ASUS Crosshair II Formula Review
Reviewed by: ajmatson
Reviewed on: June 24, 2008
When it comes to choosing a motherboard I must admit, I am really picky on the features and accessories I want. I used to think that one motherboard is no better or worse than the next, but boy was I wrong. Not only do features make a motherboard, but also the build quality. If you are an overclocking enthusiast, the quality of the components and the way the board is manufactured makes a difference in the amount of performance increase you can push out of it. That, and the accessories included with the board are what allow you to take full advantage of what it is that makes them different. NVIDIA has given the AMD crowd a major update in the motherboard chipset with the 780a. The 780a brings the new Hybrid SLi technology to the market, which allows graphics boosting and power saving features for the mainstream user and enthusiast alike. This new chipset gives the AMD processor using crowd another powerful platform to use instead of being limited to the 790FX chipset and brings them SLi capabilities, including the new Triple SLi design.
Previously, we took a look at the ASUS M3N-HT, which is a 780a based motherboard geared at the mainstream market. Today, we are going to take a look at another 780a based motherboard by ASUS, the Crosshair II Formula, which is part of the ASUS Republic of Gamers series. The Crosshair II uses the NVIDIA 780a GMCP for the Northbridge and the nForce 200 for the Southbridge and is interfaced with the CPU using HyperTransport 3.0. The Crosshair II supports AMD processors including the Phenom X3 and X4, Athlons and Semprons. Since the new 780a boards have graphics embedded, mainstream users will be able to use it without requiring a discrete card for operating, keeping costs low and enthusiasts will be able to combine a discrete card with the onboard graphics to boost performance using the Hybrid SLi technology.
I have to admit, I got all giddy when I opened the box and saw this inside. I have never seen a motherboard so attractively packaged like this. The front of the packaging features a big crosshair and some of the feature logos showing that this board is meant for hardcore gamers. The back lists the specifications of the Crosshair II as well as some of the overclocking features which really caught my eye since I always have this urge to push my hardware to the limits. The left side of the box gives you a peek at the back panel connections available for you. If you open the flap of the packaging, it reveals a more in-depth look into what the Crosshair II brings to the fight.
Sliding the goodies out of the packaging, you can see how well ASUS takes steps to ensure that your hardware is protected and intact. The motherboard itself is enclosed in a plastic shell which keeps it from being damaged, scratched or dust being built up on it. The black box underneath the motherboard shell houses the accessories.
Like I mentioned before, the accessories that come with a motherboard can make a big difference, and the Crosshair II comes with a wealth of them. Starting off, we have the basics that come with any motherboard I have seen on the market. This includes the manual, driver CDs, an ROG sticker, six, SATA cables with 90 degree connectors, a molex to SATA power adapter, a backplate, an IDE cable and a floppy cable. Then for extras, ASUS threw in an HDMI to DVI connector, its unique Q Connectors for the motherboard headers, and a two port USB / one port Firewire bracket.
Many of you who have seen the first Crosshair ASUS produced might have liked having the POST LCD showing you important information for debugging if you ran into problems. Well, ASUS has improved this feature on the Crosshair II, making it an external LCD. Also included with the Crosshair II to aid in overclocking is a small fan, which when connected to the heatsink over the voltage regulators, actively cools the heatsink link to keep operating temperatures lower.
Since the ASUS Crosshair II supports a multi-GPU configuration, included is a dual SLI bridge and a triple SLI bridge. With more and more cards coming out that are supporting triple SLI, you will be able to push your system to the maximum gaming potential. The dual SLI bridge is flexible whereas the triple SLI bridge is a solid design.
Another unique feature with the Crosshair II is that ASUS takes the sound card off of the board and converts it into the SupremeFX II PCI Express X1 audio card. This cards supports ADI 1988B 8-channel High Definition Audio and has a noise filter to keep out any unwanted interference from disrupting your gaming experience.
Now that we have seen what complements the Crosshair II, let's take a look at the board.
