Introduction, Design Features
Asus never does half measures with its Crosshair mainboards.
As always, the component giant aimed for the far reaches of the market with its ROG Crosshair VI Hero, its flagship motherboard for AMD’s powerful Ryzen 7 processors. Naturally, this Socket AM4 board is in Asus’ Republic of Gamers (ROG) series, which is a signal to expect a wealth of enthusiast features and more-than-passing support for overclocking. Bearing AMD’s high-end X370 chipset and a slick RGB-lighting arrangement, this board will garner plenty of attention from gamers looking to build PCs around a new AMD Ryzen 7 1800X, or one of the lesser (but still potent) Ryzen 7 or 5 CPUs.
After a long stretch deep in the shadow of Intel’s Core processors, AMD’s CPU business is solidly back in contention, vying for the attentions of enthusiast-level buyers. The AMD Ryzen 7 processors have eight cores (with support for 16 threads) and boast, in the case of the Ryzen 7 1800X, turbo speeds up to 4GHz. Aside from some issues related to frame rates when playing PC games at 1080p, from launch the Ryzen 7 CPUs have proven to be strong performers, with significantly lower prices than equivalent Intel silicon, given the raw amount of CPU oomph they deliver. The Ryzen 7 1800X, for example, marks the top of the Ryzen 7 line and sells for $499.99, well below high-end Core i7 processors in Intel’s Broadwell-E X99 series, such as the wildly expensive ($1,500-plus!), 10-core Core i7-6950X Extreme EditionCore i7-6900. And the performance is far closer than the big differences in price would suggest.
If you plan to put—gasp—two or more Nvidia graphics cards in SLI mode into your AMD Ryzen 7-based build, the chipset to pair with your new CPU is the AMD X370. If you’re planning on a CrossFire configuration, on the other hand, you have two good choices. One is the X370, of course; the other is the one-step-down B350, which can be found on boards with lighter price tags than big X370 beasts like the ROG Crosshair VI Hero.
Before we dig into the ROG Crosshair VI Hero, we should point out that it isn’t the only X370 motherboard in Asus’ lineup. The Asus Prime X370-Pro is lighter on features (particularly those aimed at overclockers), but it might hit a sweeter spot for mainstream gamers who are happy with what the Ryzen 5 and 7 processors provide at stock speeds, or builders facing budget constraints. Of course, if you go with the Prime X370-Pro, you won’t be able to 3D print ROG motherboard accessories…
Wait…whaaat? 3D-printed motherboard accessories? Yeah, it’s that kind of board, meant for extreme tweakers, flush power users, and bleeding-edge modders with a flair for the over-the-top. Let’s get that bit of wildness out of the way first, shall we?
About those 3D-printable accessories, then. Asus launched 3D-printing templates so you can make extra parts for the ROG Crosshair VI Hero. The board has special, built-in mounts for these accessories, which include things like cable combs, ROG-branded fan grilles, a bracket to mount a fan over your M.2 drive slot, and even a slick cover for your high-bandwidth SLI bridge, should you use one. (Of course, you’re on your own for supplying the 3D printer.) Is this gimmicky? Oh, heck yeah—but we don’t mind. The more ways to customize our gear, the better. You can see the 3D-printables at this Asus Web page.
Even if you don’t 3D-print anything, there’s plenty of bling right on this board as it ships. The trend toward oversize I/O shields and bulky heatsinks breathes on with the Asus ROG Crosshair VI Hero. But Asus makes good use of those surfaces, with smart-if-subtle LED lighting choices and futuristic designs that give the I/O and audio shield an unusual look and texture. Lighting choices aside, Asus seems to have channeled LEGO’s Batman for the ROG Crosshair VI Hero’s muted color scheme.
The heatsink over the X370 chipset sports several cutouts and etchings, including the ROG logo. The black/brushed aluminum look is pretty slick, but the ROG logo is the real show-stealer, thanks to LED illumination beneath it. The light shines onto the black PCB below and escapes through the angled cutouts in the heatsink for an eye-catching, unmistakably “gamer” look.
