Asus Maximus VII Hero LGA 1150 Z97 Motherboard
Hero. Would anyone really consider a motherboard to be one? After all it’s a component that does its work in the background while the other parts it connects hog the performance limelight. Asus is being quite bold labelling a motherboard as a Hero and we find out if it’s justified in our review.
Specifications of the Asus Maximus VII Hero
The Maximus VII Hero is an Intel Z97 chipset motherboard that can house a socket 1150 processor which means you can use older Haswells as well as Devil’s Canyon parts with it. The board supports up to 32GB of DDR3 RAM in 4 DIMM slots with overclocked frequencies ranging from 3200MHz to 1800MHz besides the standard 1600MHz and 1333MHz.
The board is marketed under Asus’s Republic of Gamers (RoG) lineup and has the trademark Red and Black colour scheme. It comes in a box with flip cover that hides a window to get your first glimpse of the board. Underneath the board, Asus has included necessities like the Manual, Driver DVD, Back I/O Plate and three pairs of SATA cables in the box. There are also extras like a Door Hanger, SLI Bridge, case badge and cable labels.
The Maximus VII Hero launched in May 2014 with a price tag of ₹18,100.
The Asus Maximus VII Hero uses high quality components such as NexFET power block MOSFETs, 60A Ferrite Chokes and 10K Black Metallic Capacitors, and is based on Asus’s Extreme Engine Digi+ III design. The quality of finish of the PCB and the heatsinks is also excellent. The plastic components feel quite durable too.
The Asus Maximus VII Hero is a full ATX board with dimensions of 30.5cm x 24.4cm. The CPU socket encloses the CPU and will certainly leave its mark on the chip once locked in place. There is ample clearance around the socket for mounting custom coolers, though the push side cooler fan can intrude upon the nearest DIMM socket, which necessitates the use of lower profile RAM sticks for that slot. The pull side cooler fan rests easily upon the heatsink, whose design allows for easy cleaning of dust.
The board has two connectors for the CPU cooler’s fans and four more for the chassis fans, which is quite a lot of fan connectors located in convenient spots. You can add even more fan connectors with a separately purchased extension card. In terms of design flaws, the 8 pin ATX power connector is located on the top of side of the board, but its locking pin is located on the top side, which can make it tricky to disengage the connector from cases with cramped top sides or make it difficult to route the 12V cable from the top of the board if looking to do some cable management.
The board comes with Asus’s single lock DIMM slots. There are three PCIE 2.0 x1 slots, two PCIE 3.0/2.0 x16 slots which operate in x8 mode when both are used and a single PCIE 2.0 x16 slot that operates in x4 mode. The latter PCIE slot (that operates in x4 mode) shares bandwith with the PCIE x1 slots and the M.2 slot which means that only one of the three can be active at once.There is a significant gap between the top PCIE x16 slot and the PCIE x1 slot below it that allows for both slots to be used even when a Dual slot GPU is installed. There are eight SATA 6 GBps ports, of which two are governed by an ASMedia controller and support data drives only, all facing sideways for easier cable management. The board is also supplied with a M.2 socket making it quite future proof.
The board comes with a unique matte black and red PCB that Asus touts as a first. There is also a cool red lighting strip that runs around the board and the RoG logo on the PCH heatsink lights up as well. These effects can be turned off in the BIOS if you want a stealthier PC. The lighting strip also serves to isolate the audio circuit from the rest of the board in a bid to cut potential electrical noise. Asus also provides a number of helpful buttons targeted at overclockers such as Start, Reset, clear CMOS as well as buttons for its Soundstage and Keybot features. There is also a POST display atop the Start button. The PCB is extensively and thoughtfully labelled so much so that one needn’t open the manual to check which connection goes where.
The I/O connectors at the rear of the board include a single PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse combo port, two USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports as well as a RJ45 Ethernet port powered by an Intel I218V LAN controller. There are display outputs for VGA, DVI-D and HDMI and Audio connectors include the standard 6 jacks and S/PDIF out. Interestingly there is also a USB BIOS flashback button.
Exploring the BIOS
Asus has implemented the RoG version of its UEFI BIOS (which is coded by American Megatrends) in the Maximus VII Hero. This BIOS has an EZ mode and an Advanced mode. The EZ mode is pretty barebones in terms of options. It provides all the relevant information and lets you easily tune the system and control the fans.
