS and USB3.0/2.0 ports
- DRAM Overcurrent Protection
- 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
- Stainless Steel Back I/O
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- MemOK!
- AI Suite 3
- Ai Charger
- USB Charger+
- USB 3.0 Boost
- Disk Unlocker
ASUS EZ DIY :
- ASUS O.C. Profile
- ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
- ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
- Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS Q-Code
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Overclocking Protection :
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Media Streamer
Operating System Support
Windows® 8.1 86x64
Windows® 8 86x64
Windows® 7 86x64
Back I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x DVI
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)
Internal I/O Ports
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
3 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 5 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 for M Key, type 2260/2280 devices
1 x TPM header
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4-pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4-pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4-pin)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x Thermal sensor connector(s)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header(s)
1 x KeyBot Button
1 x Sonic SoundStage Button
Accessories
User's manual
ASUS Q-Shield
6 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
1 x ROG Door Hanger(s)
BIOS
64Mb UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI5.0a, Multi-Language BIOS
Manageability
WfM 2.0, DMI 2.7, WOL by PME, PXE
Support Disc
Drivers
ROG GameFirst III
ROG RAMDisk
ROG CPU-Z
ROG Mem TweakIt
Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
DAEMON Tools Pro Standard
ASUS WebStorage
Home Cloud
ASUS Utilities
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )

 

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of ASUS @ https://www.asus.com/us/Motherboards/MAXIMUS_VII_HERO/overview/

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Testing:

Testing the ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero motherboard will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and NVIDIA drivers for the NVIDIA GTX 770. In the past we had locked the clock speed on the processor to eliminate any easily controlled variables due to processor speed. However, there is a difference in how each manufacturer handles the CPU default and boost speeds, creating opportunity for one board to deliver a higher level of performance. This variable is a point of difference between boards. The majority of users will run the stock settings, making this point a valid concern, so we are changing up the test methods to capture this difference.

Testing Setup: Socket 1150

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

 

Overclocking the Core i7 4770K is akin at times to pulling your teeth out due to the thermal limits that get reached pretty quickly when applying voltage to the core and IVR. Couple that with the strength of the memory controller as CPU clock speed increases, you play a balancing act to get the highest level of performance. ASUS takes all these variables into account based on its testing history with the architecture to deliver good, solid overclocking using its tools. To start with, the 5-Way optimization tool in AI Suite will give you a good solid 4.2GHz clock speed with nothing other than clicking the radio button in the software. It's just that easy.

Overclocking through the BIOS using the EZ Tuning feature is just as easy and resulted in a clock speed of 4.58GHz; almost what my chip can do with some manual tuning. All it takes is the end user answering a few questions about the intended usage, the cooling, and a minute to run through the algorithms and tune the system. Presto chango, you get a clock that gets you close to the maximum your chip can handle. But wait, there's more! ASUS gives you one more place to overclock your CPU, with a series of profiles that range from 4.2GHz to 4.6GHz under the CPU Level Up button in the BIOS, in the Extreme Tweaker section of the Advanced menu. All those options are pretty solid, but we want to manually tune the system to get the best performance from the installed hardware. I know where my chip will and will not run and I was able to push it to 4645MHz, tuning the CPU voltage, cache voltage, DRAM voltage, and CPU voltage LLC. All the rest of the system settings were left at auto. They are just that good for the majority of users.

 

 

Maximum Core Clock Speed:

Each CPU has been tested for stability at the listed overclocked speeds. These clock speeds will represent the level of performance shown by the over-clocked scores in the testing.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. SiSoft Sandra 2013
  3. Cinebench 11.5
  4. X.264 5.1
  5. AIDA 64 3.00
  6. Crystal Disk Mark
  7. ATTO 2.47
  8. iPerf
  9. Rightmark Audio Analyzer
  1. 3DMark
  2. DiRT 3
  3. Metro: Last Light

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

  

 

SiSoft Sandra 2013 is a diagnostic utility and synthetic bench marking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

Overall Score

   ]

 

The Maximus VII Hero performs near the bottom of the comparison field in all these tests. Real world performance margins would be too tough to call just from a usability standpoint, but this isn't a good start.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Testing:

Cinebench 11.5 is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program, CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition 3.0 is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the Cache and Memory benchmark tool to measure memory performance.