The only downside to the large heatsink is that it apparently necessitated single-lever memory slots. In our experience, installing (and removing) memory modules can be a little smoother when you’re working with slots that have locking levers at either end. Here, the ends nearest the heatsink are stationary. That said, most of us only install memory once-and-done, so no big deal.
Asus gave users a hand by distinguishing the matched pairs of dual-channel memory slots via black and dark-gray plastics. You’ll install a two-module set in the gray slots to take advantage of the two channels, or load up all four slots. The ROG Crosshair VI Hero supports a maximum of 64GB of DDR4 memory at speeds up to DDR4 3200. (Maxing out the board would require four 16GB DIMMs.)
Some motherboards have LEDs on the PCB, but Asus stuck to the chipset heatsink and the I/O shield for its lighting. That might be too light a touch for some bling-hungry gamers, but we like the look. Light seeps out of a crevice in the I/O shield and highlights the “Crosshair VI” cutout. And despite having only a few lights, the board has plenty of lighting-customization options, thanks to Asus’ Aura Lighting Control software. Load up the software, and you can choose virtually any color and set the lighting to pulse to the beat of your music. The Aura Sync software also lets you synchronize the board’s lighting effects with other LED-lit ROG hardware that supports Aura, such as mice, keyboards, and even graphics cards. Lighting controls even extend to some third-party components.
The area around the AM4 CPU socket isn’t particularly crowded, despite the nearby heatsinks, which cool the Texas Instruments NexFET MOSFETs. The ROG Crosshair VI Hero’s quality power-control system, which also includes 10K black capacitors and MicroFine Alloy chokes, makes for safer overclocking. As a result, it’s hard to begrudge Asus the oversize heatsinks; that’s all a part of the overclocker’s game. That said, neither the power components nor the heatsinks got in the way in the course of installing our (rather bulky) CPU cooler during the test build. (More on that in a bit.)
Interestingly, Asus punched an extra set of holes in the PCB to accommodate the mounting of AM3-socket coolers. That’s a rare nice touch in that vein; enthusiast hardware like this usually makes no concessions to legacy cooling gear. If you’ve already invested considerable funds into an AMD system, including a worthy cooler, that’s one less component, perhaps, to put on your shopping list. (And more you can spend on other stuff.)
The expansion-slot layout is busy, but it seems well-planned. A sizable gap between the two top PCI Express x16 slots leaves breathing room for bulky video cards living alongside one another. Those same slots are wrapped in metal for extra stability (Asus calls this feature “SafeSlot”), while a third PCI Express x16 slot is shield-free.
Motherboard makers sometimes go over-the-top when trying to spice up this somewhat staid section of the motherboard, so it’s good to see that Asus stuck to the basics here. After all, install a large video card or two (and you will, seeing as the current Ryzen 7 and 5 CPUs lack onboard graphics), and the slot zone will be hidden from view, anyway. PCI Express x1 slots are interleaved with the x16 slots; you get three of these, as well.
One layout item worth noting: Asus put the ROG Crosshair VI Hero’s lone M.2 slot/connector on the right side of the board, just below the big X370 chipset heatsink. That’s a departure from the trend toward putting the M.2 connector closer to the left side of the board, oftentimes between PCI Express slots. In some cases (as with the Gigabyte/Aorus AX370 Gaming 5 we checked out recently), the M.2 connector ends up close to the first PCI Express slot, which can make accessing the storage module a little tricky once you’ve got the (inevitable-with-Ryzen) video card inserted. With the ROG Crosshair VI Hero, you won’t have any trouble reaching the M.2 connector, unless, perhaps, you have both an abnormally long 110mm/Type-22110 M.2 storage module (the much more typical size is 80mm/Type 2280) and a large, second video card installed. Incidentally, the M.2 slot here supports either a SATA or a PCI Express/NVMe M.2 drive assuming you have a Ryzen CPU installed. If you use one of AMD’s AM4-compatible A-series chips, the M.2 slot works with SATA drives only.
