Asus’ $849.99 ROG Zenith II Extreme is the company’s prime-time motherboard for AMD’s new third-generation TRX40 Ryzen Threadripper processors like the core-monster Threadripper 3970X. This board combines an abundance of overclocking features with a tasteful yet flashy exterior to create something that will appeal equally well to performance extremists, overclockers, and gamers willing to spill a few thousand dollars on a new PC. Threadripper’s new platform is all about excess, and this TRX40-chipset board will give you as robust a platform for the latest power chips as you can buy.
One Ponderous Platform
The Zenith II Extreme is without a doubt one of the heaviest boards I’ve ever worked with. The E-ATX motherboard’s massive weight is hinted at by the large heatsinks over the chipset, M.2 slots, and power circuitry. But that’s just half the picture, as the back of the board is almost entirely covered by a large heatsink as well. At first I was actually a bit concerned about the board breaking under its own weight until I saw the heatsink on the back, which is really what keeps this behemoth from cracking under the pressure.
The board features 16 power stages that are connected via a heatpipe and actively cooled by a pair of small fans. The motherboard’s chipset is also fan-cooled. Taken together, the board’s integrated components should be well cooled, which will make overclocking easier.
Asus utilized Infineon TDA21472 power stages on this board, which are rated to handle up to 72 amps. This is the key difference between the ROG Zenith II Extreme and the cost-no-object ROG Zenith II Extreme Alpha. The Alpha replaces these power stages with Infineon TDA21490 ICs that can handle 90 amps, which makes them more capable of handling the enormous amount of power required to overclock TRX40 processors. If you don’t plan to shoot for the moon while overclocking, however, there’s not really any advantage in opting for the Alpha over the regular Zenith II Extreme.
Like many predominantly black motherboards available today, the Zenith II doesn’t stand out much at first glance. There is a shiny metal plate that stretches over the chipset heatsink that catches the eye. After you supply power to the board, it stands out significantly more with well-placed RGB LED lights littered all over the board.
An unusual feature of the Zenith II Extreme is a color 1.77-inch OLED display that rests on the board’s rear I/O shroud. Recently I’ve seen a few other motherboards shipping with OLED panels, but this is the first I’ve seen that supports color. The OLED is primarily decorative and can be set to display a customized image of your choice, but Asus also puts the panel to work to help with troubleshooting. As the system boots, the panel indicates in order which component is being initiated, and if a problem arises the panel will display an error message. Realistically, I’m not sure if this helps any more than a standard 88 LED panel, but it certainly is cool.
The Zenith II Extreme’s networking hardware is unsurprisingly high-end with an Aquantia AQC-107 10G controller serving as its primary NIC. The board features dual RJ-45 ports with the second, slower port governed by an Intel i211-AT Gigabit controller. The integrated wireless solution is similarly deluxe with an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 chip. This makes the board compatible with the new 802.11ax wireless standard, and it’s able to transfer data wirelessly at a speed of 1.73Gbps.
Asus opted to equip the Extreme with the company’s ROG SupremeFX S1220 audio solution. This audio hardware is based on Realtek’s ALC1220 audio codec, which is one of the most widely used audio codecs today. Though it doesn’t gain any points for originality, the ALC1220 is known to perform well with a relatively high SNR ratio of around 120 dB.
A separate audio codec is exclusively utilized for the audio jack on the front I/O panel. The chip used here is ESS’s ESS9018Q2C, which is paired with an AMP to help drive deep bass notes to headphones.
Storage connections on this board include eight SATA 3.0 ports, along with three M.2 slots. Asus also equipped this board with its ROG DIMM.2 module hardware. This innovative piece of hardware looks essentially like an oversized stick of RAM with thick heatsinks, but it’s actually an M.2 storage device. The DIMM.2 module can hold two 110mm M.2 solid-state drives; once they’re in place, it can be mounted or removed from the system essentially just like a RAM stick.
Ports Literally Everywhere
One of the three onboard M.2 slots is located on the back of the motherboard, which is unusual but something we may see more often in the coming years. M.2 storage solutions are growing in popularity, but they consume a considerable amount of space on the motherboard compared to older SATA 3.0 devices.
Placing ports on the back of the motherboard helps to resolve this issue, but this solution also carries problems. The main issue is that most cases’ motherboard mounting trays don’t leave an opening to give you access to the underside of the motherboard except directly behind the CPU. This means if you want to install an M.2 drive here, you need to do it before mounting the motherboard into the case. Then, if you want to access the M.2 for any reason, you will need to completely remove the motherboard from the case, which can be time-consuming and problematic.
To avoid this issue, I recommend you avoid using the M.2 slot on the back of this motherboard, and in truth Asus gives you little reason to need this third slot. The aforementioned ROG DIMM.2 module is by far the easiest and best place to mount any M.2 storage devices, and if you have more than two M.2 SSDs, there are still the two M.2 slots on the front of the board. These are located in a more traditional location between the board’s PCI Express slots, and they also have heatsinks to help keep them from overheating.
Accessing these ports requires removing four screws from the heatsink over them, and if you have any PCIe devices installed you will need to remove these as well. But that’s still significantly easier than detaching the entire motherboard.
