ASUS Crosshair VII Hero AM4 Motherboard Review

Along with the second generation AMD Ryzen CPUs, we are getting the new and somewhat improved X470 chipset motherboards. We have been beating on the Crosshair VII Hero for about a month now and have figured out what we like about, outside of it being an excellent overclocker for the Ryzen 7 CPUs.

continued...

Motherboard Overclocking Software

ASUS continues to package AI Suite III with its motherboard offerings, regardless of price point or product line, AI Suite III gives you the ability to monitor temperatures, CPU speeds, clocks, CPU utilization, and more from within the Windows operating system environment. The application also allows for automated overclocking, creating performance profiles, and even using those profiles for specific applications. One of the most significant functions the AI Suite III performs is fan tuning. This can be done either automatically or manually. The application is capable of even more things than I’ve mentioned here but for the sake of brevity I will keep our coverage limited to elements that enthusiasts will find most important.

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

The AI Suite III software is very powerful compared to its competitor’s offerings. The software does more and tends to do everything a bit better than anything else does. I still prefer to use AMD’s Ryzen Master software or Intel’s XTU over anything like AI Suite III, but the level of functionality AI Suite III provides goes well beyond either of those two programs. However, I find manual tuning of the CPU is more intuitive and easier on Intel and AMD’s tools respectively.

The tool is aesthetically pleasing, but there are a few issues with it. The massive amount of functionality provided by the software means that it’s complex. Intel’s XTU and AMD’s Ryzen Master software do less and are easier to navigate as a result. GIGABYTE’s EasyTune software is similarly less complicated, but easier to use. That said, the biggest challenges are related to navigating the software rather than using the complex features the software offers. There is no inherent back function within the software. There is a navigation pane which allows you to select various categories or functions of the software, but you can’t return to the main application menu without navigating to the 5-way optimization menu. This isn’t necessarily hard to figure out, but it isn’t intuitive either.

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

Another design decision that I can’t quite understand relates to the PC health monitoring functions. These are always present, invisible within the application. I have no problem with that, and in fact I do like the way ASUS presents this information better than say, how Gigabyte does it. These menus can be expanded to show more detailed information. However, warning thresholds for monitoring are practically hidden within the software. You have to click the gear icon to the far right in order to access those settings. This is totally incongruent with other navigational related elements of the software. This is the kind of schizophrenic design that I often slam MSI for regarding its Command Center software. In fairness, ASUS only does this in this one example, however one example is one too many. I think this is especially true when there is nothing gained by having the software operate in this manner. Once you find the settings they’re very easy to manipulate and understand.

Article Image Article Image Article Image

AI Suite III has a number of strengths that make it the leading application in the market compared to other bundled tuning applications packaged with motherboards. The main advantage to AI Suite III is its powerful automated overclocking function. ASUS’ marketing department calls this "5-Way Optimization." This is evidently a reference to five ways the system is optimized or something like that. What really sets this function apart from any other, is the amount of manual control the user has over this automated process. That sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, but it isn’t. AI Suite III lets you tell the software what your overclocking goals are and define parameters for how the goal is to be reached. As long as you don’t put in ridiculous and incongruent settings such as a very low temperature threshold in a very high clock speed it works very well. In my experience the software is capable of getting within one or 200 MHz of a processor’s maximum speed through manual tuning. This is pretty impressive, and it doesn’t take very long to perform this function.

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

The application even allows you to set parameters regarding the stability and testing functions within the automated overclocking process. Again, this is the only application I’m aware of on the market, which is brand specific. XTU and Ryzen Master do a bit of this as well, but not to the same extent. For a process that seems to be automated there quite a few manual variables you can set here. This tuning can be performed in conjunction with automated fan tuning if desired. You can also choose to favor performance power savings or strike a balance between the two. The software also allows you to do this on a per core basis, or for all cores.

Manual performance tuning is done through the TPU menu. The TPU menu is basically described as being a power saving or environmentally friendly feature. I’m not sure why ASUS is marketing does this, but once you understand this is simply how ASUS software works, its easy to understand. From the TPU menu you can tune per core or for all cores simultaneously. Reference clock frequency ratios and voltage variables are all configured from this menu. The menu also allows you to create and save performance profiles which can be accessed by the Turbo app feature. This allows performance profiles to be chosen automatically based on the application being run. If you’re doing office type work with little demand placed on the system you can opt to use a less aggressive performance profile that offers power savings and efficiency. On the other hand, you can opt for a profile that is very aggressive for gaming or for video encoding apps.

When it comes to the amount of available settings, AI Suite III offers almost everything you could possibly need within it. There are more settings available in the UEFI, but as we’ve noted before, most of those settings rarely if ever need to be changed for air or water cooling based overclocking.

Fan tuning is another area where AI Suite III outshines its competitors. Software allows for automated tuning, tuning based on PWM or DC modes as needed. It also allows the user to select from predefined performance profiles. You can create user profiles for fan tuning as well. These can be saved or loaded from the Fan Xpert4 menus. One unique aspect of AI Suite III’s Fan Xpert4 function is the ability to manually assign names to specific fan headers to denote fan location within the chassis. ASUS also offers a feature called Fan Smoothing. This used to be called "Spin-Up and Spin-Down Time." The feature works by allowing the user to control the time it takes for fan speed changes to occur. The goal is to make these changes more gradual, so they are less noticeable.

Overall, AI Suite III hasn’t changed much since Intel released it’s Z97 Express chipset more than 4 years ago. It’s hard to imagine how ASUS would add additional functionality to the software without making it more complex than it already is. I think the software is excellent but it’s navigational oddities add a learning curve to it that some other software packages simply don’t have. Basically, the software is pretty awesome but there is room for improvement. I still think it’s the best option out there out of all the bundled tuning applications that are packaged with motherboards today even though it somewhat cumbersome.

ASUS Aura

Article Image Article Image

While the tuning software packages from all the major manufacturers haven’t changed much over the last three or four years, RGB LED configuration applications have changed quite a lot over the last couple of years. These tools are finally settling down somewhat, and I’ve seen fewer and fewer changes over the last several months or so. ASUS tends to "nail it" earlier on with software and leave it alone. ASUS seemed to have found the right interface more quickly than other manufacturers did. ASUS Aura is no different in this regard. The software is rather excellent and that it is easy to use that offers as much if not more functionality than that of its peers. My personal system uses a Rampage V Edition 10 which is fairly old now, and as a result I use the Aura software on my own system. The version I use is almost identical to what’s packaged with the Crosshair VII Hero. As a result, I have quite a bit of experience with the software.

The software allows you to configure the lighting by zone or synchronize all zones. It also allows you to tune in 0-255 increments for each RGB channel, alter brightness and saturation. The color wheel isn’t the easiest thing to use, but you can do it by numerical value. This is my preferred method. There are a number of visual effects available for each zone. Each visual effect has its own settings.

ASUS also allows you to configure the lighting while the system is shut down and when it’s running separately. It even allows you to disable all of the lighting entirely if you wish. Very little of this functionality is unique to ASUS. However, the way it’s presented is more intuitive than it is from other manufacturers. The only problem I have with the Aura software is that it occasionally loses all of its settings and you have to go in and either set it back up manually. There is not a working profile system which is the one downside to this software. On my personal system this is pretty easy as I only use a single color in static mode for everything. However more complex lighting schemes are more difficult to tune.