The ASUS ROG Maximus range of motherboards has long been revered as some of the best boards for high-end PC builds as well as those who plan to push their rigs to the limits. There have been, and still are many variants of the Maximus boards, and thanks to ASUS we are lucky enough to spend some time with the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX, and as the name suggests, this board is seen as the APEX of the Maximus range. Being intended for those who truly want to push their PC to its limits. What is also good to know is that the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX takes advantage of the new Intel processors, namely the Adler Lake i9 – 12900K as well as the much anticipated DDR5 RAM. So let’s get right into it!
What’s in the Box?
From the moment we opened the box of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX we realized that this is a true monster. Apart from the splendid-looking motherboard, there are a plethora of accessories bundled with this board. We had to do some reading to find out what all of these goodies are truly for so here goes. The ROG True Voltician is a USB format oscilloscope. This little PCB plugs onto the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX board via one of the USB sockets. Through this device and the management software, the advanced users can keep an eye on a host of various settings in their most discrete details. With the added mini-USB port, these readings are even able to be taken and captured from a completely separate PC. This might seem silly to some but for the overclockers in the house, who are truly trying to push the boundaries of their overclock, every fraction of information can be critical.
Next in the list of extras, is the PCIe card that functions as an M.2 SSD slot. Generation 5.0 PCIe to be exact so once those versions of SSDs become available you don’t have to slot them into the motherboard like in the past, simply open up this card and install it in there and this card makes use of one of your PCIe slots. It is a really interesting way of expanding the capability to have more M.2 drives on your system without having to give up real estate on your motherboard for more slots.
Even though the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX offers two M.2 slots on the motherboard, more on the above-mentioned PCIe 5.0 card, if you, for some reason, still have more M.2 modules that you need to install, ASUS supplies yet another vertical stand that can accommodate two more M.2 SSDs. This module fits into a slot right next to the RAM slots, don’t worry you won’t accidentally install RAM into that slot as it has a protective slot to ensure RAM won’t fit.
The rest of the items found in the box, as can be seen in the video above, range from a keyholder, a handy Q connector, SATA cables, an RGB extender, and a host of other, less exciting items.
Explore the Board
Before we really take a more intent look at the board and everything on it, the most obvious difference from the previous Maximus boards, is the fact that this is a Z690, meaning we have a change in the socket, the LGA1700 does look a bit different to the previous LGA1200 socket. Firstly, the size, the LGA1700 is larger than the LGA1200 and the reason for that is the fact that the LGA1700 socket has 1700 pins compared to the 1200 pins on the LGA1200 which fits the Z490/Z590 boards. With a larger CPU comes some challenges for the end-user. CPU coolers are the most obvious ones. Older coolers, will not be able to fit on the LGA1700 sockets, fortunately, some of the manufacturers provide an adapter for these situations, and most of the time the solution is free. ASUS on the other hand has got you covered, thanks to having two different mounting holes, your older cooler will fit, thank you ASUS!
The largest and most eye-catching aspects are naturally the heatsinks, and there are plenty of them on the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX! The CPU, which in our case, is the magnificent i9-12900k monster, is surrounded on three sides by heatsinks, all in a black metal finish. The bottom one doubles as a cover for another M.2 SSD but this time it is only a PCIe 4.0. All three of the heatsinks also have cooling pipes to help spread the heat that the new CPU with its hybrid core system can create. The heatsink that cools the rear IO is hidden by the extremely good-looking shroud that has the Maximus Apex adornment in silver and the ROG sign that can be lit up by RGB which looks spectacular. While on the topic of heatsinks, the vast majority of the rest of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX is actually covered in heatsinks. The last, and large heatsink, that covers the chipsets. a simple black design with the ASUS logo that benefits from more RGB, but when taking a side-on look, we are met with another nod to the ROG brand in the way the heatsink is cut.
Another major feature and upgrade on the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX, and specifically this board is the fact that is DDR5, a bit more on that later. There is however a DDR4 version but it comes in the form of more entry-level motherboards. One of the more significant additions, albeit something minor is the addition of the Q-release. When something is plugged into the first PCIe slot, like those bulky and beefy GPUs it is often nearly impossible to be able to reach the PCIe release lever. Fortunately, ASUS has thought of that issue already and has added a push-button towards the middle right of the board, and with a simple push-of-a-button, your PCIe now has a remote release button.
Now, to the plethora of little buttons and switches situated all around the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX, let us take a look.
Power Button – Power-on the motherboard
FlexKey (reset) – Restart Motherboard. Can be reassigned in BIOS
Switch BIOS – this allows you to switch between two BIOS setups in case of a bad setup.
LN2 Mode – For those who like to push the limits, using LN2 for cooling, activate this in BIOS to avoid issues on startup.
Debug LED ( CPU – DRAM – VGA – Boot) – use these LEDs to diagnose the corresponding item during startup. If one LED stays on, that means an error on corresponding hardware.
Q-LED – the standard display that will display an error code to help identify a possible error.
CMOS CLR – this will clear the BIOS parameters and reset them to default.
Probe IT – allows for measurements to be taken directly on the PCB via a multimeter.
The rear panel of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX looks much like the other ASUS ROG boards. With enough USB ports to plug in all your peripherals and probably every USB device you own, at the same time does make it awesome as so many devices use at least one USB port these days. The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX features four USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports and five USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports and one Gen 2 Type-C port. Moving back to the top of the board is the Clear CMOS button as well as the flashing button for when you want to flash the BIOS via a USB drive. Some of you older folk might recognize the PS2 slots for mouse and keyboard. Why use those I hear you asking. Some benchmarks are more powerful when using the likes of Windows XP, yes that dinosaur for some of you kids.
