Asus Crosshair Motherboard Review

Admin - 2007-01-28 20:55:44 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: February 26, 2007
ASUS
GF City Computers
Price: $229.99 USD

Introduction:

    That time has come again. The urge to upgrade to gain the best performance that I can from what I have on hand. I have been running a fairly low-end ASRock motherboard that has on-board video and a relatively low-end chipset. I chose to upgrade to arguably one of the biggest and most robust AM2 chipsets, the 590 SLi. There are a few manufacturers who make motherboards that utilize this chipset, but out of all the candidates that I looked at, I thought that the Asus Crosshair best fit the bill.

Asus is a very mainstream company, making everything from motherboards, to video cards, cases, and everything in between.  The Crosshair is part of a new ROG series of products by Asus.  ROG stands for Republic of Gamers, which means beefed up features, some fancier extras and, in this case, even some bundled software.   Founded back 1989, Asus has long since been a major name when it comes to computers, When I was researching the company, I came across a very educational quote in their "About" section. “In 2005, ASUS shipped 52 million motherboards, which means one out of every 3 desktop PCs sold last year was powered by an ASUS motherboard. If we line them up side by side, the length will be longer than the distance from New York to San Francisco.”  This motherboard really seems to be a looker when it comes to performance, and it was one of the primary reasons for my interest in it. I am sure that it will live up to name of Asus. 

Closer look:

    Upon receiving the motherboard, I was a little bit surprised by how fancy the box was.  The front of the box has a flip-up cover that shows some of the key features of the motherboard, as well as some information relating to its performance. 


On one side of the box there is a cutout which shows off the I/O section of the motherboard, as well as the small LCD screen that is mounted there.  The back of the box also has information clips that describe some of the bigger features of the board, as well as some of the bundled software. The front of the box also flips up to showcase some of the motherboard, which is secured inside in a clear plastic housing.  The box has some pictures and a feature list of their Do It Yourself styling, and the cutout in the box shows off the included microphone along with the sound module.


Opening up the top of the box, there is a black accessory box. I took it out first and dumped out its contents to get a look at all the goodies that this motherboard actually ships with.  There is the user manual, some media software, and 3 SATA cables with SATA-molex power adaptors.  The usual IDE cables, USB, as well as Firewire I/O adaptors, the SLI Bridge, a keychain, and a fan for chipset/heatpipe cooling.  Also included are 3 thermal probes, some zip ties, and an EL lit rear I/O plate.  I was surprised when I saw the 3 thermal probes, as this is an addition that ALL motherboards should come with, in my opinion. 


Moving on past the accessory box, I removed the plastic housing that held onto the motherboard as well as the microphone and soundcard.  The sound card is very small and is designed to interface with one of the PCI-E 4x slots located at the top of the motherboard. The reasoning behind this was that they were able to free up more space on the motherboard for other goodies. Asus also bundles with this motherboard a microphone designed to mount on top of your monitor. 



Next is the motherboard!
Now on to the motherboard itself. Something I noticed right away about this motherboard was the passive cooling used on the board. It utilizes heatpipes to carry the heat around and up to the large heat sinks. An attractive Republic of Gamers logo is painted on the top of the chipset block, letting you know that this is not your everyday motherboard.




Immediately to the right of the chipset are the 6 on-board SATA2 connectors. We can also see the on-board power/reset switches for using this motherboard outside of a case, an addition that was no doubt inspired by their use on the DFI series of motherboards.  We can see that there are indeed two 16x PCI-E SLI slots on this motherboard, making it fully SLI capable. There is an additional slot between the two 16x slots, which should give us adequate room for larger cards, or aftermarket cooling if you so choose. 


There are 4 slots which are designed to take DDR2 memory modules up to 800MHz (without overclocking). There is sufficient space around these slots as well if you have wider modules or are worried about clearances. 



Read on for the rest of the motherboard!
Moving on up to the CPU socket. It looks tight, but there is actually a surprising amount of space around the socket itself.  The heatsinks that are attached to the heatpipe system reside off to the side, as well as above the CPU socket, though with enough room for most aftermarket coolers. As most coolers these days are tending to be taller, there should not be any issues. 


This motherboard makes use of the 8 pin power connector to supply the extra juice that this board will need, though it looks as if it will also take the standard 4pin connector.  The back I/O of this board is definitely loaded to bear. A LCD screen, as well as 2 Gigabit LAN ports and even 2 e-SATA ports! The LCD screen displays information as the machine boots, so in the event that you are having issues, you can check which step the computer is hung up on to help make your troubleshooting issues that much easier. 