Asus also gives the motherboard’s audio some love. It loaded up the ROG Crosshair VI Hero with an ROG SupremeFX S1220 audio codec. The HD audio codec features eight-channel sound and is backed up by Asus’ Sonic Radar III and Sonic Studio III software. The audio shield has the same multi-tier design as the nearby I/O panel shield, but it lacks an LED accent.
For all the bells and whistles that it loaded onto the ROG Crosshair VI Hero, Asus also kept an eye on the important low-tech features—namely, the labels. The motherboard maker risked upsetting the dark color scheme with bright, white labels for all of the crucial components. They’re easy to spot, even when you’re up to your elbows in a PC case, looking for the right memory slots or the Safe Boot button.
Flagship motherboards get all the best gear, and that’s especially true of the ROG Crosshair VI Hero.
The I/O panel is loaded with ports and even includes chunky buttons for clearing the CMOS and activating Asus’ BIOS Flashback tool. This latter feature lets you update the BIOS from a USB drive (plugged into the USB port helpfully labeled “BIOS”), regardless of whether the PC is running. Another USB port, marked “KEYBOT,” gives your keyboard extra macro- and function-key options, managed by the included Keybot II software.
The ROG Crosshair VI Hero doesn’t have onboard graphics; nor, as we mentioned, do the Ryzen 7 and 5 CPUs. As a result, space that might be chewed up by video-out ports instead houses heaps of USB: eight (blue) USB 3.0 ports, four (black) USB 2.0 ports, a (red) USB 3.1 Type-A port, and a USB 3.1 Type-C port. The panel also has a complement of audio jacks, including an optical S/PDIF out.
The I/O plate also has cutaways for Wi-Fi antennas, though none comes in the box. The board lacks an onboard Wi-Fi chipset, as well. The Gigabit Ethernet port leads to an Intel Ethernet Controller I211-AT. Asus GameFirst IV software and LANGuard tech handle traffic-management and protection duties. You’ll have to add your own Wi-Fi PCI Express card or USB dongle if you want wireless; we suspect most gamers and power users will stick to the Ethernet.
The ROG Crosshair VI Hero also has a large number of internal connectors, most of which line the right and bottom edges of the motherboard. One of the more interesting of these is the USB 3.1 header connector, which sits near the 24-pin power connector on the right side of the board. Just recently settled upon by motherboard and case makers, this spanking new kind of onboard header is making its debut on the latest 2017 motherboards; PC-case support will inevitably follow. You can use it to connect up a USB 3.1 Type-C port on your PC’s front panel and retain USB 3.1’s transfer speeds.
Eight standard 6Gbps ports sit down the board from the USB 3.1 connector, providing support for RAID 0, 1, and 10 configurations. The right side of the board also features one of the ROG Crosshair VI Hero’s five fan connectors. Those connectors and another four connectors for water pumps dot the board, providing plenty of options for air- and liquid-cooling. You’ll also find headers for water-flow and water-temperature sensors, so you can keep an eye on your liquid-cooling setup’s performance.
Overall, despite all the extras, the Crosshair VI Hero has one of the least-crowded right-hand edges we’ve seen lately.
The lower edge of the Crosshair VI Hero, though, seems to be prime real estate. You’ll find the usual front-panel suspects here: USB 2.0 and 3.0 headers, speaker and audio headers, and the standard cryptic front-panel-header pin grid. (More on the front-panel connection in a moment.)
In a nod to the overclocking set, Asus put four buttons and a switch along the bottom of the board. The large silver power button (marked “Start”) is easy to spot, but the other three buttons (reset, safe boot, and retry) are pip-sized and much smaller. They’re color-coded, though, which ought to help. The retry button, in case you’re wondering, lets you interrupt the boot process to reset the PC. The switch, meanwhile, enables Slow Mode, giving overclockers an easy way to reduce processor speed when needed for stability.
Asus also put one of its two RGB headers at the bottom of the board, near the right corner. It’s the only one most DIY builders will use; the other RGB header powers the light in the I/O shield.