ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Hero Reviewccokeman -
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ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Hero Introduction:
With each successive generation of CPUs, ASUS has a full product stack that includes an option for just about every user, from the hardcore gamer and overclocker to the person who just wants a good solid motherboard. The one constant is the boards are designed so the performance profiles and user experience are such that you could go from the lower end of the Z170 product stack to the top and have each board deliver the same level of performance. In the past this even extends, for the most part, to overclocking. Sure, you will get a more robust cooling solution and more robust power circuit, but in the end you still get consistent performance from one board to the next.
Along that vein of consistent performance I have the ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Hero. A board that is designed to fill the gap between the channel boards and upper end ROG products. The M8H is built around the Z170 chipset for use with Intel Skylake 6th generation Core series processors like the Core i7 6700K. Priced at $234, you get a lot of value and performance potential from the M8H. Multi GPU solutions from AMD and NVIDIA are supported to give you the best possible gaming solutions, along with the usual laundry list of high end hardware to provide a long lived motherboard. ASUS also provides a comprehensive software suite that just works. That being said, let's take a deeper dive into what ASUS brings to the table on one of the latest ROG offerings.
ASUS ROG Maximus VIII Hero Closer Look:
If you have looked at an ROG board from ASUS, you find that the brick red box is jam packed with information on not only the board inside, but the impressive feature set included with the board. To start with, this box stands out on the shelf easily when you look at one of the many brick and mortar stores that sell high end gear. The front panel shows the name of this board (Maximus VIII Hero), features the ROG logo, and a list of features at the bottom. ASUS also provides a trial version of the game World of Warships as a bonus for you to try out. The back panel digs deeper into the board specs and unique features, including Lighting control and ASUS' own Supreme FX 2015 onboard sound solution. Usually that's all you get as far as information goes, but on the latest crop of ASUS ROG boards the front panel flips up to take a deeper dive into some of what really makes the ROG brand a sought after commodity. While features like the ROG cover and Lighting control offer the added bling factor, it's the hardware and software side of the equation that sets the bar. Once you get through reading the information, the Maximus VIII Hero is visible through a plastic window.
Inside the top half of the box the motherboard takes up residence, but underneath it lies the accessory bundle, including some ASUS exclusives. The manual and software disc are standards in an accessory bundle, but that's about where the similarity between other brands ends. A door tag is included using a quote from the Lord of the Rings to subtly let you know your company is not wanted. A sheet of labels includes cable, disk drive, and Keybot hot key identification. A new addition is the ROG Logo you can use on your case fans to carry the imaging through your entire system. On the hardware side are some ASUS staples like the Q- Connector; Q-Shield to minimize EFI emissions through the I/O; SATA 6Gbps cables for your disk drives, including several with 90 degree ends; and an SLI bridge connection. ASUS includes a new tool that is used to help ensure you don't install the CPU into the socket wrong and borking your chip or the socket. Don't laugh, karma sucks. Bending socket pins back into place with a needle and magnifying glass is no fun.
ASUS Maximus VIII Hero is an ATX form factor motherboard built for use with Intel's Sixth Generation Core series Skylake processors. The hardware base is a custom PCB using proprietary fiber weaves to maximize corrosion resistance and signal integrity through the traces in each layer. Visually, the PCB is a deep matte black with red and argent accents on the Z170 PCH and Digi+ VRM cooling solutions. On the back side of the board you get additional heat sinks that work to provide a secure mount for the heat pipe interconnected cooling solution and to manage any heat from the VRM components on the front side of the board. The layout is familiar on this board, with the CPU socket and DIMM sockets in much the same place they usually reside on boards of this type. With larger M.2 disk drives supported, ASUS moved the socket to the edge of the board instead of keeping it between the PCIe x16 slots.
The I/O panel contains much of the external connectivity. Left to right are a dual purpose PS/2 mouse/keyboard port with four USB 2.0 ports underneath and to the right. In between this port is the USB BIOS Flashback button that can be used to reflash the BIOS even without a CPU or DRAM installed. Display outputs include a single HDMI 1.4a ports and a single DisplayPort 1.2 port supporting up to three independent displays. Next up are a pair of USB 3.1 10.1Gbps ports, one type A and one Type C. A LANguard protected Intel I219-V based Gigabit LAN port sits over a pair of USB 3.0 ports. "The anti-surge features of LANGuard is designed to withstand higher ESD for better protection, while the use of SMT components reduces transmission loss between 130 KHz ~ 300 MHz when compared to a traditional LAN port," according to ASUS. ASUS' SupremeFX 2015 8-channel audio solution has the signals sent out via gold plated audio jacks and an Optical S/PDIF jack.
