ASUS Crosshair V Formula Z Motherboard Review

formerstaff - 2013-02-02 13:32:00 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: formerstaff   
Reviewed on: June 3, 2013
Price: $239.00

Introduction:

I have been searching for a definitive answer to the question regarding the release of the rumored new AMD chipset that has been called 1090/1050. It was rumored to be eminent before the release of Bulldozer, then the rumor was revised for it to be released synonymously with the re-stepped Vishera. At about this time we were hearing about the Vishera refresh and that the new chipset would accompany it. Now the Vishera refresh does not seem as certain as the rumor mill once had it and again talk of the new chipset lingers, parallel to the release of Steamroller. It does appear however that the 1090/1050 chipset has been shelved and the 990FX chipset will continue through the release of Steamroller, due out Q4 this year. Is a new chipset needed? We don't know. But for right now, there are some high end motherboards laden with hefty features and advanced power delivery to eek out the maximum overclock and performance from at least the Vishera FX line of processors. Asus has sent us a trio of homes for the FX Vishera CPU, that provides a great contrast in motherboard features. Does It make a discernible difference in performance? That's also what I will be looking for. First up is the ASUS Crosshair Formula V-Z. The CFV is the Asus AMD flagship of the lineup. It is a board that is heavy on features and power delivery, designed to extract the maximum overclock from any CPU that fits the AM3+ socket soldered to it. It is particularly aimed at the FX octo-core processors with it's higher power requirements and price tag.

Closer Look:

The ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z bares a resemblance to it's earlier incarnation the Crosshair V Formula and many have taken that cosmetic similarity and ran with the assumption. The fact is that the 'Z' line is all new, from the PCB up, with very tangible changes. From the power delivery to the on-board audio, many features have been improved, revised, or just simply replaced with better.

The Formula Z presents itself in a very similar package to that of its predecessor the Formula IV. It's a spare no expense, Velcro flapped, windowed showcase that matches the high end look and feel of the Formula V-Z. The Formula Z is part of the highly regarded and gamer smile evoking ROG or Republic of Gamers lineup. A line designed for the demanding task of gaming, with all of the heightened power requirements and conveniences that a gamer looks for when putting together that multi GPU machine, designed to chew through those heavily shaded and tessellated titles sitting on store shelves. Among the more prominent and powerful features are the 8+2+2 Extreme Engine Digi+II Digital Power delivery and 42 PCIe lanes for massive bandwidth. The Formula Z is designed to be the powerhouse king of the hill amongst AMD motherboards. Time to heat it up and see if that indeed is the case.

The packaging is a great looking Crimson red affair with the ASUS ROG flame design shooting from the lower left corner of the box. In the upper right is the ROG insignia letting you know that if you are a gamer, this board is for you. When you open the Velcro flap you get a good deal of information about the exclusive features of the Formula V and on the opposite side a windowed look at the entire black and red schemed board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having a look around the other six sides of the box, we have the usual amount of branding going on with a serial/SKU sticker on one of the sides and a handle on the top for easy transport. The packaging matches the impressive intent of the motherboard. You get the idea from the extensive design, layout, and quality of the materials that something special is inside.

 

 

 

 

Cracking open this showcase of a box, we find two separate boxes. One containing the motherboard and one for the accessory bundle, a very complete bundle it is. Inside you find user's manual, a shielded I/O Shield, 6 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s),1 x 3-Way SLI bridge(s),1 x SLI bridge(s),1 x CrossFire cable(s),1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1), 1 x ROG Connect cable(s), and a ROG "Do not disturb, I m gaming" door hanger.

 

 

 

This a very nice bundle, with sharp looking 90 degree SATA cables and a special 'ROG' cable, for the hardcore to be able to tune and OC their machines from a laptop or tablet. To keep all those cables straight and to make it easy to get them back into the original USB port they are married to, ASUS has included a sheet of self adhesive wire labels to keep things orderly.

 

From a looks standpoint the Formula Z screams power and performance. Let's have a look around this black and red beauty before applying the power and unforgiving loads on it and see if this is the case.

Closer Look:

The Formula Z is a standard ATX form factor board, measuring in at 12" x 9.6", despite its lengthy list of features including four PCIE slots, massive heatsinks, on-board buttons, and debug lights. Even with all of this and more, it is an amazingly uncluttered and flowing board, that has no interference issues even when all of its capabilities and capacities are exploited. I have the advantage of owning both the Formula V-Z and it's predecessor the Formula IV and even with four graphics cards installed (yes i know it only has three double spaced PCIe slots, I will explain that later on) I had no issues with anything getting in the way of anything else.

