The Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme isn't just a hell of a mouthful, it's also one of the best Intel Z490 motherboards released for the new 10th Gen Comet Lake processors. But it is also one of the most expensive. Like, really expensive. I mean, I could build an entirely respectable gaming rig for the amount of money Asus are expecting us to spend on the Max XII.
Chipset - Intel Z490
Socket - LGA 1200
CPU compatibility - Intel 10th Gen
Form factor - Extended ATX
Expansion slots - 2x PCIe 3.0 x16, 1x PCIe 3.0 x4
Storage - ROG DIMM.2 module (2x M.2), 2x M.2, 8x SATA 6Gbps
Networking - Intel WiFi 6, Intel 2.5Gb and Marvell 10Gb ethernet, Bluetooth v5.1
USB - Rear - 12 (10x USB 3.2, 2x USB 2.0) | Front - 10 (6x USB 3.2, 4x USB 2.0)
Extras - Thunderbolt 3 expansion card, Fan extension card, MOS cooling fan, DIMM.2 expansion with heatsink, multi-bit screwdriver, USB driver stick
But the humble motherboard is often the unsung hero of your PC gaming setup. Sure, it's a vital component for any build, but doesn't itself have much of a direct impact on the gaming performance of your machine. The more chipset functionality has been ported to the processor instead means that, aside from delivering power to your valuable components and patrolling the I/O of your system, the mobo is quickly becoming just the place your superstar components sit.
Your graphics cards, and to a lesser extent your CPUs, are what really makes them frame rates fly.
The Asus Z490 Maximus XII Extreme, however, is anything but a humble motherboard. This is a big, brash motherboard that wants to be seen as a superstar component in its own right, and it comes with a hell of a bundle. But, what does it really offer us that you can't get from a Z490 board which costs a quarter of the price?
Let's start with the basics, the Intel Z490 chipset. This is the top-spec version of the 400-series chipsets designed specifically for the Comet Lake processors, and the ideal companion for the flagship Core i9 10900K processor. The 10th Gen chips aren't backwards compatible, thanks to the new LGA 1200 socket, so if you're picking up a new Intel CPU you're going to need a new motherboard too.
A potential bright spot, however, is the expected compatibility of the Z490s for the next generation of Intel chips, currently code-named Rocket Lake. But that's another story for another time; they're not expected until next year, after all.
There are lower-spec chipsets, such as the B460, which are more affordable than the Z490 boards—especially this freakishly pricey ROG mobo—but you will miss out on the pleasures of overclocking. Which would basically mean forgetting the K-series CPUs too.
But really, this is as iterative a chipset update from the last-gen Z390 as it is possible to get. Same PCIe revision—so none of the PCIe 4.0 fun of either the mainstream or high-end AMD AM4 chipsets—same number of lanes, and same level of memory support. What is new is the addition of USB 3.2 support, up from USB 3.1, and the use of WiFi 6.
Other than that it's as you were.
Maybe that's why Asus feels like it has to go all-out with the Maximus XII Extreme. Or maybe it's because MSI has made the ultra-expensive, ultra-enthusiast board de rigueur for a new chipset generation. After all, that £777 figure for last year's X570 Godlike was all about arbitrary pricing. Not about actual value, but more about marketing for the first 7nm generation of AMD processors.
The Max XII Extreme is the peak of motherboard extremeness. It's an event board; taking it out of the box is an experience. And kinda hard going too. This thing is weighty, beautifully machined, robustly built, and packed with everything the Asus' engineers could throw at it.
But for all the Thunderbolt extension boards, DIMM.2 riser with an extra couple of super-long M.2 sockets, chunky heatspreaders, 16 phase power design, a dizzying number of fan connectors (and extenders), and so much frickin' RGB bling, it's the bundled screwdriver with interchangeable heads that sold the Max XII Extreme for me. That and the braided SATA cables.
I mean sure, anachronistic as all hell now we've got NVMe SSDs with 4TB and 8TB of super-fast storage on them, but those braided cables are seriously satisfying.
It's honestly a rather overwhelming bundle, and it genuinely feels like a premium motherboard package. I'm not going to say it's great value because of all those extras that ship alongside this powerful motherboard, but you do get what you pay for.
And it is a powerful motherboard. But put up against the Z490 MSI Godlike it is, generally speaking, the slightly lower performing board. That's across both CPU and gaming metrics too. It's only ever very slight, though maybe where it falls down more than expected is the long-term video encoding test, X264. The MSI boards perform far better than the Maximus XII Extreme.
CPU - Intel Core i9 10900K
Cooler - NZXT Kraken Z63
Memory - 32GB Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro @3,200MHz
GPU - Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti
Storage - 1TB Addlink S90
PSU - NZXT C850
But it is the board I'd want on my side if I set about doing any serious overclocking with the new Intel processors. I'm no pro OC bro with LN2 for blood, but the Max XII allowed me to get the most from my 10900K chip. I was able to push 5.4GHz on ten cores by disabling HyperThreading, but the most my sample CPU can do is 5.3GHz with all the bells and whistley things turned on.
That's still not 100% possible on lower spec Z490 boards. I've tested the MSI Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi too and even when undervolting the chip to sneak below the 100°C blowout mark I still found the chip thermally throttling. I don't get that with either the MSI Godlike or the Asus Maximus XII Extreme, and the Asus board stays far cooler... even if I did get slightly higher Cinebench scores out of the overclocked Godlike.
Considering the Intel Comet Lake CPUs are some of the most demanding chips we've seen in terms of power draw, it's the extreme power componentry of the top Z490 boards that are going to make them worthwhile. But only for the top K-series CPUs, and then only if you're dead-set on overclocking the silicon nuts off them. This is a Core i9 motherboard; for any other 10th Gen chip I'd look further down the stack.
That's because we can't look at this sort of motherboard without talking about pricing. Sure, it's a mobo that screams 'money is no object!' but we're at a point in time where that's not possible to do for vast swathes of us PC gamers and is arguably only going to get tougher.
You do get a huge amount of extras with the Max XII Extreme—and they're useful parts for a super high-end build too, not just things jammed into the box for no other reason than to make it feel weighty—but I still can't see how $750 (£850) is in any way a justifiable price to pay for a consumer motherboard.
It's the same issue with the slightly more performant, and similarly brazenly priced, Z490 Godlike from MSI. Both are borderline absurd products, where the extra performance you might squeeze out of either in no way scales with the extra money you have to spend over a more standard Z490 board. Personally I'm siding with the Asus for the simple fact that if I was buying either it would be to overclock, and the Maximus XII Extreme just has the edge for me.
That's me still trying to apply some logic to a potential purchase when these are purely halo products. Range-topping examples of just what is possible when you use the highest-spec components and throw in every feature a user could ever possibly need. While you could argue such things don't make a lot of sense on the AM4 platform, where the £777 Godlike seemed rather incongruous, the thirsty Comet Lake chips will use any platform, thermal, and power-based help you can give them.
But you won't be buying the Maximus XII Extreme. It makes no financial sense for anyone, even if they are opting for the Core i9 10900K CPU, but all that said, it's the board you'll probably wish you had.