2007 is set to be a big year for Intel and its Core architecture. Designed from lessons learnt from the Netburst and Pentium-M architectures, Core micro architecture is set to push Intel through the 2007 year, and already we have seen processors from them that run cooler, perform better and even support quad cores on a single CPU package yet all of this is nothing unless you have an equally impressive platform to run it on.Intel has its own chipsets for the Core 2, the already aging 975X chipset supports this baby with its Crossfire ready design as well as its mature architecture. P965, while it's supposed to be under the 975X in terms of features and performance, is the more attractive option with a cheaper price tag, support for DDR2-800 memory as well as the new ICH8 family of Southbridge, and with Crossfire dual graphics certification, it's no wonder Core 2 is making its way into so many desktops.nVidia, not to be outdone, has finally put to rest its hopes for the nForce 500 series of chipsets for the Intel market and has gone for a whole re-design for the Core 2 platform, the 600 series of chipsets which we have looked at earlier have really made us sit up and take notice.Today is ASUS's day in our labs. We have been sent the extremely feature packed ASUS Striker Extreme motherboard based on nVidia's new nForce 680i chipset for our testing purposes - it falls into the "Republic of Gamers" series of boards from ASUS and it's the first for the Intel platform. We are today going to see how well it performs and just what you get for the over $400 USD asking price when compared to a regular 680i motherboard and DFI's impressive RD600.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the ASUS StrikerCPU
Supports All Socket 775 Intel CPU SeriesChipset
nVidia nForce 680i C55 SPP NorthbridgeMCP680 MCP SouthbridgeHyper Transport @ 2GHzSystem Memory
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-533/667/800Mhz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)Bus Frequency
133/200/266/333MHz Internal533/800/1066/1333MHz ExternalExpansion Slots
3 PCI Express x161 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives6 Serial ATA ports2 Gigabit Ethernet Port2 e.SATA PortsExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port10 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)1 Parallel Port6 Stereo Audio Ports (via riser board)
In The BoxPackage and Contents
There are few things that are certain in this world - tax, death, wet water, blue sky and when you buy an ASUS high-end motherboard, you're definitely not getting skimped on the extras! The colour scheme for the Striker Extreme board is identical to the Crosshair board we tested some months back, this is because they are both from the same family, the Republic of Gamers, to be exact. The front of the box has very little info apart from the brand name and the company logo.
The back of the box is a totally different story, ASUS has put all the info you will need to make your mind up if this really is the board for you as well as a full colour photo of the boards' layout for you to get a glimpse of.
Documentation is one of ASUS's strong points. The manual for the Striker Extreme is over 100 pages and comes with detailed setting for the boards BIOS as well as good illustrations on setting up the board. ASUS goes so far in their manuals to show what each slot is and how it should be used, a great deal of info and time goes into these manuals from ASUS. The driver CD that ASUS provides with the package has all the Windows XP and XP64 drivers you need to get started but as always, go online and download the most current drivers for best performance. The CD is bootable so you can create F6 RAID FDD's for whatever OS you plan to install.
With all of the ASUS high-end boards coming out, Intervideo and ASUS have teamed up and are including an OEM bundle pack which includes WinDVD and WinPVR. Ghost Recon is also included as the first game you get with the Republic of Gamers package. If that wasn't already enough, you also get a copy of 3DMark06 and Kaspersky Anti-Virus. ASUS are just showing off now with an extremely good package but they have to make you feel like you are getting a lot for over $400 USD.
For port expansion capabilities on the Striker Extreme, ASUS gives you two PCI backplane ports. One is a single port Firewire port that takes up the onboard red Firewire header. The second is a 2 port USB 2.0 port that uses one of the three available blue USB 2.0 headers.
ASUS provides a huge cable bundle that we just couldn't all fit into the photo. You get 6 SATA DATA cables, 3 Molex to 2x power splitters (supporting the 6 total drives), 1 IDE cable, 1 FDD cable as well as the SLI bridge. ASUS has been using a membrane SLI bridge for its boards now rather than using a PCB based one. This allows for a more sturdy connection as well as a more flexible setup if you happen to bump one of the cards, you won't crack the PCB.
