Articles

ASUS ROG Maximus XI Hero Z390 Motherboard Review

Author:Daniel Dobrowolski

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Sunday , January 06, 2019

Taking a queue from Hollywood, ASUS brings us another sequel to its long running ROG franchise with its Maximus XI Hero. While most movie sequels never live up to the original, computer hardware usually improves on the previous iteration. However, that’s not always the case. Is that the case here? Read on and find out.

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 portfolio has grown tremendously in the last decade. It used to encompass one or two models for a given platform at very high price points. These days, ROG motherboards can be found in almost at every price point. The ROG brand even contains products beyond motherboards. Video cards, monitors, laptops, and more are all available in the lineup.

The ROG lineup is known for its quality, innovation, features, and overclocking. While some of the products have been introduced in lower price points, this hasn’t ever changed. There are some compromises when hitting lower price points, but these products still generally compare favorably to anything in the standard product stack from both ASUS and other manufacturers. The core elements are solid and its generally extra features that often go unused which are omitted from the less expensive products in the ROG lineup. For the bulk of the last decade or more, everything in the ROG lineup has represented the pinnacle of technology and its where many features make their debut before being transitioned into the other product lines. ROG products have often been the most exciting as these represent ASUS’ best in virtually every category aside from price point. ASUS’ ROG offerings do tend to be slightly more expensive than somewhat similarly equipped parts in the standard line.

The Maximus XI Hero WiFi is based on Intel’s Z390 Express chipset. This chipset is new for Intel’s latest Core i3/i5/i9 series CPUs. 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. This isn’t being done to improve performance but rather incentivizes motherboard manufacturers to produce more Z390 motherboard chipsets, which undoubtedly cost more than Intel’s "lesser" chipsets. Motherboard manufacturers are customers of Intel, so adding features makes the product appealing and anything that adds features while cutting costs allows Intel to sell more chipsets.

The motherboard itself, has a relatively lean feature set which is expected out of the "Hero" branded motherboards. You’ll find the basic chipset feature set relatively intact, you’ll find two M.2 slots, multi-GPU support, as well as support for all the latest interconnects such as USB 3.1 Gen 2, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless, PCI-Express Gen 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s and so on. ASUS’s ROG Maximus XI Hero also features its SupremeFX audio, a dynamic external clock generator, DIGI+ Power control, and more.

Main Specifications Overview:

Detailed Specifications Overview:

Packaging

The packaging for the ASUS ROG Maximus XI Hero is precisely the same as it is for its other motherboards. The box art is aesthetically pleasing, and it sports the black and red color theme ROG has almost always been known for. The motherboard is encased in a cardboard protector with a clear plastic cover. It arrived in tact with the following items and accessories: User's manual, 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 SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-M), 1x ROG big sticker, 1x Q-Connector, 1x Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm), 1x Extension cable for Addressable LED, and 1x ROG coaster(s).

Board Layout

The layout is excellent. The only problem I have with it, concerns the CMOS battery location. Which in fairness, something ASUS never gets right in my opinion. ASUS tends to place this component directly under the primary graphics card expansion slot where it would be unreachable without removing the graphics card. However, when you look at the board design, ASUS was out of options without a major overhaul of the PCB layout to place this somewhere else. At the end of the day, many of our readers probably don’t keep motherboards long enough to ever have to deal with a CMOS battery replacement. I’ve seen these last 5 to 7 years, which is more than enough time to make this a non-issue in most cases.

Motherboards can have layouts which are good for certain situations, but not ideal in all cases. This is a topic I haven’t covered before, and perhaps I will in a separate article. However, the point here is that there are elements of the design layout which are ideal for the most part, but not all situations. The controls for power, and reset functions are placed in an area which is ideal in some chassis, but sub-optimal on others. Also, multi-GPU users may find that controls near the PCH are less than ideal regardless of chassis design. Of course, motherboard orientation in the chassis makes a difference here as well.

ASUS has upped its game with PCB markings as it now tells you which PCI-Express x16 slot gets its lanes supplied by the CPU. Slots that do not indicate this derive their lane allocation from the PCH, which are constrained by the DMI 3.0 link to the CPU. Similar, high visibility markings can be found all over the PCB for things like optimal memory installation with two DIMMs, and so on. The Maximus XI Hero also offers seven fan headers, one of which is a high amperage header while another is for dedicated AIO systems. All the headers offer full control via the BIOS or AI Suite III / Fan Xpert software and are of the 4-pin variety. You will also find a Fan Xtension header to add even more fans which can be controlled via the UEFI or software. There are water flow sensor connection headers as well as standard RGB and thermal header connectors.