The Zenith II Extreme has a plethora of USB ports on its rear I/O panel with no fewer than 10 USB 3.x Type-A ports and two Type-C ports. There are also two RJ-45 jacks and antenna connections for the abovementioned networking devices and five gold-plated 3.5mm audio jacks along with an optical SPDIF port. Just above all these ports are two buttons that can be used to reset the BIOS or to flash a new BIOS image.
Last but not least, Asus includes a few extras in the box along with the Zenith II Extreme motherboard. Besides the ROG DIMM.2 card, there’s also an Asus Fan Extension Card II controller that can handle up to six fans. Asus also provided the motherboard’s drivers and software on a reusable flash drive, which essentially means you get a free 16GB flash drive as all those files will be outdated and shouldn’t be used. Still, I’d rather have that than another coaster (optical disc).
You also get a screwdriver that’s supposed to be used to detach the CPU mounting bracket and reattach it after installing the processor. Oddly enough, however, this screwdriver simply doesn’t work for the task—it’s too small and entirely incapable of removing the CPU mounting bracket. The screwdriver has interchangeable Philips heads, which keeps it from being entirely useless, but you’d think the company would have made sure it worked for its intended task before including it.
An Exemplary BIOS
The Zenith II’s BIOS isn’t anything new and is similar to the BIOS used on many of Asus’ other high-end Republic of Gamers motherboards. Don’t take this as criticism, however, as the BIOS is cleanly laid out, easy to navigate, and full of customizable features and settings.
By default, the board boots into the main tab of the Advanced menu when you first enter the BIOS. The board also supports an EZMode menu, but arguably booting straight to the Advanced menu saves time, as anyone buying a motherboard of this caliber will often prefer to dive into the details anyway.
The EZMode BIOS isn’t just for beginners, though; it’s designed to give you quick access to basic settings such as the memory profiles and boot order. If you don’t boot straight into EZMode, this no longer helps to save you time when making quick adjustments. This raises the question as to why have an EZMode at all. In the end, it’s not a serious issue, but just an odd design choice.
Anyway, back to the Advanced mode. The main tab displays basic hardware information and the time and date. Nothing particularly useful here, but it’s the same info you typically find on the first screen of a BIOS. If you actually want to make changes to the board the AI Tweaker and Advanced tab are the places you will want to look.
The AI Tweaker section is devoted entirely to controlling the power and clock speed of the system’s various components with a large list of options. Seriously, in addition to the basic BLCK, clock multiplier, and power offset options, this tab has a handful of subfolders that contain dozens of other settings for overclocking the system.
The Advanced tab is less focused on overclocking and more focused on controlling the board’s various subsystems such as the USB ports and storage devices. There are a few extra overclocking options here, but these options aren’t as diverse as what you will find in the AI Tweaker section.
Asus installed a few useful tools into the BIOS. In addition to the usual EZ Flash 3 and BIOS FlashBack tools, the BIOS also has utilities for securely erasing data from any SSD.
A Mixed Bag of Software
Asus includes multiple software utilities with this motherboard, and unlike the ones with the ROG X570 Crosshair VIII Hero (Wi-Fi) board that I reviewed previously, most operate just fine. True, many of them are alarmingly redundant, but let’s start with the good utilities first.
The two most useful utilities included with the Zenith II Extreme are the third-party WinRar and Daemon Tools Lite applications. I’ve used both of these programs before, and they are both extremely handy. WinRar is one of the best-known applications for compressing and uncompressing files, and a full version typically costs $21 per user per system.
Daemon Tools Lite is technically available in a free ad-supported version that can be used to mount a virtual disc image. The software has tons of other features available including tools to burn optical discs, encrypt files, and host a RAM disk, but these functions are locked in the free version and cost $29.99 to unlock as a group. Happily, the software provided by Asus is the paid version, which includes lifetime updates and a license to install the software on three systems.
That free $51 worth of software is a nice bonus, and not the only useful software included, either. Asus’ AI Suite 3 lets you monitor the system’s operating temps, voltage, and fan speeds. It also lets you overclock the processor, adjust fan speed, check for driver updates, and clean up the system by deleting temp and other junk files. There is also an ROG-themed copy of CPU-Z that may be useful. So may the Ramcache III program, though Daemon Tools has the same functionality.
There’s significant overlap in the rest of the remaining programs. Asus’ Armoury Crate has many of the same functions as AI Suite 3 and adds options to optimize performance for games, but in my installation, it was unstable; I wasn’t able to look over all the features of this software because of occasional random crashing. Overwolf also has options for optimizing performance for games, and ROG GameFirst V essentially just optimizes network performance for games.
A Premium Product
Asus’ ROG Zenith II Extreme carries a whopping price tag of $849.99, but that feels fairly well justified. I’ve been using this board regularly for the last couple of weeks as I write this review and have yet to encounter a single issue. The isolated buggy software is a concern, and not all of the utilities are useful, but some of them are quite handy. (I’ve already installed the upgraded copy of Daemon Tools on my main work system, as well.)
The board has also proven to be perfectly stable, and while I haven’t dug into the overclocking features much, Joel Hruska at our sister site ExtremeTech used another ROG Zenith II Extreme motherboard to set a second-place world record in Cinebench with the Threadripper 3990X. That just shows that this motherboard definitely has the chops for overclocking if you dare.
Add to this the motherboard’s handsome appearance and nifty full-color OLED panel, and there’s plenty to like. Only the very high price and its specialized appeal keep this one from being an Editors’ Choice.