ASUS ROG MAXIMUS VIII HERO REVIEW Hey guys, I just wanted to present a review of my recently purchased Asus ROG Maximus VIII Hero. I love the board and its setup, so felt I would share with you all some of the features, not just some pretty pictures. Specifications As you can see, the board itself is very well featured and comes with everything the Gamer or casual Overclocker could need. It’s located at the higher end of the ROG Range, with only the Extreme board to top it. Unboxing The motherboard itself comes well secured and packaged, much like the previous line of Z97 ROG series of motherboard, with the box including a flap on top to open to see the full motherboard inside. Quite a nice touch. All of the accessories are tucked into a hidden compartment below for that neat display. Opening and removing from the boxing is very simple with little chance of damaging the product itself. Included is a DVD with all of the drivers and bundled software to get you started, as well as the comprehensive user manual to guide you through setup and configuration. Asus has continued their trademark colour theme over from previous generations with a twist in the new Maximus VIII series of motherboards. This time around the boards are sporting a splash of grey and re-designed styling to the VRM Heatsinks. They have also added a nice plastic IO cover integrated to the heatsinks for that little extra bling and to add to a more complete look. The board itself is well laid out, with ample space between all of the expansion PCI slots for those larger graphics cards, with a nicely located PCI-E x1 slot at the top to give some extra space to fit a larger tower air-cooler without any conflict. There is also a plethora of PWM fan headers located in convenient locations around the board to hook on your fans and setup through BIOS or the included AiSuite to suit your preferred setup. The Maximus VIII Hero is setup with the PCI-E lanes through both the CPU and PCH, with options of a single 16x slot, 8x/8x, or 8x/8x/4x. With this in mind, QuadFire or Quad SLI will be achieved with using two (2) GPUs with dual onboard GPUs, e.g. 2x R9 295X2 and 2x GTX 690/Titan Z. Multi-GPU CrossFire is still achievable due to CrossFire only requiring PCI-E x4 as a minimum interface (SLI required PCI-E x8 as minimum). For the majority of users though, this wouldn’t be an issue as most would head to the X99 platform to drive the extra graphical power. Dual 8x has little effect on graphics performance these days with modern GPUs yet to flood the PCI-Express 2.0 interface at x16 and PCI-Express 3.0 x8 providing equivalent bandwidth. Power is provided through Asus Extreme Engine DIGI+. This is made up through 8 phases for the CPU Input Voltage, an additional 2 phase for DRAM Voltage and 2 more phases for the iGPU Voltage. Asus has used high quality MicroFine alloy chokes and 10K black metallic capacitors for increased efficiency and extra smooth power delivery to the vital components. The SATA ports are conveniently located down the right-hand side of the board, and all at right angles to keep cabling clean and out of the way for larger graphics cards to fit without an issue. All up, there are 6 controlled by the Intel controller, including 2 SATA Express ports, and a further 2 ports controlled through the ASMedia controller. These are in contrasting colours to help define which port is connected to the different controller, black for Intel, grey for ASMedia. The PCH heatsink has the same stylish grey heatsink as the VRM’s. Also included is RGB led lighting which can be adjusted in windows using the provided software. The available lighting setups range from simple colour selection (256-bit library) with effects like pulsing/breathing or even CPU temperature indication. The CPU temperature is shown with the colour scale moving from green to yellow to red as the CPU temperature increases within the predefined scale. The bottom of the board contains all of the Q-Connector points, sound port, USB header, ROG Connect, Power/Reset switch and Clear CMOS button (very handy). All of these are very accessible and lit when there is power connected to the board, which is handy when everything is black. For those that run extreme cooling, having these switches on the bottom of the board will stop the problem of freezing the switches when the ice builds up. At the rear of the board are all the usual connections. This includes 1xPS2 (combo), 4xUSB 2.0, 2xUSB 3.0 ports, 1xUSB 3.1 Type A, 1xUSB 3.1 Type C, LAN RJ-45 with LANGuard, and the usual Audio IO Ports. Also a feature of the ROG boards is the BIOS Flashback button, making it easy to upgrade/downgrade the BIOS without the need of complicated programs. I must say too, the new included IO panel is a much nicer finish than any previous motherboards panel I have had. The quality is superb (I think its stainless steel) and it looks awesome and fits well in my case. A new addition to the Maximus VIII series of boards is an included pump header to keep installation of modern AIO coolers simple. The PWM header is conveniently located at the top edge of the board close to the CPU fan header for simplicity. The BIOS has a myriad of settings letting the user take control of the pump duty cycles at varying temperature thresholds. This dedicated pump header also presents additional value for