The back of the board is pretty basic: a bunch of pins and the CPU back plate. It does not look like there will be any issues if you should need to change this back plate, as from what I can tell, there does not seem to be any large surface mounted objects back there. 


And saving the best for last. This motherboard has added a Clear CMOS button!  With a simple push of the button, you can clear the CMOS of the board. This will no doubt come in handy if you are overclocking.


Something that kind of came as a shock to me was that they have done away with the second IDE channel. There is now only one IDE channel on this board, which could be an issue if someone still has a few IDE drives that they want to use. After having done a fairly in-depth study of this board, I was excited to install it and get to the testing!

Specifications:

CPU
Support AMD® Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64/ Sempron
AMD Cool 'n' Quiet™ Technology
AMD64 architecture enables simultaneous 32-bit and 64-bit computing
AMD Live!™ Ready
Chipset
NVIDIA nForce® 590 SLI™ MCP
NVIDIA LinkBoost™ Technology
Front Side Bus
2000 / 1600 MT/s
Memory
Dual channel memory architecture
4 x DIMM, max. 8GB, DDR2-800/667/533, ECC and non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Expansion Slots
2 x PCI Express x16 slot with NVIDIA® SLI™ technology support, at full x16, x16 speed
1 x PCI Express x4
3 x PCI 2.2
SLI
Support two identical NVIDIA SLI-Ready graphics cards (both at x16 mode)
ASUS two-slot thermal design
ASUS PEG Link
Storage
NVIDIA nForce® 590 SLI™ MCP supports:
 * 1 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 / 33
 * 6 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s
 * NVIDIA MediaShield™ RAID supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD span cross Serial ATA drives
Silicon Image® 3132 SATA controller supports
 * 2 x External Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s port on back I/O (SATA On-the-Go)
 * Support RAID 0, 1, and JBOD
LAN
Dual Gigabit LAN controllers support NVIDIA DualNet® technology
NVIDIA nForce® 590 SLI™ MCP built-in dual Gigabit MAC with external Marvell PHY
 * Support Teaming and fail-over functions
 * Support TCP/IP Acceleration
Audio
SupremeFX Audio Card
featuring ADI 1988B 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
Support Jack-Sensing, Enumeration, Multi-streaming and Jack-Retasking
8 channel audio ports
Coaxial, Optical S/PDIF out on back I/O port
 * ASUS Array Mic
 * Noise Filter
IEEE 1394a
TI 1394 controller supports 2 x 1394a ports
USB
10 USB2.0/1.1 Ports Maximum
Overclocking Features
 * ASUS AI NOS™ (Non-delay Overclocking System)
 * AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
 * AI Clock Skew
 * ASUS PEG Link - automatically performance tuning for graphics cards
 * ASUS O.C. Profile: overclocking configuration-sharing tool
 * ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
 * Extreme Tweaker
ASUS AI Booster Utility
Adjustable FSB/DDR2 ratio. Fixed PCI/PCIe frequencies.
Special Features
LCD Poster
EL I/O
Onboard LED
Onboard switches: Power / Reset / Clr CMOS
Q-Connector
Q-Fan Plus
ASUS CrashFree BIOS3
ASUS EZ Flash2
ASUS Music Alarm
ASUS MyLogo3
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 Keyboard port
1 x PS/2 Mouses
1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
2 x External SATA
2 x LAN (RJ45) port
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x IEEE 1394a port
1 x onboard LED switch
1 x LCD Poster
Internal I/O Connectors
3 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector for two devices
6 x SATA connectors
1 x CPU / 7 x option Fan
3 x thermal sensor connector
1 x IEEE1394a connector
1 x S/PDIF output connector
Chassis Intrusion connector
Front Panel Audio connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
System panel connector
1 x EL I/O Shield Connector
BIOS
8Mb AWARD BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3
Manageability
WOL by PME, WOR by PME, Chasis Intrusion, PXE
Accessories
1 x SLI bridge
1 x ASUS Array Mic
1 x ASUS Optional Fan
1 x ASUS Q-Connector Kit (system panel; Retail version only)
3 x thermal sensor cables
1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
1 x Floppy disk drive cable
6 x SATA cables
7 x Cable Ties
3 x SATA power cable for 6 devices
1 x 2-port USB2.0 module
1 x IEEE1394a module
1 x EL I/O Shield
InterVideo® Media Launcher (OEM version only)
User's manual
Support CD
Drivers
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS Update
ASUS AI Booster
Futuremark ® 3DMark® 06 Advanced Edition
NVIDIA MediaShield™ RAID
Kaspersky®  Anti-Virus
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)

 

Installation:

    Installation of this motherboard is really not that different from installing any other board. If anything, it is a bit easier as Asus has added a few things to make our lives all easier.  You will obviously have to remove your old motherboard, as well as unhook everything so that you can remove it.  After you have removed the old motherboard, you will need to remove the old or stock I/O plate; usually it will just pop out, or you may be required to remove a screw, depending on the case.  You will need to adjust the standoffs in your case to accept the new motherboard configuration, as well as install the I/O plate that ships with the board. 

