With Core i7 now making its way into the market we are starting to see boards pop up left and right. Already we have seen companies like ECS, eVGA and MSI announce their boards, but the big ones like GIGABYTE and ASUS have gone one better and sent samples out for testing.
So far we have tested GIGABYTE's EX58-UD5 in our Core i7 CPU review and we have just recently given the P6T Deluxe the tick of approval as well, but ASUS isn't stropping there. P6T is actually aimed at the mainstream and enthusiast sector, where today's contender is aimed more so at the extreme and hardcore users. Running under the name of the Republic of Gamers series, the Rampage II is ASUS' second Core i7 model to hit the market.
Today we will see how it compares to the P6T and find out which one comes out looking like the smarter choice.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
ASUS has changed its colour scheme for the sixth generation series Republic of Gamers packaging. We have seen the last series come in a grey, black and orange colour scheme box but ASUS has gone for a red background with gold writing on it this time around.
On the front of the box you have the Rampage II Extreme motherboard model prominent in the middle with the support logos for CPU, chipset and graphics technology at the bottom left of the board.
Being a high-end board, ASUS has gone with the front exposure flap which when open allows a view of the board itself through the protective blister that the board comes in. This means ASUS can avoid putting any photos on the back of the box while still giving the potential customer a good view of the board before they buy it.
Thanks to the front open flap design, ASUS doesn't need to put any photos on the back of the board and they have taken full advantage of this by including a huge spec list on the back. This information is a direct copy of what's on the website, so you won't find any other specs on the ASUS site that differ from the back of the box. On the left side ASUS has some marketing info on the board and features that are included.
The board comes with a single user manual that explains the full workings and specifications of the ASUS motherboard. It also covers the driver install and software included as well as the BIOS setup; a very comprehensive manual form ASUS.
The DVD included has drivers and software for both Vista and XP in 32-bit and 64-bit variants. There are no Linux drivers, so alternate OS users are once again left in the dark.
Inside the Box - Continued
When it comes to the extreme boards, ASUS never fails to impress with the accessories. There are in total six SATA data cables, which is almost the total of SATA ports the board supports and a single IDE ribbon cable with two drive support is also included.
X58 supports not only AMD's Crossfire technology, but for the first time on an Intel platform, native SLI. Since AMD supplies its own Crossfire cables with Radeon graphics cards, there is no need for Crossfire data cables. However, SLI cables have to be supplied by the motherboard; they don't come with graphics cards. ASUS has given two SLI bridges; a 3-way and a standard single bridge. The single bridge is fine for normal SLI such as two GTX280's, or if you want to connect two GX2's to make quad SLI.
If you're like me and you want to know what is going on with your PC during the POST screen, but don't want to have to read and learn tricky post codes, the ASUS LCD poster makes a return with the Rampage II and in basic terms gives you an idea of what is going on during the BIOS POST startup. Lastly, if you're planning water cooling then you will need to have the turbo fan installed to the Mosfet heatsink in order to regulate the temps when the CPU fan is removed.
If you don't plan to use any front panel ports, ASUS gives you a PCI Expansion cover with two USB ports along with a single 4-pin FireWire port. One of the best things ASUS has done in making the installation of their boards easier is the header box. This is a small block that you connect your case LED and switches to which then plugs onto the front panel header; this lets you work in a much easier way.
Since Intel introduced its Azalia audio standard, onboard sound has progressed quite a long way and now supports HD and 7.1 speakers. But it still simply can't compete to a discrete audio solution, not only for sound quality but also for lowering the CPU usage.
To this end ASUS has decided to scrap the HD audio codec in exchange for a Creative X-Fi PCIe audio card. It looks like ASUS is following in MSI's footsteps here. One thing, however, confuses me; ASUS has its own Xonar based audio cards so why not simply pair this?
It's now time for the big show, the board itself. ASUS puts a lot of pride in their Republic of Gamers series of boards and it really does show. The board is made on the same black/dark brown 6 layer PCB measuring 30x24cm.
The layout on the ASUS boards is never a problem. The 24-pin ATX power connector is located on the right hand side of the board behind the six DDR3 memory modules along with a special control panel that ASUS now uses. This panel includes the power and reset buttons along with toggle buttons and a joystick that's used for manual overclocking and selecting certain setup features on the board.