water cooling enthusiasts, no longer having to stretch the budget for a managed pump, able to turn a non-managed pump into a managed pump. Asus have really gone to town to upgrade the integrated sound solution on the current range of boards. The Hero now includes the new SupremeFX 2015. Now included under the shield is a 24-bit ESS Hi-Fi DAC paired with a jitter eliminator to remove excess noise and jitter from the sound. Also, there is an additional TI headphone amp to supply an increase in voltage and higher-output current to meet all headphone types, supporting headphones with up to 600Ω impedance. There is an upgrade to the capacitors, now supporting Nichicon Premium capacitors for extra sound clarity and warmth for a better sound experience. With a few other additions to EMI protection and shielding to remove other noise, Asus really seem to be taking the integrated sound to a new level to compete with the discrete add-in solutions. Overclocking So, this is what we are all here for. Asus have setup the BIOS so most layman can understand all of the settings. The Skylake platform is a bit different to the previous Haswell platform due to the removal of the Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator (FIVR). The CPU voltage regulation is controlled by the motherboard now (similar to the Z68/Z77 platforms), so the settings in BIOS are a bit different to the last generation. There is an abundance of reviews and information out there about the processors and platform, so I will leave the technical side of the platform for those. So on with the show. Basically, for the stock settings, I entered BIOS, set the memory to XMP, hit F10 and reset. One thing to note when applying XMP profiles, the BIOS will automatically ask to apply a fixed multiplier to the CPU so all cores run at the same speed under load/turbo. This makes the CPU run slightly faster than the base spec of the CPU, so a little added boost there. AutoOC Asus also has pre-set OC settings built into the TPU setting in BIOS. With setting this, waiting for the BIOS to reset a few times, I ended up with the following OC, all with purely one BIOS setting. The outcome of 4.6ghz is nothing to sneeze at for literally one setting change. The only downside to the AutoOC was the RAM was not set to XMP, but instead it was set to a slower 3000C16 setting, the XMP result reflects this. Manual OC Ok, now I’m what I would like to call an “enthusiast overclocker”. I have been in the hobby now for many years, and like to delve in and fine tune my BIOS to suit me. With the Maximus VIII Hero, all this is quite easy. The auto setup itself for most voltages are well set, and really only require changing literally a couple of settings to find your maximum OC off the bat. So, with only changing: 1. AI Overclock Tuner to XMP (which loads the memory profiles) 2. Set the multiplier you would like for the CPU (in my circumstance, went straight for 48x) 3. Set the vcore to adaptive, and my maximum turbo voltage to 1.43v (used an average from others) 4. Enter into the External Digi+ Power control menu and set the CPU LLC to level 5 5. Hit F10, save the BIOS and check it out in windows Here is the results, which I have put through my suit of stability testing and found to be totally reliable in gaming, 3D rendering, video rendering and googling. Prime95 goes nowhere near any of my machines. Now, we all have our own process, and obviously finding a maximum stable clock at a voltage isn’t always this simple, but with what’s above, it’s basically that simple. Mine is 3x XTU Bench Runs, 3 consecutive passes of Cinebench (a bad OC will usually show within these 2 quite quickly), a good hour pass with Asus Realbench V2, as it is a good overall system stability test, followed by some good old fashioned gaming, in my case, Battlefield 4. I find Battlefield the best to bring things to their knees, pushing the RAM, CPU and IO’s, PCH and GPU. It all gets a hammering. I’ve even found after passing the first 3 tests, that once in Battlefield I can get DirectX errors from the VCCIO voltage in BIOS being just slightly low, talking 0.05v here. Benchmarks Test Setup CPU – Intel i7 6700k, stock, 4500/4500, 4800/4600 Cooler – Custom Water Loop (D5, 420 and RX240 Radiator, EK Supremacy Evo) Motherboard – Asus Maximus VIII Hero Ram – G.Skill Ripjaws V 3466C16 4x4gb – F4-3466C16Q-16GVK (XMP Profile, Samsung D-Die IC) Storage – Samsung 840 250gb SSD Graphics – EVGA 780ti SC ACX (custom BIOS) PSU – Silverstone 1200W Evo+ Gold OS – Windows 10 Pro x64 Comparison System 1 CPU – Intel i7 4790k @ 4500/4500 cache Cooler – Noctua D-15 Motherboard – Asus Gryphon Z97 (BIOS 2101) Ram – Corsair DDR3 Vengeance 2x4gb – CMY8GX3M2A1600C9 (1600C9 XMP 1t Timings, Nanya IC) Storage – Kingston SSD Now300 - 250gb Graphics – Asus 750ti OC PSU – Antec HCG-520w OS – Windows 10 Pro x64 Comparison System 2 CPU – Intel i7 2600k @ 4500 Cooler – Coolermaster 212X Motherboard – Asus P8Z68-V Pro (BIOS 3402) Ram – Corsair DDR3 Vengeance 2x4gb – CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9 (XMP 1t Timings, Nanya IC) Storage – Samsung 840 SSD - 250gb Graphics – AMD HD6430 PSU – Corsair HX620 Modular OS – Windows 10 Pro x64 Methodology For benchmarking this motherboard, I have come up with a suite to show mostly CPU and memory performance. Software used: Intel XTU (tests both