After the board is all mounted in the chassis, the first step that I took was to install the CPU, which is standard fair. Unlock the ZIF lever, drop the new CPU in, lock down the ZIF lever, and away we go.  Next was to install the RAM and then all the expansion cards.  This motherboard comes with a low rise Audio card so that there is more room on the board for other things; this is achieved by mounting the audio as an actual card on the motherboard.  I also installed the basic test video card, in this case a 6600GT. After all the cards were installed, it was time to make all the other hookups.  These include the front panel hookups, which was made very easy as Asus has included a quick hookup unit. Next was power and then all the IDE/SATA hookups for the drives.  There is also a connector from the motherboard to the rear I/O plate that powers the EL lighting.  Lastly, I had to install the CPU Heatsink. After I had double-checked all my hookups, it was time to fire this baby up and have a look at how she handles.

Testing:

Test setup
AMD AM2 4200+
Asus Crosshair 590SLI
2 x 1 GB Kingston 677Mhz DDR2 Ram
320 GB HDD
650Watt NZXT PSU
Windows XP Pro SP2

    I am now going to run a total of 13 standard OCC benchmarks in order to give you, the reader, a fairly in-depth overlook of the performance, as well as other features, of this board.

When deciding how to properly test our motherboards, we decided to run the set of CPU, memory, and gaming tests. We feel this will give us the best results for this motherboard.

Apophysis


To begin the testing phase, we will be running Apophysis, which is a very unique piece of abstract fractal rendering software.  We have a template file so that we can monitor the render times and differences with different hardware. Results are as follows. Remember, lower is better in this case.



Next on the list comes Science Mark. The results we have are from the initial review of the 4200+ on the ASRock motherboard, compared to this Asus Crosshair.


Cinebench is a nice test to have as it is mostly CPU intensive, but with different chipsets we will see different results. Sometimes not so much, other times a lot.



Following on down the list of things to benchmark we come to Specview, which uses 3DS Max like rendering types. Results are as follows.

 





As with all motherboards, we also chose to run HDTach just to see if the new chipset brought any improvements to the interface speed.



Sisoft Sandra, a piece of software that tests a lot of different aspects of hardware, CPU, memory, and cache, as well as individual aspects of each component.  We will be running the entire array of benchmarks. From them you can check out the results below.









PCMark05, produced by Futuremark, also has an entire suite of benchmarks that we will be running. Similar to Sandra, these tests focus on compression, as well as encoding.  Results are as follows.









That pretty much concludes our base benchmarks as it is a new motherboard with different marchitecture as well as a different chipset. Which brings us to the last phase of testing: game benchmarks. To kick off the start of them, we have Quake 4.

 







Next on the agenda is Far Cry. Though it uses a fairly dated engine, it is still a valid benchmark as it uses complex shaders as well as lighting techniques.





F.E.A.R is a relatively new game. Again, very complex shaders and a unique shadow rendering system makes this game a prime candidate for benchmarking.









Doom 3, though an aging game, it is still a very popular engine as we have seen newer games, such as Prey, built off of this engine.
 





Second to last in our game lineup is Call of Duty 2. Another older game, but based on its popularity and large online community, we like to keep it around.

 







Finally, last on the list of tests is Need for Speed: Most Wanted.  This is a very popular racing game. While not being a simulation, it is based off of the fun and customization front of what gamers are looking for.







Conclusion:

That brings this review to a close. As we can see from all of the benchmarks, the new motherboard with its new chipset is a much better choice than the ASRock ever was.  Throughout all of the tests, the 590 chipset was always one step ahead of the competition.  Asus has done a remarkable job on this motherboard with the addition of the Republic of Gamers accessories, and improvements make this board a real performer.  Packaged with some nice goodies, this motherboard comes loaded to bear.  I will be going further in-depth into the workings of this motherboard, the BIOS, and the overclocking at a later date.  This review was to cover the basics of this motherboard. As I said before, stay tuned for the update into the technologies, as well as the overclocking of this board.  If you are looking for a solid performing motherboard that will take DDR2 800, as well as give you a bevy of accessories and features, then this motherboard is the one for you.

Pros


Cons