Just below these buttons are a set of 2-pin headers; these are actually there for users who want to manually monitor the voltage outputs with a multimeter. ASUS includes a small header that allows you to connect it to the probe wires of a multimeter to monitor voltages. If you don't want to fiddle with this, there are solder headers below each of the ports that you can directly connect the multimeter to. This is great for overclockers who don't trust the software power monitor as it allows for a perfectly accurate reading.
The CPU area is rather cramped by today's standards. ASUS has gone with a very intricate heatpipe that cools not only the ICH10R Southbridge, but also encompasses the Northbridge and the Mosfets on the left side and top row. While keeping them cool, it makes it hard to get large heatsinks installed. In fact, our OCZ Vanquisher had a few issues fitting onto this board. A few copper fin cuts to the fingers and knuckles were the results.
If this board was installed in a case before putting the heatsink on, it would have been totally impossible to get the push pins down, so if you're going with a large heatsink then be sure to install the CPU and heatsink before putting the board into the case. Your fingers and knuckles will be less damaged at the end of the day.
The CPU is fed its power through a 16 phase VRM system. That's right, 16 phases; four more than the top GIGABYTE board on offer. However, ASUS does not have any info available as to whether or not this is a true 16 phase system or a dual 8 phase system. Remember, GIGABYTE doesn't have 12 phases, but a dual 6 phase setup working in parallel to supply its power to the CPU.
We asked this question of ASUS at Computex 2008 during the technical Q&A, but received no answers on whether or not it was a true 16 phase arrangement or how many phases it would shut down at idle.
Turning our attention to the rear I/O ports, ASUS has a fantastic layout and design. Of note here, there is only one PS/2 port, but it has a half purple and half green colour scheme. This is a dual purpose port; if you have a PS/2 mouse, you can run it off the PS/2 port and run the keyboard off the USB, or vice versa. If you have both a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, you're stuffed here; it's time to pick up a USB mouse/keyboard.
Digital audio is handled by either the Toslink or RCA S/PDIF port located on the SupremeFX X-Fi controller card which supports EAX 4 and digital connection is through the FireWire and eSATA port that runs off the same chip which controls the IDE port on the motherboard.
Time to look at the expansion layout that ASUS has managed to slip into the frey. First off, we look at the PCI Express slots. In total we have three PCI Express x16 slots and two PCI Express x1 slots. Out of the PCI-E x16 slots, we have one blue slot and two black. The blue slot runs at a full 16 lanes when only a single graphics card is inserted onto the board in this slot. If you plan to go Crossfire on this board, a second graphics card needs to be inserted into the upper black slot; this will then trigger the digital switch to split the 16 lanes from the Northbridge down to 8 lanes for the blue and 8 lanes for the black slots. The last PCI Express x16 slot is a universal slot that runs x4 max speed and is created using the PCI-E lanes from the ICH10R Southbridge. If you plan to use an extra graphics card in here, you can't use any of the PCI-E x1 lanes as their bandwidth is routed to the last slot to make it functional. If you do use the other PCI-E x1 slots, the last x16 slot will only work in x1 mode.
To wrap up the legacy connections, two PCI slots are also included if you want to use older sound cards, modems, TV tuners or anything PCI based.
Additionally, since the ICH10R does not support any form of IDE port, ASUS added in a Marvell 88SE6121 PATA/SATA PCI Express combo chip. This chip gives the board its single IDE port along with two SATA ports. However, only one is used and it is routed to the eSATA port for the rear I/O.
BIOS and Overclocking
Now it's time to look at the BIOS. ASUS uses its trademark Award Tab BIOS as we like to refer to it as. Its appearance and colour scheme is identical to the reference BIOS Intel uses for its own desktop boards, but ASUS has a lot more tweaking options under its hood.
Usually we are greeted with the system info screen when entering the BIOS, however, the Rampage II Extreme goes straight to the Extreme Tweaker overclocking menu. Since this is an OC edition board, it's of no surprise.
