Over the last year or so ASUS has put together what they like to call the elite of elite motherboards which are aimed at gamers and hardcore overclocking enthusiasts. These boards come under the Republic of Gamers or ROG series of boards. Each one of them has a set market, target and chipset. While there is usually only one board per chipset, there are a few exceptions for the X38, X48 and P45 chipsets as these can support DDR2 and DDR3. ASUS goes a few extra steps and gives you the option of a ROG board with either DDR2 or DDR3 support. These can be identified by the Formula or Extreme logos; Formula is DDR2 based and Extreme covers the DDR3 ready boards in the line-up.
So far we have seen both AMD and Intel get ROG boards, but with Intel having more market share and a greater variety of chipsets to its Core 2 platform, there are a lot more ROG Intel based boards than that of AMD.
So far we have looked at a number of the ROG boards for both platforms, and we've been extremely impressed with their features, performance and overclocking. But one thing that is obvious with any board of this calibre is that you're going to be paying through the nose for it.
Today we have one of the latest ROG boards to come from ASUS, this particular board based on the new X48 Express chipset. It packs in as many features as you can possibly imagine, so with little time to spare let's see how it stacks up.
Specifications of the ASUS Rampage Formula
Supports Intel Core 2 Series (Extreme/Quad/Duo)
Supports Intel Pentium Dual Core Series
Supports Intel Pentium D Series
Supports Intel Pentium 4 5xx/6xx Series
Supports Intel Celeron D 3xx/4xx Series
Supports Intel 45nm Series CPU
Intel X48 Express
DMI @ 2GB/s
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)
P4 Bus Architecture
2 PCI Express x16
3 PCI Express x1
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
6 Serial ATA ports
2 Gigabit Ethernet Port
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
12 USB 2.0 Ports (6 rear accessible, 6 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo Audio Ports
1 RCA SPDIF Port
2 Firewire ports (1 rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
Pushing forward, we take a look at the box that ASUS ship us the Rampage Formula in. Being ROG based it comes in an oversized box with just about every do-dad under the sun included in the box. It carries the same colour co-ordination as the previous ROG based boards. On the front of the box there is very little given away on the features apart from the name, chipset supported and company logo.
On the back of the box is where ASUS puts all its marketing info along with a large colour photo of the board itself. This is one of the biggest pluses we can ever give a company. In the past there has been a bit of speculation on what the board looks like in terms of its layout prior to getting it out of the box. A full spec rundown is also located on the back, giving you a full list of the board's features and supported hardware, thus allowing you to make an informed choice before you buy the board.
Shipped with the board you get two CDs and a single user manual. For the detail ASUS puts into the user manual, we have yet to see anyone beat them. The ROG Rampage Formula manual gives you a full rundown of the installation of the board, hardware supported, header locations as well as BIOS and driver/software setup. On one of the included DVDs are the drivers for Windows XP and Vista OSs in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavours. There are no Linux drivers to be found, so if you're an alternate OS user, you'd better go looking before you use this board. The second DVD is a full retail copy of Stalker, so you have something extra to play once you get the system up and running.
Moving along to the included data cables that are supplied, we were a bit surprised that ASUS only includes four out of the six SATA data cables that the board supports. Further to this, only a single 2-way Molex to SATA power splitter is supplied; a bit disappointing here. As for the parallel cables, a single FDD cable with single drive support and a single IDE cable with two drive support tis included.
In a small part of the package, ASUS has included its break-away header installs. These are separate blocks that allow you to setup your case power switches and LEDs onto. Once you have the cables connected you can simply connect the whole block to the motherboard headers, and bingo, your case headers are working without having to do them while the board is inside the case. This also applies for USB and FireWire headers, making installation just that much easier.
Included is a PCI cover riser bracket that includes two USB ports and a single 6-pin FireWire port. If you plan to use a front panel FireWire port then you have to sacrifice the rear PCI cover port, but this is not a problem for most people.
Water cooling is now becoming more popular amongst overclockers as there are a number of out-of-the-box kits available. While it helps cool the CPU, not having a regular heatsink/fan arrangement sitting over the socket means that there is no air being pushed over the Mosfets/heatsink assembly. If you do still plan on going down the water cooling route however, ASUS has you covered with a small tunnel fan that you place on top of the heatpipe assembly near the rear I/O ports to keep air flow up and cool down the heated components; a very nice touch ASUS.
