Date: Thursday , September 28, 2017
ASUS is easily one of the largest and most influential computer hardware manufacturers in the industry. ASUS has a diverse and extensive product portfolio consisting of monitors, laptops, server hardware, network equipment, and more. Naturally, it’s motherboards ASUS remains best known for. The company has been around for decades now and has built a solid reputation around innovation and reliability. ASUS is often the leader in motherboard design and is often copied by other companies. That is not to say that ASUS doesn’t make mistakes from time to time. While it has a great track record, motherboards such as the Striker Extreme (2006) and Crosshair VI Hero (2017) weren’t great. So, while ASUS’ batting average may be high, ASUS does create the occasional dud. The Crosshair VI Hero was a definite let down as it died on my test bench and couldn’t be resurrected. Kyle had a couple of those die on him as well. I’m not sure what the problem is with that board beyond the normal AM4 platform issues. This is even stranger as ASUS’ Republic of Gamers brand represents the pinnacle of ASUS’ design and innovation expertise. Usually, motherboards from the ROG line represent one of the top three or better choices you can make for a motherboard using a specific socket or chipset. We are hoping that ASUS can find redemption for AMD fans with its ROG Zenith Extreme and socket TR4 motherboard.
That brings us to our next point, we are looking at our first AMD socket TR4, X399 chipset based motherboard. And we have been using this motherboard extensively in Threadripper testing for over a month, so we think we have a very good feel for it.
Threadripper looks like an even better offering that will take AMD to a new level as it attempts to compete in the HEDT market which has been occupied by Intel alone since the launch of the Intel X58 chipset and its Nehalem processors. We’ve already expressed our thoughts about the platform itself, so we won’t go into too much detail about my non-motherboard specific thoughts. We will say that X399 feels like a bit of a rush job, but it isn’t the total fiasco that AMD’s X370 launch was. AGESA code is much more solid this time around and finding working memory modules seems to be easier than it was / is with AM4. We still find the inclusion of PCIe 2.0 lanes in 2017 appalling as we did with X370. Fortunately, TR4 and Threadripper give us access to no less than 60 PCIe lanes without having to spend a minimum of $1,000 for it.
ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme is a beast. It’s the kind of hardware that you instantly crave the moment you unbox it. It’s so aesthetically pleasing, well-crafted, and feature-rich that I wanted nothing more than to install one in my own machine. Fortunately, reason prevailed rather than impulse. I haven’t purchased this board or a Threadripper CPU at the time of this writing. In any case, the board is amazing to behold, but first impressions aren’t always accurate. The Zenith Extreme uses AMD’s socket TR4 and supports up to 128GB of quad-channel RAM. The platform offers a plethora of PCIe lanes and all the modern features one would expect in the HEDT market segment. Technologies like M.2, SATA III, PCI-Express Gen 3, USB 3.1 Gen 1 & 2, and of course SLI and Crossfire (brand now abandoned) compatibility. ASUS’ standard suite of features, such as MemOK, BIOS Flashback, Sonic Studio III, DIGI POWER+, SupremeFX audio, 5-Way Optimization, and more.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging is the same type we’ve seen for ROG motherboards since the introduction of the Rampage V Edition 10. It’s a thick box that simply opens up without any additional flaps or anything like that. The ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme comes with one of the largest motherboard bundles I have ever seen. Inside the package you will find the following accessories: 3x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1x ASUS WiGig 802.11ad moving antenna *6, 1x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant), 1x ROG VGA Holder, 1x ROG DIMM.2 Fan Stand Pack (s), 1x ROG AREION 10G, 1x Fan Extension Card (3 x 4-pin fan out), 1x Fan Extension card screw pack, 1x Fan Extension card cable, 1x SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-L), 1x ROG big sticker, 1x Q-Connector, 1x 10-in-1 ROG cable label, 1x M.2 screw kit (long screw and mount), 2x M.2 screw kit (short screw and mount), 1x DIMM.2 extension card with 2 x M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (SATA & PCIE 3.0 x 4 mode), 1x ROG Logo Sticker(s), 1x Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm), 1x Extension cable for Addressable LED, 3x Thermistor cable(s), 1x USB drive with utilities and drivers, and 1x ROG coaster.
