ASUS ROG Z390 Maximus XI Gene Review
Published: 27th January 2019 | Source: ASUS | Price: |
There is an awful lot to like about the ASUS Z390 Maximus XI Gene, and some things that are less likely to make you smile.
A consistent theme in all of the recent motherboard reviews is how both AMD and Intel have managed to iron out those differences that used to make buying a motherboard a bit of a lottery. Chipsets are so reliable that barring some abhorrent design decision at the power phase end of the board, any one you choose to buy will be as good as another, perform as well as another, and generally have all the features of the others. The main differences are extra touches of hardware that are more or less important to you on a case by case basis, and the aesthetics. Aesthetics are naturally a matter of personal taste. One may prefer a white look, others the stealthy black. Some may want more RGB bling and others less. Lastly the days in which purchasing a smaller form factor motherboard than the regular ATX required you to accept some compromises are also long behind us. Even ITX motherboards push out monster scores and mATX ones are equally capable.
The Maximus XI Gene slipped into our offices with the rest of the Z390 motherboards we received, but it has taken until now for us to have the double-stack DDR4 which lets dual-channel motherboards have the benefits of fat capacity whilst not giving up the all-important bandwidth speeds. Given that one Z390 motherboard is much like another we hoped this would give us a different take upon a fairly predictable set of results, and indeed the Zadak kit performed very well, overclocking nicely and usually providing the best of the Gene scores. Who wouldn't want 64GB of speedy RAM in a dual-channel package? However, it quickly became apparent during our testing that our desire to find something to say about the Gene that wasn't repeating the "they're all tightly grouped" nature of the other Z390 results wasn't something we particularly needed to pay attention to, as the Gene was regularly disappointing to the point it is the elephant in the room.
Naturally we have to point out, or remind those of you who pay close attention, that all the Z390 motherboards do give closely grouped results without any particular model standing out. None of them are poor performers. Given that you expect all the scores to be near identical then the harsh reality of the situation has to kick in and - for the Maximus XI Gene - that reality is one in which, at stock, it's extremely disappointing. In pretty much every test it was propping up the graph in both regular DDR4 and dual-stack DDR4 configurations, whilst it also wasn't a case of being the odd point off the higher positions but one in which the Gene was - relative to other gaps - significantly tailed off from the rest of the Z390 offerings. If you're the type of user who runs at stock only then you're better off looking elsewhere, even to the Strix ITX if dimensions are a key element of your requirements. Thankfully overclocking regained a lot of this lost ground and found the Gene much nearer its rivals, albeit still generally at the lower end of the overclocked setups we've reviewed.
Away from performance there is much to like. The VRM heatsinks do an excellent job in keeping the power phase cool. The design has a lot to recommend it particularly in terms of cable management but also with the RGB AURA lighting across the PCB looking very nice indeed and leaving you with lots of freedom to make it show the world your own taste in colours.
It's hard to get away from the performance though. Anything that is part of the ROG brand brings certain expectations, and putting the Gene as part of the excellent Maximus XI range doubles those expectations, and that only makes the lack of performance even more galling. A few generations ago we'd have put it down to the limits of the mATX form factor, but those days are past. If it was a regular ASUS model we might excuse it more too. But a ROG product? It can't be done. We would like to think that this could be fixed with some BIOS optimisations but that is something that only time will tell how much time the Asus engineers are allowed to invest into it. If you are the type of person who settles for nothing less than overclocking the nuts off your system then clearly using the Gene in conjunction with the double-stacked RAM is unquestionably the way to go and brings rich rewards, which is enough to sneak the Gene our Gamers Choice Award.