While some companies put a post code system somewhere on the board to give you a read-out as to your boards' health, ASUS gives you a break-out LCD post reader. Going that extra step, this unit doesn't display hexadecimal codes but gives it to you in plain English as to where it's up to during the bootup phase. If it fails at a certain point, you will know just what to look at.
Lastly on our list is the SupremeFX II audio module. While some may be thinking you are getting a dedicated sound card, sorry to disappoint you. This card is simply a break-out daughter board with a Realtek HD audio controller chip on it. It still uses the Azalia HD audio built into the ICH9R Southbridge, it's just that it's placed on a daughter board instead. ASUS claims that this helps reduce noise on the audio channel, but after playing games using SupremeFX II compared to other HD audio built onboard, there was no noticeable difference on our 7.1 speaker setup. Still, a nice touch, as if you want to use a separate audio card, you take out the SupremeFX II audio card and you can still use the audio slot as a PCI-E x1 expansion slot for a Creative X-Fi audio card or some such.
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.
BIOS and Overclocking
ASUS' BIOS design has not changed. Using the Award Modular BIOS in tab menu form as we like to call it, it resembles the same BIOS look as the Intel desktop boards. Under the Advanced tab you get your overclocking options in the Jumperfree menu which is the same setup as the older boards.
FSB Frequency: 200 - 800 in 1MHz Increments
PCIE Frequency: 100 - 150 in 1MHz Increments
CPU Voltage: 1.1v to 2.4v in 0.0125v increments
CPU PLL voltage: 1.1v to 3.0v in 0.02v increments
Northbridge voltage: 1.25v to 2.05v in 0.02v increments
DRAM Voltage: 1.8v to 3.40v in 0.02v Increments
FSB Termination Voltage: 1.2v to 2.0v in 0.02v increments
Southbridge Voltage: 1.05v to 1.225v in 0.05v increments
SB 1.5 Voltage: 1.5v to 2.05v in 0.05v increments
With our overclocking results, we were extremely impressed with ASUS' DDR2 X48 offering. While we have seen better overclocking boards using DDR3 compared to DDR2 offerings based on the same chipset, ASUS has managed to squeeze every last drop out of the Rampage Formula to get a healthy 525MHz FSB. Thanks to its GTL ratio adjustments we were able to get this speed extremely stable; way to go ASUS.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. 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. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Memory Performance
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 8500 @ 3.6GHz (9.5x333MHz)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1186 Geil (Supplied by Geil)
Hard Disk: 500GB Western Digital Caviar16 (Supplied by Western Digital)
Graphics Card: MSI GeForce 8800GTS 640MB (Supplied by MSI)
Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista SP1
Drivers: Intel INF 188.8.131.529, Forceware 169.21
Today we have the ASUS Rampage Formula up against the Maximus Extreme and X38-DQ6 motherboards. The X38-DQ6 supports DDR2 while the Maximus Extreme uses DDR3 memory.
For our stock tests we set the memory to its highest supported speed; this was 800MHz for our DDR2 X38-DQ6 and Rampage Formula, while the Maximus Extreme ran with 1333MHz DDR3 speeds.
For our overclocking tests we ran the memory at 1:1 to try and keep the memory from being the clock bottleneck as much as possible. All boards used a 6x multiplier to also eliminate the CPU as the bottleneck.
EVEREST Ultimate Edition
Version and / or Patch Used: 2006
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
Compared to the DDR3 setup, the Rampage Formula falls a bit behind due to there being less system bandwidth. But this isn't by a huge amount. When overclocking the DDR3 board managed to get a decent lead thanks to a better overall FSB.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: x
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage//
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
Into our synthetic overall system benchmarks and we see that the ASUS Rampage isn't that far behind at all when compared to the DDR3 based offering. When overclocking this gap increases, but it's certainly not enough to be a huge deficit.
Benchmarks - SYSmark 2007 Preview
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.03
Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.bapco.com/products/sysmark2007preview/>
SYSmark 2007 Preview is the latest version of the premier performance metric that measures and compares PC performance based on real world applications.