The board is largely a black and red color scheme, with a touch of gray and white thrown in. The black is a true black, that will not turn brown from the underlying copper tracers, should you choose a well lit case. Unless you just simply don't care for these colors, it is one of the best looking boards on the market. The large heatinks are featured on the board with the VRM heatsink featuring an inset Red aluminum accent, rolled into the shape of the ROG insignia, pressed into the otherwise black heatsink.

The back of the board is a bit different from any other 990FX I have seen, in that it has additional VRM components. The back of the board also has a thick metal bracket that the heatsinks are screwed to as well. A heavy duty steel bracket for the mounting of those large heatsinks is also included. The Formula-Z is a feature rich board to say the least, and you fair reader have won a trip around the board to look at them all, starting now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning to the rear I/O panel, we find a well stacked area of connectivity and a button that you will not find on any other 990FX board on the market. Here is what you have: 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s), 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s, 1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s), 4 x USB 3.0, 8 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to ROG Connect), 1 x Optical S/PDIF out, 6 x Audio jack(s), 1 x Clear CMOS button, 1 x ROG Connect On/ Off switch. The last feature 'ROG Connect' is unique to ASUS. Through a USB cable and activation via the ROG Connect, you can monitor system conditions and make hardware level changes on the fly from a laptop or tablet a-la F1 racing. ROG Connect is meant for the hardcore overclocker and a bit of fun to use.

  

 

The connections for discrete graphic options are plentiful with the Formula V-Z. Four PCIe x 16 2.0 slots are aboard (three being double slotted) facilitates triple Crossfire and SLI. When occupying two PCIe slots, the configuration is at 16x/16x electrically. When using three of the slots the configuration runs at 16x/8x/8x. In between the first and third full length PCIe slots are two PCIe x 1 2.0 slots for sound cards, capture cards, or other devices. The full length x16 slots use a securing mechanism  ASUS calls 'Q connect,' a fishtailed style locking mechanism that flips forward to a 45 degree angle when fully locked in and is pushed flat towards the PCB to release the device. New on this incarnation of the Formula V is the deletion of the PCI slots, and the two PCIe x 1 taking its place.

 

 

Along the bottom of the board are most of the front panel connections. From left to right are: the front panel audio connector, digital audio connector, optional chassis fan connector, thermal sensor connection, and a TPM connector. Next to the USB connections is a thunderbolt connector, for an optional TB expansion card and a pair of 10-pin USB 2.0 connections.  The Fast Boot switch in the off position will carry out a traditional POST process where all hardware is checked before it will POST. In the on position, it will let you customize your POST process bypassing hardware checks for a speedier boot up. The third option is exclusively for the windows 8 operating system. The ASUS ROG two second boot option that will POST  in well..two seconds.

The Direct Key button just adjacent to the right lets you instantly gain access to the BIOS for quick changes or overclock profiles. To the right of Direct Key are a two of the eight fan headers by my count, as well as three optional temperature sensor connections. To the right of those, sits the 20 pin system panel connector. If you look closely between the second and third PCIe slot next to the SB heatsink you can see the unusually placed socketed BIOS of the Formula Z.  That's right, there is only a single BIOS chip there, however on the rear I/O panel is the BIOS Flashback feature that is capable of flashing a damaged BIOS back in shape.

The BIOS Flashback feature can be used to update or recover a damaged BIOS. Using only standby power, you can update or re-flash your BIOS, or try out a new BIOS with a flash drive containing the BIOS version you wish to update to. Upon inserting the flash memory, you just press the BIOS Flashback button, hold it for three seconds, and the BIOS will be automatically updated. BIOS Flashback can even update the BIOS without a CPU or memory installed.

 

 

 

Moving to the lower right side of the PCB we find the eight SATA 6Gb/s ports to go with the two eSATA ports on the rear I/O panel. This is up from the previous version of the Formula V with 7 SATA 6 ports and a single eSATA. Six of these are AMD SB950 controlled and support RAID function 0,1,5,10 while two of the SATA 6Gb/s are controlled by ASMedia ASM1061 controller. The layout of the SATA ports is very good and cause no interference when three graphic cards are installed

 

 

Higher up from the SATA 6Gb/s ports are the quad DIMM slots of the Formula-Z. The dual channel architecture supports 32GB of DDR3 of speeds of 2400(O.C.(and beyond) /2133(O.C.)/2000(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600/1333/1066 MHz ECC, Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory. The DIMM(s) use what ASUS calls Q-DIMM. In essence this is a operating lock-down on only one end of the DIMM. This makes for an easier installation with a better positive lock on the memory modules. On the outside edge of the DIMMS, are the dual inductors for the Formula-Z dedicated two phases of power delivery for the system memory.

