Review: ASUS Maximus VIII Hero Alpha Motherboard

Over the years, ASUS has invested heavily in its Republic of Gamers (ROG) sub-brand, building a portfolio of products dedicated to gaming enthusiasts. Its ROG motherboards are well known for quality and performance, sitting at a premium to standard desktop lines in the range. While the company’s Z170 ROG range has grown with the Maximus VIII Hero, Maximus VIII Extreme and Maximus VIII Formula (amongst others), we’re now starting to see the company refine the portfolio with updated boards and components.

Priced at $288.99, the ASUS Maximus VIII Hero Alpha is a mid-range ROG motherboard. It builds on the foundations of the previously released Maximus VIII Hero with a range of “significant enhancements”, ASUS tells us. The board is built on the Intel Skylake Z170 Express chipset, with an LGA1151 socket for sixth generation Intel processors – the humble Intel Celeron is supported, all the way up to the fastest Intel Core i7 chips.

Dual channel RAM is supported across four DIMM slots, with up to 64 GB DDR4 RAM available in modules up to 3800 MHz. As you’d expect, there’s memory overclocking support included, courtesy of Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) and second-generation ASUS T-Topology.

As you’d expect from a premium board, expansion slot support is top-notch, with two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (supporting x16 and split x8/x8 modes), one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot (this one supporting a maximum x4 mode) and three PCIe 3.0 x1 slots. There’s full support for NVIDIA Quad-GPU SLI and AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX configurations, for anyone going extreme. If you’re opting for integrated graphics, you’ll find a single HDMI 1.4b and DisplayPort 1.2 port on the backplate, with resolutions topping out at 4096 x 2160 at 24Hz and 4096 x 2304 at 60Hz respectively.

Storage support sees a boost with the inclusion of twin U.2 PCIe RAID ports. While super-fast U.2 SSDs remain thin on the ground, with the Intel SSD 750 Series a popular choice, we can expect to see more drives made available in reasonably high (1 TB+) capacities over the next twelve months. With PCIe RAID support on both ports, it’s easy to configure twin drives in a RAID 0 array for a larger, high-speed boot volume.

Alongside U.2, there’s an M.2 socket offering PCIe 3.0 x4 and SATA modes, with support for lighting fast NVMe SSD modules (Socket 3 with M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110). And, with all these new storage ports included, there’s still room for six SATA 6 Gbps ports.

Flipping to external storage, you’ll find two of the latest USB 3.1 ports on board – a single Type-A and one Type-C port, the latter also supporting the emerging Thunderbolt 3 standard. The Hero Alpha is also equipped with six USB 3.0 ports and six USB 2.0 ports. The rear I/O panel offers two USB 2..0 and 3.0 ports respectively, alongside the USB 3.1 Type-A (red) and Type-C (black) ports.

Performance networking is powered by integrated Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN and 2×2 dual-band 802.11ac with MU-MIMO. The latter supports speeds up to 867 Mbps, which lags behind the fastest external network adaptors but is fast enough for 4K and Full HD media streaming. MU-MIMO (Multi User, Multi Input, Multi Output) support, with a compatible router, ensures bandwidth congestion won’t be an issue in households rocking a significant number of wireless devices. Completing the networking line-up is support for Bluetooth v4.0.

ASUS continues its support for premium audio, including its ROG SupremeFX 2015 8-channel high-definition audio with SupremeFX shielding on the board. The Hero Alpha includes an ESS ES9023P high-definition DAC plus a 2VRMS headphone amp (32-600 ohms) with automatic headphone sensing and optimisation. The board supports up to 7.1 channel playback via rear Optical S/PDIF with a further five gold-plated audio jacks included.

Also notable is the inclusion of enhanced RGB lighting controls. The Hero Alpha is one of the first boards to support ASUS’ Aura RGB-strip headers (with two headers available for lighting strips). They allow modders to slip on standard 12V RGB strips (extension cables are included) and customise control via the Aura lighting control application. Static, Breathing, Strobing, Color Cycle, Music Sync, CPU Load Sync, they’re all available.

Of course, when you’re buying an ASUS motherboard, the hardware is just one part of the story. As we’ll see shortly, software support is similarly impressive, with advanced tools enabling easy CPU and RAM overclocking, hardware monitoring, audio enhancements and keyboard configuration apps.

Here’s a summary of the specs:

  • Processor/CPU socket: LGA1151 socket for 6th-generation Intel Core i7 / i5 / i3 / Pentium / Celeron processors
  • Chipset: Intel Z170 Express
  • Memory: 4 x DIMMs, up to a maximum of 64GB, DDR4 3800MHz (OC), Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) supported
  • Expansion slots: 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (x16, x8/x8 modes supported), 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slot (maximum x4 mode supported), 3 x PCIe 3.0 x1 slots
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics processor, DisplayPort 1.2 with maximum resolution of 4096 x 2304 at 60Hz, HDMI with maximum resolution of 4096 x 2160 at 24Hz, Intel InTru 3D / Quick Sync Video / Clear Video HD Technology / Insider™
  • Multi-GPU: Two-way/quad-GPU NVIDIA SLI and three-way/quad-GPU AMD CrossFireX technology
  • Storage: 6 x SATA 6.0Gbit/s, 2 x U.2, 1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices supported (both PCIe 3.0 and SATA modes supported)
  • Networking: Intel I219-V Gigabit LAN with ASUS LANGuard and GameFirst IVBeta, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Supports dual band frequency 2.4/5 GHz, Supports MU-MIMO
  • USB/Thunderbolt: 2 x USB 3.1 ports (1 x Type-A and 1 x Type-C ports), 6 x USB 3.0 ports (2 on back panel, 4 mid-board), 6 x USB 2.0 ports (2 on back panel, 4 mid-board), 1 x Thunderbolt 3 (Type-C on back panel)
  • Audio: ROG SupremeFX 2015 8-channel high-definition audio, SupremeFX shielding technology, ESS ES9023P high-definition DAC, 2VRMS headphone amp (32-600 ohms), Jack-detection, multi-streaming, front-panel mic jack-retasking, Optical S/PDIF-out port on back panel
  • Dimensions / form factor: ATX, 12in x 9.6in (30.5 x 24.4cm)

Overall, it’s a spec list to get the heart racing – a heady blend of premium components and the latest technologies, wrapped in the promise of a smooth and sweet user experience for PC builders and gamers alike. Let’s crack the box and see what’s inside.

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