SYSmark 2007 Preview extends the SYSmark family, which has been widely accepted by IT Managers, PC OEMs, press and analysts worldwide to support Windows Vista.
SYSmark 2007 Preview allows users to directly compare platforms based on Windows Vista to those based on Windows XP Professional and Home.
The new release also incorporates numerous new features and enhancements such as an improved GUI allowing streamlined start-up and run along with a heads-up-display (HUD) and automated error reporting.
SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity. This new release includes a robust and refreshed set of applications.
Moving into a more real world version of our synthetics, we see here that the boards just about tie it up at stock speeds. At overclocked speeds the ASUS board managed to out-power ever so slightly the X38 GIGABYTE board, but falling just behind the DDR3 Maximus Extreme.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com
Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/
Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 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.
Pushing into the real world encoding stage, we see that the Rampage and X38 tie it up together. The Maximus Extreme gets a couple of seconds off the encode time. At the overclocking level the Maximus Extreme extends the lead a bit, with the Rampage and DQ6 just about even.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTachBuy It Here
HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as Read, CPU Utilization and Burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.
There is next to no difference in media storage performance thanks to the same ICH9R used on all three platforms.
Benchmarks - 3DMark06
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/
Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the PC industry as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests.
3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.
3DMark06 puts the Rampage just a few marks ahead of the DQ6, but slightly behind the Maximus. When we overclock this gap increases between the platforms.
Benchmarks - Prey
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2
Timedemo or Level Used: Hardware OC Demo
Developer Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com
Product Homepage: http://www.prey.com
Buy 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 doesn't show any discernable difference between the Rampage and the DQ6 at stock speeds. At overclocked levels, thanks to a slightly higher bus speed the DQ6 falls slightly under the Rampage.
Benchmarks - Battlefield 2142
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.25
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.dice.se/
Product Homepage: http://www.battlefield.ea.com/battlefield/bf2142/
Buy It Here
In Battlefield 2142, players choose to fight for one of two military superpowers - the European Union or the newly formed Pan Asian Coalition -in an epic battle for survival.
Armed with a devastating arsenal of hi-tech weaponry, including assault rifles, cloaking devices and sentry guns, players will also take control of the most lethal vehicles known to man. Massive Battle Walkers wage fierce combat on the ground, while futuristic aircraft rule the skies. When taking on this futuristic armor players will need to use their wits and an arsenal of new hi-tech countermeasures like EMP grenades and smart mines to level the playing field.
Putting a bit more stress on the system, we see similar results as Prey here.
Benchmarks - Far Cry
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3
Timedemo or Level Used: Benchemall Default Demo(download here)
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.com
Buy 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.
In our last test we see that the Rampage board is right up there in terms of performance.
Power and Heat
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD-ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
Power usage of the Rampage board is slightly better than the DQ6, but not by a huge amount. The Maximus gets a better power usage result due to the lower voltage of the DDR3 memory.
In a new test we use our IR Thermal Probe to measure the temperature of the Northbridge, Southbridge and Mosfets. This gives us an idea of how effective the cooling of the board is during both idle and load.
The DQ6 manages to keep a slightly cooler overall temp thanks to its larger heatsink profile and heatpipe assembly used, but in terms of longevity the extra couple of degrees certainly won't make much of a difference.
With every Republic Of Gamers motherboard that ASUS brings to the market, things get better and better. So far ASUS has managed to produce quite a few good offerings, with the newest generation getting some nifty extra features compared to its older generation. This includes the LCD poster, solid state components and latest chipset support. The Rampage series is the latest to come from ASUS, and knowing them it certainly won't be the last.
One thing ASUS needs to start integrating into its ROG based boards is EPU6, ASUS' latest energy saving technology. While hardcore overclockers won't really want it, the users who simply want the best will find this feature being a big selling point, as is the case with GIGABYTEs latest DQ6 boards which have now got DES integrated.
The Rampage Formula was extremely impressive; its overclocking was brilliant and the feature rich BIOS allows for maximum tweaking and overclocking. While we managed to only hit 525MHz, it's possible with some more tweaking of the voltages and the GTL reference dividers that you're likely to get some more speed out of the board. And with the latest 45nm CPU, overclocking becomes even easier.
PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.
United States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com
United Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.co.uk
Australia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com.au
Canada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.ca
Deutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de