The motherboard’s black and dark gray color scheme is one of those I don’t think will ever get old and is aesthetically pleasing. The heat sinks and M.2 covers all provide a modern touch, while not being overly stylized in my opinion.

ASUS is using a new power phase design this generation. It’s using what it calls its "Twin 8-phase" design. However, this is somewhat misleading as it really appears to be a 4-phase design. ASUS (and many other manufacturers) have often employed four power phase and phase doubling to increase the phase count. In this case, there are only 4-phases present for the CPU vCore. This is evidenced by the fact that the ASP1400 voltage controller doesn’t support more than four phases making it impossible for this to be an 8-phase design. Instead, ASUS is using double the quantity of inductors and power stages. In total, this offering is capable of support upwards of 360A, which is theoretically more than enough for a 9900K. However, it isn’t the most efficient design as the heat output at these levels is going to be a bit more given the lack of phases and components to load balance with. Long story short, ASUS claims that this improves transient response. While this is true, it’s a bit of a smoke and mirrors game in which they tout the one good thing the design does instead of highlighting the cost cutting and the downsides of such a design. The reality is that it’s a cost cutting measure, like what’s on ASUS’ cheaper motherboards and not higher end offerings. That all said, we used this motherboard in a lot of stress testing scenarios and the fact is that it works just fine, which is truly what needs to be focused on here.

ASUS’ employs a large and aesthetically pleasing heat sink for the VRMs which works well enough. The CPU socket area is relatively clear with nothing to interfere with most cooling solutions. As usual, taller DIMMs could cause problems with some heat sinks, but this can be avoided with some research and careful component selection.

There are eight 288-pin DIMM slots supporting a total of 64GB of DDR4 RAM. DRAM speeds up to DDR4 4400MHz are supported via overclocking at the time of this writing. As usual, ASUS employs single sided locking tabs for memory module retention. There isn’t a specific reason why ASUS had to use these single-sided locking tabs, but, chose to do so even though clearances are good enough to use traditional two-tab retention on the slots. These slots are not color coded, but excellent markings on the PCB surface instruct the user in how to place DIMMs for the best results. Two phase power is employed here using the same basic design it’s used for some time now.

The chipset is cooled with a heavily stylized heatsink. It features "Tron" style lighting along with other parts of the motherboard. The chipset heatsink is flat and doesn’t interfere with the installation of graphics cards or other devices. There is an M.2 slot right next to the PCH which has a stylized combination heat sink and slot cover which matches the look of the chipset cooler.

The SATA 6Gb/s ports can be found in front of the chipset. These are right angled and support locking cables. There are many port headers in this general area of the motherboard, which is normal. They are usually marked well enough to figure out what each header does.

The expansion slot area is configured exactly the way I’d have wanted it to be done if I had designed this motherboard. I like having a PCI-Express x1 slot above the primary PEG slot as well as an M.2 slot above it. This means I can install an M.2 drive easily after the system is otherwise built if I use the other one for the OS, or another drive. There isn’t an unusable slot underneath the PCI-Express x16 slot, which is good as that one will never be worth having. There isn’t good spacing between the last PCI-Express x16 slot and the middle one. However, this motherboard doesn’t support 3-Way SLI, not that it is important to many enthusiasts any more. It does handle three card Crossfire, using that last slot limits the bandwidth to x4 lanes and requires a chassis that allows the card to hang off the end of the motherboard. Again, probably not a concern for most of us.

The PCI-Express x16 slots sport steel brackets for added sheering protection and resistance to plate bending. ASUS uses very wide locking tabs which are generally easy to use and work better than some of the other designs out there. My only real complaint about the expansion slot area centers around the covers for the M.2 slots as the screws aren’t captive and can be a pain to line up when installing M.2 drives.

Once again, we see a built-in IO shield on the ASUS Maximus XI Hero. Its nice to see this filtering down to slightly lower price points. All motherboards should include this feature! This design not only looks good but it adds an air of quality to the system. On the back panel we have a BIOS Flashback button, a clear CMOS button, 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, 1 of which is a Type-C port. There are also 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 1x HDMI port, 1x DisplayPort, dual Wi-Fi antenna connectors, 1x digital SPDIF connector and 5x mini-stereo jacks for analog audio. These are gold plated and feature color coded plastic on the outside which make it easier to connect the right ones to your audio devices of choice. Lastly, you’ll find a single RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port on the back or IO panel to round things out.