The general layout of the Zenith Extreme is excellent. There aren’t any major points I can complain about. The CMOS battery, ports, slots and controls are all placed where I’d want those to be. The motherboard uses high quality solid electrolytic capacitors and steel reinforced expansion slots. ASUS uses a beefy back plate for the CPU socket, and a back plate for the forward section of the motherboard on the bottom which is reminiscent of the thermal armor. There are six fan headers which are a mix of standard fan headers a water pump header and a high amp fan header. There is also a fan extension header which supports 5 additional 4-pin fans. All fan headers support the same level of control via PWM or DC modes. You will find RGB LED’s in the chipset heat sink, the I/O panel shroud and the leading edge of the motherboard.
ASUS’ Zenith Extreme has 8 power phases which sit on the edge of the motherboard to the right of the CPU socket. The CPU socket is generally free of obstruction and will allow for larger CPU coolers to be installed provided they’ll clear your memory modules. Given that memory slots flank both sides of the CPU this can be a concern. A large heat pipe cooler is used to dissipate heat from the MOSFETs. The heatsink is secured to the motherboard with screws. This ensures excellent contact between the TIM, heatsink, and the MOSFETs. The socket itself is AMD’s TR4 LGA 4096 pin socket. The retention mechanism is unique among other LGA type sockets.
There are eight 288-pin DIMMs supporting up to 128GB of DDR4 memory at speeds up to DDR4 3600 through overclocking. These sockets are color coded to denote proper quad-channel memory mode operation. The slots use what ASUS calls its "SafeDIMM" slots. These use a single sided locking tab for memory retention. These slots have a strange metal band in the center notch key I’ve never seen before. Between the DIMM slots and the 24-pin ATX power connector you’ll find a unique slot that’s designed to hold a M.2 card with two slots onboard. This proprietary card allows you to install M.2 drives and even cool them with a fan. Both slots allow for type 22110 devices to be installed. It offers LED connections for HDD LED’s to monitor drive activity.
The X399 chipset is located in the lower left-hand corner of the motherboard. It’s cooled with a large heatsink that’s low profile and appears to be passive in nature. You will find the usual RGB lighting embedded in it. However, part of this is a removable cover which reveals an M.2 slot. In front of the chipset you’ll find the USB 3.1 header, 6x SATA ports and a single U.2 port. To the right of the chipset you will find buttons for clearing the CMOS or switching BIOS ROMs.
The expansion slot area is designed to leverage the PCIe lanes offered by the Threadripper CPU and the X399 chipset. 60 lanes are available via the CPU and an additional 8x lanes (PCIe 2.0 only) are provided by the chipset. This is an ideal multi-GPU platform. As such, 4-Way SLI and Crossfire technologies are supported. 4x PCI-Express x16 slots are provided for this purpose. These slots support the following configurations: (x16, x16/x16, x16/x8/x16, x16/x8/x16/x8). There are two additional PCIe 2.0 slots. One of which is 4x electrical and the other is an x1 slot. ASUS uses its patent pending "SafeSlots" feature. These are PCI-Express slots which have an integral metal frame which prevents damage to the PCB due to sheering or excessive insertion force.
The I/O panel isn’t something we would normally be able to talk about a whole lot. ASUS’ ROG offerings are now using what it calls a "premounted" I/O shield. This is effectively an integrated panel which provides a touch of elegance and an an air of quality to the motherboard. It includes lighting, and high contrast markings. Many connectors are gold plated for optimal conductivity. On the top of the I/O panel is a shroud that contains the RGB LEDs. The audio ports are color coded, not by plastic rings but by LED lights inside the ports. You will find a clear CMOS button, BIOS flashback button, and several ports including: antenna jacks, 8x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2.0 ports (1x Type-A, 1x Type-C), 1x RJ-45 LAN port, 1x optical ports, and 5x mini-stereo jacks.