Articles

ASUS ROG Maximus XI Formula Z390 Motherboard Review

Author:Daniel Dobrowolski

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Thursday , January 17, 2019

ASUS brings us the one of it most aesthetically pleasing and expensive Z390 motherboards this generation. Even if you have no interest in spending a ton of money on an LGA 1151 motherboard, you will want to give this Formula a look as it certainly shows us that ASUS is not sitting around on its thumbs on the high end.

Introduction

ASUS is probably one of the best known motherboard manufacturers in the world today. Over ten years ago, it created its "Republic of Gamers" brand to target gamers. ASUS’ Republic of Gamers product line used to be relatively small, but now has expanded to multiple models, multiple price points and even products beyond motherboards. When the brand started, there was no such thing as an affordable offering with the Republic of Gamers or "ROG" logo on it. You had a single motherboard in a few families. You had about three Intel and maybe two AMD models at any given time in the early days. One for each high-end chipset. Today, the landscape is very different and for the most part that’s a good thing.

I think one of the largest reasons why ASUS has expanded the ROG brand so much has to do with the shift in the DIY / desktop PC towards a niche market that mostly consists of workstations or gaming machines (or both) as most of the basic tasks are just as easily done on mobile devices. This, above all else is why all the major motherboard manufacturers seem to be doubling down on gaming hardware. That and it sells.

The Maximus XI Formula is based on Intel’s Z390 Express chipset. This chipset is new for Intel’s latest Core i3/i5/i9 series CPU’s. There are some minor improvements between this chipset and the previous iterations. The changes are few and far between with the most important one being the integration of USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports into the PCH. There are potential cost savings for motherboard manufacturers as a native Intel USB 3.1 Gen 2 controller such as Alpine Ridge or Titan Ridge were prohibitively expensive. This is why we generally saw motherboards over $400 which came with those. Third party controllers like ASMedia’s 1143 aren’t without their costs as well, so full integration into the chipset has potential for cost savings.

In ASUS’ current ROG product stack, you have a Maximus XI Hero, Formula, and Extreme. The Formula is the "middle" option, but like motherboard’s ASUS has offered in the past, these aren’t strictly lower end or feature stripped versions of the Extreme motherboards. The Formula did come out that way in its first outing, but quickly evolved into a "less is more" option with a greater emphasis placed on water cooling than LN2 which the Extreme boards were often known for. The I/O and features of each were generally different as well, with the Extreme offering more flexibility than the Formula, and or more connectivity options.

In this case, the Formula and Extreme are closer than they’ve probably ever been outside of voltage hardware. The layouts are very similar, with the Formula being positioned more for the water-cooling enthusiast and those people who like to build show worthy machines with aesthetically pleasing hardware. While certainly not ugly, the Extreme lacks the Thermal Armor and flashy cladding the Formula has. It also lacks the built-in water block found on the Formula. The ASUS ROG Maximus XI Formula offers several features targeted at the enthusiast, such as its Live Dash display, MemOK!, the retry button, Crosschill EK III hybrid waterblock, water flow sensors, and more. The Formula version actually has a great deal over its higher end counterpart when it comes to aesthetic features.

Main Specifications Overview:

Detailed Specifications Overview:

Packaging

The packaging for the ASUS ROG Maximus XI Formula is identical to other boards in the series. We first saw this type of packaging on the Rampage V Edition 10. The only thing that’s changed is the artwork, which uses ASUS’ familiar black and red color scheme. Inside the box, you’ll find the following items and accessories: User's manual, 1x ROG logo plate sticker, 1x 2-Way SLI bridge(s), 4x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1x M.2 Screw Package, 1x Supporting DVD, 1x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant), 1x Q-Connector, 1x Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm),1x Extension cable for Addressable LED

1x Thermistor cable(s), 1x ROG coaster(s), 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Header to USB 2.0 adapter cable, 2x ROG weave SATA 6G cable and an ROG thank you card.

Board Layout

ASUS’ Maximus XI Formula is simply a thing of beauty. It’s absolutely stunning to look at and pictures do not do it justice. It is one of the best-looking motherboards I’ve seen in over two decades of building PC’s and more than a decade of reviewing. The ROG Thermal Armor has an elegant appearance to it and cleans up the board nicely. The mirror like accents add to this effect and creates a two-tone color scheme of black and gray, while the lighting makes it look futuristic. The lighting is also interesting as it looks like circuit pathways or "TRON" style effects that cover the mirrored sections of the thermal armor and I/O panel shroud.

The Maximus XI Formula offers 8 fan headers and an extension header allowing for more. All these support PWM and DC control modes. Out of these, some of them have specific functions such as AIO pump, High AMP, etc. Ports, such as fan headers are strategically located in areas best suited for them. The fan headers are generally grouped up into pairs and are easy to find. Other ports are where you would expect them to be. The general layout is excellent, despite the massive list of features packed onto the PCB. The CMOS battery location is worse than usual as you must remove the thermal armor to access it, but as usual, it’s a minor issue and one of the few complaints I can leverage against the Maximus XI Formula’s layout. High quality, 10k capacitors are used throughout the motherboard where appropriate.