Just like the accessories, this board packs a punch in what it has to offer. The Crosshair II uses the same black PCB that ASUS Republic of Gamers boards are known to be made from. This is from the Stack Cool system that layers the board to spread the heat across the PCB to keep critical components cool. There are also heatsinks on the back of the board to aid in cooling and supporting the Northbridge and Southbridge chips. The Crosshair II is designed around the new NVIDIA 780a SLI chipset which allows for a true multi-GPU gaming platform. The 780a supports AM2 and AM2+ up to the Quad Core Phenom and carries all of that data on a 5200 MT/s HyperTransport 3.0 interface when used with an AM2+ CPU or up to 2000MT/s with an AM2 CPU.
The back panel looks like an underachiever when it comes to the amount of real estate used for connectors, but don't let that fool you. The ASUS Crosshair II offers you the right connections for anything you might need during your frag fests. One thing you might notice is that ASUS has done away with the PS/2 mouse port since most gamers use the faster and more accurate USB mice these days. Also at the very top of the panel is a button with a circular arrow. This is a BIOS reset button which makes resetting the system BIOS after a bad overclock extremely easy and convenient since you do not have to remove the side panel to perform this task. In addition, there are six USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 keyboard port, an optical out port, a coaxial S/PDIF output, a VGA port, and an HDMI port (which has an adapter to provide a DVI port), one Firewire port, and two Gigabit LAN ports.
Moving on over to the top of the board you can see that there is a lot going on up here, but is not too cramped as to hinder aftermarket heatsinks should you choose to go that route. The ASUS Crosshair II uses a new 8+2 phase power design to aid in a better and stable overclock and uses a full 24-pin ATX power connector and an 8-pin auxiliary power connector to supply the juice to this board. The socket on this board is AM2+ but it will support AM2 CPUs as well, but with a lower HyperTansport speed. You can use Semprons, Athlons, Athlon X2s, and Phenoms, including the new 50 series Triple Core and Quad Cores.
Sliding down to the expansion slots, ASUS has done a great job of spreading them around. Since the board has its own sound that uses an x1 slot, ASUS has placed that near the top so that it will not be covered by a graphics cards with large two slot coolers. There are three PCI Express x16 slots on the board, two blue and one white. The two blue are for Dual SLI setups and will both run at x16 speeds when paired with SLI graphics cards. The white one will add additional graphics card support for Triple SLI mode, however then all three x16 slots run at x8 speeds. There is also another PCI Express x1 slot, and two legacy PCI slots available for extra add in cards.
Moving down to the bottom of the Crosshair II is where all of the headers are located. There is a Firewire header, three USB 2.0 headers, a floppy port, an S/PDIF header, the front panel headers, and you may have noticed the power and reset buttons. Being a hardware reviewer, this is one of the most appreciated features that I find on a motherboard. There is nothing like testing hardware either on the inside of a case or on a test bench and having to turn to the outside of the case to power on the board or use a jumper to connect the header leads. I would like to see this feature standard on all future motherboards.
If you thought that was all, think again. Along the right spine of the Crosshair II are more goodies. You have one IDE port which supports up to two IDE devices and six SATA ports. The SATA ports are SATA II 3.0GB/s speeds and are mounted at 90 degree angles to aid in case wire management and to avoid being blocked by large graphics cards. The SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD. A little further down you will find the memory slots. There are four memory slots which can have a total of 8GB of DDR2 1066 memory and can take both non-ECC and ECC un-buffered RAM.
There are a couple of highlights I want to make sure to point out to you about the ASUS Crosshair II. First is on top of the motherboard; behind the clear CMOS button on the back panel are three headers. Two of them are standard fan headers, but below them there is another header. This is where the POST LCD cable gets plugged into and routed out the back of the case for viewing. Second, instead of having a clear CMOS jumper that you have to shore while working inside the case, ASUS has turned it into a clear CMOS switch right under the CMOS battery, which makes it very easy to reset after a bad overclock or problem. Lastly, ASUS has added thermal probe headers on the board where you can place thermal probes and then monitor the temperatures in the BIOS or software using the motherboard. Sadly though, ASUS did not include any thermal probes with the Crosshair II as it has with other ROG motherboards.