Now we get to the little extras that make things that little bit easier. First off you have the rear I/O shield which has an EL I/O light - when you connect it to the onboard header (just behind the PS/2 towers) it lights up blue when the system is powered on. It provides basic system information and also makes it much easier to connect your devices to the rear I/O in the dark.If you are planning to run water cooling, you need to install the included fan onto one of the Mosfet heatsink to keep them cool. When using conventional cooling, the extra heatsinks are cooled by the air coming from the CPU heatsink exhaust but when water cooling is installed, there is no air flow.Lastly we come to the connector blocks. There are three of them - red, blue and white. The red one is if you have front Firewire header and need to wire up the wires individually, this can be a pain. The blue blocks are for the USB headers and the white one (Q-Connector) is for the front panel LED's and switches - it is another very nice feature ASUS has come up with to make installation easier, let's hope a few more companies follow suite.
Lastly on the extra items list is the break away audio board. We don't really know if this is to improve audio quality or if ASUS simply ran out of room on the rear I/O, however it's a good little feature. The card has all of the HD audio ports, CD input and front panel headers on the card as well as the ADI Azalia audio codec chip. This card plugs into a PCI Express x1-like port above the first PCI Express x16 slot. When connected, the system detects the onboard audio and enables it for use in Windows. If you remove the card, the board disables the sound so you can use a discrete audio card like a Sound Blaster X-Fi.
Since we have now covered all of the goodies, it's on to the real piece of work that ASUS has engineered. To look at the Striker Extreme is a thing of beauty with heatpipes, Mosfets heatsinks and a general clean layout feel to the board.ASUS uses the full 24x30cm ATX layout on a black/dark brown PCB, the same coloured PCB that they use for their deluxe range of boards - definitely an eye catcher inside any modded case.The placement of connectors has ASUS doing things right. The 24-pin ATX power connector is placed behind the DDR-2 memory slots along with the FDD and IDE port. This keeps all the large bulky cables away from the heat sensitive areas like the Northbridge and the CPU. The 4/8 pin CPU power plug is located behind the PS/2 towers at the top left of the board, well away from the CPU heatsinks area. Another great feature of the ASUS board is the 6 SATA ports which are powered by the MCP680 are on a 90 degree angle to the board, allowing you to route the cables easy and keeping them out of the way of long PCI Express cards like nVidia's GeForce 8800GTX.
The CPU area does look a little cramped, however, ASUS has done a good job to keep it as free of large components, as possible. We managed to install our Gigabyte 775 Neon cooler without any problems, larger heatsinks than ours won't present too much of a challenge, either. The CPU receives 8 phase voltage stabilisation system to keep the hungry processors fed with stable voltage and especially under extreme overclocked speeds, stable voltage is a must. The Mosfets are cooled by a series of heatsinks and heatpipes sitting directly on top. The heat pipes that cool the Mosfets also run through the Northbridge cooler and the Southbridge coolers, removing as much heat as physically possible.
The rear I/O ports on the Striker Extreme are a real work of art. ASUS has gone the extra mile to make this board look and feel something special. The LCD panel is a port 80 post screen when the system boots up, after Windows loads is displays temperatures, bus speeds, anything you want to see though the software on the ASUS CD. ASUS has also added in a couple of e.SATA ports rather than the single port we usually see. The switch on the back lights up certain areas of the board when the PSU is plugged in, helping you install components in low light situations, which is a great feature. You can also turn the system on and off by using the onboard switch which makes life much easier when overclocking and tweaking your system - hopefully we are seeing the end of days when it comes to having to short pins or use jumpers.
Now we come to the expansion possibilities of the board. First off you will notice there are 3 PCI Express x16 slots on the board, 2 blue and a white. The 2 blue slots are full x16 speeds slots for full-speed SLI. The top most slot operates from the Northbridge and the bottom most blue slot operates off the Southbridge. The white PCI Express x16 slot is eclectically only a x8 slot and it is powered by the Southbridge and is intended to be used for a third graphics card to handle physics later on. You don't have to use it for this purpose though; you can install an x4 or x8 RAID card into this slot if you want more storage capabilities. The PCI Express-like slot above the top blue PCI-E x16 slot is used for the add-in audio card. A single PCI Express x1 slot is located between the PCI Express x16 slots on the board along with 2 PCI legacy slots which is more than enough for your expansion requirements.
