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Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Review

November 2021 marks the generational dozen mark with Intel’s desktop Core processors, and twelfth Generation Core is shaping as much as be one to recollect. Intel’s new “Alder Lake” {hardware}, with its performance-and-efficiency-core design, is definitely essentially the most revolutionary entry in Intel’s consumer-CPU product strains that we’ve seen in a decade. We’ve already coated the brand new CPU design intimately in our evaluation of the flagship Core i9-12900K and the accompanying Z690 platform. (Hit these hyperlinks for far more on each features.)

Now it’s time to dig into the cutting-edge motherboard designs based mostly on the Z690 chipset. (For an outline, we now have a breakdown of greater than two dozen of the preliminary Z690 choices.) We’re kicking issues off on the evaluation entrance, although, with Asus’ flagship motherboard, the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero ($599.99). This board has many enhancements over its predecessor that from day one eclipse the now outdated Z590 platform launched earlier this 12 months for eleventh Generation “Rocket Lake” CPUs. Its mixture of overclocking options, modern ease-of-use element, and flashy design components make it a standout possibility for players. Our solely reservation is the tip-top value.


The Design: Dancing Lights, Pumped-Up Power

Right off the mark, you’ll discover the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero has a big, shiny Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand and a big part over its rear I/O shroud that is designed to mild up. The shroud part Employs what Asus calls its “Polymo Lighting” scheme.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Diagonal 1


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Polymo seems to be a extra inexpensive various to the little OLED show panels which have appeared on just a few flagship boards in recent times, notably fashions in MSI’s Godlike household. It’s not an OLED panel, however as a substitute seems to make use of normal RGB LEDs in an array to show pre-programmed picture patterns, amongst them the ROG brand and the letters “ROG.” These lights assist to offset the board’s in any other case subdued, stealth-black floor, making the board seem edgier and extra fascinating to have a look at.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Polymo


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero LED Panel


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Asus designed the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero with a complete of 20+1 energy levels with circuits which can be capable of deal with as much as 90 amps of present every. The power-regulation {hardware} is an important element for any high-end motherboard internet hosting an unlocked Intel “Ok”-version processor (and all the preliminary six Alder Lake chips are Ok items), particularly in terms of overclocking; the composition of the facility levels permits us to roughly (very roughly) gauge how nicely the board ought to overclock relative to the competitors. Based solely on the facility {hardware}, the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero is within the higher echelons of Z690 boards, although not fairly on the summit.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Diagonal 2


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Just a few boards, together with Gigabyte’s new Z690 Aorus Xtreme, ship with 105-amp elements of their energy subsystems. That particular Gigabyte board additionally has barely extra energy levels too. The capacity to deal with extra present, and elevated amperage, means the Gigabyte board may technically deal with extra energy on the fringes when tweaking, and probably overclock additional. This data must be taken with a pinch-to-a-heap of salt, nonetheless, as many different components come into play, together with VRM and CPU cooling, the manufacturing high quality of the precise CPU pattern in query, and the firmware on the board used for overclocking.

On the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, the VRMs are cooled by two massive heatsinks which can be joined collectively by a steel heatpipe. Also, two warmth spreaders, together with the chipset’s heatsink, cowl many of the backside half the board and conceal three M.2 Key M slots from sight.


A Quick Look on the Networking and Audio

Networking {hardware} on the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero is a bit missing for its value; on paper, this appears like one of many weaker features of the board. The Hero ships with a single 2.5Gbps wired Intel NIC, and it additionally has a built-in Intel Wi-Fi 6E networking adapter.

This configuration is just not terribly aggressive for a board at practically $600. Gigabyte’s Z690 Aorus Master is priced considerably decrease ($469.99) and ships with a 10Gbps Aquantia NIC along with delivering Wi-Fi 6E help. A better-priced board doesn’t essentially want to be higher than its lower-priced competitors in each means, however when there’s a $100-plus value hole, and the lower-cost board has a element that’s 4 instances sooner, it raises some eyebrows. Of course, how a lot you care about this depends upon the composition of your house community and the main points of your ISP service. For some consumers, the bandwidth differential might not make a lick of distinction.

As for the onboard audio resolution, Asus opted to make use of its ROG SupremeFX audio know-how, together with a Realtek ALC4082 audio codec to drive audio on the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero. (Check out extra about the ALC4080 series here.) Asus reported this technique has an signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio of 120dB throughout stereo playback and a 113dB SNR whereas recording. This is a comparatively new audio codec that has been exhibiting up on current boards, and it seems to be the de facto successor to Realtek’s super-common ALC1220 codec, which had seemingly turn out to be a market normal. The ALC4082’s main function replace over the ALC1220 is help for playback at as much as 32-bit with a 384KHz sampling price.

A separate ESS Sabre9018Q2C audio chip companies the front-panel audio jacks. This controller has a built-in AMP, in addition to an built-in DSP, and it has been optimized for dual-channel headphone output, which makes it a wise possibility for the front-panel audio.


