Moving along, it's now time to take a look at the board itself. ASUS uses a 6-layer black/brown coloured PCB measuring 24x30cm; in other words, it is full ATX sized. Its colour scheme is extremely attractive and stands out quite well. This board would look good in any eye candy PC with a window, or other see through cases.
The layout is extremely clean; ASUS puts a lot of pride in their high-end boards. The 24-pin ATX power connector along with the single FDD port is located on the middle right hand edge of the board, behind the four DDR2 memory slots. The 4/8 pin EPS power connector gets placed between the rear I/O ports and the heatsink assembly cooling the Mosfets at the top left of the board.
As for the mass storage connectors, the six SATA ports that are powered off the ICH9R Southbridge are placed along the right hand edge of the board, towards the bottom. One thing that is extremely well setup is the arrangement of stacking the ports on top of each other and placing them on right angles to the board, minimising the amount of space they take us as well as keeping the connectors out of the way of the larger installed graphics cards. The IDE port also gets placed on a right angle to the board and sits on the right hand edge just above the SATA towers.
Since the ICH9R contains no IDE channel natively, a PCI-E based PATA controller chip from JMicron is included to give the board its IDE functions. We would have liked ASUS to have used the JMB363 SATA/PATA chip rather than the JMB368 PSATA only chip so as to route the extra SATA ports to eSATA on the rear I/O, though ASUS has elected not to do this. It does limit you to having to buy SATA to eSATA expansion brackets, thus losing some internal ports. The way around this of course is to purchase an eSATA controller card.
We move on to the CPU socket, and by the nature of the ASUS Rampage board it's a little cramped. Some of the larger orb coolers will have a bit of trouble fitting onto the board. Our OCZ Vanquisher had a bit of a problem with trying to press the locking pins down, but we did manage to get them in. Still, a rather hard effort and you won't want to be changing CPUs or heatsinks too quick on it. The power for the CPU is fed though an 8- phase voltage regulation system using solid state components. These are kept cool by a heatpipe assembly that also channels heat from the X48 Northbridge and ICH9R Southbridge.
The rear I/O ports on the back of the Rampage Formula are uniquely laid out, so you have to use the included I/O shield. Unfortunately ASUS has decided not to include any eSATA ports on their board, which gives it a bit of a let down for us as eSATA manages to increase the throughput of external drives to the 3Gbps that SATA-II now supports. You can also see the heatpipe assembly coming to the rear I/O ports; this is to allow for extra venting of heat from the system, especially when using water cooling.
For the users who like to test their systems before they put them into cases (which includes myself), ASUS has put two press buttons on the bottom of the board; a Power on/off and Reset button. This is also for users who don't put them into cases at all. Rather than having to short out pins like you do on some other boards, if you prefer not to case your system or would like to test it before it goes in, this just makes the process that bit easier.
Lastly on the list is the expansion layout as well as the additional controller chips ASUS adds to the board to give us features that aren't supported natively. Thanks to the X48 Express chipset powering the board, the board supports a dual graphics arrangement at full speed. To this end there are two blue PCI-E x16 slots supporting the latest 2.0 specs; these are routed from the 32 lanes the Northbridge supports. With each slot supporting a full 16 lanes, CrossfireX with HD3870X2s will be possible.
Three PCI-E x1 slots are supported for additional PCI Express controllers, should you decide to use them. Two of these are coloured white and placed between the two PCI Express x16 slots; these work normally. A black PCI-E x1 slot sits at the top of the first PCI-E x16 slot. If you want to use the audio module, this is where it gets plugged into. If you decide not to use it then its function is just a normal PCI-E x1 slot.
As for the additional controllers, the board comes with two PCI-E x1 based Marvell LAN controllers, a PCI-E based JMicron JMB368 PATA controller chip and a PCI based VIA FireWire controller chip.
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