Expansion capabilities include two PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots that will run at x16 using a single card or x8 by x8 using two cards in the gray slots. This combination supports multi-GPU solutions, including NVIDIA Quad SLI and AMD 3-way CrossFireX if you plan on running multiple cards. A single PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slot (black) runs at x4 electrically and would be a perfect fit for a PCIe-based solid state drive. Three PCIe 3.0/2.0 x1 slots are peppered between the x16 slots.
ASUS 'SupremeFX 2015 sound solution is the next generation of ASUS' onboard sound solutions and comes with a host of professional grade audio components, including an "ESS ES9023P digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with Hyperstream™ technology, ultra-low-jitter clock, Nichicon capacitors, 2Vrms headphone amp, and Sonic SenseAmp that automatically detects and optimizes any headset (32-600 ohms) for purest sound quality."
The bottom and right edges of the PCB hold the bulk of the internal connectivity. Left to right on the bottom is the front panel audio header; Thunderbolt header; Start, Reset, and CMOS clear buttons; TPM header; and the ROG extension header for use with the ASUS OC Panel if you have one or purchase one. Those are followed by a USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 header, a Fan Xpert III controlled 4-pin fan header, and finally the system front panel connection that can be used with the included Q-Connector. Right above the system connection is a 5-pin header used with ASUS' fan controller that can be controlled via Fan Xpert III. The M.2 socket M Key design is on the right edge of the board and is equipped to handle type 2242/2260/2280/22110 PCIe or SATA storage devices.
Drive connectivity includes the M.2 socket and six gray SATA 6Gb/s ports, with four ports from two SATA Express ports and a total of two SATA Express ports that all pull off the Z170 PCH and support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10, Intel® Rapid Storage Technology, and Intel® Smart Response Technology. Two SATA 6Gb/s ports come off an ASMedia® ASM1061 controller and are the black ports in the SATA drive connection block. All put together, you get a good variety of storage options. Just above the SATA connectivity is another USB 3.0 header, both of which are vertically mounted rather than taking up space on the edge of the PCB.
Power is supplied by way of an ATX 24-pin connector tied in with an auxilliary 8-pin connection on the top edge of the PCB. Up to 64 GB of DDR4 memory in four Q-DIMM sockets is supported in speed ratings of 3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3466(O.C.)/3400(O.C.)/3333(O.C.)/3300(O.C.)/3200(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2133 in a dual channel configuration. ASUS uses its 2nd Generation T-Topology to minimize variances in signalling and voltages from each DIMM socket to increase memory overclocking margins. Above the 24-pin power socket are a PWM controlled fan header, Extreme Engine Digi+ controller, and the Q-Code diagnostic display.
Along the top edge is the upper end of the cooling solution for the Extreme Engine Digi+ VRM circuit. A trio of 4-pin fan headers are used to manage CPU cooling. They are listed as CPU, Optional CPU, and a Water Pump header. The Water Pump header can be manually controlled or configured to run in PWM mode. At the far right is the 8-pin auxiliary CPU power connection. Behind each of the ports on the I/O panel are diodes that help limit your exposure to an electrostatic discharge. Additionally, ASUS uses ESD Guards to cover the PS2, USB, audio, and LAN ports, offering a 2x uptick in ESD protection. ASUS uses a black chrome or nickel plated CPU retention mechanism to keep the CPU in the socket once you install it into position with ASUS' own CPU installation tool. The Z170 chipset mandates the use of Sixth Gen Intel Skylake processors in the LGA 1151 socket.
ASUS uses its Extreme Engine Digi+ power supply circuitry to manage the power sent to the CPU and DRAM. This solution uses Texas Instruments NexFET™ MOSFETs that are up to 90% more efficient, MicroFine alloy chokes that run up to 31% cooler than chokes with a larger granular structure, and Extreme Engine Digi+ PWM controller and 10K black metallic capacitors that have a 5x improved lifespan with a 20% boost in temperature tolerance to offer improved efficiency and voltage control. A resetable fuse is used to protect the DRAM from overcurrent situations and doubles as the means to protect the board from inbound power surges. Cooling the Z170 PCH and Extreme Engine Digi+ VRM circuit are a pair of heat sinks. The lower, flat heat sink covers the Z170 PCH and is infused with LEDs that can be modulated with ASUS' lighting control feature. Around the LGA 1151 socket is a heat pipe-interconnected heat sink that is stylish and is tasked with managing the heat load from the VRM circuit.
While the Hero is not the top dog in the product stack, it is more than capable of delivering excellent performance for a modest price. Just because you get a modest price point you don't get a modest feature set. The board and the included tech is improessive enough on its own, but let's take a look at the software package ASUS includes that is clearly aimed at the Republic of Gamers audience.