The Rear I/O Ports: Sweet Connectivity

The rear I/O panel is without doubt one of the best-designed features of the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero. In addition to the usual 5 3.5mm audio jacks and an optical S/PDIF port, the panel additionally incorporates two antenna connections for the 6E Wi-Fi, an RJ-45 jack, an HDMI port (if it’s worthwhile to use the on-chip UHD Graphics in your Alder Lake processor), and two buttons. One of those buttons clears the CMOS settings; the opposite prompts Asus’ BIOS FlashBack function to put in a brand new BIOS from a USB flash drive.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Rear IO


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Of course, no halfway-decent rear I/O panel is full and not using a bucketful of USB ports, and that’s simply what you get right here: 11 in complete. Three of those use a USB Type-C connector, with two configured as Thunderbolt 4 ports and the final arrange as a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) port. The remaining eight ports are USB Type-A, six of that are configured as USB 3.2 Gen 2 with the ultimate two ports being legacy USB 2.0 ports.

Some might query the inclusion of USB 2.0 given its age, however I typically discover that USB 2.0 to be much less buggy when working within the BIOS or flashing new firmware to the board, and as such I don’t criticize their inclusion right here. I assume that Asus would agree with this sentiment, as one of many two USB 2.0 ports is particularly designated as the suitable port to make use of when flashing the BIOS off a USB thumb drive.


Internal Ports and Headers

The general structure of ports on the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero exhibits a substantial amount of thought went into port placement. The CPU energy connectors are nonetheless jammed into the nook of the board beside the VRM heatsinks, like on most motherboards, and these are nonetheless a little bit of a finger-twister to make use of. But the CPU fan headers have been set above the RAM slots, which makes them simpler to entry than they’ve been on most PCB-packed high-end motherboards that I’ve reviewed.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Diagonal 3


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Down the suitable facet of the board, a number of connectors, together with the SATA 3.0 ports and twin USB 3.0 headers (the latter supporting 4 USB), have been set at a proper angle. How useful that is depends upon what PC case you might be working in. In the suitable case, this can assist to supply a cleaner completed construct; in a good one, it might be a blocker. Other ports, together with the principle motherboard 24-pin energy connector and the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C connector, are set sticking straight out of the board, as are the entire headers that run alongside the underside fringe of the PCB, which embody two USB 2.0 headers for 4 extra ports.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Diagonal 4


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

For the first PCI Express x16 slot (which you’d use for any video card you’d set up), Asus additionally added a brand new function it calls its PCI-E Slot Q-Release. It’s a button that when pressed pulls a metal wire that’s hooked up to the locking lever on the PCIe x16 slot. This will pull the lock out of place and launch the graphics card. It feels a bit stiff, however is a nifty and helpful further that makes getting graphics playing cards out a bit simpler, particularly as soon as the board and PC are constructed out and packed, and you’ll solely in any other case get to the slot launch with a stick or screwdriver. (Never a protected enterprise!)

Then there’s the brand new socket that Alder Lake chips demand. The new LGA 1700 socket, on the whole, has a brand new CPU-cooler kind issue, however some motherboards, together with the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, may even work with present LGA 1200 coolers with out requiring use of LGA 1700’s new mounting structure. This is useful, because it makes discovering a cooler exceedingly straightforward and takes away the danger of shopping for one which lacks an LGA 1700 mounting bracket.


Storage: An Embarrassment of M.2

Asus put in three M.2 Key M slots on the motherboard. One of those is ready immediately over the first PCIe x16 slot and may maintain any M.2 NVMe SSD as much as 110mm lengthy. This uppermost slot is configured to work as both an PCI Express 4.0 x4 or PCI Express 5.0 x4 connection, which makes the board prepared for upcoming PCIe 5.0 NVMe SSDs. The different two M.2 slots can solely settle for M.2 modules as much as 80mm in size, and these share a warmth spreader that resides under the chipset heatsink.

It’s additionally price noting that Asus has applied a screwless design for including M.2 storage units. You will nonetheless want a screwdriver to take away the warmth spreaders, however for mounting the M.2 gadget itself, you’ll merely want to show slightly locking gadget, then flip it again after the SSD has been inserted. This could seem a comparatively easy innovation, nevertheless it makes including M.2 SSDs significantly simpler. Anyone who has struggled with (and misplaced) basic, eyeglass-size M.2 screws previously might be standing up and clapping on studying this.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero M.2 Add On card


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

For further M.2 storage, Asus ships a PCIe add-on card with the board, the ROG Hyper M.2 Card. This gadget has two M.2 slots, one among which is PCIe 5.0 compliant. It must be stored in thoughts that the CPU solely has 4 further PCIe 5.0 lanes accessible, along with the 16 dedicated to the graphics card. If you utilize this add-on card in one of many PCIe 5.0-capable x16 slots on the motherboard, it can drop the first M.2 Key M slot all the way down to PCIe 4.0 x4. It won’t allow you to have two PCIe 5.0 M.2 slots; with or with out the cardboard, you possibly can have just one in operation.