Lastly we come to the extra onboard features added by ASUS that the nVidia nForce 680i chipset doesn't offer. Silicon Image 3132 PCI Express SATA chip is added to the PCI Express bus to operate the external e.SATA ports and a VIA 2 port Firewire chip operates the onboard Firewire feature.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS and Overclocking
ASUS hasn't changed the design of their BIOS in nearly four years now. Since the introduction of the P3B series of boards that supported the now archaic Slot 1 architecture, the grey background BIOS has been ASUS's signature, while other boards do use it, no one has keep it longer than ASUS.Normally ASUS places the overclocking features under the Advanced Menu under Jumperfree section. This time is under the Extreme Tweaker main menu; all your overclocking wishes are located here.
The Extreme Tweaker menu holds a bunch of sub menus and a few settings. To overclock the system manually rather than rely on the ASUS A.I feature you need to set the A.I Tuning feature to "Manual". This then opens up access to the system clocks, FSB and memory config, overclocking and over voltage menus.
First on the list is the system clocks menu. Here you can adjust the PCI Express frequencies for all PCI Express x16 slots as well as the reference clock for the SPP to MCP connection. For best stability when overclocking, leave these at their defaults.
Next on the list is the FSB and Memory config menu. This is where the action is. Being nVidia 680i based, you can overclock the FSB and memory independent of each other or asynchronously, as it is known. To do this you need to set the FSB - Memory clock mode to "Unlinked", this then allows you to change the FSB and memory clock at different rates to each other, a truly overclocking friendly feature we which the rest of the chipset makers would follow. ATI has done it to some extent, but not quite like nVidia has.Rather than the old "200MHz FSB", it is expressed as 800MHz QDR, ASUS allows from 533MHz (133MHz FSB) to 3000MHz (750MHz FSB) in 1MHz increments, a generous setting range indeed.The memory is also expressed in terms of DDR speed so rather than 400MHz you get 800MHz - you can set from (200MHz) 400MHz DDR to a max of (1300MHz) 2600MHz DDR in 1MHz increments, giving you plenty of room to push your memory a long, long way.
Lastly we come to the over voltage menu, where all the voltage settings are available to you for your tweaking. ASUS has done a great job with this and gives a huge range of settings. Here we will give a list of the settings and their ranges to save some time and reading:Vcore Voltage: 0.83125v to 1.9000v in 0.00625v incrementsMemory Voltage: 1.8v to 3.245v in 0.025v increments1.2v HT Voltage: 1.2v to 1.95v in 0.5v incrementsNB Core Voltage: 1.2v to 2.75v in 0.5v incrementsSB Core Voltage: 1.5v to 1.85vin 0.5v incrementsCPU VTT Voltage: 1.2v to 1.55v in 0.5v incrementsWith all this we managed an FSB of 510MHz with memory clocked at 1008MHz DDR (unlinked), DDR-2 voltage at 2.45v, HT voltage running 1.5v, NB Core and SB Core both at 1.6v and the CPU VTT at 1.35v.Overall it's a super impressive result from ASUS but just 1MHz shy of the DFI RD600 motherboard in the FSB department.Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we don't have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SandraTest System SetupProcessor
: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA (Supplied by Seagate Australia
: MSI Radeon 1950Pro (Supplied by MSI
: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: ATI Platform Drive 6.10, nVidia Platform Driver 9.53, ATI catalyst 6.12 and DX9cHere we have the ASUS Striker against the already tested eVGA 680i (regular and more affordable design from nVidia) which is about $90 USD cheaper than the Striker Extreme and the DFI RD600. DFI's LANPARTY UT ICFX3200-T2R/G is a kick-ass motherboard that recently received our Editor's Choice award - it's comes in at around $125 USD cheaper than the ASUS Striker Extreme and offers ever so slightly better FSB overclocking in our tests (511MHz FSB vs. 510MHz FSB).All of the motherboards for the overclocked portion of the tests used a multiplier of 6x, which allows us to examine the result of higher attainable FSB speeds. DFI was running at 6 x 511MHz (3066MHz), eVGA was running at 6 x 489 (2934MHz) and ASUS was running at 6 x 510MHz (3060MHz). All used the same memory speeds where possible but the DFI was just under the ASUS board at overclocked speeds due to its divider ranges but still very close together.These are all expensive motherboards with the DFI RD600 being around 30% cheaper than the ASUS Striker Extreme and about 10% cheaper than the eVGA motherboard. Let's allow the benchmarks to do the talking and see who comes out in front at the end of the day.Let's begin!SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used:
2007Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
At stock speeds the DFI RD600 manages just a slight lead. However, when we start to overclock the board, the nVidia 680i shows its colours with the ASUS board out in front on the memory bandwidth score.
