TECHNOLOGY

A solid option for Alder Lake

In the past six months since Intel launched its 12th Gen Core processor series, we’ve taken a look at several Alder Lake desktop CPUs and seen how competitive they are from head to toe – not just in performance but price as well. However, to harness the power of Alder Lake, there are many options when it comes to Z690 motherboards, and today we take a look at one of ASUS’ more premium models, the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero.

They say that hard times don’t create heroes, but ASUS has been doing so for many years with good results. Packed with loads of top features like Thunderbolt 4, Intel’s Wi-Fi 6E CNVi, and support for up to DDR5-6400 memory, it’s got enough to make it a solid choice for gamers and enthusiasts alike. It’s time to see if the Z690 Hero option compares to the competition and if it can shine in a highly competitive LGA1700 market.

ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Overview

As it stands, ASUS has a pretty big stack of multi-market Z690 motherboards. This includes the Prime series for entry-level users who want to build an affordable yet proficient system. The ASUS Republic of Gamers (ROG) series, on the other hand, mainly targets gamers and enthusiasts. The ASUS ROG motherboard series is split into two main areas, the ROG Strix series for gamers and the high-end ROG Maximus series for enthusiasts looking for the best performance, the best feature sets and, as we have seen over the years seen, some pretty modernized and RGB-inspired aesthetics.

To keep things more accessible for users, ASUS has opted for the Z690 to simplify the naming schemes for the Maximus series. It would use Roman numerals to represent the model in the past, such as the ASUS ROG Maximus X for Z370 and the Maximus XII for Z490. By replacing the Roman numerals, at least for now and hopefully in the future, they’ve moved it back to the chipset to make things easier to distinguish.

The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero and the previous ROG Maximus XIII (Z590) Hero are not very similar in style, but ASUS has moved forward and polished up the design a bit for Alder Lake. This includes a large I/O Polymo back panel cover, pixelated with ASUS’ Aura RGB LED lighting, which adds a bit more modern flavor to the overall design. ASUS has further unified the design on the board, with a cool-looking pixelated ROG logo embedded in the glossy black portion of the chipset heatsink. Most of the board has a matte black finish making it compatible with most color schemes, and for users looking to add more style, there are three 3-pin and one 4-pin addressable Gen2 RGB headers.

Focused on the heart of what drives the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, it has plenty of features to talk about, including a solid array of support and functionality. The bottom portion of the board is dominated by three full-length PCIe lanes, including the top two coated with metal armor reinforcement supporting PCIe 5.0 x16 and x8/x8, and the bottom full-length slot that is electronically locked to PCIe 4.0 x4.

For storage, ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero has many options to take advantage of, including support for up to five PCIe M.2 drives and up to six SATA ports. One PCIe 5.0 x4 and PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot link is made available via an included ROG Hyper M.2 add-in card and one integrated PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot powered by the processor. ASUS also has two more PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slots, one of which supports SATA drives, and this link is powered directly by the chipset. The six SATA ports in the lower right corner support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.

One of the main elements that enthusiasts look for in motherboards is the power supply, and the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero has a robust and well-laid out design. The power delivery consists of a 21-phase design, with a Renesas RAA229131 20-channel PWM controller doing the work. For the CPU part, the Z690 Hero has twenty Intersil ISL99390 90 A smart power stages for a total output of up to 1800 A, which is impressive for a non-flagship model, while the SoC part has a single Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stage dealing with the VCCGT voltage.

To keep the power delivery cool is a great pair of bulky VRM heatsinks with lots of channels to direct airflow through them. A single heatpipe connects these together, covering the board’s entire power delivery, with the longest section snuggly beneath the large ASUS Polymo-compatible back panel cover.

As we usually find on premium models like this one, ASUS includes a premium integrated audio solution consisting of a ROG SupremeFX ALC4082 HD audio codec, with an assistive ESS Saber 9018Q2C DAC and headphone amplifier. The onboard audio is assisted by five large Japanese Nichicon gold audio capacitors and five smaller ones.

A decent array of connectivity options reside on the back panel of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero. This is powered by two Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, with an additional USB 3.2 G2 Type-C port. Other USB options include six USB 3.2 G2 Type-A and two USB 2.0 ports, while users can add more via headers on the front panel, with one USB 3.2 G2x2 header (one port), two USB 3.2 G1 Type -A headers (four ports), and two USB 2.0 headers (four ports).

ASUS has a single HDMI 2.1 video output, although users can use DisplayPort 1.4 via the Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, while the built-in audio is presented via five 3.5mm audio jacks and a single S/PDIF optical output. powered by a SupremeFX ALC4082 and ESS Saber 9018Q2C DAC clutch. For networking, ASUS includes one Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE controller and uses an Intel AX211 Wi-Fi 6E CNVi, including support for both the latest 6 GHz band and BT 5.2 devices.

The accessory bundle includes a diverse selection of ROG-themed stickers and the usual suspects, including four braided SATA cables, M.2 installation screws, an RGB extension cable, and an Intel AX211 Wi-Fi 6E antenna kit, as well as a Q-front panel. connector. There is also a user manual and a supporting USB drive if users don’t want to use ASUS’ built-in Armory Crate software to install drivers.

Perhaps the most significant addition to the accessory bundle is the ROG Hyper M.2 PCIe card that users can install in the second full-length PCIe slot to add two PCIe M.2 slots. One of these supports PCIe 5.0 x4 drives, although there’s nothing on the market yet to take advantage of the extra bandwidth, and one with PCIe 4.0 x4 speeds.

The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero has a suggested retail price of $600 and available direct from Newegg for the same price. The Z690 Hero represents a solid selection of models from ASUS on Z690, including both DDR5 and DDR4 supported models. In terms of the top-level competition from mid-range to premium LGA1700 models on the market, there’s the ASRock Z690 Taichi ($590) which has many similar features like Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6E, and there’s also the GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Master ($470) that we reviewed earlier. It’s cheaper in the end, but it doesn’t include Thunderbolt 4, but 10GbE instead, giving it a distinct advantage over the Z690 Hero in terms of networking.

The biggest question about the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero with its lofty $600 price tag is simple, can it perform as powerfully as it looks? That’s what we want to discover. We’ve seen what the Z690 Hero has to offer on the surface, but what about the inside and support package? It’s time to look at the BIOS and the included software, and then we’ll see how it performs in various tests. Can the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero continue the previous trend in a successful line of Hero-branded ROG boards, or is $600 a rogue way to eat your wallet? Let’s find out.

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