Date: Thursday , June 07, 2018
ASUS is a company that’s been in the DIY motherboard business for a very long time. The company is well known for its gaming and enthusiast-oriented hardware. This includes motherboards, monitors, laptops, workstation and server hardware, routers, and gaming peripherals. And now even AIO coolers with OLED screens, Delta headsets, and Thor Hammer PSUs! Of course, motherboards are what the company is primarily known for now although I believe they make more money off of monitors than anything else these days. Over ten years ago, ASUS created its Republic of Gamers brand to better target products marketed towards the gaming segment at the intended customer base. The brand has been wildly successful and, in a sense has been imitated by everyone else in the industry in one form or another.
This marks the first socket AM4 motherboard we reviewed which uses AMD’s X470 chipset. Ordinarily, we'd give you a full rundown of the chipset and its features with a separate chipset review; however, in this case there is no reason to do that since very little has changed with X470 compared to its predecessor. The main difference is a reduction in power consumption, and the free licensing for StoreMI. The feature (which is usable on 300 series chipsets but at an extra cost). Extended Frequency Range (XFR2) and Precision Boost 2 (PB2) are also not supported on the older 300 series chipsets, but at each motherboard manufacturer's discretion. We have already taken a look at StoreMI in another article and I’ll talk about it again in the subsystem section. We have fully covered Precision Boost 2 and Extended Frequency Range 2 as well.
Here at the [H], we have a sordid past with the Crosshair series. While the Crosshair VI Extreme was a solid offering that worked very well for us, the X370-based Crosshair VI Hero didn’t fare so well in our testing. This is a motherboard that died during the review process and one Kyle had multiple copies of, all of which were problematic. It was one of the few ROG branded motherboards that wasn’t one of the best of their respective generations. The platform itself reached reasonable parity with Intel’s Z270 / Z370 Express chipsets with only a few points lacking. AMD’s earlier socket AM4 motherboards had varying degrees of problems. The biggest shortfall of the platform was primarily memory related. Initially, memory compatibility was terrible and the achievable memory speeds were lower than they needed to be for the platform to perform like It should. Over time these issues were mitigated although always persisted to some degree. AMD’s X399 chipset and subsequent socket TR4 platform was far better and represented an evolution of AMD’s expertise in developing its AGESA code.
The ASUS Crosshair VII Hero is based on AMD’s X470 Chipset. As a result of the similarities between X370 and X470, the Crosshair VII Hero isn’t much different from the earlier version regarding specifications and features. The Crosshair VII Hero offers PCI-Express 3.0 capability, SATA 6Gb/s support, USB 3.1 Gen 1 & 2 support, and even wireless capability on the version we tested. The Crosshair VII Hero is offered in both a Wi-Fi and standard versions. It uses 12 digital power phases for CPU and integrated GPU usage. The Crosshair VII Hero uses all solid electrolytic capacitors as well. It’s chokes and heat sinks aren’t nearly as fancy as higher end offerings. Like every other manufacturer, ASUS has a ton of marketing fluff on its website for the Crosshair VII Hero, but when you separate all of that out sort through it all you’ll find a few things that stand out. ASUS’ Pro Clock feature is a dedicated external clock generator which allows you to adjust the reference clocks for greater flexibility while tuning. There are a lot more things to talk about than that, which we will cover as we move through the different areas and subsystems on the motherboard.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging for the Crosshair VII Hero is identical to what we’ve seen from ROG motherboards since the Rampage V Edition 10. It opens like a clam shell and its made from very thick cardboard that has a plastic feel to it. Inside the box you will find a user guide, several stickers, driver disc, ROG themed coaster, SLI bridge, wireless antenna, ASUS Q-Connector, thermal probes, and several SATA cables.
The layout is excellent. There is very little I have to complain about concerning the ROG Crosshair VII Hero’s layout. In fact, the only complaint I really have is with the location of the CMOS battery. This is a complaint I make often, I still feel justified in making that complaint here. However, this is a minor complaint and I don’t feel it detracts from the overall motherboard design. This is a problem that only rears its head in very rare instances or after many years of service. It can also be argued that the trade-off made by locating the CMOS battery in such an awkward place allows the designers to make a better overall design by placing other components where the CMOS battery would otherwise be found. The PCB thickness is adequate although there was a slight warpage to the motherboard when viewed edge on. This is something I complain about with a lot of expensive motherboards but it’s something that you often see with budget-oriented motherboards or when the design makes concessions in order to keep the retail price down.
While I would never call any ROG motherboard inexpensive or cheap, to hit the lower price point the Hero sits in, a few concessions are necessary. The MOSFET heatsinks are rather nice. Especially for the price point. You will not see the ROG thermal armor or a large chipset cooling solution. Both of those features can be used to add extra strength and rigidity to a motherboard with a thin PCB. Again, due to cost-cutting for this price point those features are not present. Another cost cutting measure is the lack of a removable BIOS ROM. ASUS in all likelihood concluded that this feature isn’t really all that important with BIOS Flashback and redundant BIOS ROMs being in use on some models. The Crosshair VII Hero only uses BIOS Flashback, but this has proven to be an effective way to recover from a bad BIOS flash. Up until now, ASUS and ASRock were the only manufacturers that retained the use of the removable BIOS ROM chips, and that doesn’t seem to be the case with ASUS anymore. While I am sad to see this change, I do understand it and even agree with it.
