Asus Crosshair III Formula Reviewajmatson - July 5, 2009
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For the Crosshair III Formula, ASUS chose to use a darker color scheme, which is rather pleasing to the eyes. The PC board is a blackish color, while the slots and ports on the board are blue and white. The board uses ASUS's patented Stack Cool 2 design, which keeps the components on the board cooler by evenly distributing the heat throughout the motherboard with no extra noise from added fans. This board is designed as an ATX form factor and measures 12 inches tall by 9.6 inches wide.The Crosshair III Formula uses the AMD 790FX Northbridge and the SB750 Southbridge, which has good overclocking abilities and supports CrossFireX with the two PCI Express X16 slots. The memory supported by the Crosshair III Formula is DDR3 and will clock up to 1600MHz for extreme speeds.
Moving on down along the back of the board is the I/O area. The Crosshair III Formula provides the necessary ports without overdoing it. Starting from the top, there is a small connector port where the POST LCD gets plugged into, a PS2 port, six USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, and an eSATA port. You might have noticed the switch with the circular arrow on it. This is a Clear CMOS switch, which allows you to clear a bad overclock without having to open your case to pull the battery or push a switch on the board. You might have also noticed that there are no audio ports. This is because the Crosshair III uses a dedicated card that we will see in the next section.
Moving down further on the Crosshair III we get to the expansion slots. ASUS has done a great job on maximizing the space available while still providing enough expansion slots for this design. There is a single PCI expansion slot available for those of us still using older audio cards or other peripherals that still use this slot type. For the newer generation, there are three PCI Express X1 slots, although one of them, the black colored one, is reserved for the SupremeFX audio card included with the Crosshair III. There are also two PCI Express X16 slots for video cards, which are colored blue. These slots support CrossFireX configurations up to four GPUs using two dual-GPU video cards such as the HD 4870X2.
The Crosshair III Formula supports socket AM3 processors, including the Phenom II and Athlon II series CPUs. Please note however, this board will not accept the AM2+ version of the Phenom II processors, such as the Phenom II X4 940. There are four DIMM slots that accept up to 16GB of DDR3 memory with a max speed of 1600MHz (OC). The area around the processor is clean and leaves enough room for large style heatsinks. This particular board uses an 8+2 Power Phase Design for the CPU, supplying clean and stable power for a smooth operation and overclocking potential.
The headers are located on the bottom of the board. With the tradition of the Crosshair series having enough for all needs, the same goes with the headers available on the board. From the left to right, there is a Firewire header colored red, a GP header colored black, three USB 2.0 headers colored blue, the front panel header colored white, one IDE port for up to two devices, and the five SATA ports. The SATA ports are 3.0Gb/s speeds and support RAID 0,1,5,10, and JBOD via the SB750 Southbridge. On the bottom, there are also three buttons designed to help you when running inside the case; a red power switch with the word start on it, a black reset switch and a button with MemOK under it. The MemOK button is included to load failsafe settings for the memory when pushed. If you are having a picky set of memory just push this button when the computer is powered off and the system will determine the safest speed, timings and voltages for the memory for improved booting success. A couple of other headers around the board are the fan and temperature probe headers. These are useful for monitoring your temps around the board and components while controlling the speeds of the fan based on those temperatures.
One of the most important features of the Crosshair III Formula is the iROG chips. These chips are the bridge between the overclocking software/hardware and the motherboard, which allows you to overclock on the fly using the overclocking software and also controls the POST LCD to show you current temperatures, voltages, fan speeds and more, while the computer is in operation. Another important feature of the Crosshair III Formula is the Voltminder LEDs for the CPU, Memory, Northbridge, and Southbridge. Each set has three LEDs that glow a different color depending on the voltage being supplied to the component. The three settings are green LED for normal voltages, a yellow LED for slightly high voltages, and a red LED for crazy voltages, which are usually borderline limits. For instance, for a Phenom II CPU, normal opperation is up to 1.3625v, high is 1.3750v to 1.4875v, and crazy is 1.5v and up.
To keep the critical components of the board cool, ASUS has implemented a passive cooling system designed of heatsinks and heatpipes. Over the voltage regulation area there is a large base heatsink with fins rising up, connecting to a heatpipe for optimum cooling. Swinging down the heatpipe leads to the 790FX Northbridge heatsink, which is comprised of a bunch of pins that rise up from the base and branch out leaving a large surface area for heat to be whisked away. On the Northbridge heatsink is the Republic of Gamers logo, which glows white when the ROG features are in operation. If you look close to the middle of the Northbridge heatsink, the ROG logo is embedded into it with a red color. Further down the heatpipe there is the smaller heatsink that covers the SB750 Southbridge.
Now that the board is out, we can look at some of the unique accessories that come with the Crosshair III.