The Advanced mode shows you the extreme tweaker page by default, which can overwhelm you with the sheer variety of options that you can tweak. It’s as if the sole purpose of entering this board’s BIOS is to tweak settings and push the components to their limits. It also summarises the useful statistics on the side.
The other BIOS options let you change the peripheral connection settings, system time and language, boot options and BIOS security. There is a tab for monitoring various parameters like Temperature, Voltage and Fan Speed. One can also tweak the individual fan speeds and profiles with the excellent Qfan control utility. There are various useful tools provided like Asus EZ Flash 2 utility, Overclocking Profile, OC Panel configuration, etc. Asus’s EZ flash utility however doesn’t seem to support directly updating the BIOS over the internet.
The BIOS clearly lists all your changes when you try to save them to let you spot any odd values that you might not want. This is a very useful feature and we commend Asus for including it.
Our approach to testing any hardware product is from a practical and everyday usage scenario with emphasis on gaming. In that sense, we focussed more on the gaming performance of the system than its performance in other applications. We also looked at other gaming related features offered by the board. We used Fraps 3.5.9 for benchmarking.
CPU: Intel i7-4790k @ 4.0GHz (4.4GHz Boost)
CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS-10X Performa (Air Cooler)
Thermal Paste: Arctic Silver 5
RAM: 2x4GB G.Skill Sniper CL9 1600MHz, 2x2GB G.Skill Ripjaws CL9 1600MHz
GPU: Asus Matrix GTX 780 Ti (Top End Settings), HIS R9 270 iPower IceQ X2 (Mid-Range Settings)
PSU: Corsair TX650 650W
HDD: 2xSeagate Barracuda 7200.12 1TB, 1xWesten Digital Red 3TB
OS: Windows 8.1 x64
NVIDIA Driver: 340.43 (Beta Driver)
AMD Driver: 14.6 Beta (Beta Driver)
We were provided an engineering sample by Intel for the CPU and as is the case with these things, the overclocking performance may vary from the retail samples. All HDDs were thoroughly defragmented prior to usage. Due to lack of equipment we were unable to conduct power testing. All game tests conducted at 1920×1080.
PC Mark 8
PC Mark is a comprehensive benchmarking solution for the testing of the entire system. We used the Creative Conventional Test that benchmarks performance in web browsing, video playback, video editing, video conversion, music conversion, image editing, video chatting and mainstream gaming. These are similar applications to what one might expect of a gaming PC. The benchmark runs these tests in three passes for each and most tests run in windowed mode.
As we can see from the graphs, the GPU isn’t really stressed by these tests while the CPU is stressed periodically and made to perform at the boost clock. The tests rate the package as one of the top results in the world for its configuration type (Single CPU, Single GPU).
Prime is a multithreaded benchmark that tests the processor’s performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. We ran both the 32M and 1024M tests. The benchmark has been developed to give consistent results across threaded processors.
The benchmark scores seem to compete with overclocked i7-4770k processors but are easily trumped by extremely overclocked i7-3xxx series processors and server chips. The motherboard makes a slight difference to CPU performance based on power delivery and swiftness of communication between the CPU and other components.
Handbrake is a free open source video conversion utility that stresses the CPU to convert videos from one format to another. While GPU transcoding is faster, it is interesting to see how well the cup can handle this stressful activity.
For our tests we recorded a sample video while running a Game with Fraps to get a raw video dump. The following are the details of our testing.
Sample video size – 3.66GB
Converted Size – 93.6MB
Time for conversion – 2:19
This result is pretty impressive and shows just how powerful the processor is and shows how well the motherboard supported it.
CrystalDiskMark is a free benchmark tool to gauge Hard Disk Drive (HDD) performance. Our test system had three HDDs set up in IDE mode. We used the 1TB Seagate Barracuda for our tests.
The scores are quite decent as mechanical drives go. Since the drive tested was ensured to be idle at the time, these might be its peak performance numbers.
3D Mark is a graphics focused benchmark that also tests the physics performance of the CPU. It is more relevant to evaluate the game performance of the system as a whole. We ran the benchmark with both a top end card and a mid-range card to better get an idea of system performance.
One should pay close attention to the total score for both the cards. It’s indicative of the package’s power and how well the motherboard enables the components to work together.
