The OC-obsessed Asus Maximus Z690 Apex is one of the more expensive Z690 boards, although in all fairness it ranks well below the Asus Maximus Extreme. At $720 (£570, AU$1,199), there’s no denying that it’s a very expensive card and its main competitors – the Aorus Tachyon ($550) and MSI Unify-X ($500 ) – both cost much less.
Purpose-built overclocking motherboards have long been pushed aside in favor of RGB gaming designs. Overclocking has never gone away, however, and while the days of taking a cheap CPU and motherboard and overclocking it to flagship-level performance levels are long gone, it’s still good to seeing all the big manufacturers still cater to the OC market, no matter how small it is. Cards such as Tachyon, Unify-X, and Asus Maximus Apex are generally held in high regard, but these days they tend to be very expensive.
In better news, Asus has ditched the Roman numeral nomenclature. This makes it easy to identify the painting without having to google it. Instead of being called the Maximus XIV Apex, it’s now simply the Maximus Z690 Apex.
Before we get to the board itself, it’s worth mentioning the included accessories. Asus includes a PCIe 5.0 M.2 expansion card, which adds some future-proofing. As the M.2 slots on the Z690 cards only support up to PCIe 4.0, that’s a nice added value when PCIe 5.0 SSDs are a thing.
The card itself supports one reader. We expect PCIe 5.0 drives to get very hot, so the chunky heatsink will definitely keep it cooler compared to a stick-sized cooler or aluminum strip. Note that you will need to run the PCIe slots in 8x/8x mode to use the card.
Z690 Apex Specifications
Socket: Intel LGA 1700
CPU compatibility: 12th Generation Intel Desktop Computer
Storage: 5x M.2; 6x SATA
USB: Up to 2x USB 3.2 Gen2x2, 5x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 8x USB 3.1 Gen 1, 4x USB 2.0
Networking: Intel WiFi 6E; Intel i225V 2.5G LAN
Audio: Intel WiFi 6E; Intel i225V 2.5G LAN
Form factor: ATX
Price: $720 | £570
The other notable inclusion is an innovative device that Asus calls the ROG True Voltician. It is basically an oscilloscope that allows you to monitor various parameters. It’s probably of limited use for a typical gamer – although you could say that about the whole board – but if you want to see what’s going on with your overclock, or perhaps troubleshoot a problematic device , this could be a useful tool for the super serious.
Now we come to the table itself. At first glance, we’re not sure about the look Asus has chosen, especially the large dotted ROG logo at the top of the I/O section. But this is not a decisive factor. There are two RGB sections, one inside the main VRM heatsink, plus another ROG logo embedded in the chipset heatsink. It comes with OC switches and buttons, including various LN2 modes, slow mode, BIOS switch, and voltage reading points. There are even moisture detectors that will let you know if your CPU or DRAM is getting a little soggy.
You will notice that there are only two RAM slots, which is a common characteristic of OC boards where shorter traces, cleaner signals and therefore higher DRAM overclocking are considered more important than maximum capacity. Next to the RAM slots is Asus’ DIMM.2 M.2 slot, where you can install a daughterboard with a pair of M.2 drives.
There are two more M.2 slots on the board, so when you add the one for the PCIe 5.0 expansion card, you get five M.2 slots in total. You also get two PCIe 5.0 slots that run at x16/x0 or x8/x8. There are also PCIe 3.0 x4 and 1x slots for other peripheral component cards. As for the old school connections; there are six SATA ports and a total of nine fan/pump headers with additional waterflow headers for custom water cooling configurations.
The Apex packs one of the best VRM designs, if not the best, of any Z690 card. A Renesas 24+2 phase VRM with 105A stages means you have enough power to instantly kill your Intel Core i9 12900K with all base AVX benchmarks at 2.0V or higher if you really want to.
The CPU may ignite, but the board won’t have a problem with that!
Asus equips the Apex with large heatsinks. We like Gigabyte’s finned solutions, which offer a lot more surface area, but Asus’ bulk is better than many. We saw a maximum VRM temperature of 55°C when running a fully loaded 12900K. Not bad. With decent airflow, cooling won’t be an issue.
The rear I/O features a powerful USB complement with a total of ten ports; consisting of a single Type-C 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, five Gen 2 ports, and four Gen 1 ports. You get PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, BIOS back and CMOS erase buttons, plus a full set of audio ports.
Networking tasks are handled by Intel i225-V and AX210 Wi-Fi 6E controllers. There are two schools of thought here. We like to see 5 or 10G Lan these days on high end boards, but is that superfluous on an overclocking board? Would Wi-Fi 6 suffice? There is a Realtek ALC4080 controller which takes care of the audio tasks. If you need bells and whistles like Thunderbolt 4, you’ll have to look elsewhere. At this price, such things could be considered standard, but since this is an overclocking card, we’ll partly overlook those omissions, as long as you don’t mind that too.
When it comes to performance, most Z690 boards run pretty close to each other, as long as they meet Intel’s 241W PL2 power limit with a 12900K. Not that you should run stock with this board.
Ideally, we’d pull out the dusty LN2 pot to put the Apex through its paces, but that’s hardly relevant for 99% of users. Our 12900K hits the cooling limits long before the board sweats.
CPU: Intel Core i9 12900K
GPUs: Zotac RTX 3080 Ti Extreme Holo Amp
Memory: G.Skill Trident Z5 DDR5-6000 C36
Storage: Adata XPG Gammix S70 2TB
Power source: Corsair AX1000
Case: Thermaltake Core P8
Cooling: MSI MEG Core Liquid S360
OS: Windows 11 Pro
What’s more important for Alder Lake and overclocking is how the card handles high-speed memory. Our G.Skill DDR5-6000 test kit can hit 6400MHz on the Apex, but it’s not easy and requires a lot of VDDQ voltage. It is possible that we are at the memory controller limits of our 12900K as we cannot achieve more than 6400MHz on a Team Delta kit which is XMP rated for 6400MHz.
Time will tell if we can just plug in a DDR5-7000 kit and be good to go. If any first-gen Z690 card will be able to do this, it will surely be the Apex.
The Z690 Apex will remain an OC favorite in the future, thanks to its frequent BIOS updates that incorporate feedback from many very knowledgeable overclockers in the wild. If you’re planning on picking up a set of DDR5-6000+ and want to squeeze every last frame per second out of your rig, it’s sure to have a long life ahead of it.
And it’s really a high quality card, with OC friendly features. It overclocks memory extremely well – as you’d expect – and its BIOS seems very well polished considering the early DDR5 era. But that’s not enough to earn my recommendation.
For me, it still has to offer value. And sadly, that’s where the Apex falls flat. It’s really hard to justify its high price compared to the Aorus Tachyon or the MSI Unify-X. In fact, if you take away its over-engineered design and the M.2 card, its feature list isn’t particularly impressive compared to mid-range cards. It would seem to be a bit messed up with an air-cooled or AIO processor.
The Asus ROG Maximums Z690 Apex is likely to be a long-lived card as it will definitely receive continued BIOS support, and it should be perfectly happy with second-gen DDR5, PCIe 5.0 SSDs and a 13th generation processor. For now though, in a market where any sort of notion of value is hard to come by, the Apex is a card you should only consider if you already have an expensive processor and very fast DDR5 kit to go with it. For the rest of us, diverting money to other components is a much better way to get extra gaming performance.