With the Ranger retired for this 9th generation, the Maximus IX Hero is this year's ticket through the door of the ROG club. However that's not to say it comes up short on style or features - it's still a ferociously fast, and full-blooded Republic of Gamers motherboard that's designed with the best of overclocking, gaming, audio, connectivity and software at heart.
While it eschews the laser etched ROG Armor, it still has the rear IO and SupremeFX shield that angularly morphs into the grey markings on the black PCB. The mixture of rhombic and trapezoid holes in the heatsinks keep the theme consistent throughout, letting you peek in at the components underneath while also adding extra surface area for cooling.
Light the way
There are the essential AURA RGB highlights the rear IO and PCH heatsink, plus, new AURA Sync adds to its aesthetic, allowing you to match onboard RGB LEDS to AURA RGB equipped components like graphics cards, memory and compatible case lighting - driving it together as a single lighting array. Two AURA RGB 4-pin power headers are included for lighting peripherals.
Power and OC
Based on the Intel Z270 chipset, the Maximus IX Hero motherboard features an LGA1151 socket for the latest Intel 7th Generation Core processors. Powering that CPU is the acclaimed Extreme Engine DIGI+ that controls 8-phases of digitally powered NexFET MOSFETs, microfine alloy chokes and 10K black metallic caps. Meanwhile the processor graphics and DDR4 DRAM receive two phase power each. The ROG UEFI BIOS it continues leading the way with cutting edge options including new 'Pro-Clock' base-clock tweaking for the experienced enthusiast, but also, on the other hand there's a wizard process for quick and simple OC and RAID setup.
Connectivity, Sockets and Ports
Up to 64GB of DDR4 with XMP 2.0 is supported, with overclocked speeds accepted as fast as you can push those DIMMs. Those DIMMS plug into a 3rd generation of T-Topology design within the PCB itself. Below, the two armored PCI-Express 16x slots support SLI and CrossFire dual-GPU (in 8x8x configuration), with a third 16x slot (4x bandwidth - 3-way CrossFireX supported), and a few 1x slots for peripherals.
Its dual PCI-Express Gen-3 4x NVMe M.2 storage interfaces (look at the bottom right: one pokes out at 90-degrees!) can power some seriously fast RAID-0 M.2 SSD setups, although if you still have a SATA-based M.2 SSD, the primary port still supports SATA mode, allowing both PCI-E and SATA M.2 devices together on one board if you're making the transition. Continuing the connectivity theme, is a boat-load of USB ports - especially on the rear IO which now has ten in a mix of type A/C - and also a new USB 3.1 Type-C front panel connector that will be used by new cases in 2017.
The whole IX series also boasts a significantly upgraded SupremeFX audio on both the back and front panel, using a combination of new ALC S1220 codec, ESS ES9023 Saber DAC, Nichicon Premium, Japan-made audiophile-grade capacitors, SupremeFX Shielding Technology and Left/Right channel isolation. ASUS exclusive Sonic Studio III and Sonic Radar II software is also included.
The Hero is focused on wired networking, with the Intel i219-V Gigabit Ethernet behind the LANGuard-infused RJ45 socket, along with ASUS' latest GameFirst IV software too. Those requiring extra 802.11ac Wi-Fi should look at the Code or Formula, or, drop in a PCI-Express 1x card like the ASUS PCE-AC88.
Crunchy with a liquid center
While it doesn't include the MOSFET waterblock of the Formula, the Hero does still include the same dedicated water-pump header, water-cooling temperature and flow sensing headers, two pump power headers and a high-amp fan header for (water-)cooling enthusiasts. These are in addition to the five other fan headers (that support both PWM and DC modes) and the Fan Extension Card that can add three more fan headers. All this is controlled by ASUS' Fan Xpert 4 software.
Software: Get More With ROG
The extra software included with Maximus IX Formula goes beyond the usual AI Suite, FanXpert or Sonic Suite that controls motherboard core features. ROG understands that significant speed-ups can happen with great software as well as hardware. In that mindset you'll find Clone Drive, RAMCache II (turbo boost your storage), RAMDisk (save NAND write wear and turbo boost your drive), AutoTuning (easy overclocking that's now got an in-built AVX stress test to ensure stability) and KeyBot II (go macro-made with moar features - power on, clear CMOS, audio switch, safe remove USB, direcitonal exchange - and profiles) in the box as well. The functions and benefits of these softwares require in-depth explanation, and will be detailed in future articles - so keep an eye out on the ROG website!