ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Reviewccokeman -
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ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Closer Look:
The ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition is an Extended ATX form factor board built around the Intel X79 chipset for use with socket 2011 processors from Intel, much like the Rampage IV Extreme, but with some updates to make it more relevant. The first thing you notice when looking at it head on is both the the black on black color scheme with very little of the signature ROG red coloring to be found on board, as well as the EATX form factor, with the board measuring 12" x 10.7". Fitting into smaller chassis may present some challenges if this form factor is not supported. The spec sheet for this board goes on for days with ROG exclusives as well as your basics. By melding in a lot of the feature set we see on the newest socket 115X boards such as the Maximus VI Extreme, you get the updates yet still retain the ability to use Intel's Extreme Edition processors. You get ROG staples such as ASUS Extreme Engine Digi+ III, OC Zone, Sub Zero Sense, and, new for this board, you get ASUS' own Supreme FX Black audio solution for a big boost in audio quality.
Looking at the back side of the PCB, there is the large CPU retention mechanism backing plate that can be configured with ASUS' X-bracket system to allow for the use of socket 1366 cooling solutions. A large metal cooling plate is used to hold the huge cooler in place on top of the X79 PCH while adding structural rigidity and additional cooling capacity. Cooling capacity overall is improved with a new VRM cooling solution around the I/O ports; more on this later. ASUS' PCB uses a proprietary fiber weave to reduce EMI and moisture resistance. Although far from being a sparsely populated PCB, ASUS has pulled off some of the ROG specific features that have been integrated into the included OC Panel.
Much like every modern ROG offering, you get a fully loaded I/O panel. For starters you get the PS/2 combo port for use with a mouse or keyboard, then a pair of the four back panel USB 2.0 ports, BIOS reset and ROG Connect buttons, and the second pair of USB 2.0 ports, with the top port used for ROG Connect functionality. Next up in blue are six of the eight onboard ASMedia-controlled USB 3.0 ports, a pair of ASMedia-controlled eSATA ports in red, and the Intel 82579V-powered wired Gigabit LAN port. Wireless connectivity is covered with ASUS' Wi-Fi GO! module that features Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth v4.0/3.0+HS. At the far right, or bottom as it may be, of the I/O panel are the Optical S/PDIF out and five analog outputs for the Supreme FX Black sound solution. Sandwiched between the exclusive cooling solution and the left hand DIMM slot is one of the Fan Xpert controlled 4-pin chassis fan headers.
Surrounding the I/O ports is a Black Edition exclusive heat sink that is used to manage the thermal load of the 8+3 phase CPU power circuit. A quartet of 16x PCIe 3.0/2.0 sockets are available for both NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossfireX technologies, with up to 4-way configurations supported for both solutions. The ports run electronically at 16x by 16x with two cards and 16x by 8x by 8x by 8x when populating all four slots. Not to be left out are the pair of PCIe 2.0 1x slots for use with add-in cards. Using all four 16x slots for graphics cards will mean these are unavailable.
New for the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Black Edition is the Supreme FX Black audio solution. Designed to deliver a warm, rich sound profile on par with high end sound cards, it comes equipped with all the parts to deliver that sound profile. Components include ELNA audio capacitors, German-made WIMA film capacitors, differential circuit design using op-amps, Supreme FX shielding on the codec, TI 6120A2 high fidelity headphone amplifier, Cirrus Logic® CS4398 DAC, NEC TOKIN UC2 audio relay, and electrical isolation of the sound components using ASUS' Red Line Moat to reduce interference from the rest of the on-board components. What we get is an improvement in on-board sound design taken from the learnings and feedback on previous designs used on the main stream ROG line that are successfully integrated here on the RIVBE.
Along the bottom of the PCB are a ton of connection points that are used for added functionality on the board. From the left is the front panel audio header, 4-pin Molex power connection used to supply additional power to the PCIe slots when running multi-GPU solutions, a TPM header, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, temperature probe header, a pair of Fan Xpert controlled 4-pin fan headers, the Direct button, BIOS Switch to switch between the BIOS ROMs, chassis intrusion header, DirectKey jumper, ROG Extension connection to hook up to the OC Panel, and lastly on the far right is the front panel header.
On the right side of the board, ASUS started with the dual 64MB ICs that hold the ASUS UEFI AMI BIOS. SATA connectivity includes both 6Gbps and 3Gbps options. From the left there are six SATA 6Gbps ports, two from the X79 PCH and four by way of an ASMedia ASM1061 controller. The black ports are SATA 3Gbps and when used in tandem with the 6Gbps ports controlled by the Intel PCH, RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 is supported. Further up the board you run into the USB 3.0 header that supports an additional two ports. The main power feed into the RIVBE comes from a standard 24-pin ATX power connection. In front of this connection point are a bunch of solder points that make up ASUS Probe It feature set. This allows the user to check the more overclocking centric voltages manually using a multimeter rather than relying on a software interpretation of the applied voltage. Between the voltage read points are diagnostic LEDs that fire as system components come on line to let you know they are working.
The area just above the 24-pin power connection is called the "OC Zone" and features the tools used by the extreme overclocker. To shut down PCIe slots you have the PCIe lane switch to shut down each slot in turn for not only diagnostic reasons, but to effectively turn that card off when benchmarking. The Mem OK! button is used to run training-based algorithms to ensure the installed memory can post the system through timing and voltage adjustments. The Start and Reset buttons are self explanatory, but come in handy when overclocking on a bench. The Slow Mode switch is used to to manage frequency when transitioning between light and heavy loads while running under LN2. The LN2 jumper is used to help minimize the effects of a cold boot bug when running under extreme cooling. Last but not least in the top right corner of the board is the Q-Code LED, used to diagnose boot issues during the post sequence. This came in handy when trying out various memory settings.
Along the top of the board there is not much to talk about. At the top of the PCB are the CPU and chassis 4-pin fan header, a 4-pin and 8-pin EATX 12v power supply connector for added current to the CPU, and the heat sink in the heat pipe interconnected cooling solution for the 8+3+2+2 phase Extreme Engine Digi+ III power circuit.
The ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition is designed to use Intel Core i7 socket 2011 processors, including the Core i7 3960X and i7 4960X. Quad channel memory support is available for up to 64GB of DDR3 memory at speeds of up to DDR3 2800 (O.C.). While supported, not every processor is going to be able to run the number due to variances in the strength of the IVB-E memory controller. If your chip can handle it, then the ASUS RIVBE can support it. Delivering the power needs for the CPU is an 8+3 phase Extreme Engine Digi+ III power supply using 60A chokes, 90% efficient NexFET™ Power Block MOSFETs, and 10K Black Metallic Capacitors. A 2+2 phase power system design is incorporated to supply the quad channel DIMM slots with the power needed under load. A T-Topology is used with the DIMM slots to improve memory signalling in order to improve memory overclocking.
ASUS took a new route with the cooling solution for the Extreme Engine Digi+ III when compared to the RIVE. New for this board is a giant heat sink that physically wraps around the I/O connections, as well as being interconnected to the heat sink across the top of the PCB. It looks good and is functional when you have airflow around it to dissipate the thermals. On the X79 PCH, ASUS chose to go with a passive solution instead of the active solution used on the Rampage IV Extreme. Again a little bit of airflow goes a long way towards managing the heat load. Overall both functionally and aesthetically I like this option better than the solution used on the RIVE.
Put into perspective the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Black Edition is an upgrade over the Rampage IV Extreme as far as looks and the included sound solution are concerned. The key is how well does it perform against ASUS' previous king of the hill high end X79 board, and do the refresh items make it a viable upgrade path? Let's dig a bit deeper.