If you own or have considered a Crosshair V Formula and wonder if the 'Z' revamp is a meaningless and cosmetic only makeover, the answer is no. One of the additions in the Z model is the incorporation of the DDR3  'T-Topology' design. This means that ASUS has made the DIMM tracer distance the same for all four DIMMs. This helps with latency issues and aids in more stable overclocks. ASUS claims an average of 15% additional overclock headroom for the system memory. In turn higher and more stable memory overclocks means higher overall overclocks. Also new in the Z edition is support for 2400MHz (OC) memory. The 990FX chipset supports Hyper-transport 3.0 and a transfer rate of  5.2 MT/s

On the outside of the four DIMMS are the 20 pin USB 3.0 connector and the larger black connector of the 24-pin main ATX power. This is one of four power connectors found around the Formula-Z. It quickly becomes clear that the ASUS engineers have gone to great lengths to make sure that there is sufficient power for a heavily overclocked processor, memory, and multiple graphics processors to all be under demanding loads simultaneously. ASUS has also deployed this design into the Audio components, as we'll see a bit further down with the inclusion of a massive 1500uF capacitor to ensure that the audio has plenty of power to make sure the 'big sounds' do not get distorted or experience clipping..

 

 

 

Moving along to the top of the Formula-Z PCB, we get more indication of how serious the ASUS engineers are about the Formula-Z power delivery and the ability to manage it. On the top left, we spy the 8-pin CPU power connector, nicely placed at the very edge of the board. I have run into many boards over the last two years that had CPU power connections that were placed just a centimeter short of being reached by the power supplies connection. On this board, they would have all reached and avoided the use of an extension.

Moving right, to the other side of the top heat sink, is another 4-pin ATX 12v connector. This 4-pin connection is not necessary for operation, but does provide extra voltage and stability for heavy overclocks. The power connections are rounded out by a fourth 4-pin molex behind the rear I/O panel. This connector is for additional stability when running multiple GPU's. It helps with heavy GPU overclocking and the power hit from having say four GPU's all going into 3D gaming or benchmarking mode simultaneously.

 

 

 

At the upper left corner of the Formula-Z are the on-board buttons, moved from the bottom edge where they were located on the Crosshair V Formula. This is a much better location, as they are no longer blocked by multi card use and keeps them in play no matter how you exploit the PCIe slots.  In the image below, above the LED Debug display is the 'Slow Mode' switch that assists in better overclocking when using LN2 or other exotic sub-zero cooling methods. When engaged, the slow mode enables the system to make adjustments by slowing down the CPU and avoiding crashes. Right next to the slow mode switch is the LN2 jumper, which allows the system to eliminate the cold bug and run at extremely low temperatures.

Below the Slow mode switch is the Q-Code display. Essentially, a debug post code is displayed and can be looked up in the manual to aid in troubleshooting POST issues. Next is the on-board power and reset buttons. These have been relocated to a much better place than previous generations of the Crosshair Formula and are not blocked by multi GPU setups. To the left of these is the 'GO' button. The GO button serves a dual purpose. When pressed before POST, it activates one of the niftiest features ever on a motherboard I think in 'Mem-OK'.

Mem-OK will patch any memory issues or conflicts present and allow the machine to POST and boot. I have had occasion to use Mem-Ok and can report that it does indeed work. I have not been able to find an answer as to exactly how it works, so if you will grant me a pass on this one, I am going to throw "a complex set of algorithms" at it and leave it at that. When the 'GO' button is pressed quickly after post, it allows you to access and load a preset OC profile.

 

Rounding out the perimeter of the board is the on board sound of the Formula-Z, the Supreme FX III, an updated version to the Formula V's Supreme FX II. The Supreme FX III is an 8 channel HD audio solution using Realtek ALC889 codec. The audio components are isolated on the board and the Supreme FX III has a special EMI shielding cover to reduce interference. The Supreme FX III separates analog and digital signals for extremely clean sound and the elimination of ripple. This is also paired with a 'new on this version', high quality 1500uF capacitor that eliminates clipping and allows extreme high and low frequencies to complete their wave, by making sure that ample energy is always at the disposal of the audio components.

Like a little bling on board? If you look closely you can see a grayish line that looks like a topical tracer that cordons off the sound components from the rest of the board. What it is actually, is a LED lit tracer that makes a crooked beeline up to the I/O outputs and lights up very nicely when powered on. What looks like a cool effect, but superficial attempt to cordon off the 110dB SNR audio are actually tracers and connections that are buried in between the multi-layered PCB to keep interference and distortion out of the equation. It is called 'Redline Shielding and actually isolates the Supreme FX III digital components from analog signals and EMI distortion inside the layers of the Formula Z PCB. Gold plated contact points add to better conductivity and lessen distortion.

