ASUS Rampage III Formula Reviewccokeman - December 23, 2010
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There is no doubt that the Rampage III Formula is anything other than a Republic of Gamers series motherboard. From the full tilt graphics and red and black color scheme that has been so popular on this line it can't be mistaken for anything but an ROG offering. The RIII Formula is based off of the Intel X58 chipset and is for use with socket 1366 Intel processors. This board contains many features that are unique to the ROG series from ASUS. You have ASUS's BIOS Flashback, GameFirst network traffic routing and Extreme Engine Digi+ hybrid digital/analog power circuitry, ROG Connect and more. From the front view, the red accents on the three 16x PCIe and memory slots stand out against the black PCB. The cooling solution for this motherboard is an interconnected array of heat sinks that use a large heat pipe to transfer the thermal load to a point where it can be dissipated. The back side of the motherboard is barren with the exception of the screws holding the main cooling solution onto the board. This solution is much better than a set of spring loaded push pins meaning, no more rolling the heat sink over the mosfets.
Starting at the I/O panel, the ROG Rampage III Formula has a fully packed load of connectivity options. There is the PS/2 keyboard port, seven USB 2.0 ports (one of which is used for the ROG Connect Feature), CMOS clear switch, one optical S/PDIF out port, one IEEE 1394a port, a pair of JMicron controlled eSATA ports, a single RJ 45 Intel Gigabit LAN port, the ROG Connect On/Off switch, two NEC controlled USB 3.0/2.0 ports (Blue) and the Supreme FX X-Fi 2 eight channel sound out connections. Moving down to the expansion ports, you have a total of three 16x PCIe 2.0 slots, a single PCI 2.2 slot and a pair of PCIe 1x slots. The three PCIe 16x slots support dual card CrossfireX and three card SLI multi-GPU setups. When run in a two card configuration, the slots run electrically at 16x by 16x. When running Tri-SLI, you get the second and third slots dropping to 8x each for a 16x by 8x by 8x configuration. If you look at the 16x slots, this design is called Q-Slot and uses a larger retention clip allowing you to still remove the card when you have multiple cards installed. You can use anything you can fit between the cards to depress this clip to release the video card saving time and a little bit of frustration.
Along the bottom of the PCB you have the majority of the internal I/O connection points. Just to the left and above the PCI slot is the Supreme FX sound chip covered with an aluminum identification tag. Starting the connectivity headers off from left to right, you have the S/PDIF digital audio out connection, IEEE 1394a firewire connection for a total of two available, a thermal sensor header, two chassis fan headers, OC Station Connector, three USB 2.0 headers to give you a total of 12 USB 2.0 ports, a pair of BIOS chips, another fan header, the removable DUAL BIOS chips, the front panel connections and the BIOS switch for choosing the BIOS chip you want to boot from. These BIOS chips can be loaded with two different BIOS configurations for testing or recovery from a catastrophic failure due to aggressive overclocking. So far, every point of space has been occupied with added functionality. Just above the front panel header and partially obscured by the heatsink are the two IROG chips used to add the overclocking functionality through software tweaking.
Swinging around the PCB you come to the eight SATA ports. The six SATA 3.0 Gb/s gray ports are controlled via the Intel ICH10R southbridge and support RAID 0,1,5 & 10. The two red Marvell 9128 controlled SATA 6 Gb/s ports support RAID 0 & 1. Further up the right side are the six DIMM sockets. The Rampage III Formula supports up to 24GB of DDR3 non-ECC, un-buffered memory modules at speeds up to 2200MHz (OC). Intel's XMP standards are supported. When you look at the DIMM sockets you will notice that the clips that hold the modules in place are missing from the left side (the end closest to the first PCIe slot). Since today's graphics cards usually reach the end of the PCB and beyond, you can sometimes run into interference issues so ASUS fixed this by using this retention mechanism. In the past I have found the modules to stay securely in place with this design called Q-DIMM.
Between the SATA ports and the DIMM sockets are some pretty interesting features used on this ROG board from ASUS. There is the GO button that when pressed allows the Mem OK feature to be enabled to allow a successful post after it runs through a series of diagnostics that adjust timings and voltages to give the installed modules the best chance for a successful post. Next to this are the four chokes that are part of the two phase power circuit for the memory and the two phase circuit for the X58 chipset. Along the edge by the DIMM slots you have a bunch of added functionality for the overclocker and enthusiast. The jumper between the two capacitors is the QPI_LL that keeps the QPI voltage from drooping under load (much like Load Line calibration for the CPU). You have the on-board start and reset buttons for use if you are using this board on a tech bench or just sitting on a box during an LN2 session. To the far right you can see part of the LN2 jumper that helps the board boot and eliminate cold boot issues when using extreme cooling such as liquid nitrogen. The Q reset button is again used in extreme cooling environments where the CPU is stuck and will not post. This button kills power temporarily to the CPU so it can recover and post. The last thing in this packed area is a feature called Probelt. There are a series of connection points that allow you to check voltages against what was set in the BIOS so adjustments can be made to cover real vs applied voltage. This is a great feature but is still not the "hands free" connection I have seen on a competing product and is a point of difference as this method means you cannot use multiple probes at the same time and continue working and viewing voltages during a benchmark run while heavily overclocked.
Across the top of the board you have some additional connectivity with fan headers and connection points for the optional temperature sensors. By the top of the DIMM slot closest to the CPU socket is the CHil voltage regulator chip that can control up to an eight phase digital power circuit and the VRM test point. Further to the right are additional fan headers, temp sensor points and the eight pin auxiliary power connection. If you move down behind the I/O connectivity you can see one of the features that ASUS uses to mitigate any ESD damage from plug-in components due to a static discharge. ASUS uses a series of diodes that check that static discharge and prevent damage to the board and its components. They use this feature at all connection points on the board where connections can be made outside the chassis such as the front panel USB and sound connection points as well as the rear I/O.
Power is supplied to the Rampage III Formula through three points. There is the 24 pin ATX power connection that supplies most of the power to the board, you have the eight pin auxiliary power connection for additional power to the CPU and a four pin molex EZ power connection right above the top 1x PCIe slot to add additional power for the use of multiple high-end graphics cards. This can add stability to the power rails feeding these cards under load. In front of the 24 pin connection are some of the Q_LEDs that indicate power and operating states of the board and installed components.
The Rampage III Formula is designed to use an Intel Core i7 socket 1366 processor. The socket area is surrounded by the components of the eight phase hybrid digital/analog Extreme Engine Digi+ power circuit. What this gives you are components that are matched electrically, thermally and materially. This design evenly loads the individual phases to keep one or more from overheating. The chokes are designed to run more efficiently and handle up to 40 amps of current. While the socket area looks congested, the heatsinks surrounding the area are low enough to not create any interference with high-end air cooling solutions. The Noctua NH-U12P used on the testbed had no clearance issues at all.
ASUS has installed a cooling solution that is interconnected from the southbridge up to the VRM heat sinks around the CPU socket with a large heat pipe. The southbridge heat sink is large and flat and lays low enough to not interfere with large video cards. The heat sink over the X58 chipset is large enough to handle the load but additional airflow over it always helps when pushing the limits. The remaining heat sinks are a pair of smaller heat sinks around the CPU socket that help keep the metal FETs cool. The entire solution is held in place with screws - not the usual series of plastic push pins that work well for the boards for the masses but not for the ROG series target market.
As you can see, the Rampage III Formula is provisioned well for a high performance motherboard and incorporates up-to-the-minute technology with the inclusion of USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/s capabilities. Not to mention the fact that it stays true to its ROG series roots in the looks department.