A new motherboard party wouldn't be complete without Asus, and the company has no less than sixteen new motherboards to show off. From the glorious excess of the Maximus XI Extreme to the workstation-focused WS Z390 Pro down to the mainstream Prime Z390-P, Asus probably has a board that'll suffice for anyone building around an Intel ninth-gen CPU. Without further ado, let's take a peek.
The fanciest board on display today is of course the Maximus XI Extreme. The latest in the Maximus Extreme line is no less opulent than its forebears. This board offers dual eight-pin EPS connectors to fuel the CPU socket. Asus doesn't talk numbers when it comes to the phases in its CPU VRM, but given that this board has ProbeIt points (to let builders test voltage using a meter) and a special LN2 mode for extreme overclockers, we'd expect that its power-delivery circuitry is more than sufficient.
Even if you're not going for broke in benchmarks, the Maximus XI Extreme has a lot to offer. It'll take four M.2 drives and can talk to five USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices. It has an Intel-powered Gigabit Ethernet jack and an Aquantia chip providing 5-Gigabit Ethernet, as well as 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi onboard. You get a grand total of 16 headers for powering cooling hardware, plus three extra headers for thermal sensors. Some of those headers are naturally meant for liquid-cooling hardware. Finally, there's copious RGB LED lighting to go around in addition to a LiveDash OLED for displaying system status.
If you're really serious about cooling performance and less concerned about the extras, you could pick up the Maximus XI Formula. The main thing this board misses over the Extreme is the DIMM.2 module, which means it ends up with two fewer M.2 sockets. In exchange, it gains a coating of thermal armor and a built-in CrossChill III waterblock (designed by EK) on top of its power delivery hardware.
The Formula also misses out on the Aquantia 5G Ethernet controller, compared to the Extreme. However, the Maximus XI Code keeps it. The Code also comes with a regular old air-cooled heatsink on its VRM. Besides those two changes, this is more or less the same motherboard as the Maximus XI Formula, which is by no means a knock. Both of these boards have two RGB LED strip headers and two addressable RGB headers.
Don't be confused by the picture; that's a microATX motherboard, not a Mini-ITX model. As Asus points out, enthusiasts aren't really building multi-GPU machines any more. To that end, the Maximus XI Gene makes better use of its limited space by retaining more of the extra features its larger siblings have. That includes all four M.2 sockets and all five USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports of the Extreme, as well as ProbeIt points, onboard power and reset buttons, and more things that you don't see much on micro-ATX motherboards. It even has the dual EPS12V plugs and LN2 mode of its larger siblings.
The entry-level Maximus board is once again called the Hero. The Maximus XI Hero is very close in capability to the Maximus XI Code. The Wi-Fi adapter, standard on the other Maximus XI boards, is optional here. It also loses some of the visual finesse of its stablemates. Besides that, though, this board is pretty full-featured. You still get two CPU power connectors—though one's been downgraded to a four-pin deal—plus all of the on-board overclocker hardware like diagnostic LEDs, power, and reset buttons.
Asus ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming
Stepping out of the Maximus range, we of course have the RGB LED-heavy ROG Strix family. There are four boards here. The ROG Strix Z390-E, Z390-F, and Z390-H are all pretty similar ATX motherboards. The primary differences among these three boards are that the Strix Z390-E has Wi-Fi, while the other two don't. The Strix Z390-H also misses out on USB Type-C connectors. There are some visual differences, too, but those are the important changes.
Meanwhile, the Strix Z390-I Gaming is the sole Mini-ITX board Asus is delivering today. Given its nature, it can't help but shed some spiffy bits compared to its larger siblings, but it's got more than you might expect. It still has two M.2 sockets, and it includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi. It even has a USB 3.1 Gen 2 front-panel connector. Like the rest of the boards we've talked about so far, the Strix Z390-I uses Asus' SupremeFX S1220 for audio duties. There's even a pair of RGB LED headers: one for a light strip, and one for addressable RGB devices.
Asus TUF Z390-Plus Gaming
Three boards from the TUF Gaming line make up the next segment of Asus' lineup. The TUF Z390-Pro Gaming and TUF Z390-Plus Gaming boards are again pretty similar. The biggest functional difference in the two is that there is no Wi-Fi on the TUF Z390-Pro, while the TUF Z390-Plus can have it as an option. There's also the TUF Z390M-Pro Gaming, which is microATX-sized. It also can have Wi-Fi as an option, and unlike the Maximus XI Gene, it keeps the full allotment of four DIMM slots.
Selecting a consumer chipset like Z390 for a workstation board is a curious one, to be sure, but this isn't the first time we've seen Asus do this. The latest example, the WS Z390 Pro, is explicitly designed for folks who really need to use a whole bunch of graphics cards. It has four full-sized PCIe 3.0 x16 slots connected to a PLX switch that multiplexes their signals to the CPU. Asus says that the switch can pass communications between the cards directly, reducing overhead on the CPU itself. While there are "only" two M.2 sockets on the board, it also has a pair of U.2 ports for 2.5" NVMe drives.
Asus Prime Z390-A
Finally, there are three boards from the Prime family at the bottom of Asus' product stack. Don't take that to mean that they're low-quality, though. The Prime Z390-A is a close descendant of my own Prime Z370-A board. Like the last generation of Prime boards, the Z390-A has all the essentials: two M.2 sockets, Intel-powered Gigabit Ethernet, and four USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports—one a Type-C connector.
Asus Prime Z390M-Plus
The Prime Z390-P and microATX Prime Z390M-Plus are the boards in this set least likely to induce sticker shock. They're pretty basic motherboards compared to the rest of the new models, but then, that's the point. Neither board is going to set hearts alight, but we reckon they should suffice for most builds. Despite the entry-level nature of these boards, you still get a pair of M.2 sockets on both.
A few boards (like the Maximus XI Extreme) haven't shown up at e-tail yet, but the majority of Asus' new models are already available at Newegg and Amazon. The Maximus XI Formula goes for $450, the Maximus XI Code for $350, and the Maximus XI Hero for $290. The ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming will set you back $245, the Strix Z390-I Gaming will cost you $210, and the Strix Z390-H Gaming is $190. The TUF boards run $170 for the Z390-Pro or the Z390-Plus, or $180 for the Z390M-Pro. Finally, the Prime Z390-A is $190, and the Prime Z390-P is the most affordable at $150.