The Maximus XI Formula uses the same exact "Twin 8-Phase" power configuration found on the less expensive Maximus XI Hero motherboard. In truth, it's not an 8-phase solution at all but rather a 4+2 phase power solution with ten inductors making it look like an 8-phase design at a glance. Until I pulled the board apart, even I would have mistaken it for an 8+2 phase design. After taking a look at the motherboard's VRMs with my own eyes, its easy to see that there are no phase doublers. Another dead giveaway here is the appearance of the ASP1400CBT VRM controller which only supports 4 phase power. I found pictures of a naked Maximus XI Hero online and the VRM design and components of the Maximus XI Formula is identical to the much less expensive Hero model. To cool this, ASUS has employed an EK Crosschill III hybrid waterblock, The MOSFET cooling remains small enough to prevent any major clearance issues for the CPU socket.

There are four 288-pin DDR4 memory slots which utilize single sided locking tabs for memory retention. They are not color coded to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation, but there are markings near the slots which do tell you how to configure the RAM for the best results. Up to 64GB of RAM is supported at speeds in excess of DDR4 4400MHz through overclocking. The slots are somewhat close to the primary PCI-Express x16 slot so single sided locking tabs are necessary here. Steel reinforcement is included to prevent plate bending and sheering.

In front of the DIMM slots there are power and reset controls built-in to the thermal armor. This design makes for much larger and easier to use buttons than you normally get on motherboards like this. There is also a POST code display for troubleshooting. The placement of the controls and POST code display are not necessarily in the best place for all cases or circumstances, but this location is where I tend to prefer it.

The chipset is cooled by a passive heat sink that ties into the thermal armor. It has the ROG logo on it, which lights up a long side the mirror finished sections which have the "TRON" style lighting. In front of the thermal armor and chipset cooling are the 6x SATA 6Gb/s slots. The chrome bit that overhangs the SATA ports has markings on it which also light up. This is a nice touch and shows an attention to detail I haven’t seen before.

The expansion slot area is configured perfectly for a dual-slot multi-GPU setup. There are no slots in between the primary and secondary PCI-Express slots which would end up covered up by most graphics cards anyway. There is also a PCI-Express x1 slot above the primary PCIe x16 slot, which I like. PCIe x1 slots are often useless on many motherboards due to their location. There is also a third PCI-Express x16 slot, although its only a 4x lane slot electrically.

The Maximus XI Formula supports the following lane configurations: x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0 or x8/x4/x4. 2-Way or "Quad-SLI" are supported. Additionally, AMD’s 3-Way Crossfire is supported as well, but only if your chassis allows the video card to hang over the edge of the motherboard. However, this is less than ideal because so many ports and headers can be found directly underneath these slots making it a tight fit under the best circumstances. Even single slot devices can be problematic here due to the headers and ports. ASUS also uses a very wide locking tab for the PCI-Express x16 slots, which is good to see. I do not like the smaller tabs as they are more difficult to deal with in some scenarios. At least, that’s been my experience.

In between the second and third PCI-Express x16 slots there is a cover that can be removed to reveal dual M.2 slots. This ranks as one of the most innovative uses of space I’ve seen to date as it has the M.2 slots in opposition of each other so they can occupy the same area. When both slots are populated, two 80mm devices meet edge to edge and a single stand off and screw secures both devices. The downside is that this precludes the use of 110mm devices in both slots. If you do use a 110mm long SSD, the other slot ends up truncated and only a 40mm or 60mm device can be used.

However, the same standoff trick should work allowing a single screw to secure both of those devices as well. I think ASUS likely concluded that two 80mm devices was far more likely than a single 110 device would be. I’m forced to agree as I’ve seen very few 110 devices and fewer that are geared towards enthusiasts. As a result, I think ASUS made the right move and this is very creative use of motherboard real estate. This also keeps the devices away from the primary graphics card, which is fantastic. As usual, the cover is a heat sink with a thermal pad. Unfortunately, M.2 drive labels make the use of the heat sink less than ideal. It should also be noted that the use of a second M.2 device also disables SATA ports 5 & 6.

As with the lesser priced Maximus XI Hero, the Maximus XI Formula has a built-in or pre-installed I/O shield. The built-in I/O shields add an air of quality to the I/O panel and the motherboard itself. I’d even argue that it brings up the quality of the overall system when inspected from the back. The markings tend to be clearer and the manufacturers can do more with lighting and your ports always align, etc. On the I/O panel you will find 5x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (1x Type-C, 3x Type-A), 1x dedicated BIOS flashback port, 1x clear CMOS button, 1x BIOS Flashback button, 2x RJ-45 LAN ports, 2x antenna jacks, 1x HDMI 1.4b port, 1x optical output and 5x mini-stereo jacks. The ports are clearly labeled although they do not have any backlighting, which is unfortunate when your fumbling around in the dark. We have seen this feature before, but only in very rare circumstances with halo level products.