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
PCMark awards the win to the ASUS Striker but not by the great margin which we were expecting.
Benchmarks - WorldBenchWorldBenchVersion and / or Patch Used:
5.0Developer Homepage: http://www.pcworld.com Product Homepage: http://www.pcworld.comBuy It Here
WorldBench 5.0 is the fifth generation of PC World's industry-standard benchmarking application. Designed to measure the performance of today's wide range of personal computers, WorldBench has been in continuous use at PC World for nine years.WorldBench 5.0 uses the following applications to gauge system performance: ACD Systems ACDSee PowerPack 5.0, Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Ahead Software Nero Express 126.96.36.199, Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (DirectX), Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (OpenGL), Microsoft Office XP with SP-2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Mozilla 1.4, Musicmatch Jukebox 7.10, Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 8.1.
WorldBench favours the DFI board on this occasion. Remember, lower scores are the better result here.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere ElementsAdobe Premiere ElementsVersion and / or Patch Used:
2.0Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
Premiere Elements really does take a huge toll on the memory and CPU during the encoding stages of the tests and we see there that the DFI still has the lead.
Benchmarks - 3DMark063DMark06Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
ASUS manages to just about equal the DFI board in our synthetic gaming test.
Benchmarks - PREYPREYVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.2Timedemo or Level Used:
HardwareOC Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com Product Homepage: http://www.prey.comBuy It Here
PREY is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark line-up. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we've seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
PREY still gives the win to the DFI board but only by a few FPS.
Benchmarks - Far CryFar CryVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.3Timedemo or Level Used:
Benchemall DefaultDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.comBuy It Here
While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems as it is able to utilize all parts of the system. Utilizing PS2.0 technology with the latest versions supporting Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c and offering an exceptional visual experience, there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards get a bit of a workout.
Lastly we have Far Cry giving the ASUS board a good run for its money and just about equal the DFI board - there is only a few FPS in it.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
Since DFI has now introduced the AMD ATI RD600 chipset, it's now a matter of preference on what you want to buy. While Intel P965 is a very good and solid chipset (Gigabyte's DQ6 is a perfect example), it lacks some of the features of the nVidia 680i chipset, which could be the make or break point for you and that is nVidia SLI dual graphics technology.Since nVidia won't (or hasn't yet) validated any Intel chipsets to run SLI configurations, unless seemingly Intel send a huge amount of cash over to the green team, you are stuck with only nVidia chipsets to run this technology. So, if you do plan to go down the SLI road, you will have to pay the extra bucks for an SLI-ready motherboard, such as the ASUS Striker Extreme. Intel chipsets like the P965 and 975X all come with ATI Crossfire ready support, so that's another thing you will have to look at, depending on your budget in the VGA department.Compared to the very impressive DFI RD600 motherboard, the ASUS Striker Extreme is around 30% more expensive and it is indeed a very expensive product. The Striker motherboard is designed purely for gamers and overclockers and it does a very good job at that with FSB speeds attainable over 500MHz and there are not many out there that will do that - the engineers to designed this motherboard must be overclockers themselves as it packed full of features which all enthusiasts want. It also comes with an extremely good software package and plenty of other features to make your life easier. Your friends at your local LAN party will be jealous of you and your new motherboard but they also might wonder how you could justify spending that much money.Overall the ASUS Striker Extreme had no quirks or problems that we found and it really impressed us. If you overclocked too far to the point the system refused to post, the board would reset the BIOS back to default after a preset time and bingo, you're back and ready to try another setting. If you've got plenty of cash to spend, it would make as a truly fantastic foundation for your next high-end gaming system but if you are more budget conscious, you'll probably end up buying another motherboard from companies like Gigabyte or DFI.- Pros
Built for gamersSupports all processors including Core 2 QuadFast and StableA couple of e.SATA portsFull-speed SLI supportImpressive overclocking above 500MHz FSBPlenty of onboard featuresStunning software packageExtra features to make installation easier (EL I/O, Onboard LED, LCD Poster and more)- Cons
Very expensive!Rating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Editor's Choice Award