Introducing The Maximus IX Hero
Not quite the hero of the common man, the Maximus IX Hero is still priced just slightly above what we’ve thought of as the typical high-end segment. It’s still cheaper than even the cheapest premium-market Z270 motherboard we’ve tested, so perhaps Asus is creating its own niche?
Rather than load up the Maximus IX Hero with a 40 Gb/s ThunderBolt 3 controller sharing the same 40 Gb/s chipset link with every other onboard device, Asus loads this ROG-series board with two 10 Gb/s USB 3.1 controllers and a bunch of overclocking-friendly features. The top of the overview image above shows the MemOK button which temporarily limits memory speed to allow booting if you’ve configured memory poorly (without forcing CLR_CMOS), several buttons on the lower edge to assist tuners who use open platforms, and two buttons on the I/O panel that make it easy to reset your firmware configuration (CLR_CMOS) and program the firmware IC without the need for a compatible CPU or DRAM (USB BIOS Flashback). We also see an obvious gap next to the I/O panel buttons, where it appears Asus left out the intended Wi-Fi module to justify the Maximus IX Hero’s sub-premium pricing.
The previously mentioned internal buttons and switches include Power, Reset, Safe Boot, Retry, the Slow Mode switch, and the LN2 jumper. Retry forces a hard reset, and Safe Boot allows users to boot up using default settings while retaining their custom settings in the firmware GUI. The manual says Slow Mode clocks the CPU down to allow LN2 overclockers to manually overcome the “cold bug” phenomena, and LN2 mode switches from slow to user-configured clock settings automatically following POST. The sole USB 2.0 front-panel header combines with four propriety control pins when using an accessory Asus OC/Panel overclocking controller.
The Maximus IX Hero includes an incredible number of fan headers, though Asus doesn’t list them all that way. Two of the eight PWM-capable headers are designated “High Amp” for pumps and extremely large fans up to 3A. Asus recommends using only PWM mode for fans greater than 1A, and no speed control for pumps greater than 1A. Another five-pin header connects to Asus’ accessory Fan Extension Card, which can be purchased separately and used to add another four fans.
The top front corner’s MemOK button resides next to a 2-digit POST code display and four activity LEDs that indicate CPU detection, DRAM detection, VGA detection, and Boot (POST completion). The LEDs help users who can’t easily decipher POST codes figure out which device stalled the boot process, should anything (such as an overclock) go wrong. Beneath the MemOK button, the threaded 3D Mount secures optional covers (aesthetic components) that users can 3D print from model files available on the Maximus IX Hero micro-site.
The Maximus IX Hero has three x16-length PCIe 3.0 slots, but you’re only going to want to put two graphics cards in the system. The expected LGA-1151 options of x16-x0-x4 or x8-x8-x4 pathways are still in play, where the PCH-fed x4 slot doesn’t support SLI. However, the best reason not to use a graphics card in the bottom slot is that the USB 3.0 is the solitary USB 3.0 front-panel header is found beneath it. The cables that connect to these aren’t flexible. Alternatively, the bottom slot could be a good place to put a PCIe SSD.
Reinforced with through pins and metal-encased sides, the two graphics card slots are separated by two extra spaces so that extra-thick graphics coolers can fit. The PCIe x1 slots are open ended to allow longer cards, such as x4, to be installed and operate in x1 mode. The long bottom slot operates with two pathways by default, but x4 mode can be enabled by disabling the x1 slot above it in BIOS. This arrangement makes sense if you assume two graphics cards will be installed in the reinforced slots, since even traditionally-sized performance graphics card coolers are so thick that they block the slot directly beneath.
Cable clearance for front-panel USB headers won’t be a problem if you can find a case with the new USB 3.1 connector, for which the interface is found above the slots, right next to the 24-pin power header. Confounding your search is the fact that many companies were already calling cases with Type-C front-panel connectors “USB 3.1” last year, even though those cases use the motherboard’s USB 3.0 header. Many case manufacturers have relied on the technical verbiage of “USB 3.1 Gen 1” to describe what we’ve come to know as USB 3.0. The only way to confirm that the newer “USB 3.1 Gen 2” standard has been employed is to look at the case specs, or at photos of its cables. Buyer beware, as we have not yet seen any of the new generation cases in our labs.
Moving on to storage, we find six SATA 6Gb/s headers facing forward at the Maximus IX Hero’s front edge. One of these is shared with the upper M.2 interface, but only when an SATA-based M.2 card is employed there. The lower M.2 interface relies on Intel’s flexible HSIO scheme to steal resources from two SATA ports and employ those resources towards two PCIe pathways. Users who want three NVMe drives to all operate in PCIe 3.0 x4 mode can use both M.2 slots along with the bottom PCIe slot, while sacrificing only two SATA ports and one PCIe x1 slot.
The Maximus IX Hero includes a vast sticker kit, beverage coaster, and a CPU holder to ease installation, in addition to the traditional four SATA cables and I/O shield, a thermal probe lead, an HB-style SLI bridge, a driver disk, bracket and M.2 screws, and a complete user’s manual.
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