 

 

 

At the heart of the Formula-Z is the AM3+ or AMb3 black socket that supports AMD processors up to 140w rating. The pin outs on the 990/950 chipset boards have been increased from .047 to .053 inch, with the 990 chipset ostensibly, to provide better compatibility with pre-FX CPU's and better contact. Presumably those considering a board of this caliber and price range will be purchasing an FX processor or carrying over a previous flagship CPU and the likes of the Phenom II 970, 1100T, and the Bulldozer FX models are all compatible with the Crosshair V Formula Z. The standard lever and tension plate is employed here, along with gray mounting brackets for various heatsinks.

Surrounding the AM3+ socket we can see the 8+2 portion of the 8+2+2  digital power delivery called The Extreme Engine Digi+ II. It is a combination of digital and analog power components that have been reworked for the Formula-Z and allows adjustable power frequencies for both the CPU and the memory. New to the Z edition in the VRM architecture are the addition of two additional phases, dedicated to the system memory, for more tuning control and higher overclocking. The entire power delivery is made up of extremely high quality components that we have come to expect from ASUS (chokes/inductors, capacitors, controllers, etc.). Highlighted in the bottom right image, are the digital controllers that are part of the Extreme Engine Digi+II VRM and part of the reworking of the Formula Z.

 

 

 

Topping off all of the heat producing components are the heatsinks. Not even the heatsinks of the Formula-Z have escaped scrutiny and re-engineering. They have all been covered in a special ceramic coating called 'Ceram-Mix' that is rough in texture and creates more surface area to disburse the heat away from the VRM and chipsets even faster. The top heatsink is found on the VRM and is connected by heatpipe to the vertical VRM/northbridge heatsink. Along the length of the vertical VRM heatsink, is a separate red accent piece that is fashioned into the shape of the ROG emblem. The lower heatsink covering the less demanding southbridge is about half covered with a ROG placard. The heatsinks on the Formula-Z have shown very capable and effective, as well as good looking.

 

 

 

Well there is a look at the components and hardware of the Crosshair V Formula Z.  At first glance it may have looked like a cosmetic makeover for the Crosshair V Formula, but in fact it is an all new ground up effort. Much like the previous Formula V, ASUS has equipped the Formula Z to be a real ripper in the performance department. Now a look at the software and BIOS, to see how all of this hardware can be manipulated and adjusted to exploit all of the high test components soldered to this black and red PCB.

ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z Closer Look: Program & Utilities

ASUS takes its software very seriously from looks to functionality. The Ai II Turbo EVO Suite II looks as powerful as it is. Organized in an intuitive manner, It puts just about any voltage, temp, or resource usage nearby. Even some of those who are not traditionally fans of overclocking in a software environment will find the ease and option rich environment a bit much to pass up. One thing that ASUS does wonderfully is too animate overclocking adjustments as they are made and carried out. You always know and can watch in real time as that next attempt at a higher frequency is carried out and the heat and voltage being generated and used.

When you open TurboV EVO you get the option to auto tune your OC with Asus 'Level Up'. Basically, you choose a target frequency and TurboV adjusts different parameters and algorithms to reach the target clock. If you wouldn't dare use an auto tune program to get the frequency you want, then manual mode is more to your liking. Here you have control over the reference clock and the unlocked multiplier. You can also adjust voltages for the memory, APU, NB, and SB. Under the GPU boost tab, you can adjust the frequency of the on-die GPU. The APU multiplier tab lets you choose the cores you want to OC and features a real time animation to illustrate the settings you change. Here you can set the parameters for a auto clock, whether you want it fast and more conservative, or give the program 'Extreme' liberties to manipulate the voltages for the CPU and other functions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking things in your own hands, EVO in concert with the Extreme Engine DIGI+ II Power Control gives you the options to change the capacitance for the CPU, CPU/NB, and the DRAM. This raises the level of power available for higher overclocking and more stability, by changing the VRM switching frequencies. As in the BIOS, the capacitance adjustments are in 10% increments that range from 100% to 130%, save the phase control that is adjustable to 140%.

 

 

Of course while all of this overclocking is taking place, you want to keep an eye on such things as temperatures and voltages to make sure nothing goes awry. ASUS has some of the most thorough real time monitoring programs available today. ASUS EVO Probe II is a complete package that not only monitors temps, voltages, and fan speeds, but also provides the adjustment control to set thresholds for all of them and sets an alarm if they drop below or exceed the tolerance you set. While doing this review, ASUS Probe II popped up a warning box in the bottom right corner letting me know that the SB voltage had momentarily dropped below the 1.0V I had set to .088v.