BCLK Frequency: 100 - 500Mhz in 1MHz Increments
PCIE Frequency: 100 - 200Mhz in 1MHz Increments
UCLK Frequency: 1600 - 5600MHz in Various Increments
QPI Frequency: 4800/5866/6400Mhz
CPU Voltage: 0.85v to 2.1v in 0.00625v increments
CPU PLL Voltage: 1.8v to 2.5v in 0.02v increments
QPI/DRAM Voltage: 1.2 - 1.9v in 0.02v increments
IOH Voltage: 1.1 - 1.7v in 0.02v increments
IOH PCIE Voltage: 1.5 - 2.76v in 0.02v Increments
ICH Voltage: 1.1 - 1.7v in 0.02v increments
ICH PCIE Voltage: 1.5 - 2.76v in 0.02v Increments
DRAM Bus Voltage: 1.5 - 2.46v in 0.02v Increments
Overclocking on the Core i7 platform is a totally different feel; its like overlclocking the AMD K8 and K10 processors where you have a huge range of settings to play with and have to adjust them all in order to get anywhere. There's a lot more trial and error involved.
First, you need to adjust your base clock which is the FSB clock, the speed that the request queue inside the CPU runs at. You then have DRAM ratios to adjust the DRAM, which is pretty well normal. The two new strangers on the block are the QPI divider which is the link between the CPU and the External Northbridge and this must be kept in check to prevent any data loss and system instabilities. Lastly, there is the UNCORE divider. This is the speed of the actual on CPU Northbridge; this must be kept as close to default clock speeds as possible to prevent any abnormal CPU errors.
With a the little amount of time we get for overclocking here these days, we did manage to press the CPU to 3.4GHz using a 210MHz BCLK. Remember, though, the Core i7 uses a 133MHz BLCK, so this is quite impressive.
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 i7 965 Extreme @ 3.2GHz (24x133MHz)
Memory: 3x 2GB DDR3-1600 Corsair Dominator Tri Channel Kit (Supplied by Corsair)
Hard Disk: Intel SSD X25-M80GB (Supplied by Intel)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE 9800GX2 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: Intel Stock Cooler
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista SP1 x64
Drivers: Intel INF 188.8.131.527, Forceware 178.24
Today's tests will include our already tested ASUS P6T Deluxe OC Palm Edition along with the Rampage II Extreme. For stock reference we will also include our GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 results that we obtained from our CPU reference review.
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.
Thanks to Intel moving the memory controller onto the CPU, at stock speeds it won't matter if it's Intel, NVIDIA or SIS chipsets running the show; memory performance will be identical. However, at overclocked speeds the Rampage II manages a higher bus clock and in turn a faster memory and QPI clock giving it the edge here, but only by a few MB/s.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
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.
Moving into PCMark Vantage, we get to see the effects of overclocking on the overall system performance. While the 10MHz increase in BLCK does give it an impressive look on screen, the reality is that it's not much faster than the 200MHz clocked P6T Deluxe.
Benchmarks - SYSmark 2007 Preview
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04
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.
SYSmark shows us the same trend as PCMark Vantage.
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0
Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0
Developer 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 4 is the first real world application test as it's is not done through synthetic means. We can see that the increased core speed and memory clock of the Rampage II at overclocked levels give it an extra minute off the encode time.
Benchmarks - 3DMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
Moving into synthetic games, we hit 3DMark Vantage and again stock clocks are equal across the board. However, the Rampage II gets a few extra marks in OC mode, but it's not a huge amount to give it a resounding victory.
Benchmarks - Crysis
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.ea.com/crysis/
Buy It Here
From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G.
Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE 2 offers. The CryENGINE 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE 2 Sandbox world editing system.
Lastly, our gaming benchmark is Crysis which puts quite a bit of stress on the system. Here Rampage II and P6T are almost identical in performance; it seems the extra 10MHz bus speed doesn't really help much here.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
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 wise, ASUS' P6T and Rampage II equal each other as the same amount of voltage regulation systems and power saving technologies is used on both boards, so no difference here.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboards, this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Heat generation is slightly less on the Rampage II; possibly a more efficient heat pipe?
With X58 now the hot topic, we are starting to see boards come in thick and fast and it's of no surprise that the boards making their way out are enthusiast classed boards. So far Intel has only got three models on the market; two are standard versions along with an Extreme. With Core i7's high release price you can expect to pay big on the CPU and big on the boards.
Rampage II Extreme is the latest in the ROG series, something that ASUS really puts a lot of pride into. And with all that effort and R&D comes a price tag to match. However, if you're one who can afford a Core i7 along with dual GPUs then you're not going to care or skimp on the board. The Rampage II Extreme lives up to the same level of excellence that ASUS puts into all its ROG boards.
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