The growing old Serial ATA 3.0 interface is slowly falling out of use on trendy PCs, however that didn’t cease Intel from upping the variety of supported SATA ports on its newest chipset. Intel’s Z87 chipset, designed means again when to help the corporate’s 4th Generation (“Haswell”) CPUs shipped with the power to help six SATA 3.0 ports, and this has remained fixed till now, until a given board added a supplemental SATA controller. This was upped to eight SATA 3.0 ports on Z690, though it’s turning into more and more widespread to construct PCs with out any SATA 3.0 units. All most customers will possible set up on SATA lately are platter arduous drives, with SATA 2.5-inch SSDs and optical drives more and more uncommon. Not that I’m complaining about this enhance; it’s simply overkill at this level for many PCs not serving as, nicely, servers.

Out of the doable eight SATA 3.0 ports supported by the Z690 chipset, Asus opted to implement six. Some competing boards will outdo Asus right here, and set up all eight ports onboard, however for most individuals this received’t matter. It’s nonetheless too early to take away these connections completely, however most individuals will use someplace between zero and two…which suggests six is already lots.


A Quick Look on the BIOS

With the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, Asus continues the observe of booting straight into the superior BIOS menu, rendering the user-friendly EZ Mode BIOS primarily ineffective. More-advanced customers might desire this, however I personally nonetheless think about this a serious design trip-up. There’s fairly a bit that you are able to do within the EZ Mode BIOS menu that would prevent a visit into the Advanced Mode menu and allow you to get out of the BIOS sooner. If you might be an skilled consumer, then stepping into the Advanced Mode BIOS is only one keypress away. That’s additionally to not point out it is a waste of treasured ROM area if the EZ Mode BIOS goes unused.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero EZ Mode BIOS

Like most EZ Mode BIOSes, the one on the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero will show primary system data and allow you to allow an XMP reminiscence profile. You may also choose a boot gadget right here and alter the boot precedence, which is nearly every thing I’d wish to see on an “straightforward” display.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Overclocking

The Advanced Mode BIOS begins off on a predominant tab that exhibits primary data, however many of the goodies you may wish to play with are within the Extreme Tweaker part. From right here, it is possible for you to to overclock the CPU and RAM. Overall, I discovered the menus right here unsatisfying. There are loads of voltage controls, in addition to clock controls for the CPU and RAM, however the entire E-cores are locked collectively and can’t be overclocked independently. This could also be a common side of the Z690 platform; we cannot know for certain till we now have examined just a few extra boards. For now I will not choose this too critically or name it as a “con.”

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero BIOS CPU Settings

You additionally will not discover any choices to disable CPU cores right here; having that may be helpful when making an attempt to push excessive clock speeds. You can disable cores within the BIOS, however the controls to do that are below the Advanced tab within the CPU configuration. That’s high quality and all, however as the one motive you’ll wish to do that is for overclocking or testing functions, it could make extra sense to me to have these choices within the Extreme Tweaker menu.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero BIOS Tools

The BIOS comes with just a few built-in instruments together with MemTest86, which is helpful for testing RAM stability, and instruments for clean-erasing SSDs.


Verdict: A Luxury Cruiser on Alder Lake

On the entire, the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero is an exceedingly well-designed motherboard with lots of aptitude that players are certain to like. The BIOS is straightforward to work in, and the board’s structure makes constructing it up in a case a largely painless expertise. And we now have to provide main props to the PCIe slot launch button and the M.2 mounting scheme. Both are long-overdue creature comforts that we’d welcome in any motherboard.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Diagonal 5


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

The unhealthy information for Asus is that it doesn’t maintain a monopoly on motherboards. The Hero could also be well-designed and simple to make use of, however value is usually a decisive issue when selecting a motherboard, and at $599.99 the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero is fairly pricey. The board’s Achilles’ heel is an erstwhile competitor board: Gigabyte’s Z690 Aorus Master, which lists for $130 much less whereas providing on-paper higher-end VRMs and a 10Gbps Aquantia NIC.

The Asus board does have just a few benefits over Gigabyte’s Z690 Aorus Master: the creature comforts talked about, plus its two Thunderbolt 4 ports (the place the Z690 Aorus Master doesn’t have any). But in case you’re an overclocker or efficiency hound, and people are the targets for boards like these, and Intel Ok-class chips to start out with, you’d possible fairly have 105-amp VRMs and a 10Gbps NIC over Thunderbolt 4. That could be sufficient to tempt most consumers into shopping for the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Master over the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero; pile the worth distinction on prime of that, and it wouldn’t be any query.

That stated, for these those who particularly want Thunderbolt 4, the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero does have a bonus. Its ease of use, stable construct high quality and flashy design are certain to please players and new system builders alike. If you match into one among these teams, then Asus’ ROG Maximus Z690 Hero is nicely price contemplating, and you will take pleasure in Asus’ set up improvements that you will want it may export to each motherboard.

Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero

Pros

  • Solid construct high quality

  • 90-amp energy phases

  • Twin Thunderbolt 4 ports

  • Above-average ease-of-build options, together with nifty PCIe slot launch, swiveling M.2 mounts

  • Works with current LGA 1200 CPU coolers

The Bottom Line

The Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero is a well-built, top-end motherboard for Intel twelfth Generation Core that’s straightforward to work with, and packs Thunderbolt 4 and a top-tier energy design. Sky-high pricing is our solely reservation.

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