Dovetailing with the ASUS Probe II is the EVO Sensor Recorder. Here you can watch all of the values found in Probe II, as well as setting parameters and tolerances and watch for fluctuations or record/log the goings on to have a look at later. It is highly customizable, as you can choose as many or as few settings to watch and record as you wish.

 

 

Sticking to the monitoring and adjusting theme, ASUS FAN Xpert is a highly customizable fan profile program that lets you enter and change custom fan curves for every fan that draws from the motherboard headers. The idea is made simple, with a graphical interface that you drag and drop your fans temperature setting and RPM on an X-Y axis and changes take place in real time.

 

If you are not a heavy duty all out overclocker and prefer to apply an easy overall 'theme' to your operations, ASUS EPU may be more your speed. The GUI is set as a radar graph, with different aspects from 'performance' to 'energy saving' to 'tranquility' in operation. On the side there is a CO2 emissions saved readout. While that is not exactly my kind of thing, if you become skillful at this program and being green, you may be able to have Al Gore purchasing carbon credits from you.

 

ASUS AI Charger enables up 3x the normal charging speed for devices that are compatible most notably iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc. It can easily be enabled or disabled from within the software suite. USB 3.0 Boost enables faster transfer rates vis UASP protocol and automatically detects the devices compatibility to take advantage of it. The GUI shows the USB port on the rear I/O panel that is highlighted with a green border to highlight the USB Charger+, so all you have to do is plug into the corresponding port for faster charging than the  4.5-5W routed to a standard USB port. You can also choose the settings for charging under sleep or hibernate modes.

ASUS USB 3.0 Boost boosts transfer speeds for USB storage devices automatically for devices that support it. ASUS claims that with the utilization of both UASP and BOT protocol, read performance is much closer to the rates seen with the use of SATA 6Gb/s ports or up to 170%. ASUS Network iControl optimizes your Internet connection and can prioritize your current network program

 

 

EVO Suite II System Information is simply ASUS's own hardware ID program, where you can get that basic information about the make, model, stepping, etc for your CPU, SPD, and motherboard information. You can also get a quick look at your CPU's cache levels, BIOS revisions, and CPU instruction.

ASUS settings is simply a program that lets you change the look, location, and how much screen real estate the ASUS EVO Suite II takes up. The full version can be reduced and separated into the lower bar and can auto hide the readout screens until you mouse over them.

 

ASUS ROG series, as you may know, puts a heavy premium on features and performance for gamers. One of the revisions from the initial Crosshair V Formula are the changes and additions to the Game First aspect of the Formula V. The addition of the Intel Ethernet speeds up Internet access while lowering CPU usage. This coupled with ROG Game First traffic shaping lowers latencies and ping times, while directing your traffic in a way that you can carry out more than one internet requiring task, without incurring a serious fragging, while downloading Linkin Park

 

 

ASUS ROG Connect is one of those programs for the hard core overclocker. Simply stated, ROG Connect gives you complete overclocking and monitoring control of your machine, from another remote machine or portable device such as a laptop or tablet. By installing the ROG Connect software onto the remote computer or device(s) of your choice, you can make hardware level changes such as overclocking and limit the interruption to the process. RC TweakIt is a versatile software suite, with controls for frequency, voltage, monitoring, and stored profiles. It is very functional and responsive. Activated by the special ROG USB cable included in the accessory bundle, all that needs to be done after the software installation is to connect the cable and press the ROG connect button on the I/O panel and start tweaking away.

 

 

ASUS USB BIOS Flashback is a utility that allows you to flash a corrupt BIOS or update and even simply try out a BIOS version. You can also schedule a check for new BIOS versions and download them. The Clear CMOS button on the rear I/O panel is held down for three seconds while a USB drive with a BIOS file is plugged in and the BIOS is updated or flashed back, without the machine even having to be powered on. In fact, the BIOS can be flashed without a CPU or system memory being in place. Paired with BIOS Flashback is ASUS update. From this utility you can update the BIOS from your choice of three ways. Directly from the Internet, a download, or from a BIOS file. Choose your method and the program will walk you through a BIOS flash.

 

 

This section could have gone on for another four or five pages easily. I am always mightily impressed with the functionality, diversity, and polish that ASUS continues to put into their software. In today's computing environment, where overclocking and squeezing the last bit of performance out of your hardware is a key sell point, ASUS makes it easy and even fun to do so, while providing a way to always know how far you are pushing things and giving you a heads up early when you need to intercede.

