Intel Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3960X Review: High End CPU roundup
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme (X79) Motherboard
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme’s cooling system is very well made, which kept this model suitably cooled at all times during testing. The aluminium profiles lie on the components via thermal tapes, and we particularly liked the fact that there’s a backplate behind the power section components, which makes the heat spread even more efficiently. ASUS installed a turbine fan on one of the coolers, which keeps the entire model perfectly cool at full speed. In silent mode, Rampage IV Extreme was warm, but no more than that. Although ASUS is quite confident in the cooler’s performance, it’s still bound to attract major amounts of dust, so pay attention to that.
This model’s layout is excellent; we have no negative remarks. The motherboard has four third-gen PCI-E x16 slots. When all four graphics cards are present, the first two slots work in x16 mode, while the second two work in x16. No, it’s not a typing error – this motherboard actually supports all four slots in x16 mode. We can’t recall seeing that feature so far, which makes this motherboard a quad-GPU Mecca. There is even a fifth PCI-E slot which works in x8 mode, as well as a normal x1 one.
The chipset and DIMM slots have excellent voltage filtering, while the CPU is served by ten high-quality capacitors closely cooperating with the digital power unit. We’re talking about the second generation of ASUS’ Extreme Engine Digi+ subsystem for CPU voltage calibration and control. It should also be mentioned that this motherboard has two CPU power connectors: an 8-pin and a 4-pin one. This will make extreme overclockers rejoice, and we’re sure that world records will be brought down in flames using this very motherboard.
Another excellent feature is that ASUS has enabled users to keep their old LGA1366 coolers via a special bracket contained in the bundle, so if you already have one, you won’t have to buy a new one. Excellent move!
The upper right corner of the motherboard contains the Power and Reset buttons, as well as the two-character diagnostics display. Physical voltage measuring points are present throughout the motherboard as well, which is another argument in this motherboard’s reach for the overclocking community. It should also be mentioned that there are physical microswitches on the PCB that can turn off whichever PCI-E x16 slot you want to.
The motherboard has four SATA II and four SATA III ports. Two out of four SATA III ports are in command of ASMedia’s controller, which does its job well. All connectors for use with the enclosure (power, reset, power LED, HDD LED etc.) are neatly marked. The DIMM slot brackets are removed from the slots closer to the graphics card, so your RAM won’t physically come into conflict with your primary graphics card in the top slot, whatever its length. USB 3.0 was to be expected on the PCB itself from such a high-profile motherboard, and our expectations were met. Fan connectors are numerous and scattered around too, so that you never have to look for one for too long. Realtek’s ALC898 (7.1) audio chip goes for one of the best integrated audio solutions, which has been tested and tried numerous times. The motherboard only has one Gigabit LAN adapter, but considering the sheer number of things present on the I/O panel, we can’t really consider this a drawback. Of course, the star of the I/O panel is the always handy Bluetooth module in 2.1 + EDR revision.
ASUS’ VGA Hotwire technology is intended for true overclocking connoisseurs. The PCB contains a set of pins right next to the Power and Reset buttons. These are made for connectors that can be placed here on one side and welded onto the graphics card on the other. What you get is top-quality voltage control of the graphics card via the already familiar OC Key system. To the point and highly usable – good work, ASUS!
The EFI BIOS is made in the black “ROG” fashion. It’s replete with overclock options, and everything can be adjusted to the smallest detail. In short, this motherboard has everything you could ever want from a motherboard.
The CPU’s BCLK worked completely stably at 230 MHz without an increase in any voltage value. In extreme conditions (overclocking session with liquid nitrogen), the BCLK of our Core i7 3960X EE CPU would have probably worked at 15-20 MHz more than that. Kingston’s 2133 MHz CL9 RAM that we used was able to work stably at its default frequency and a voltage of 1.65 V, which is stunning for a quad-channel kit. A stable overclock of 4.5 GHz was achieved with HT on and a voltage of 1.37 V, while turning off the HT brought us up to almost 4.6 GHz at the same voltage. All these voltages are 100% safe for everyday use, so we couldn’t be any happier with Rampage IV Extreme. Of course, higher voltages will gain you even higher clocks, but since we were stuck with Intel’s not-so-efficient water-cooling system, we could only look for voltage drops at higher voltages, not really test the entire platform thoroughly.
All in all, ASUS’ Rampage IV Extreme is one of the best motherboards that we’ve encountered lately, and definitely the best if we restrain ourselves to Intel’s X79 chipset. It’s really a top product in every way, targeting gamers and overclockers. The only thing that could bother you is the rather steep price of around 360€, but we’re talking about the fastest desktop platform money can buy, so the price is adequate to the concept.