Asus Maximus IX Hero Review

Written by Antony Leather

January 20, 2017 // 12:15 p.m.

Tags: #best-kaby-lake-motherboard #best-z270-motherboard #cheapest-kaby-lake-motherboard #kaby-lake #lga1151 #rog #z270

Asus Maximus IX Hero Review

Manufacturer: Asus
UK price (as reviewed): £239.97 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $219.99 (ex tax)

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The Intel Z270 chipset launch saw the biggest upheaval in Asus's motherboard lineup for a long time, and in short, what we're seeing is ROG Maximus moving back into its super-premium (and expensive) realm, with the ROG Strix brand taking over the mid-range enthusiast segment.

This means two things - firstly, that a Maximus board will likely cost you more, especially as the Ranger and Gene (traditionally two of the more affordable examples) have been demoted to the ROG Strix range. We say demoted, but they still cost roughly the same. For example, the Maximus VIII Ranger currently costs around £170 when new, while its Z270 replacement, the ROG Strix Z270F, retails for £173.

Of course, in the UK, it's not just Asus that has seen price rises - it's the same for every board manufacturer as everything is more expensive at the moment, which accounts for the fact that the ROG Strix Z270F does lack several of the old Ranger's features. The cheapest 'pure' ROG board is now the Maximus IX Hero, which sits in a similar position to its predecessor, but falls short of matching many of the specifications we saw with the late arrival to the Z170 party - the Hero Alpha.

For example, it has ASMedia-powered USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, as opposed to Intel-powered ones on the Alpha, which also included Thunderbolt 3 support. There's no Wi-Fi on the new Hero either, and this was also included on the Alpha. However, given that the Alpha cost £240 when new a year ago and costs £20 more now, it's fairly clear that this is just down to industry-wide price rises and not limited to Asus's Maximus range. The Hero Alpha is also a year old - if it was new, it would likely be retailing for closer to £300.

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Delving a little deeper does reveal a more extensive feature set on the new board. For starters, you now get Realtek ALC1220-based audio in the form of ROG SupremeFX S1220, and as we've seen, this does offer higher dynamic range and lower noise levels than your average Z170 board with an ALC1150 codec. In addition, the SupremeFX S1220 codec offers an ESS Sabre Hi-Fi ES9023P digital-to-analog converter and a Texas Instruments RC4850 op-amp, and you get Asus's Sonic Radar III software too.

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Gone are the U.2 ports from the Hero Alpha, and in their place is an extra M.2 port. You also get the usual six SATA 6Gbps ports with no extra, unlike the Maximus VIII Hero that offered two more via an ASMedia controller. You don't get any arguments from us though - U.2 is likely taking a back seat to M.2, six SATA ports are enough for most of us, and we're not entirely sure just how Intel's Optane technology is shaping up in terms of being used for more than just storage yet, so the extra M.2 port will allow you use your own M.2 SSD plus be able to take advantage of anything funky Intel comes up with.

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Something missing from most Z270 motherboards below £200 at the moment is a set of overclocking and testing tools - power, reset and CMOS clear buttons, that kind of thing. The lack of them is especially annoying for us reviewers, but thankfully they're all here with the Hero; it's just a shame you have to spend nearly £250 to get them. You do get two 4-pin RGB LED headers too, and you get a healthy nine fan headers in addition to a pair of water-cooling coolant temperature headers for taking measurements at two points in a loop - the inlet and outlet of a water block or radiator, for example, plus a flow rate meter header as well.

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3D printing compatibility is back too, and you get a screw pack in the box as well as plenty of ways to mount your printed components to the Hero, with examples including cable covers, an M.2 cooling fan mount, and logos. You can see the full list of the Hero's 3D-printable components here, and you can order 3D-printed Asus components over on Shapeways if you don't have a printer at home.

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Lighting isn't particularly in your face on the Hero - there's just a Maximus IX logo on the I/O shroud, which sits atop a large heatsink that hides part of the 10-phase power delivery, and an illuminated ROG logo on the PCH heatsink, both of which are fully RGB controllable in Asus's Aura software. It's the opposite of Gigabyte's very luminous Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7, but we'd sooner see a more reasonable price tag with the option of adding lighting if we want to. A new feature with the Hero is Aura Sync - you can now synchronise lighting effects with all your Asus Aura-compatible devices such as graphics cards, mice, and keyboards.

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The rear panel is packed with ports including four apiece of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 as well as the usual ASMedia-powered USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C ports. There's an Intel-powered LAN port, the usual audio outputs, and you get a CMOS clear switch and USB BIOS Flashback buttons. The keen-eyed will also see a small M.2 port next to these - that's purely for Wi-Fi modules, although we suspect it would be easier to just use a USB dongle.

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The layout is generally fine, and you'll likely have access to most of the M.2 and 1x PCI-E slots no matter what GPU setup you're using, as Asus has managed to squeeze the two M.2 ports in below the CPU and right at the bottom of the PCB, while there's a 1x PCI-E slot located above the primary 16x slot too. We'd have preferred the USB 3.0 header to be on the right side of the PCB though - as it is, the cable will probably end up trailing over the PCB.

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Specifications

  • Chipset Intel Z270
  • Form factor ATX
  • CPU support LGA1151 compatible (Skylake, Kaby Lake)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 64GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1220 Codec/ROG SupremeFX S1220
  • Networking Intel I219 Gigabit Ethernet
  • Ports 2 x M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4 32Gbps/SATA 6Gbps (one up to 2280, one up to 22110), 6 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z270, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x ASMedia USB 3.1 header, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 via header), 6 x USB 2.0 (2 via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2
  • Dimensions (mm) 305 x 244
  • ExtrasSteel-plated PCI-E slots, 3D printing mount package

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