Closer Look:UEFI BIOS

The evolution of the UEFI BIOS has been interesting. As I waxed long winded on the last page, today when overclocking is 'A' if not "The" main selling feature, the UEFI BIOS is a study in a hardware company's parsing of taking the user from a scary looking behind the curtain DOS looking "yikes I can really screw things up here," to a comfortable place to be in control of their hardware. If it has been a while or if you are having your first look at the ASUS UEFI BIOS and utilities, it may take you some time to get acquainted with it, only for the number of options at your disposal. I have said it before and I will say it again, ASUS makes overclocking as involved and specific as you like, or with one click will take all of the sport out of it if that is what you want. It seems ASUS is constantly grooming and tweaking its BIOS and overclocking utilities, including Windows 8 certification and a change to a CAP UEFI format. First a look at the UEFI BIOS.

Entering the BIOS under EZ Mode you can choose basic function settings from energy saving, normal, and extreme. You can also focus your system performance towards quiet, energy saving, or high performance on an animated radar graph. Above you get basic system voltages and temperatures, below you can rearrange the boot order by simply doing a drag-n-drop of your storage devices depicted in graphic form. From here, you also have the option of entering the advanced mode by hitting F7. You can also save a copy of any page of the UEFI BIOS by installing a USB Flash drive and pressing F12 when in the current page you want saved. The main tab in the advanced mode is for very basic CPU, memory capacity, speed, and BIOS information. Here you set the system clock and security level, that's about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon clicking the Advanced mode, you are met with six tabs. The first is where most of the action takes place for the hardcore overclocker, in the form of ASUS Extreme Tweaker. ASUS has its own take on the UEFI BIOS, which incorporates of course the Digi+Power power delivery to the usual options of raising multipliers and voltages. Here you can unlock just about everything and give the system permission to 'go extreme' if you wish with voltages.

Manual voltages and DRAM timing adjustments can also be made in Extreme tweaker, as well as various bus speed and access to the unlocked multipliers for overclocking or underclocking.

 

 

 

Opening up Digi+ Power in the Extreme Tweaker tab opens up options that will be new to some users and can be looked at as the fine tune controls for power delivery. Here you control the capacitance for the CPU, CPU-NB, and the DRAM. Adjustments for the aforementioned capacitance can be made in 10% intervals, from 100% to 130% (140% in the case of phase control). Not only does this allow greater voltage to be used, but changes the switching frequencies for faster response and the stabilization of higher overclocks. Getting even more fine tuned, you have a separate setting that changes the switching frequencies for faster response. This level of control is great news for those of us, who in the course of our computing, used to have to choose between large amounts of RAM and high overclocks.

Moving down the list of power delivery options and optimizations are CPU Power Phase Control, which delivers increased stability to the CPU, or enable VRM Spread Spectrum for lower emission of EMI (electromagnetic interference), which also increases stability by limiting interference to surrounding components. CPU Power Duty Control allows the VRM to balance the loads applied onto each power phase to correspond to either the temperature or the current draw of each power phase. CPU Power Thermal control prevents the damage to the CPU power solution. You can see that digital power offers new and different implementations and protections, along with the ability to control how the power is delivered to the CPU, NB, and DRAM. The best way I found to overclock with this system, is to set the parameters for the digital power delivery in the BIOS, and then do the fine tuning in the ASUS TurboV EVO Suite II. As I said, most of the controls are intuitive, but it may be worth some time invested to experiment incrementally, to find how these values interact with each other when manually overclocking.

 

 

Under the main tab there is some basic information on the BIOS, including BIOS version and date, the CPU make and model, and the speed and amount of system memory installed. This is the place to set the system time and language, as well as the basic security level for access.

 

The advanced tab is your configuration and function screen. Here you can set up and configure everything from the CPU, to your SATA devices, to the exclusive ROG connect. North bridge and southbridge configurations are here, as well as LAN and network on-board devices. You can also control the behavior of USB ports. Two functions for the overclocker are here as well, in the CPU core on/off and the ability to enable or disable Application Power Management.

Under the CPU configuration are all the settings for the various AMD power saving features, such as Cool-n-Quiet, C1E, C6, and APM among others.

 

 

 

The next tab over is your Monitor tab and it is a what you see is what you get. All of the main voltages are listed here and fluctuate in real time.

 

Under the Boot tab, you find all of your options and boot override options, as well as information of detected drives and their capacities and model numbers. This function can be taken care of in E-Z mode by simply dragging and dropping the drives in the order you desire.

 

The last tab in advanced mode is the Tool tab. Here you can store up to eight overclock profiles and label them for easy loading when you wish. This is a great feature for BIOS overclockers who like to try out several types of approaches to OC's and can be accessed quickly through the direct key button on the motherboard.

 

That rounds out a look at the Formula-Z UEFI BIOS. The arrangement and organization of the BIOS is well polished and intuitive, as well as being option rich. ASUS provides a BIOS and software that makes overclocking as fun and drawn out as you want to make it, or will entirely suck the fun out of it, with built in auto-tune and algorithms that will find a stable overclock for you, if that is more to your liking.

