As everyone knows, AMD just recently pushed their hexa-core Phenom II X6 out the door. This new CPU is a $300 six core piece of silicon that promises performance at a low price. The opinions were mixed about how well it managed this feat, but there is no question that AMD has pushed out the top end chipset for this CPU in the form of the 890FX.
The 890FX brings a few extras to the table and offers enthusiast performance and overclocking options. We have the ASUS Crosshair in the lab (we used it for our Phenom II X6 review) and found that it has more than a few nice features to offer.
With features such as Core Unlocking with the press of a button, Turbo Key II "push button" overclocking. X-Fi audio, and much more, all for about $230 over at Newegg, it makes for a good deal if you either already own an AMD CPU or are thinking of investing in the new Phenom II X6.
With that in mind, let's see if the Crosshair IV Formula from ASUS is worth your time and money.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
ASUS has followed the same box design as for the other high-end Republic of Gamers products. You get the red box with the starburst on it as well as the front flap covering a window with your new prize visible behind it.
The overall effect is nice and does give you the indication that you are getting a high quality product.
Inside the box is a ton of loot. ASUS has thrown in everything from a sticker to zip ties (for cable management). The USB cable that is visible is for the ROG Connect feature that we will talk about later.
One thing that is certain about ASUS; they do know how to build them pretty. The Crosshair IV is a nice looking board. ASUS has gone the extra mile to put in features like rounded LED lit buttons, contoured heatsinks, as well as red and black slots. The effect is quite nice to look at.
The CPU and memory area is clean (to a certain degree). There is a small problem, though. We found that with our Hyper 212 and the extra fan, getting our Kingston RAM into the first slot was a tight fit. We were able to get it in there, but we were concerned about the fan blades rubbing the memory cooling fins. The one armed RAM slots on the Crosshair appear to only be for style as the first PCI-E x16 slot is low enough that there would be no contact.
We do have one complaint in this section (you knew there would be one). The 8-pin 12V Aux connector is right up against the heatsink. We found this made it a little bit of a pain to plug in (and then to remove). Other than that, the area is pretty well laid out.
The lower half of the Crosshair IV looks very nice. It is a little cluttered, but the way the solid metal caps are arranged combined with the red and black slots just makes this look so cool. Of course, the clutter is annoying, but as this is a higher end product you are getting more than just a bunch of slots on the board. The four x16 mechanical slots are capable of 2x x16 Crossfire or three at 1 x16 + 2 x8. The last slot is only a x4 slot even though it is a x16 mechanically.
Along the bottom edge you see a row of four buttons. These are the power, reset, core unlocker and Turbo Key II switches.
The right side of the lower half has a nice pretty row of SATA III ports. AMD is the only company that has a full SATA III SB on the market. This is great news if you A. have all SATA III HDDs, or B. you are willing to foot the bill for SATA III SSDs. But when you consider the cost savings, the second option could be viable.
The ports on the Crosshair IV Formula are roughly what you would expect from a modern ATX style board with a few exceptions (and one ASUS Only). There is a new trend to put the BIOS reset button on the I/O panel; this is a nice idea and will save you a ton of time, again if you are overclocking with this built into a case. If you are testing on a bench (like we did) then it is nice, but not a show stopper.
The one item that I have come to love on the ASUS ROG boards is the ROG connect. This nice little feature is represented by the vertical USB port (it will be horizontal in a case). Here you connect another PC to overclock your AMD CPU and Motherboard.
One item that we also have to touch on is the inclusion of a Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi audio codec. This will add some very high quality audio to your gaming as well as (in a very small way) reduce some of the CPU overhead found with many other audio CODECs.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the Crosshair IV is both new and old. The layout is going to be very familiar, while there are a few new features under the hood.
As with all of the ROG boards, you have options in the Extreme Tweaker section to push the limits of your system and CPU. These are not your garden variety overclocking tools, but ones that take into account the change of sub-zero cooling, like the Extreme OV (over voltage).
The voltage controls are all direct input for quick adjustments. Even to return to Auto settings, all you have to do is type in "auto" and hit enter.
ASUS has also given you control over the LEDs on the board; you can adjust these settings directly in the BIOS.
Now, something that we have not covered in detail before are the fan settings. ASUS allows for some excellent control over the fans connected to their motherboards and the ROG series in particular. As you can see here, you get a couple of options on the Crosshair IV Formula. These are Duty and User Modes. Duty Mode is based on the system load, while user mode is more like a fully manual control.
Another feature that does not exactly fit into the rest of the review is the Gaming First feature. This is a form of QoS to ensure that your gaming packets get priority over your LAN connection. This when combined with a good gaming router can result in improved Pings and a subtle edge during online gaming or at LAN parties.
Overclocking the Crosshair IV Formula was pretty simple in terms of using the tools that ASUS provides. However, on the opposite side the AMD Phenom II X6 that we used did not want to cooperate. This CPU left us with a very low clock of 3.981GHz, only a 700MHz OC. When we tried to pump additional voltage into the CPU we found that it did not respond well to that with our limited air cooling setup.
AMD claims that you do not need extra voltage for a high overclock; however, when we tried the same OC with a lower voltage the system would not post. So we do know that the board is capable of much more than we are getting from the CPU we used this time around. We just do not know how much more.
You can see the validation for the i5 661 with the GMA HD here.