Further down past the magnitude of USB ports we find the network port, for those who prefer the hardwired approach. Then we are met with the dual antenna ports and the WIFI antenna that can attach anywhere onto your case via the magnet in the foot piece. The audio ports are below this and are powered by the Supreme FX chip. supporting the standard five-line surround or via optical if you prefer it that way.
Adler Lake and DDR5 – what is it all about?
With the arrival of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX, we not only received the Intel 12900k CPU, the latest and greatest from the Intel stable, we also got a DDR5 RAM treat courtesy of XPG. They provided us with the XPG Lancer 16Gb kit. Not only is it an absolutely stunning RAM stick with its all-black approach, complimenting the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX board completely, but it also packs some serious speed. From a side-on view, the XPG Lancer DIMMs look great in their textured black color. Once installed and looking at the shoulder, the XPG Lancer DIMM is once again, plain with only a white XPG emblem sitting in the middle of the shoulder. Rated for 5200MHz compared to DDR4, which generally runs around 3200MHz, both these speeds being before you start to overclock them, naturally!
First of all, we need to mention, DDR5 RAM is expensive, no matter what brand you go for. Since it is still very fresh to the market the prices are high and will, over time, come down once DDR5 is the mode widely used RAM. Something to note about the XPG Lancer DIMM is the height. This comes as a double-barrel point. Comparing it to my own RAM DIMMs I found the XPG Lancer DIMM to be quite tall. Nothing that will cause any alarm unless you are planning on using a monstrous air cooler, but in my case, no issue whatsoever. Yet the XPG Lancer, the non-RGB version that we have here, is still taller than my own RGB DIMMs. The only possible reason I can think for this being the case is the fact that they use the same bottom-end for both and hence the non-RGB sticks still have the space where the RGB would fit.
So, the question that everyone wants to know is, is DDR5 THAT much better than DDR4? And my unequivocal answer is… I don’t know! In terms of gaming, there are very few games that benefit from DDR5 at this point in time. DDR5 provides much higher bandwidth and with a frequency of 5200MHz at CL38 the XPG Lancer DIMM has lower latency than many other DDR5 DIMMs that are available right now. The lower speeds and only having a small boost means that it has more potential for overclocking, which as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t quite seem to make for much gain right now.
The XPG Lancer DDR5 RAM is therefore neither here nor there, and that’s for no fault on its side. Right now DDR5 RAM is simply for early adopters and for those who want to be at the forefront of the technology. The look of the Lancer does however get me excited, it is a good-looking DIMM while not needing RGB to be… When connected to the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX it does its job even better by being low-key good-looking while letting the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX get all the glory with its RGB, albeit very minimal. The XPG Lancer DDR5 RAM is by no means an inferior product to the new Adler Lake CPUs but just expect to pay a premium if you are going to pick when it comes to brands, the XPG Lancer DDR5 RAM sits at a great price to get into the DDR5 market.
What truly sets the new Z690 boards apart from previous generations is not just the step to the new 12th Gen Intel CPUs, that is a big deal as well with the new way Intel is making their CPUs work but another massive change is the introduction of DDR5 RAM. Instead of me writing lots of words that might not explain it correctly or bore you to death, I implore you, if you are interested to understand, to look at the video above and learn what makes Adler lake and DDR5 so special.
Firmware & Software
The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX looks nearly the same as what we saw in the Z590 boards, apart from the new P and E core adjustments along with a few discrete other changes. Much like previous versions that we have had the privilege to use, the UEFI is really simple and nothing is hidden within layers and layers of menus. If the feature-rich BIOS, which the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX certainly has, is too much for you there is also an easy mode, which dumbs the immense menus and options down to a more basic setup. But then again if you are looking at buying the APEX version, you already know a thing or two about what your plans are.
The ASUS Armoury Crate is where you will find all the accompanying software. These will take care of everything from RGB lighting control, Audio, system monitoring, and even one-click overclocking, although that should rather be done in BIOS if you want to take maximum advantage of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX board paired with whichever 12th Gen Intel chip you choose.
This is definitely more of a verdict than it is a rating. When this ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX arrived on my desk, with DDR5 RAM and the stellar Intel 12900K I was not quite aware of what I was letting myself in for. Little did I know that this would be less of a review and more of a learning experience, which had me watching so many videos and reading so many articles explaining how the new DDR5 RAM and Adler Lake really has changed up what we will come to expect from the newer generation of CPUs, RAM, and motherboards.
For the early adopters of any form of new tech, it might not seem quite worth it right now, with many studies finding that, currently, you might not see much of a performance boost from ditching your DDR4 for DDR5. But in the future, it certainly will. Pair this with PCIe 5,0 which has very limited support when it comes to SSDs that can truly utilize the power and speed it right this moment, but once again, in time, this will become the mainstay of what we expect and will be using.
But back to the matter at hand, the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX. If you look up the word APEX, and no, not Apex Legends, we will find that the word APEX can be used much like the pinnacle, and that is what the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX motherboard is. It comes from a brand that has invested so much into being one of the greatest and most recognizable brands in gaming and with the launch of the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX board it has culminated into this monster I have before me right now. Considering yourself a knowledgeable PC user will quickly be questioned by this board. The amount of built-in features and abilities the board possesses is simply astounding, and honestly, I don’t think I am capable of really testing it to its full potential!
What I am trying to say is that if you want to jump to the new Z690 platform, and you are planning on really making your newest 12th Gen CPU work to its utmost potential, there is no other board than the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 APEX! Throw anything at it, LN2 cool your CPU and try to overclock it to the moon, that’s what this board is for! Once DDR5 RAM and PCIe 5.0 become mainstream, those who are rocking this card will be smiling from ear to ear, because then, the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 will truly show why it is called APEX!
Special thanks to the people over at ASUS South Africa for allowing us to experience this beast!