Specifications:

 

CPU
AMD AM3+ FX™/Phenom™ II/Athlon™ II/Sempron™ 100 Series Processors
Supports AM3+ 32 nm CPU
Supports CPU up to 8 cores
Supports CPU up to 140 W
AMD Cool 'n' Quiet™ Technology
Chipset
AMD 990FX/SB950
Memory
 
4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 2400(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/2000(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600/1333/1066 MHz ECC, Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
* Refer to www.asus.com or user manual for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
* Due to OS limitation, when installing total memory of 4GB capacity or more, Windows® 32-bit operation system may only recognize less than 3GB. Install a 64-bit Windows® OS when you want to install 4GB or more memory on the motherboard.
System Bus
Up to 5.2 GT/s HyperTransport™ 3.0
Multi-GPU Support
Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports NVIDIA® 3-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots
3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (dual x16 or x16/x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode)
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Storage
AMD SB950 controller :
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller :
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
Audio
SupremeFX III built-in 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
- 1500 uF Audio Power Capacitor
- Gold-plated jacks
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection
- DTS Ultra PC II
- DTS Connect
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
USB Ports
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
AMD SB950 controller :
12 x USB 2.0 port(s) (8 at back panel, black+white, 4 at mid-board)
Overclocking Features
ROG Connect :
- RC Diagram
- RC Remote
- RC Poster
- GPU TweakIt
Extreme Engine Digi+ II :
- 8 + 2 phase power design
- 2 -phase Memory power design
UEFI BIOS features :
- ROG BIOS Print
- GPU.DIMM Post
iROG
Extreme Tweaker
Overclocking Protection :
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Special Features
ASUS Power Design :
- ASUS EPU
TurboV
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- AI Suite II
- Ai Charger+
- USB 3.0 Boost
- Disk Unlocker
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution :
- ASUS Fan Xpert
ASUS EZ DIY :
- ASUS O.C. Profile
- ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
- ASUS MyLogo 3
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS Q-Code
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Back I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0
8 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to ROG Connect)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x ROG Connect On/ Off switch(es)
internal I/O Ports
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x TPM connector(s)
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
2 x CPU Fan connector(s)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s)
3 x Optional Fan connector(s)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s)
1 x DirectKey Button(s)
1 x DRCT header(s)
8 x ProbeIt Measurement Points
3 x Thermal sensor connector(s)
1 x EZ Plug connector(s) (4-pin Molex power connector)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x Go Button(s)
1 x FastBoot switch(es)
Accessories
User's manual
I/O Shield
6 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x 3-Way SLI bridge(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x CrossFire cable(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
1 x ROG Connect cable(s)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
BIOS
 
64Mb Flash ROM, UEFI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI2.0a, Multi-Language BIOS
Manageability
 
WOL by PME, WOR by PME, PXE
Support Disc
Drivers
GameFirst II
Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
DAEMON Tools Pro Standard
ROG CPU-Z
ASUS WebStorage
ASUS Utilities (AI SUITE II/TurboV EVO/ASUS Update)
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
 
 
 

 

 

Features:

 

Additional Exclusive Features:

 

All Information provided by ASUS USA:http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/CROSSHAIR_V_FORMULAZ/#specifications

Testing:

Testing the ASUS Crosshair V Formula Z will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 7970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages, and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled to make a fair comparison without skewing results.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Boards:

 

Overclocking:

 

Overclocking the ASUS Crosshair V Formula Z is extremely fun. I opted in this case for a simple multiplier overclock and edged it up with a few ticks of the 'FSB' for a final overclock of 5042MHz. As always, all of the power saving features and APM were disabled and the final overclock was tested with an hour of P95 blend mode, stressing the CPU and memory controller.

 

 

Maximum Overclock:

Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed, when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will show the performance increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.

 

Benchmarks:

Scientific & Data:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. HD Tune 5.0
  3. AIDA64 2.50
  4. Sandra 2012 SP6
  5. x264
  6. HandBrake 9.8
  7. ATTO 2.47

Video:

  1. DiRT 3
  2. Battlefield 3
  3. 3DMark11



 

We have our maximum overclocks. Time to heat'em up and see how a comparison of the same chipsets shake out..

Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

 

Not much of a difference here either as we would expect from the identical chipsets, with the exception of the ASUS board, which outperforms the others in matters of storage and transfer speeds. A trait that has become common over the last couple years. Other than that the differences seem to be a small matter of the slight differential in the overclocks.

Testing:

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch-prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.

 

  

  

 

Not much of a difference to write home about here, but again the Formula V trend of edging out the comparison boards in matters of moving Data around continues.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Score

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

 

 

HandBrake 9.5 is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is a 4GB full length movie that is reduced in size to a 1.5GB file.