And lastly there is the cooling setup of the Crosshair II. This motherboard uses a copper design of heatsinks and heatpipes to cool the critical components. The northbridge uses a pin fin design to help dissipate the heat and it connects to the heatsink on the southbridge and the voltage regulators. The heatsink on the voltage regulators is where the optional fan would be attached to actively cool the heatsink loop while water cooling or for some additional heat dissipation during overclocking. One thing I did want to note is if you look at the picture of the southbridge, right above it is some writing that says BR_Crazy, BR_High, and BR_Normal. These are Voltiminder LEDs that are placed around the motherboard to let you know if there is too much voltage going through critical components such as the CPU, RAM, northbridge, southbridge and more while you are overclocking.
Now that we have seen the board, let's take a look at the software side of the Crosshair II.
To run the system correctly, not only do you need the hardware, but you also need the right software. ASUS includes an abundance of drivers and utilities to help maximize your computing experience. To start off, you need to insert the CD that came in the bundle with the M3N-HT. Once the CD is placed in the tray and closed, the autorun should pick up and present you with the ASUS installation program. The installer is a GUI, which makes installing the drivers and software as easy as possible.
Under the drivers tab there are several options. You can ASUS InstALL all of the drivers at once, or you can choose to install each one separately. Here, you have the option to install the NVIDIA Chipset Drivers and the SoundMAX ADI Audio Driver.
ASUS includes a wealth of software with its motherboard to help the user get the most use out of his/her system. You can install the programs one by one or all at one time with the InstALL option again. Some of the programs included with the M3N-HT are the ASUS utilities, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, 3DMark06 Professional, and Ulead Photo Impact.
As I mentioned above, ASUS includes several utilities to help tweak and tune your system to your liking. Some of these utilities include a BIOS updating GUI, ASUS PC Probe which lets you monitor system temperatures, voltages and fan speeds, ASUS Cool and Quiet which displays the C&Q speeds and voltages, and ASUS AI Suite.
The AI suite lets you manage power throttling to save on power consumption when the computer is idle or not needing a lot of juice, Q Fan to monitor and adjust the fans attached to the motherboard for maximum cooling, and AI Booster for overclocking. The overclocking feature is welcome to an enthusiast like myself because here you can overclock on the fly without having to go into the BIOS every time. You can overclock based on percentages to gain the best performance.
The last few sections of the installer are the drivers for RAID setups, the electronic manual, and the contact information for ASUS.
The BIOS is the first thing I look at when interested in buying a new motherboard. You can have all of the bells and whistles you want on the board, but if it does not perform well, what is the point. I want to push my hardware to the limits and a weak BIOS will not let you get the potential you deserve from your system. The ASUS Crosshair II BIOS has a wealth of features in it from the basics to extreme overclocking. I will first take a look at the basics of the BIOS and then move on to the advanced sections more in depth.
The main section allows you to set the date and time, configure the disks being used in the system and view system information such as the BIOS version.
The Advanced section of the BIOS is where you configure the on board devices such as the LAN, USB, IDE, SATA, and Video. Since the Crosshair II has on-board video, you can adjust the memory size and the way it acts with a discrete GPU for the Hybrid SLI features. Here you also can set how SATA runs, such as hot swapping features in ACHI mode. This is also where you configure how the Voltiminder LED reacts and how the POST LCD functions.
The power section is where you set up the power states of the system, such as S1 and S3, wake on LAN and more. Here, you also set how the hardware monitors voltage, temperature, fan speeds and what alarms to set at what thresholds.
Boot & Tools:
In the Boot section, the user can set the disk priority for start up, as well as the security settings of the computer for a BIOS supervisor password. The Tools area lets you save or load profiles for the BIOS, which is great when overclocking as you can have one profile for standard setting and one for overclocked settings without having to manually change it each time. Also in the Tool section is the ASUS EZ Flash 2 program. EZ Flash 2 makes updating the BIOS as easy as entering the program, selecting the update from any disk being a CD, hard disk or even a thumb drive, and running the update.
Now let's move on over to the part we have all been waiting for.
Now don't get all excited, we are not doing illegal substances while overclocking our computer. ASUS calls it Extreme Tweaker because of the numerous options you have to overclock your system. Right off the bat you have total control over your system by setting the AI Overclocking settings. You can alter the CPU frequency and multiplier. This allows you to push your CPU to its potential with little effort to start. You can also alter the voltage for your components here on the main tweaking screen without having to dig too deep in the menus to get what you need. You can even alter the CPU to Northbridge multiplier for more stable overclocks.
