We'll start with the one fly in the ointment of an otherwise flawless performance, which was that the M.2 SSD speed was a few hundred megabytes per second lower than we'd expect from the Samsung 960 Evo. We've had to manually tweak settings in the EFI for Asus boards before, but this time we could find nothing specifically relating to the M.2 port. We tried using Samsung's NVMe driver, a 960 Pro, and both ports, but we were still met with sub-par read speeds. Asus has told us it's looking into the issue, and with the latest 0401 BIOS having improved things just the other day already, we're hopeful this issue will be fixed soon.
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We don't have comparable numbers for other boards at the moment, so comparisons in most areas are thin. However, it's clear that the audio has improved compared to its predecessor, with better performance in dynamic range, noise, and THD.
We should also point out that with X299 testing, we're also using a pair of AMD Radeon RX 480s to assess whether a board provides enough cooling to the top card (micro-ATX boards often have them too close together) and if there are other issues that might impact two-way setups. We'll be adding to these and the other results as we review more boards, which will be in the very near future.
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Apart from the Q-Fan tuning in the EFI and slightly slow M.2 speeds, Asus has a solid, good-looking motherboard with a ton of features at a price that's just £10 more than its predecessor, at least in the UK. The M.2 heatsink works very well and Asus has improved its software too, although the EFI is perhaps in need of an overhall, even it's just aesthetically.
It is missing a couple of features from the previous board, though, namely more extensive lighting, a CMOS clear button and reset button, but these are minor points. It also improves the audio and has an additional M.2 port as well. There's plenty to like if you'll be water-cooling the board, especially if you'll be using a 3/4-pin powered pump as this can be powered direct from the motherboard. Needless to say, while it's a great effort, we do suggest checking out other boards first and we'll be back with more reviews soon.
In the meantime, though, we're happy to add our recommended award to this review, but on the previso that Asus fixes the M.2 speed and Q-Fan lockup in the EFI. We'll report back and edit this review once it's done.