  

  

 

 

A photo finish here between the three, with an ever so slight lead to the two flagships.

Testing:

Moving data to and from an external device is something we all do as a means of backing up sensitive data, whether it be family pictures, movies, music, or projects. The speed with which this transfer occurs is measurable and can improve with different tools. I will be using ATTO version 2.47 to measure an external drive's read/write performance through the USB 3.0 interface. The default test algorithm is used for this test. Motherboards that support a boost to the USB spec, such as USB 3.0 Boost on the ASUS offering and XFast USB on the ASRock, will be used as they show the maximum potential speeds.

ATTO:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

The results in this test are interesting, as they show how well each manufacturer's USB 3.0 speed boost technology works. ASUS' implementation has the edge in larger file sizes, while the Extreme 4 does incredibly well using smaller file sizes. Overall, using Turbo Mode in ASRock's XFast LAN software is one way to increase throughput throughout the whole usage range, although if you are transferring data to and from an external drive, you most likely are using larger file sizes. Either way, the boost in performance is a point of difference.

ECS A970M-A Testing:

3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.

The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

 

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

Settings

 

 

 

Not much to see here. All three boards produce 'within the margin' results whether the games/benches are GPU dependent or CPU intensive.

ASUS Crosshair V Formula Z Conclusion:

I have had the luxury of owning the ASUS Crosshair V Formula Z, as well as most of the competitions flagships in the 990FX flavor and after putting the screws to all of them, I really find it difficult to not consider the Formula Z the Flagship for the entire chipset by any number of metrics. As by now you have seen time and time again, the real difference amongst motherboards of the same chipset is the feature set. What is so very impressive about the motherboards leaving the dock at ASUS is the completeness of the package. From the drool over good looks of the true black multilayer PCB, with the innovative and very stylish black and red heatsinks, with a hidden ROG insignia tucked away to the glowing red line of the EMI 'no fly zone' that provides noise free HD hi-fi. You are hard pressed to find a better looking board in the AM3+ range of products. The Crosshair V Formula Z is simply one of those boards that brought about the transparent left side.

The boards components are of the highest quality, to deliver ultra high overclocking ability with enough options to keep the most hard core overclocker busy for weeks, trying to get another 20MHz out of their favorite CPU. For the true geek among us, there is the ROG connect, whereby you can OC your rig on a separate machine via the included ROG connect USB cable with less CPU interruption, lessening the chance of crashes, while trying out the limits of your machine. For the hardcore, close to absolute zero overclocker looking for a place on HWbot, there are serious onboard accommodations in the form of the LN2 switch to take the cold bug out of play, as well as the 'Slow Switch' to slow things down so you can make them go fast. Many boards give a tip of the hat to exotic cooling and overclocking, however the CVF-Z is the real deal when it comes to actually bolting a pot to a motherboard for that record attempt.

Then there is a very polished software suite that gives most folks more options than they will probably ever use. Specific to the Formula Z are the features such as Mem-OK, which with a push of an onboard button resolves any memory issues and lets you get on with business. The direct Key feature whisks you instantly to the BIOS for quick in and out changes. The Intel Ethernet LAN and Game First software lets you shape internet traffic, for better ping times and stutter free play . Let's not forget the GPU/DIMM post feature that keeps a constant vigil over your GPU and system memory, to alert you of everything from a power delivery problem, to a bad seating of the RAM modules.

The Turbo EVO Suite II software is without a doubt the best in the business and makes the enthusiast overclocker feel like a kid in a candy store. The software suite in concert with the UEFI BIOS makes the overclocking experience as technical and protracted as you want, or a 30 second auto function if that is more your speed.

When it comes to power delivery for the 990 FX, ASUS's 8+2+2 Extreme Engine Digi+ II is top dog again, with dedicated phases not only for the system memory, but the memory controller as well. Add to this the options to adjust the capacitance and switching frequencies of the VRM and you have the most tunable AMD board on the market right now. In addition to the precision and quality of the power delivery of the Formula V-Z are the delivery points. Four power connections for the board, CPU, and graphics in addition to a very large capacitor for the audio, really speaks to the lengths ASUS has gone to make this overclocking animal inherently stable while doing so. I don't wish to be querimonious, although I do have one request. ASUS if you are listening, PLEASE make an 'E' version of the Formula-Z that supports quadfire, in the form of four cards.

The Crosshair V Formula Z is not simply an aesthetic refresh of the Crosshair V Formula, but a ground up rethink implementation of the overclocker's motherboard and a shining example of what the ASUS engineers can do when an ASUS motherboard goes ROG.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: