The previous generation HERO motherboard from ASUS received very little attention from us. After all, we’d already tested the MAXIMUS VII Formula and if you were in need of a superior board the MAXIMUS VI Extreme was still available for you to use with the 4770/4790K. It was a complete family and the HERO VII, even though it was priced well, just wasn’t special enough to differentiate it from what its stablemates were offering at the time.
This generation is slightly different. The HERO was the first board to carry the ROG mantle for ASUS’ range of Z170 motherboards, seeing as it released before the Extreme did. In fact, this time around the HERO is the highest-end Z170 ROG offering barring the Extreme, with the Gene priced slightly below it. It’s unusual, but perhaps it’s an indication of just how proficient this motherboard is, especially for extreme overclocking and as a result gaming as well.
Aesthetically, ASUS has chosen a dark grey and deep red/maroon combination of accents. It works particularly well and, with the exception of the RAMPAGE IV Black Edition, the new HERO has the best colour scheme we’ve seen of any ASUS motherboard. With almost all vendors obsessed over red and black, this is a welcome and refreshing change. Not only does it look classy, it also makes the right statement about its gaming focus without being trite. There’s obviously some thought that went into this and the heatsinks fit perfectly with the impressive voltage-regulation components and circuitry.
The HERO uses what ASUS terms Extreme Engine DIGI+. It’s a nondescript name that encompasses primarily TI NexFET MOSFETS, MicroFine alloy chokes, 10K metallic capacitors and a digital PWM controller. That may read as a little convoluted, but it means you’re unlikely to have power delivery or quality issues at all, regardless of the load on the system. Over-engineered perhaps, given how little power the Skylake-S CPUs consume, but in this ecosystem, that is actually a good thing. All you need to know is that even with your CPU at 6GHz and higher, you’ll have more than enough power for reliable benchmark runs and consistency.
“Be it extreme or casual overclocking, this motherboard has what it takes and with each successive BIOS iteration, it’ll keep getting better.”
Now we come to the features packed into this board. Currently, distinguishing motherboards from each other is becoming increasingly difficult, as a lot of the value is actually in the bundled software. More often than not, we overlook the packaged software suite. In the case of the MAXIMUS VIII HERO, it is important that you do no such thing as you’re missing plenty of the features offered by the motherboard, especially if you’re building your primary gaming PC around this motherboard.
Let’s start with SupremeFX 2015. Yes, at its core is the familiar Realtek ALC1150 Codec, complemented by an op-amp and audio signal PCB isolation. However, there is so much more to it than that. ASUS has used the ESS ES9023P DAC, Nichicon audio capacitors and an RC4580 2VRMS headphone amp. Moreover, a Sonic Sense Amp supports high-impedance headphones of up to 600 ohms. It will automatically detect which is the right amount of current required to drive any given headset, from 32 ohms all the way to 600. Finally we have the de-pop relay, which does nothing for audio quality or clarity but eliminates the annoying popping sound when unplugging or plugging in headphones or speakers. On top of that is layered Sonic Studio II with all its software features such as virtualized surround sound, bass boost, smart volume/EQ capability and a host of other features. Absent it seems is Sonic Radar, but don’t quote us on that, as it may simply be an update away. As it stands though there was no option to install the software during our testing.
The other cornerstone of gaming motherboards, the network controller, is present in typical ASUS fashion courtesy of Intel’s I219V controller. ASUS deviates from its competitors who make use of the Atheros controllers for a number of reasons, but we find no measurable difference in performance when gaming using any of these controllers. However, we do appreciate the surge protection built into the network port as we’ve seen on other ASUS offerings. The traffic shaping and similar features are harder to appreciate, as there’s just simply no way to quantify the benefits of these specialized network controllers.
Overall, it’s a solid package that has more to it than what you may initially expect. I implore you to install some of the software packages included with the DVD. A lot of the bundled software is stuff you would otherwise have to pay for. Overwolf, for example, is included in the board price (or will be as soon as it’s made available to download).
Despite all the impressive properties of this motherboard, the performance and overclocking capabilities are where it’s at for the MAXIMUS VIII HERO. It’s dead easy to overclock and achieve stable performance in games, but it also allows you to tweak so much more if you’re a seasoned overclocker. The UEFI is comprehensive and most of the settings are sufficiently documented. Of course you will benefit from extra reading, especially the performance-tuning guide by “Coolice”, one of the resident overclockers at ASUS.
In the testing performed, reaching memory speeds as high as 3,733MHz was a breeze, especially with Samsung IC kits. You’ll be able to reach similar speeds and perhaps even higher with the Hynix MFR, but more specifically AFR chips as well. There are numerous profiles for you to try and they’re an excellent place to begin. All the profiles we loaded with the relevant memory ICs worked well enough to allow the system to boot into the operating system. The fine-grained tuning is something you will have to do yourself, but you’ll be starting from a great place. The second-generation T-Topology seems to be working out very well as this is one of the easiest motherboards to use for memory overclocking. The strength of this design is particularly relevant when using four sticks of memory, where frequencies as high as 3,466MHz come about with ease, even when using lower-binned memory modules.
Be it extreme or casual overclocking, this motherboard has what it takes and with each successive BIOS iteration, it’ll keep getting better.
For around R4,300 there aren’t many motherboards that can claim to be better than the MAXIMUS VIII HERO. Feature for feature and where overclocking is concerned, it delivers masterfully and perhaps even surpasses many competing offerings. It looks great, the audio is fantastic and there’s plenty to tweak. It’s been a very long time since ASUS offered such a keenly priced ROG product that is this capable. If you bought the HERO VIII right now, you could easily claim that for R4,300 you own one of the best (if not the best) Z170 gaming/overclocking motherboards on the market. This one will be hard to beat, even by ASUS itself with its other offerings.