Over the last six months since Intel launched its 12th Gen Core series of processors, we’ve looked at several Alder Lake desktop CPUs and seen how competitive they are from top to bottom – not just in performance but price too. To harness the power of Alder Lake, however, there are many options in terms of Z690 motherboards, and today we’re taking a look at one of ASUS’s more premium models, the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero.
They say hard times don’t create heroes, but ASUS has done for many years with good results. Equipped with plenty of top-tier features such as Thunderbolt 4, Intel’s Wi-Fi 6E CNVi, and support for up to DDR5-6400 memory, it has enough to make it a solid choice for gamers and enthusiasts. It’s time to see if the Z690 Hero option stacks up against the competition and if it can sparkle in a very competitive LGA1700 market.
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Overview
As it stands, ASUS has a pretty big stack of Z690 motherboards catering to multiple markets. This includes its Prime series for its entry-level users looking to build an affordable yet still adept system. In contrast, the ASUS Republic of Gamers (ROG) series primarily 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’ve seen throughout the years, some pretty modernized and RGB inspired aesthetics.
To keep things more accessible to users, for Z690, ASUS has opted to make its naming schemes easier for its Maximus series. It would use Roman numerals to depict the model in the past, such as the ASUS ROG Maximus X for Z370 and the Maximus XII for Z490. Replacing the Roman numerals, at least for now and hopefully going forward, they have reverted it to the chipset to make things easier to distinguish.
The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero and the previous ROG Maximus XIII (Z590) Hero aren’t too dissimilar in style, but ASUS has gone forward and jazzed up the design a bit for Alder Lake. This includes a large I/O Polymo rear panel cover, pixellated with ASUS’s Aura RGB LED lighting, which adds a bit more of a modern flavor to the overall design. ASUS has unified the design further down the board, with a cool-looking pixelated ROG logo embedded into the glossy black section of the chipset heatsink. The majority of the board has a matte black finish which makes 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.
Focusing on the heart of what makes the ROG Maximus Z690 Hero tick, it has plenty of features to talk about, including a solid array of support and functionality. Dominating the lower portion of the board are three full-length PCIe lanes, including the top two coated in metal armor reinforcement with support for PCIe 5.0 x16 and x8/x8, and the bottom full-length slot that is electronically locked down to PCIe 4.0 x4.
For storage, the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero has many options to capitalize on, including support for up to five PCIe M.2 drives and up to six SATA ports. There is one PCIe 5.0 x4 and PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slot pairing 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 a further two PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 slots, with one of them supporting SATA drives, and this pairing is powered directly by the chipset. The six SATA ports in the bottom right-hand corner include support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 arrays.
One of the most significant elements enthusiasts look for on motherboards is the power delivery, 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 grunt of the workload. For the CPU section, 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 section has a single Intersil ISL99390 90 A power stage handling the VCCGT voltage.
Keeping the power delivery cool is a large pair of bulky VRM heatsinks with plenty of channels to direct airflow through them. A single heat pipe interconnects these, and it covers all of the board’s power delivery, with the longest section sitting snuggly under the large ASUS Polymo-enabled rear panel cover.
As we typically find on premium models such as this one, ASUS includes a premium integrated audio solution consisting of a ROG SupremeFX ALC4082 HD audio codec, with an assisting ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC and headphone amplifier. Insert audio caps details.
A decent array of connectivity options is on the rear panel of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero. This is spearheaded 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 through front panel headers, 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 includes a single HDMI 2.1 video output, although users can use DisplayPort 1.4 through the Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports, while onboard audio is presented via five 3.5 mm audio jacks and a single S/PDIF optical output powered by a SupremeFX ALC4082 and ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC pairing. 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 accessories bundle includes a varied 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 front panel Q-connector. There’s also a user manual and a supporting USB drive if users aren’t keen on using ASUS’s built-in Armory Crate software to install drivers.
Perhaps the most significant inclusion within the accessories bundle is the ROG Hyper M.2 PCIe card which users can install into the second full-length PCIe slot to add two PCIe M.2 slots. One of these supports PCIe 5.0 x4 drives, albeit nothing yet on the market to capitalize on the extra bandwidth, and one at PCIe 4.0 x4 speeds.
The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero has an MSRP of $600 and is readily available at 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 competition at the upper echelon of mid-range to premium LGA1700 models on the market, there’s the ASRock Z690 Taichi ($590) which has a lot of similar features such as Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6E, and there’s also the GIGABYTE Z690 Aorus Master ($470) which we previously reviewed. It is ultimately cheaper, but it doesn’t include Thunderbolt 4, but instead, it includes 10 GbE, which does give it a distinct benefit over the Z690 Hero in terms of networking capability.
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 aim to find out. We’ve seen what the Z690 Hero offers on the surface, but what about the insides and the supporting package? It’s time to look at the BIOS and bundled 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 series of Hero branded ROG boards, or is $600 a scoundrel’s way of eating your wallet? Let’s find out.