The DRAM configuration section lets you configure every possibility you can think of for the memory. You can alter your timings, output driver control, whether it is running in ganged or unganged modes with the CPU, and more.
The CPU configuration lets you control CPU features such as Cool and Quiet, AMD Virtulization, AMD Live and the CPU spectrums.
Now that we have the BIOS down, let's move on over to the testing phase.
1. AMD Socket AM2+ Phenom FX / Phenom / Athlon / Sempron
2. AMD Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64 / Sempron
3. AMD64 architecture enables simultaneous 32-bit and 64-bit computing
|1. NVIDIA nForce 780a SLi|
|1. Up to 5200MT/s; HyperTransport 3.0 interface for AM2+ CPU
2. 2000 / 1600 MT/s for AM2 CPU
1. Dual Channel memory architecture
2. 4x DIMM, max 8GB, DDR2 1066 / 800 / 667 / 533, ECC and non-ECC, un-buffered memory.
Onboard NVIDIA GPU
1. Maximum shared memory of 512MB
2. Supports HDMI Technology with max. resolution of 1920 x 1200
3. Supports DVI with max/ resolution of 1920 x 1440 @ 60 Hz
4. Supports D-Sub with max. resolution of 1920 x 1440 @ 75 Hz
5. Support PCI Express 2.0 / 1.0 Architecture
6. Supports Microsoft DirectX 10, OpenGL 2.0, and Pixel Shader 4.0
|1. 3 x PCIe x16 supports NVIDIA 3-way SLi Technology @ dual x16 or x16,x8,x8
2. 2 x PCIe x1 slot, Black slot reserved for SupemeFX Audio Card
3. 2 x PCI 2.2 slots
|1. 1 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 / 33
2. 6 x SATA 3GB/s ports (Use SATA 1-4 for IDE mode.)
|2x 1394a ports (1 on back panel, one header onboard)|
SupremeFX II Audio Card
1.Coaxial, Optical S/PDIF out ports on the back I/O
2. ADI 1988B 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
3. Noise Filter
Dual Gigabit LAN controlers featuring AI NET 2
|ATX Form Factor, 12" x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.4cm)|
ASUS ROG Overclocking Features
ROG BIOS Wallpaper
Onboard Switches: Power / Reset / Clr CMOS(at rear)
ASUS EZ Flash2
ASUS CrashFree BIOS2
Stack Cool 2
Uses 100% All High-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors!
|The hottest DX10 Game: Company of Heroes:Opposing Fronts
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS AI Suite
Futuremark ® 3DMark® 06 Advanced Edition
- LCD Poster for easy debuging.
- Pin Fin Thermal Module for better overclocking heat disapation.
- EX DIY Voltminder LED's which tell you when your voltages are getting too crazy.
- Absolute HD through the SupremeFX II Audio Card.
- Extreme Tweaker lets you fine tune your overclock for the most powerful and stable system.
With motherboards being the backbone of a computer system, you want it to be the strongest component you can get. That means in performance and reliability. So how does the Crosshair II stand up? That is what we are here to find out. I am going to put the ASUS Crosshair II through its paces in a series of system and video benchmarks to see how well it scores. To measure this performance, I will be comparing it against several top end motherboards, one with the same chipset and one with a different chipset. This will give us an idea of where it stands with the rest.
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9600 "Black Box" (200x11.5)
- Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair II Formula
- Memory: Mushkin Redline XP2 8000 2 x 2 GB 5-5-5-12
- Video Card #1: Integrated NVIDIA 780a IGP graphics w/ Forceware 175.16
- Video Card #2: ASUS 8800 GT w/ Forceware 175.16
- Video Card #3: ASUS 9800GTX w/ Forceware 175.14 (with and without HybridPower enabled)
- Video Card #4: Dual ASUS 9800GTX's w/ Forceware 175.14 (with and without HybridPower enabled)
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800watt Modular Power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 7200.11 750GB SATA w/32MB Cache
- Opticals: Lite-On 8x DVD+/-RW
- O/S: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
- Comparison Motherboard 1: ASUS M3N-HT
- Comparison Motherboard 2: ASUS M3832-MVP
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9600 "Black Box" @
- Sytem Memory: Mushkin Redline XP2 8000 2 x 2 GB 5-5-5-12
As I mentioned earlier, I like to push my hardware to its breaking points to see how well it performs under pressure and overclocked. To overclock the ASUS Crosshair II, I will be using the features in the BIOS since they give you a lot of control over your hardware. After several hours of trial and error, I was only able to get 2.7GHz on the overclock by bumping the voltage to 1.4v and the multiplier to 13.5, so this is what the overclocked benchmarks will be run at.