When it comes to fan headers and cooling, ASUS doesn’t mess around. Even the baby of the ROG family is no slouch in this arena. ASUS offers eight 4-pin PWM fan headers which doesn’t include the dedicated 3A high performance water pump header or the dedicated AIO header. If that’s not enough ASUS provides its fan extension header supporting even more fans with the same level of control offered by the onboard fan headers. Most budget-oriented motherboards offer three temperature sensors zones. This always includes a general motherboard sensor, a sensor in the CPU socket, and a chipset sensor. ASUS has added another one for MOSFET temperature monitoring. This one is located under the MOSFET bank just behind the CPU socket underneath the largest of the MOSFET cooling heat sinks. A dedicated circuit protects each fan header from over-temperature and overcurrent conditions.
Port locations are marked with easily identifiable silk screen which tell you which ports or slots should be used first for the best performance. This isn’t a new feature, as silk screening has been used for decades. The biggest change is how well these are marked. You don’t need a magnifying glass or get close-up to read the markings. These are simple and direct, rather than requiring an electrical engineering degree to understand these.
Despite the multitude of power phases, and the robust MOSFET cooling hardware, the CPU socket area remains relatively clear of obstructions. You shouldn’t have any trouble fitting a large heat sink, water block, or AIO to the ASUS ROG Crosshair VII Hero.
There are four 288-pin DIMM slots supporting a total of 64GB of DDR4 RAM. The RAM slots, use single sided locking tabs for module retention. Steel reinforced brackets are also employed to enhance motherboard rigidity and reduce stresses from module insertion. This is a pretty standard feature and frankly ASUS is not the best at it, but we’ve gotten along for well over a decade without reinforcement in these areas. At one time I worked in a high-volume service center repairing and upgrading PCs, I’ve built many machines for myself over the last two decades, and for others so it’s safe to say I’ve installed thousands of memory modules over the years. In that time, I have only ever seen someone damage a motherboard installing RAM once. One and only one time I saw this, was back in the RAMBUS days. So, it can happen, but I think it’s exceedingly rare. In other words, any reinforcement should be sufficient if not overkill.
ASUS’ product page goes on to talk about how they optimized trace paths for the memory subsystem to allow for the platform to achieve the highest speeds possible when overclocking memory. While this seems like a given, there may be some truth in it as I’ve always seen ASUS motherboards achieve roughly what any other brand can achieve when clocking memory. Despite the compatibility issues I faced with AMD’s recent platforms in memory modules, I haven’t had too much trouble with using four modules versus two.
The chipset is cooled with a relatively standard flat heat sink that contains embedded RGB lighting which adds a glow to the ROG logo with additional accent lighting thrown in for good measure. The heat sink has a low enough profile to avoid any installation concerns. Like the MOSFET coolers, these are screwed in rather than being secured with plastic push pins and tension springs. The cooler isn’t nearly as large or as fancy as what you would find on the upper echelon motherboards.
The expansion slot area is configured exactly the way I like it. The slots support a dual x8/x8 configuration when used in multi-GPU mode. The third PCIe x16 slot operates in x4 mode, which allows for 3-Way Crossfire certification and 2-Way SLI certification. The slots are laid out perfectly for a multi-GPU configuration, or rather close to it. There is one concession made as there is an M.2 slot above the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. This is somewhat of a trade-off, but a good one as the third PCI-Express slot isn’t likely to get used for GPUs all that often.
The primary and secondary PCI-Express x16 slots are reinforced with metal covers. ASUS calls this feature "Safeslot." Like the reinforcements made to the DIMM slots, this seems somewhat anemic compared to the competition. Again, I don’t think this is a real problem. The biggest problem is the fact that the last slot lacks this bracket entirely making it look different than the others. There is a single pro and con to doing this. The pro being that you can identify which slots should be used a bit more easily. The con being that the slot lacks reinforcement. This is another minor complaint, and one that can be made against most manufacturers. This is likely done as a purely cost cutting measure or ASUS figured there would not be a heavy graphics card in that slot. Either way it throws off the look of the board a bit.
The back panel utilizes an integrated I/O shield. The back panel looks more like what you would find on a more expensive motherboard than the Crosshair VII Hero. The dedicated clear CMOS and BIOS flashback buttons are a nice touch. Along with that you will find 8x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x dedicated PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 port (type-A) and 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 (type-C) port. There are also five analog mini-stereo ports and a single optical output. The audio jacks are gold plated, but also color coded via plastic surrounds. Lastly, there are two wireless antenna ports.
While the Crosshair VII Hero isn’t a super high-end motherboard, I’m glad to see ASUS spent the extra money on the integrated I/O shield. It adds a touch of class and polish to the product. The first time I saw this feature, I realized this is how back panels should always have been done from the inception of the ATX form factor. (Kyle's note: Installing this board in a case, I looked around the office for 30 minutes looking for the IO panel before remembering it was already attached. If nothing else, it is nice to not be able to lose these any more. I would like to see the attached IO panel a standard feature on all enthusiast motherboards.)