ASUS Rampage IV Extreme Reviewccokeman - March 5, 2012
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The ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme is an Extended ATX form factor board measuring 12 inch x 10.7 inch, which visually represents the brand with the black and red theme used on the board. Looking at the PCB, it's evident that ASUS packed an expansive feature set onto the available real estate, from the large actively cooled chipset heat sink to the eight DIMM slots, onboard power and reset buttons, X-Socket, Sub Zero Sense measuring points, Bluetooth connectivity, voltage check points, and five 16x PCIe slots that support quad SLI/CrossFireX. The back side of the PCB has the large mounting bracket used to support the CPU retention mechanism. This bracket can be removed and replaced with the ASUS X-Socket backing plate that allows the end user to use a socket 1366 compatible heat sink. Both Socket 2011 and 1366 have the same 130W TDP, making this a quick fix for heat sink of LN 2 pot mounting. Each of the heat sinks in the heat pipe-based motherboard cooling solution is retained with screws instead of push pins, with an additional heat sink under the VRM behind the I/O panel.
I/O connectivity on the R4E includes, from left to right, a legacy P/S 2 port for use with either a keyboard or mouse, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, CMOS clear and ROG connect buttons, four more USB 2.0 ports including one that is used for ROG Connect, a Bluetooth module, two more USB 2.0 ports, one of the two 6Gbps eSATA ports, a single Intel GB LAN port, four ASMedia-controlled SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, the second 6Gbps eSATA port, and finally the optical SPDIf output and Realtek ALC898 HD analog sound ports. Pretty much the full load of options for the extreme user. There are a total of five 16x PCIe 3.0 ready slots that can support up to four video cards in a quad SLI/CrossFireX configuration with the slots running at 16x8x8x8. Two cards will run at 16x/16x. Between the bottom two 16x slots is a single 1x PCIe slot. Above the top 16x PCIe slot is a 6-pin auxiliary power connection to supply power to the PCIe slots when needed. Behind it is the connection point for the OC Key.
Along the bottom of the R4E is where you will find, from left to right, the digital and analog front panel audio headers, two of the eight PWM fan headers, one of the three temperature sensor plugs, the dual BIOS chips, another PWM fan header, the two USB 2.0 headers, one of the two USB 3.0 headers that supports connection speeds up to 4.8Gbps, the front panel connections, and the dual BIOS switch that allows the end user to choose between two different BIOS. This can essentially provide up to 16 different OC profiles.
Up the right hand side of the PCB, starting at the bottom, are the SATA connections. The red connections are the 6Gbps connections with the left pair being controlled by an ASmedia controller and the right pair being controlled by the Intel X79 chipset. The black SATA ports are the 3Gbps ports and support RAID 0/1/5/10. To make sure you get 6Gbps, it is recommended that the end user use the included SATA 6Gbps data cables. Next to the SATA ports is the Sub Zero Sense connection point. Here you can use a K-type probe to read the temperatures without having to purchase a multimeter. Above that we get into a lot of the bells and whistles on this board, but before we get there, you'll find the second 20-pin USB 3.0 header and the 24-pin ATX power connection. The top right hand side of the PCB, or the "OC Zone", is fully loaded with the Extreme user feature set. The most obvious parts are the power and reset switches and the diagnostic LED that is used to troubleshoot boot problems. There are also the ProbeIt voltage measuring points in the form of soldered pads on the PCB. ASUS does include a way to hook up a multimeter for long term measurements with wire pigtails that can be plugged into the sockets behind the measuring points. The PCIe 16x switch is used to electrically disconnect a video card in one of the four red 16x slots for diagnostic purposes. Why is this important? With the time and trouble it takes to set up and insulate a video card for LN2 benching, it is much easier to turn off the slot than to remove the video card entirely. Underneath the PCIe 16x switch is the Go button, which is used to enable the Mem OK diagnostic tool for memory trouble shooting or when pressed quickly it will enable the Go Button profile saved in the uEFI BIOS. Beside each of the voltage check points are the Voltminder LEDs. These give a visual representation of what voltage is causing a failed boot, making it easier to troubleshoot without pulling out the meter. Just below the debug LED are the Slow Mode switch and LN2 mode jumper. The LN2 jumper is useful for working past a "Cold Boot Bug". The Slow Mode switch is used during LN2 benching to slow down temperature transition that could result in a crash during high to low CPU load changes, for example at the end of a benchmark run. The VGA Hotwire headers are used to allow the motherboard to adjust the voltage on a volt modded GPU without using trim pots. Hook the wiring to the VGA Hotwire header and adjust via the OC Key OSD. Simple and effective.
Across the top side of the PCB are more of the black metallic capacitors, the 8-pin EATX Auxiliary power connection for the CPU, and an added 4-pin EATX for even more supply to the CPU. To the right of the board, behind the ROG Connect button, is the Q-Rest button used to cut power to the CPU to allow a recovery from a CPU locked state when running extreme overclocking benches. The 2-pin header directly behind the Q-Reset button is used to connect a small switch to remotely operate the ROG Connect switch. A PWM-controlled fan header rounds out the connectivity on the top of the R4E.
The CPU socket on the Rampage IV Extreme is for Intel's Sandy Bridge Extreme series socket 2011 processors, ranging from the recently released Core i7 3820 to the king of the hill 3960X. The socket retention mechanism is done in black chrome and is by LOTES. Quad-channel memory is supported at speeds of up to 2400MHz OC. The R4E has eight DIMM slots that allow a total of 64GB of DDR3 memory via eight 8GB modules. More commonly used will be 2 or 4GB modules until the 6GB+ modules come down in price. ASUS continues the use of its Q-DIMM memory sockets that feature a locking clip on only one side of the socket to provide more room for large video cards and placement of the 16x PCIe slots. Around the CPU socket is the 8+3+2+2 Digi+ II power circuit used to intelligently manage the power load to the CPU and DRAM — 8 phases to the CPU, 3 Phases for the Integrated Memory controller, and 2+2 for the DRAM.
As a ROG motherboard, the R4E is going to be well equipped with a good-sized cooling solution. It does in fact have just this with a large actively cooled heat sink over the X79 chipset, with a heat pipe running up through three more heat sinks covering the VRM components around the CPU socket. This solution still leaves adequate room to install large air cooled cooling solutions, such as the Noctua NH-D14 or Phanteks PH-TC14PE.
ASUS thought of just about everything with this motherboard. ASUS' X-Socket is included and is a way to keep the end user that is upgrading from an X58 platform from purchasing a new cooling solution. The reasoning is sound, with the TDP being the same 130W on both socket 1366 and 2011 processors. The fly in the ointment comes from the Intel-specified backplate that uses the same spacing that was used on the X58 platform. The backplate fills the holes through the PCB with a way to mount something new, but not take care of an older mount that goes through the board. The X-Socket replaces the back plate with a smaller plate that offers ample stiffness to the socket area while opening up the heat sink mounting holes so the older solutions can be used. Pretty smart move if you ask me. This also means if you are a sub zero bencher, you will not have to purchase new mounting hardware for your LN2 pots. All that is required is to remove the backplate with the supplied tool and replace it with the X-Socket bracket, mount the cooling solution, and start benching.
As one would expect with the $449 price tag, the R4E is feature deep and is definitely targeted to a select audience that can enjoy and employ the features.