There is no doubt that the ASUS Republic of Games line-up is one of the best on the market. Sure, you can get a good board from this company or that, but as far as a single line goes, you would be hard pressed to find better than the Republic of Gamers. We have had the pleasure of testing out most of the current crop and are now able to take a look at another one.
This time on the bench is the Rampage III Gene. The RIIIG (as we will call it moving forward) is the little brother to the Rampage III Extreme. It is an X58 based Micro ATX board with some of the same features of the much larger RIIIE. You also get a few extras that are not found on the RIIIE; these extras seem geared exactly towards the LAN party crowd.
With a price tag of $239.99 from NewEgg.com it is about $150 less expensive than the RIIIE. Now, let's see if it still has the same performance level.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
My first thought upon looking at the box the Rampage III Gene was that it was just a chopped off version of the Rampage III Extreme, or any other ROG box for that matter. However, while there are similarities, there are also some differences.
After we noted the size of the box, we went to take a look at the board through what we thought was going to be a clear plastic window under the front flap. When we lifted the flap we did not get a look at the RIIIG, but instead saw a listing of features.
Flipping around to the back of the box returned us to a box that looks much like the RIIIE. You get a few features on the side and a specifications list.
Inside the is the now familiar second box for the motherboard. This replaces the typical anti-static bag that is more commonly used. Unlike other boards in the ROG line, the accessories are stored in a tray below instead of a removable box.
Despite not being in a removable box, the loot sent out with the RIIIG is still top notch.
The RIIIG is a Micro ATX motherboard. As such ASUS has limited space to stuff in all the goodies they normally reserve for their larger ROG boards. This has almost certainly led to a much more complicated tracing layout under the layers (and on both surfaces) of the board. With that in mind, let's take a look around the board and see how the smaller space has affected the design choices.
Thankfully you still get the six full triple channel RAM slots and even the voltage monitoring pads right by the 24-pin ATX power socket. Where we start to see space forced design changes is in the placement of the fan headers. They are really tight on the outer edge of the board. Even the CPU fan is in an unusual spot. The 90 degree mounting of the CMOS battery is also a space saving measure.
Moving over just a little shows us a smaller (yet still clean) CPU area. We can see that the RIIIG has a much smaller power phase design by the number of chokes visible. We counted eight for the CPU, two for the X58 Northbridge and two for the RAM, making this an 8+2+2 phase design. One thing that is missing from the RIIIG that was present on the larger (and more power hungry) ROG boards are the FPCAPs. This would seem to indicate that the demand for higher current draw is not anticipated, or that the size of the board ruled out their use.
Despite its small size, the RIIIG still has two full x16 slots for either SLI or CrossfireX. They have also thrown in a x4 PCIe slot and the legacy PCI 2.0 slot. If you have a x4 device, ASUS recommends using the x4 slot first if possible before using the secondary x16 slot. Although very washed out, you can see the cover for the VIA audio chip that has the X-Fi software bundle attached to it. You can also see the Intel LAN chip used on this board, just like its big brother.
As this is still an ROG board, you do get the excellent Start and Reset buttons along with the Go Button. It is a little out of the normal placement down at the lower edge of the board, but still works very well. The RIIIG still has the usual six SATA II ports and two SATA 3.0 ports, and like the other Intel based ROG boards the two SATA 3.0 ports are covered by the Drive Expert controller for SATA 3.0 RAID. There are two jumpers visible in this shot; the lower one is the CMOS reset jumper while the top one limits QPI voltage droop. This can help dramatically during overclocking as it prevents QPI voltage from dropping so low that it cannot support the speed the CPU is running at.
The ports on the back are very familiar to anyone that has looked at the latest ROG boards. You have pretty much everything with the exception of the RC Connect Bluetooth header. This feature is not present on the RIIIG, which is a shame as it would be a welcome one. We imagine that its absence is part of the reason for the relatively low cost of the Rampage III Gene.
BIOS and Overclocking
As you would expect, the BIOS on the RIIIG is very complete. You are getting most of the same features that you would see with the RIIIE, but also some of the more consumer based features like we saw on the Crosshair IV Formula. For the hard-core overclocker the Extreme Tweaker page will be where you spend most of your time. ASUS, wanting to make things as streamlined as they can, have made sure most of the major settings can be adjusted from here.
There is also a sub-page that lets you play with the memory timings to get the best performance/highest clock.
The Advanced page is another place that you will find yourself frequenting. You can adjust quite a few of the board's features here.
You can tweak some of the options for the iROG configuration as well as the RC connect.
As with other ROG boards, you can enable or disable all of the onboard peripherals in one swoop.
Of course, we cannot forget the ASUS fan options. As the RIIIG is very obviously a LAN motherboard, ASUS has made sure to include some great fan controls to ensure that you can get the best cooling with the amount of noise you are willing to put up with.
Going into the overclocking section of this review, the RIIIG has a lot to live up to. Its older brother was able to reach a lab record of 4.5GHz with our 980X on air. We were expecting quite a bit.
Right out the gate the RIIIG showed us its potential. We were able to get into Windows at 180x25, but things were far from stable. We were only able to complete one of our tests before the system started rebooting. After that we dialled things back until finally at 174x25 we found stability. This gives the RIIIG a top clock of 4.36GHz, which is really not too bad.
You can see the validation for the i7 980X on the ASUS Rampage III Gene here.
When we installed the RIIIG we ran into something of a dilemma. We could not find TurboV to install. We checked the DVD-ROM, we checked the website. No TurboV listed. Finally, as we had seen AI Suite II on the list of utilities, we decided to install that. Much to our surprise AI Suite II is not what it used to be. It seems that now it is a catch-all for a number of applications including TurboV EVO.