 

  

  

  

  

 

Through the Cinebench and X.264 benchmarks, the performance gain over Z87 is minimal at best. The AIDA results follow this trend with some improvements in memory latency due to the tuning on the Maximus VII Hero.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Closer Look:

Crystal Disk Mark 3.0: Crystal Disk Mark is a hard drive benchmark designed to measure the read and write speeds of drives by using 4K blocks, 512K blocks, and sequential data. For the test, we chose the 1000MB option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATTO 2.47: will be used to measure USB 3.0 performance using an SSD attached to an external USB 3.0 drive dock.

  

  

  

  

 

Disk drive performance results for the Maximus VII Hero show that, for the most part, it delivers higher throughput to and from the drives. The USB 3.0 testing shows the advantage ASUS has by using the USB 3.0 Boost tool to improve USB 3.0 read/write performance.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Testing:

LAN performance will be tested via a utility to gauge the performance of the onboard network solutions. The motherboard being tested will be connected via a Gigabit switch to another system with an integrated Gigabit network solution on board.

iPerf is a small lightweight utility run from the command prompt and can be used to measure both TCP and UDP performance on a network. iPerf is cross-platform software and open source. The test is configured to run for 20 seconds with a window size of 256 KB and four simultaneous streams that should be able to saturate the TCP link on a good NIC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.25 is used to test the sound solution on board each motherboard. Nothing beats a good set of ears and headphones, but this is a graphic representation of the capabilities of the installed hardware. Sampling mode is 24-bit 44kHz.

 
MSI Z87M Gaming
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming
ASUS ROG M6G
ASUS ROG M7H
Frequency Response dB
+0.46, -0.10
+0.52, +0.30
+0.42, +0.03
+0.22, -0.56
Noise Level dBA
-91.0
-91.3
-102.2
-91.6
Dynamic Range dBA
91.0
91.2
102.1
91.7
Total Harmonic distortion %
0.130
0.131
0.463
0.0043
Intermodulation distortion +noise
0.266
0.259
0.463
0.114
Stereo Crosstalk,db
-89.4
-91.6
-94.9
-91.7
Intermodulation distortion + noise (Swept Freq) %
0.323
0.323
0.430
0.0091
Frequency Response (Swept Sine), db
+0.1, -0.1
+0.1, -0.1
+0.1, -0.2
+0.0, -0.2

The LAN test showed a slightly lower result than the comparison boards, with CPU usage hovering around the 4% mark during the testing. The RMAA results for ASUS' SupremeFX 2014 sound solution on the board rated good overall, with some excellent results scattered throughout the testing. Numbers do not tell the whole story though; after gaming, watching the Hobbit, and listening to music, the sound was crisp and clear with deep bass notes and clarity on the highs. Using ASUS Sonic Studio, I was able to easily tune the sound to my individual tastes using a combination of the tools.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Testing:

3DMark: The just released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base the ability to make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs to notebooks and Extreme Gaming PCs.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the followup to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

In these gaming tests, there is a lot of parity between the boards, with usually a 1 FPS margin at most between them. The 3DMark results show that, as a system, the Maximus VII Hero delivers the highest performance in three out of the four tests.

ASUS ROG Maximus VII Hero Conclusion:

From a pure performance perspective, there is not really a lot to drive you away from your Z87-based Maximus VI Hero or Gene motherboard. However, there is so much more available from a software, hardware, and usability standpoint that makes buying the Z97-based Maximus VII Hero a better option than the last gen Z87-based boards in ASUS' product stack. As far as performance and overclocking goes, the differences between a Z87-equipped board like the Maximus VI Gene and the Maximus VII Hero are minimal and come down to how the board is tuned and the memory you run in it. So let's get to it.

