So far Intel's Core i7 platform has managed to acquire quite a few participants. In fact, all of the major players out there have X58 based boards out now and even more coming out in droves. It seems that while high in price, X58 and Core i7 has a following for being the fastest in desktop computing.
One of the biggest things, as stated, with Core i7 is the price. The CPU is expensive and the platform boards are not really that cheap either; however, ASUS is trying to remedy that while keeping up to their standards of high performance boards.
The Republic of Gamers or ROG based ASUS boards are what ASUS calls their cream of the crop boards; a lot of time and effort goes into them and so far all the boards we have tested under the ROG name have been impressive. However, none have been this small before; we are talking real small, MicroATX. The Rampage II Gene is the first MicroATX board to come from ASUS under its ROG seal of approval and with a price tag of 249.99 U.S. Dollars over at Newegg at the time of writing, this makes Core i7 a bit more affordable. But can this board really keep up with the big guns? - Let's move onward and find out!
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
First off, its package and contents. MicroATX means a small box and ASUS hasn't oversized the box despite their reputation of putting their top line boards into large boxes. Yes, it is an ROG board, but it's still a Micro board. On the front of the box there are the usual ROG logos and the board model mentioned. The box is the same colour that the Rampage II Extreme was packed in, being red.
On the back of the box there is the full spec list that is also included on the website, so you will not get any additional info on the web. ASUS does a good job by giving you all the info that is available on the website about the board on the back of the box. However, there is no colour photo of the board which is a bit of a letdown.
When it comes to ASUS the documentation is extremely helpful. There is only a single user manual, however, the included one incorporates all the board settings, BIOS setup and software information in this rather thick manual. The included DVD contains quite a few programs including 3DMark Vantage.
ASUS has a reasonable cable bundle with its Rampage II Gene. There is a single IDE cable supporting two drives as well as six SATA data cables. There are no FDD or SATA power converters in this setup.
Now, this looks interesting. While it may be MicroATX by design, the board comes with Crossfire and SLI cables which means this board comes with two PCIe x16 slots; so happy days for those who want SLI or CF. A LCD poster unit is also included that gives read outs on the post codes and other features of the board when in operation.
Lastly, there is a PCI expansion cover bracket along with the breakout connectors for the USB, FireWire and Front panel connectors.
It's now time to look at the board. Seeing a Core i7 board in a MicroATX format is extremely unusual. This is the top of the range platform from Intel and it's being packed into a small board. However, ASUS hasn't skimped at all; first off with the layout and by geez they have managed to do a great job with such a small amount of space.
ASUS have proven they can make a good layout, even with the limited space. The 24-pin ATX power connector along with the single IDE port is located behind the six DDR3 memory slots that the board supports. While small in size, it does pack a huge amount of memory slots. The 8-pin power connector is located behind the PS2/USB tower combo port on the left hand side.
On the lower right hand side of the board ASUS has placed the six SATA ports that are controlled by the ICH10R Southbridge on the very edge of the board and on an angle for better cable management. There is a single black SATA connector on its own that is connected to the same chip that runs the IDE port and the eSATA port on the Rear I/O.
ASUS has a very impressive power regulation system on the Gene board with a total of 8 phases which are controlled by the ASUS EPU engine to help reduce overall system power.
The rear I/O looks a lot like the normal ASUS layout with eSATA ports, digital S/PDIF audio ports; the whole shebang. While this board has the audio ports on the board, this doesn't use HD audio, but rather a Creative X-Fi chip tied into the PCIe bus.
Moving along, we come to the boards expansion possibilities. When we normally think MicroATX we don't really think of dual or quad graphics cards, however, this board is equipped with two PCIe x16 slots running full speed, thus allowing Crossfire or SLI graphics.
Between the two PCIe x16 slots is a universal x4 slot that will accommodate a third graphics card if you use single slot cards in the top x16 slot and the x4 slot. Lastly, there is a single PCI slot for legacy expansion.
BIOS and Overclocking
Moving along, it's now time for the BIOS. ASUS uses the same tab menu that we have come to see them use for quite some time now, which in design looks similar to the Intel OEM BIOS used on their desktop boards. However, their tweaking options pale in comparison to ASUS'. As soon as you enter into the BIOS you are greeted with the Overclocking menu with all the bus, divider, ratio and voltage options that the Rampage II Extreme is graced with.
The Advanced Chipset tab hides a few extra CPU tweaks as well as tweaking for the X58 Northbridge.
Under the CPU Configuration menu inside the Advance tab we see there are quite a few extra functions. If you happen to have an Extreme i7 CPU you can disable the Over- current protection that prevents the normal i7 from overclocking.
For a MicroATX board we were expecting very little in the way of overclocking; however, ASUS has taken its stance with their ROG board to produce some interesting results. While the BLCK isn't much over the 133MHz limit, we see that the CPU was able to fly to 4GHz without much strain. If we had more time we would have tweaked even more; however, we were extremely impressed with 4GHz anyway.
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 17 965 @ 3.2GHz (24x 133MHz)
Memory: 3x 2GB DDR3-1600 Corsair Dominator (Supplied by Corsair)
Hard Disk: Intel X25-M 80GB SSD (Supplied by Intel)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE 9800GX2 1GB (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: Stock Intel cooling
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista X64 SP1
Drivers: Intel INF 18.104.22.1688, ForceWare 180.24
Testing time; my favourite time of any review. Today we have an ASUS plethora using the Rampage II Gene, P6T Deluxe OC Palm and of course, the Rampage II Extreme.
We ran our normal array of stock tests as well as overclocking just to see what sits where in the field.
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.
First up, our synthetic memory tests. EVEREST puts all three boards at each others throats. At the overclocking level we can see that the Gene's lower bus lowers memory performance; however, its increased clock speed keeps it going.
Benchmarks - Sisoft Sandra
Version and / or Patch Used: 2009
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.uk
Product Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=en
Buy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Moving into another synthetic memory test, we have Sandra and the results show a similar trend to EVEREST.
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.
Under more synthetic PC benchmarking with PCMark Vantage we see that at stock all are pretty much equal. When overclocking, despite a lower BLCK, the increase CPU clock helps keep the Gene competitive.
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.
Real word applications show a similar trend as the synthetic PCMark. Rampage II Gene is a very competitive board.
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 really likes high clocks and memory bandwidth. But it seems that the Gene board is able to keep up here. It looks like Premiere Elements can't even use up all of the stock bandwidth let alone giving it any more when overclocked. The CPU speed plays the big part here and all three are pretty close in that regard.
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.
Under synthetic gaming we see all three platforms identical at stock and the Rampage II Gene just a tiny bit behind the other two boards.
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.
Real world gaming through Crysis shows that when you overclock the Core i7 you do get a better result and all three boards at both stock and OC are extremely competitive.
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.
ASUS uses the same solid state components on each of their boards and they have done a good job at keeping power usage equal across the board.
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.
Lastly we look at heat generation and we see again that things are universal here.
ASUS has certainly surprised us here with their Rampage II Gene board. For one, how many MicroATX boards out there are for Core i7, let alone supporing any overclocking? - ASUS is for one and it's definitely one to consider if you're aiming to keep prices down yet still want to overclock as well as support multiple graphics cards.
At 249.99 USD from Newegg you do get a pretty solid package for your money and we have no hesitation in recommending the board to any Core i7 user who is looking for a good feature packed offering, especially if power saving is an important factor. So far ASUS is on the top of the list as the best all round choice.