Game performance is of utmost interest to us and for this purpose we ran our entire battery of GPU tests to gauge the impact of the CPU. We tested Battlefield 4, Bioshock Infinite, Company of Heroes 2, Crysis 3, Far Cry 3, Grid 2, Sleeping Dogs, Thief (2014), Tomb Raider (2013) and Total War: Rome II using a top end GPU and a mid-range GPU with corresponding settings that you can find in our linked reviews of the same. We evaluate the Average FPS, the Minimum FPS and the 99th Percentile Frame Time to compare the performance. When it comes to FPS, higher is better while fgor the Frame Time, lower is better.
When we compared the results to our review benchmarks using the ageing AMD Phenom II x4 system, we found improvements in all criteria for all the games tested except Crysis 3. It seems performance in Crysis 3 is highly dependent on the GPU when using the highest settings, making it a reliable benchmark for GPU capabilities. Another observation not easily seen in the charts here was a marked improvement in frametimes especially in CPU heavy games like Company of Heroes and Total War: Rome II with a much narrower range of fluctuations in the graph. That leads us to the conclusion that when considering within the second testing that shows evidence of microstuttering one must also consider the other bottlenecks in performance such as the CPU and the storage as well as the motherboard that connects them. However when one knows the cause of repeated spikes in the graph, one can still find deviations from the norm.
The Heatsinks on the board are quite effective at keeping chipset temperatures in check. The Maximus VII Hero would have idle temperatures of around 32°C for the chipset at idle. Under load the temperatures never went above 45°C.
We are testing an Engineering Sample from Intel which has been known to overclock slightly less than the chips available in Retail. Overclocking a processor is not simply about bumping the multiplier, rather it involves making changes to multiple parameters that need support from your other PC components such as the motherboard and the RAM. Note that the processor has a boost clock that automatically bumps it up to 4.4GHz, a 10%overclock, when it can and our tests were conducted with this enabled. We allowed the motherboard to automatically overclock the chip and it suggested a stable overclock of roughly 4.5 GHz (12% overclock). In our manual overclocking we were able to push the unlocked multiplier to 4.6 GHz (15% overclock) without tweaking the voltage. There have been reports of this chip hitting 4.9 GHz (~22% overclock) on air but our engineering sample wasn’t very compliant.
While the chip may not be holding up to our overclocking attempts, one should not dismiss the Maximus VII Hero because of that. The board is aimed at overclockers and has a feature set to complement that. It provides a stable base for overclocking and comes with multiple recovery features in case the overclock fails. The built in BIOS utility for easy overclocking is quite good at judging an ideal starting point for tweaking the system’s settings.
Asus packs many Gaming centric features into the Maximus VII Hero. These include the GAMEFIRST III for the LAN, which prioritises a game’s data packets to provide a relatively lag free gaming experience. There is also the KeyBot which uses a controller n the board and software to let you remap every key of your keyboard. The audio is enhanced by SupremeFX Shielding technology and Sonic Radar II for virtual surround sound over a stereo headset to simulate a 7.1 experience.
Asus has done quite well to make a decently priced and feature rich board with the Maximus VII Hero. However, it has failed to make it significantly worth the premium when compared to the lower priced Maximus VII Ranger that only features two less SATA connectors, lesser lighting and a weaker power delivery system.
However, the overclocking abilities of the Maximus VII Hero might be worth the premium to some users. Additionally as a package the board is quite feature rich at its price point, though it suffers from some limitations when it comes to extensibility. The provision of display ports is good as an emergency measure though a board like this will rarely be used for its IGP capabilities. The Audio feature and the Keybot feature may be redundant for those that already have software or peripherals that support the respective functions, though it is a useful option to have.
The accessory bundle is quite useful adding value to the purchase. We think the board’s price is a little on the higher side, especially when comparing with its sibling, the Maximus VII Ranger. However, the board provides enough features and performance to be decent value at its existing price point.
We are grateful to Intel and Asus for providing us the CPU and Motherboard respectively for review. We are also grateful to Asus and HIS for the GPUs.
+Overclocking is well supported
+Plenty of upgrade options
-Spacing and positioning of some components can cause difficulties in PC assembly
-Dual PCIE3.0/2.0 x16 slots can only run in x8 mode