ASUS ROG Maximus XI Formula Z390 Motherboard Review

ASUS brings us the one of it most aesthetically pleasing and expensive Z390 motherboards this generation. Even if you have no interest in spending a ton of money on an LGA 1151 motherboard, you will want to give this Formula a look as it certainly shows us that ASUS is not sitting around on its thumbs on the high end.

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UEFI BIOS

ASUS uses a 128Mbit UEFI AMI BIOS Flash ROM with the Maximus XI Hero. Unfortunately, this is a single BIOS solution and thanks to some recent cost cutting, ASUS no longer uses removable UEFI BIOS ROMs with any of its motherboards. Until recently, ASRock and ASUS were the only holdouts on this. While I do like to criticize, single UEFI BIOS solutions on high-end motherboards, I must admit that the recovery options on modern motherboards virtually eliminate the need for that. However, the ROG line has always been a premium offering and that attention to detail was always appreciated. You can also argue that having the ability to run dual BIOS versions has its place and provides fantastic redundancy as well. The UEFI BIOS supports the following management standards: PnP, DMI3.0, SM BIOS 3.1, and ACPI 6.1. Version 0602 was used for all testing and screenshots.

One thing I want to touch on quickly is ASUS’ AI Overclocking implementation, This is the first change I’ve seen to ASUS’ UEFI BIOS implantation in quite some time. It is more or less the same as what AI Suite III uses with its’ AI Overclocking feature. There is a wizard that guides you through this process. Although, I’d advise only doing this after everything is setup and you’ve backed up your stock settings as a profile in case things do go south. This tool evaluates your RAM, power conditions, the CPU, the motherboard’s VRMs and your CPU’s cooling system to determine what kind of clocks you can expect and under what conditions those values can be applied. For example, the AVX and non-AVX overclocking values are usually about 200MHz apart. Voltages for stable operation with AVX on is usually a lot higher than without AVX.

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ASUS’ UEFI BIOS really has set the standard for what a UEFI should be. While not the most aesthetic BIOS menus ever, the ASUS implementation provides an exquisite blend of function, form, usability and features. Many of the industry’s UEFI features originate on ROG motherboards first before trickling down to the standard ASUS channel boards. There is even some trickle down to OEM offerings or workstation offerings. Many of the features have been duplicated with varying degrees of success on competing products as an indicator of ASUS’ innovative nature regarding its UEFI BIOS menus.

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The ROG motherboards are a little different than their standard ASUS counterparts. There are settings for tuning, most often related to memory that the standard motherboards lack. Pretested memory presets are one of the many ways ROG differentiates itself from the standard offerings. ASUS motherboards in the ROG line also do not default to the EZ-Mode that the regular motherboards do. While its still included, it has to be activated by the user. You can also adjust the behavior to use this menu first if desired. I do have the EZ-Mode shown first in the screenshots, but that’s because I selected it first.

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The EZ-Mode is a concise menu which contains much of the basic settings needed to get the system up and running. This works well in systems with a lean or simple configuration. More complex systems will likely be beyond this menu’s capabilities. That said, it provides information in a concise and easy to understand way. Unfortunately, it’s gotten more crammed with information over the years and the font has shrunk and it’s gotten busier and busier with more and more capability over the years. This is honestly something I think MSI does better, but the rest of the UEFI is definitely ASUS’ strong point.

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In addition to having as many settings for tuning as possible or having a ton of built-in tools, its ASUS’ general user experience that no other brand seems to be able to match. With the ASUS UEFI BIOS, you can input values manually or via other means. A manual entry can be done with numbers or letters depending on what the setting is. You can also use the mouse to click on the setting via a drop-down menu. Using the enter key does the same thing. You can also increment the values up or down with the plus and minus keys. Additionally, there is predictive text to spell out words you are trying to input. If you enter an invalid number, it will move to the closest value and input that. Settings that are deemed somewhat ill-advised are in yellow, with settings shown in a violet type of color are unsafe and could damage your hardware.

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When it comes to fan control or PC health monitoring, ASUS is just as good as anyone with its implementation. I’d argue that the ASUS style is generally better for most things, but the health monitoring is more concise and easier to read on some other brands. However, ASUS’ fan control is unparalleled at the BIOS level. Virtually all the fan headers offer the same level of control. This includes preset profiles for fan speeds and manual control for DC and PWM modes. Automatic tuning is available here as well. ASUS also offers an excellent secure erase utility for SSDs. This is something I saw on ASUS motherboards first, and now virtually everyone does this.

ASUS offers the usual performance profiles which can be saved and loaded from the local disk or another source. ASUS also supports this for BIOS flashing. The BIOS flash utility works well and doesn’t lock out screen captures or forces unnecessary reboots like other motherboard manufacturer’s products sometimes do. Other motherboard manufacturers tend to offer some sort of map of connected devices, and while ASUS doesn’t offer a full map, it does offer a physical PCI-Express lane and slot diagram and shows what devices populate the expansion area. You also have tools for viewing SPD and XMP tables as well as some settings for ASUS’ proprietary hardware such as its front panel devices. (Sold Separately.)