When you first launch AI Suite II you get a toolbar. Clicking on the buttons will open up a menu with a certain amount of tools. Under the tools heading we found TurboV EVO. Of course, there are other features to be found in the new software, but we are more concerned with TurboV EVO and its new design.
I have to say that this new look is quite impressive. The red background ties in with the mystique that the ROG boards have and the Rampage series in particular. You still have the usual tools (CPU LevelUP, TurboKey etc) found in TurboV and by being combined into the AI Suite II it now adds more value to the tool.
Interestingly enough, you can also change the looks and skin of which controls the look of the whole AI Suite.
As with all of the ROG boards, the RIIIG has RC Connect feature and the RCTweakIT software. It works the same on the RIIIG as it does on the other boards in the ROG line.
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
Setting up the Rampage III Gene was as easy as the other ROG boards. That is up until we started looking for the TurboV software. Looking through the drivers and utilities DVD-ROM, we could not find where it was; at first.
Of course, as we told you, we did finally find it in the AI Suite II, but there was no indication that it was there. After we sorted this out we got down to playing with some of the other items in the utilities list.
We tried out the GameFirst utility and found that it was a passable piece of software that while not the most efficient, was also not the worst I have seen. We did notice that while it was able to balance data coming into and out of the PC, it was not able to deal with our firewall's QoS and actually caused a few drop outs during gaming.
The VIA audio CODEC combined with the THX software was outstanding, Even with the software installed we saw no decrease in performance in gaming or other applications.
I would caution you that this was with a six core, twelve thread CPU, so it is possible that on a lower end CPU you could have some performance lag, but it would be minimal.
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
Buy It Here
The memory performance on the X58 based Rampage III Gene is excellent. It is just a hair behind the full sized X58 boards and costs less.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
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.
Stock Memory Performance
Overclocked Memory Performance
Again we find that the RIIIG can keep up with the big boys despite its smaller size.
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.
The ASUS RIIIG comes in close to the bottom of the testing group here. This is interesting as the memory scores are pretty good. If we were to guess, we will see a corresponding dip in HDD performance.
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.
Yup, as we knew (and not only because we did the testing), the RIIIG has slower than expected HDD performance. This accounts for the lackluster HyperPi showing and will also potentially hurt it in tests like PCMark, AutoGK and Lightwave 3D.
Stock HDD Performance
Overclocked HDD Performance
Stock USB 3.0 Performance
Overclocked USB 3.0 Performance
Everest again shows us the same thing we knew with more detail. The CPU utilization time is much higher than it should be. This is probably something that can be fixed with a firmware update, though, so it is not too troublesome.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Overall System performance and Gaming
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
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
As we expected, the RIIIG has some issues with PCMark Vantage. But as we do not put all our cards on any synthetic test, we are not too worried.
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.
Now this is more like it. The Rampage III Gene does a spectacular job with 3DMark Vantage. We can only hope it holds up this well under real world gaming stress.
Cinebench R11. 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.
After the 3DMark scores we are back to the bottom of the chart for Cinebench R11.5, at least until we kick the clock speed into high gear.
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 Rampage III Gene still is at the bottom of the list here by over four seconds (which could mean hours in a full project render). We are still pretty convinced this is due to the relatively slow HDD speeds we saw.
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.
The Rampage III Gene does something of a turn around here. It performs the task of transcoding very well, at least at stock speeds.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose uses 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 frame 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.
Using our standard minimum frame rate as the reference, the RIIIG does well, but not great. However, looking at the average frame rate, it is at the top of the group with 140FPS and 141 FPS. Again, bear in mind that the differences we are talking about are 1-2 FPS, which you will never see in real world use.
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.
Far Cry 2 is about what we always expect. It is a very close race. Yes, we have a winner, but it is by a single FPS. Even the average numbers are very close with less than 1FPS separating some of the boards.
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.
In terms of minimum frames per second the stock RIIIG does well. It is even faster than the overclocked test run. It ties with two other boards for first place in this case. For average FPS, well, there is around a 3 frame per second difference between these three boards.
There is not much to say about gaming here. The RIIIG is a great gaming board with some excellent features that are aimed at the LAN crowd. As long as you have a decent CPU and GPU in the system, there should be no problems using the Rampage III Gene as a gaming motherboard in a portable case.
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).
The RIIIG does well on power consumption. At least it does at idle and at stock speeds. When you ask it to perform and push the CPU then, it demands quite a bit more power from the wall.
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.
Here we see the consequences of not having more room to play with. The NB on the RIIIG gets hot, very hot, and it takes a while to cool down after it gets up there. Perhaps getting a hold of one of the old ASUS add-on fans from the socket 775 days would help here.
We told you at the outset that the Rampage III Gene would have some big shoes to fill. After all, we think that its big brother is one of the best boards out right now. Unfortunately it did not deliver as well as we would have liked. There were some HDD performance issues that we ran into that hurt many of our less gaming oriented tests.
Of course, the RIIIG is meant as a gaming and overclocking board. That much is evident from the features presented (and from the performance we saw). It is not a board you would pick up if you are looking for a rendering workstation, but it is a board for gaming. With items like GameFirst and the X-Fi enhanced VIA audio, it makes for an excellent gaming platform, especially for LAN parties and online gaming. It is small enough that you could build it into a SFF case (a nice portable one) and carry it with you when you go a-fraggin.
The cost is also right at $239.99 from NewEgg.com which includes a lot of performance and features. To wrap up, the Rampage III Gene is a great product. ASUS has done an excellent job of maintaining a high level of performance in a very small space. They have also maintained the same level of component quality found on other ROG boards. From the Intel LAN to the Marvell SATA 3.0 controller with RAID (provided by the Drive Expert).
While the Gene is not going to perform as well as its big brother (the Rampage III Extreme), the differences are relatively small when you look at them, while the price difference is a whopping $150.