Of course, as this is an ROG board the Crosshair IV Formula is going to have the ASUS TurboV. We played around with this tool again to see what the Auto Tuning feature would bring us. It actually did not do too bad. From the auto tune under extreme settings we ended up with an OC that was just a hair under our maximum OC for the PII X6 CPU we used.
As with other ROG boards, the Crosshair IV Formula has the ROG Connect feature. This allows you to connect your Crosshair directly to another system via a USB cable and then to control/monitor the BIOS and POST behaviour of the board. Unlike the Maximus III Extreme, it does not feature the Bluetooth ROG connect feature, but this does not limit its use in anyway.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
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 Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: ASUS, AMD, Kingston and Cooler Master and Sceptre.
The Crosshair IV Formula was a very easy board to use. We had no problems getting it set up and running. This same simple setup should translate to others that are running dual and tri core CPUs (even a few with "T" series X4s) as you will have the option to potentially unlock cores on your CPUs with the simple press of a button. The same can be said for simple overclocking with the Turbo Key II button.
The layout of the board seems a little cluttered at first, but overall gives you some good flexibility and also places the components in a way that allows for good heat dissipation across the board. In general the only problems we had were with the Phenom II X6 1090T that we used and the 8-Pin 12V Aux power connector. The rest of the installation and setup were a dream.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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Hmmm, well it is no secret that AMD CPUs have pretty much lost the memory bandwidth crown for the present. I am not saying that they cannot recover it, but let's take a look at things here.
The X6 1090T at 3.981GHz cannot match the stock speeds of some of the Intel CPUs. This means that most AMD boards will have a similar issue. As far as AMD boards go, well, the ASUS is performing at the upper edge of the window.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
The Everest numbers tell a similar story, but we do see that the overall latency is lower than a typical Intel system.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Here we see a direct result of the poor memory performance coupled with the smaller amounts of cache. Unfortunately it translates over to the motherboard. Still, we have to say that as far as AMD based 8xx chipsets go, the Crosshair IV Formula does pretty good.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
HDD performance on the Crosshair IV is what we have come to expect from the AMD 8xx series chipsets. It is also pretty much on par with what the Intel P55 chipsets are doing (if just a little slower).
Everest shows us the same thing we saw with Sandra; good speed, but just a little behind the Intel chipsets.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
The ASUS Crosshair IV Formula combined with the Phenom II X6 and a HS 5870 does a pretty good job of keeping up with other higher priced systems. It still cannot top the upper end from Intel, but then again, it costs hundreds less and still offers good performance.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
At stock speeds the Crosshair IV Formula combined with the Radeon HD 5870 comes out on top of the Core i5 750s. It still lags behind the 8 thread Xeon, but is also much less expensive. When we overclocked the CPUs the Crosshair still managed a good showing, but fell behind a couple of the P55 boards as well.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
Well, color me impressed here. The Crosshair IV Formula comes out pretty good with this test. We see excellent scores here, even topping the 8-thread Xeon equipped P7P55 WS Super Computer by a small margin.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
The Crosshair Formula also gives a good showing with LightWave 3D. It was not the fastest on the block, but it did beat out the Core i5 750 and was only a couple of minutes behind the stock 8-threaded Xeon.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
Surprisingly the Crosshair IV Formula with the PII X6 does quite well at transcoding. The scores are great when compared to the stock speeds. However, when we do push the CPUs the Intel offerings come out on top.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small, but occasionally because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance, this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX, but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
Not much to see here. All of the times are within a couple of FPS.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Sadly the Crosshair IV Formula does not do so well with Far Cry 2. Of course, this is a game that was written with the Core i7 in mind, so we are not surprised to see this.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Now, for Bad Company 2 the Crosshair comes back and tops out even the 8 threaded Xeon. Granted, the numbers here are still close enough that you would probably not notice them if the systems were side by side.
Interesting numbers here from our AMD system; we see once again that gaming is much more GPU dependent than some would like you to think. Now, you will not get the same results with every game. There are some games that are coded for certain CPUs, or GPUs. These are inevitable in this market. But what the gaming numbers show us is that an AMD system can be an excellent low cost gaming rig.
You could buy this board and CPU for around $500-600. This is low enough that you could probably have a much faster GPU under the hood to add even more power to your gaming experience. It is certainly something to think about if your primary goal is gaming.
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).
Power consumption from the AMD based Crosshair IV Formula was a bit more than we expected. We had thought that with AMD's claims of better power and money savings we would see this setup trounce the Intel boards/CPUs. However, this is not always the case.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; 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.
The same story was repeated with heat generation. The AMD based Crosshair was a little hotter than the competition in many cases.
While we were not impressed with the new AMD Phenom II X6 1090T from a raw performance stand point, we feel we might have found an interesting niche for this CPU and the new 890FX chipset.
We are sure it will not come as any surprise, but the AMD system fits into the high-end gaming platform quite well. When you combine the $300 Phenom II X6 with the ASUS Crosshair IV Formula you end up with a very capable gaming system at a rather low cost. This is not to say that it is the cheapest platform out, just that you are going to get more bang for your gaming buck with this board and CPU. The addition of features like Turbo Key II, X-Fi audio, Gaming First LAN connection and CrossfireX support just add to the value here.
With a $230 price tag at NewEgg.com, it is hard to go wrong on this one.
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