CPU and memory performance) Geekbench 3 Cinebench R11.5 – CPU Test only Cinebench R15 –CPU Test only Aida64 – Memory Benchmark and Latency 3DMark Fire Strike Physics All tests were done at both stock CPU clocks 4200/4100 cache, and overclocked to 4500/4500 cache and 4800/4600 cache. Memory was set to XMP. Each benchmark was run 3 times, and the best score recorded discarding any obviously glitched runs. Software Options/Accessories RAMDisk and RAMDisk Cache Included in the Asus software bundle is Asus RAMDisk and RAMCache. Now, the implementation of a RAMDisk and/or RAMCache is not a new concept, but the programs Asus has bundled make it very simple to setup and use a RAMDisk and/or RAMCache on your system. Previously on my last boards, from RIVF, RIVBE and Maximus VII Gene, I had the same software, but hardly used it thinking it was just a bit of a gimmick that had no real day to day effect. Well, I should have given it a bit more time, because honestly, I can notice the difference in load times with RAMCache enabled. RAMCache is a simple program, basically you open it up, set how much of the system memory you want to allocate to the program, and it does its thing from there in the background. Initially, I didn’t notice a difference, but soon after opening and closing programs, the boot times just got faster and faster. So it seems to need to “cache” it in its memory, and then the speed kicks in afterwards. Here is a comparison from using my Samsung 840 250gb drive. Before RAMCache Applied After RAMCache Applied RAMDisk works similarly, but creates an actual physical drive much like your SSD or mechanical drives, but at a huge speed difference. RAMDisk works best when using a program that is heavily hard-drive dependant, like video editing, photo editing or vmware. It’s perfect to speed up your workflow. You can set the working file on the RAMDisk when ready to render, and save to the same folder. VM’s have more instant access, etc. The good thing with RAMDisk, is it backs up your data from the RAMDisk to your local drive on shutdown/restart, so it’s available on the next boot. So you can set and leave, or wipe when you are done. As a gamer and overclocker, the best use I have been able to find for this is game files, especially on games which have a longer load times which you want more instant access in. Basically, you can install it onto the RAMDisk drive and off you go. Benchmarking results generally don’t improve unless doing full system benchmarks. The other use RAMDisk has is to act as a temporary folder for internet use to take read/write tasks from your SSD to prolong its life cycle. Less IO usage = longer SSD life. Couple that with the fact most of the time the temp data doesn’t need to be kept, so if it’s lost, there is no damage done. Warning: When using a RAMDisk, if you have a power outage, anything that had changed on the RAMDisk prior to any shutdown will be lost. For those using RAMDisk for anything that’s time dependant or important that you don’t want lost, then a quality UPS is recommended to give time to shutdown to retain your data. CPU Socket Installation Tool The other inclusion Asus has provided with the new ASUS Z170 range of boards, is the Z170 CPU installation tool. It’s a handy thing to use, and is mostly there to save dropping the CPU in the socket damaging the fragile pins. Here is a video (not by me) to explain a little better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFlBPyQbJZw Conclusion Asus and the Republic of Gamers have come up with another fantastic board for the enthusiast. The software included is plentiful and covers everything you could possibly need to use your motherboard the way it’s designed. From the included AiSuite for in OS overclocking and fan controls, to the LED Control Centre for adding that personal touch, it’s all there. The looks carry on the now long traditional red and black theme with shades of grey. The VRM setup is top notch, and the heatsink cooling it does a fantastic job. Matt black finish to the PCB itself allows everything to tie in together nicely. The board layout is well thought out to remove the chance of any unnecessary conflicts between cables and GPU’s or other add-in cards. I love the idea of the Hybrid M.2 slot, allowing you to use either a SATA based storage device, or the faster PCI-E based M.2 SSD’s like the new Samsung SM951 or 950 Pro for up to 2200mb/s read speeds and 900mb/s+ write speeds. Flexibility is the key to this little feature. Unfortunately at the time of this review, I had neither drives at hand, but look forward to giving the setup a go. In the end, it’s a fantastically laid out and equipped motherboard, that can handle everything the enthusiast can throw at it. PROS - Easy overclocking - Striking looks - M.2 SATA and PCI-E support - Extensive software range for every user - Stainless steel IO panel - Epic built-in sound and software bundle - SupremeFX taking on the add-in cards CONS - AiSuite has some readout bugs - No Probelt for easy voltage readings - Memory profiles are a good base (could be my memory IC though not matching the base settings), but did have some issues which were mostly resolved with some extra volts - PCI-E lanes lack a true 16x/16x which would have been nice, but an extra cost Please feel free to leave comments/questions below. Hope you enjoyed.