- Scientific & Data:
- SpecviewPerf 10
- PCMark Vantage Professional
- Sandra XII
- ScienceMark 2.02 Final
- Cinebench 10
- HD Tune 2.54
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Juarez
- 3DMark 06 Professional
First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance. For the science tests, only the scores when paired with the 8800GT discrete card are are shown to make the direct comparison to the other boards with the same setup.
To get things stated I will begin with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:
- Resolution: 2750x2048
- Quality: 500
- Limit Memory use: 512MB
The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.
WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB, and 500MB files, as well as test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.
The Crosshair II is on par with the M3N-HT, which is the same chipset.
Specview 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.
PcMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.
The scores again are about the same across the board within margins.
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 areas of the motherboards.
Cache and Memory
Power Management Efficiency
Even though the latency was higher, the Crosshair II performed well in the Sandra tests.
Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.
Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.
HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.
Again, the Crosshair dominated in the majority of the benchmarks slightly.
Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games in the market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system.
- 2x Anti-Aliasing
- Advanced settings to medium
The 780a chipset of the Crosshair II brings it out on top.
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of real-time strategy and simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.
- AA: x0
- Image Quality: High
- Direct X Version: 10
- All resolutions 60Hz
I am starting to see the gaming potential as the Crosshair strikes again.
Bioshock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.
- All settings to Maximum
- V-Sync off
The Crosshair II was even at the low resolutions but pulled through at the higher ones.
Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.
- Anti-Aliasing: x4
- Anistropic Filtering: Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings Max
The scores were pretty even until the end when the Crosshair II took over.
World In Conflict is a newly released DX10, real-time strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe.
- 0 X AA
- 16 X AF
- Graphic Detail: Very High
This test put the scores head to head.
Call of Juarez is a DX10, first-person shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap Size: 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti-Aliasing: MSAA 4X
Again, this was a close race, however the 780a chipset could not keep up at maximum resolution.
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This real-time strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.
- 8x AA
- All other settings to maximum
The Crosshair took the lead ever so slightly.
3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
Even in this bragging benchmark, the Crosshair II took a bit of the lead.
I can see why ASUS created a separate Republic of Gamers entity for its top end motherboards, because they are simply outstanding. Performance is on par even when compared to another motherboard based on the same chipset. The ASUS Crosshair II is a top performer in the majority of the testing that was performed and it did so without any problems or hiccups whatsoever. The Crosshair II also performed better than the AMD 790FX board in the majority of the tests. The 780a chipset brings to the table a wealth of new features, including Triple SLI support for the AMD processors family and Hybrid SLI support when paired with a compatible discrete video card. The Crosshair is a marvelous board for people like me who overclock their hardware quite frequently. With the voltiminders, now I know if I am pushing my motherboard or other hardware too far with the possibility of cooking them just by looking at the board. Also, the ability to quickly clear the CMOS not only in one place but two is a dream come true and when paired with the on-board power and reset switches, I am in heaven.
While going over this review I tried to think of something that I disliked about the Crosshair II and for once, I cannot find anything that is a negative about it. The price is on the high side, but considering the performance the Crosshair II showed and the wealth of utilities, extras, and addons, it is justifiable since you do get what you pay for. Are there cheaper boards out there that offer great features at a lower price? Yea, but can you find one that has everything in one like this, including a killer sound card? Probably not. If you are into extreme overclocking or high end gaming, look into picking up this board and take over your competition. You will not be disappointed.
- Great performance
- Supports Triple SLI
- Outstanding overclocking tools
- ASUS Stack Cool 2 design for temperature reduction
- Hybrid SLI support
- Integrated graphics with HDMI support
- LCD poster for debugging
- An external PCI Express x1 audio card for improved sound quality
- On the pricey side for a motherboard