Overclocking on the Z97-based Maximus VII Hero is as good as it gets with my CPU. It seems it does not like combinations above 4.65GHz using 2400MHz memory modules. This is exactly where the M7H gets it to with a minimum of effort on my part. Set the XMP Profile for the Patriot DIMMs, adjust the CPU multiplier, Ring ratio, CPU Voltage and Cache voltage, let the rest ride, and then restart. Sure I can manually tune the memory for a bit better latency and tighter timings, but the board does well enough on its own for all intents and purposes thanks to ASUS' back-end testing. It actually gets easier than that if you must know, depending on how aggressive you want to get with your chip. You can use ASUS 5-Way optimization tool for a fool proof 4.2GHz+ clock speed by clicking one button. CPU Level Up options are still included in the BIOS in three flavors as well: 4.2GHz, 4.4GHz, and 4.6GHz. All three work well with the on-board tuning algorithms. But wait, there's one more option. Inside ASUS' newly revamped UEFI BIOS, under EZ Mode, you can use the EZ Tuning mode that takes end user input about the intended usage scenario and cooling, then gets to work tuning the system, even down to the fan profiles used in Fan XPert III. ASUS makes overclocking easy, plain and simple. WIth the ROG Maximus VII Hero, you can go as mild or as wild as you want. Using the ASUS ROG OC Panel brings a few more options if you want to hit the extreme edge. 'Nuff said.

Overclocking aside, ASUS' Maximus VII Hero has a lot more to offer when comparing it to ASUS' Z87 offerings. First we get a full-on revamp of the company's best in class UEFI, with a new EZ Mode that is so loaded with features you do not even need to hit the Advanced section of the BIOS for any basic setup and tuning tasks. You get all the system information, manual and Q-Fan tuning, Boot Priority, EZ-Raid switch for RAID setup, and monitoring of the CPU temperature and voltage. The Advanced section of the BIOS does not change much, but has an all new look that is an improvement over the previous design. It's as smooth and easy to navigate as previous revisions. If you have used it, you know what I am talking about. Key software additions abound with the addition of KeyBot, Sonic SoundStage and Sonic Studio in the SupremeFX control panel, and ASUS Home Cloud server. Existing ROG software gets an update as well, with all new interfaces and functionality in AI Suite III, Sonic Radar II, USB Boost 3.0, Game First III, and RAMDisk. The latter now allows the amount of memory allocated to the RAMDisk to be dynamically reallocated to system usage if not being used and back when needed. In addition, AI Suite gets a new 5-Way optimization tool that now adds the Turbo APP to change performance levels dynamically by application, so you don't always have to run your CPU on the edge.

On the hardware side, ASUS put together a solid SupremeFX sound solution that can change the Sonic SoundStage profiles via a hardware switch or SteamOS. Or, if you purchase the ROG Front Base, you can choose right on the panel. ASUS added hardware-level ESD protection to the LAN port that improves ESD protection by 100% over traditional ports. Sound Sense Amp is an ROG invention that senses the impedance of your installed headphones (between 65~150 ohms) and adjusts the headphone amplifier accordingly. With True Volt USB, you get a full, steady 5V through two dedicated pathways in the PCB to feed the front panel and rear panel USB ports. You also get dedicated over voltage control to the DIMM sockets with a resettable fuse if you decide that the memory needs that next little step up to get stable. There is just so much built in at the hardware level to ensure the gamer and enthusiast get the experience they expect.

ROG boards often come with a price premium over other boards just because of the quality design, hardware selection, and impressive gaming-centric software package built in. At $229, the Maximus VII Hero is priced competitively in the category ASUS is targeting. For that price, it will be tough to find a board that offers more in terms of software and innovation for the gamer. If you are planning a new build based on Intel's 4th or 5th generation Core series processors and are an avid gamer, the Maximus VII Hero is calling your name.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: