Asus Crosshair III Formula Review

ajmatson - 2009-06-03 17:00:29 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: July 5, 2009
Price: $199.99

Introduction:

When it comes to overclocking, one requires only the best components, including processors, memory and, of course, motherboards. With motherboards, there are so many chipsets to choose from that a lot of trial and error comes into play when picking the correct one for you. As an enthusiast, I push the limits of my hardware to squeeze every bit of juice out of them that I can. When it comes to AMD processors, such as the Phenom II X4 955, I found the AMD 790FX/SB750 chipset to be the most stable for achieving high overclocks. One manufacturer has taken a proven enthusiast platform and designed a board around the 790FX/SB750 chipset for those yearning high benchmarks, such as our readers at OCC.

ASUS has had a sub-brand called the Republic of Gamers for some time now and designs its products to be the finest products available to gamers, according to ASUS. Its line includes both motherboard and video cards that are built to be the best. One of the series aimed at AMD users from ASUS is the ROG Crosshair series, which traditionally were built using nVidia chipsets. However, for the third board in the series, ASUS opted for the 790FX chispet with its proven stability and speed. The Crosshair III Formula also adds special features that set it apart from other 790FX based boards, which we will see inside.

 

Closer Look:

The ASUS Crosshair III Formula comes packaged in a pleasantly looking box, with the logo on the front showing it's a Republic of Gamers product. On the back are pictures of the board and audio card, as well as the specifications for the Crosshair III. What is unique about this packaging is there is a front flap that opens up on the box, revealing the inside with a view of the motherboard in all its glory. On the upper part of the flap there is more detail on some of the unique features that the ASUS Crosshair III offers that many other boards do not. These features are what sets this board apart from the competition.

 

 

 

When you open the packaging there are two inner boxes that slide out. The top inner box is what keeps the board very secure and protected so that it is not damaged when being moved around. It also gives a nice view to the board before taking it out of the packaging. The second box, or bottom one, is the accessories box, which houses and stores all the accessories for you. This is great for keeping what you are not using at the time safe for later. There is a wealth of accessories included that we will go into more later in the review.

 

 

Now that everything is out of the box we can get a better look.

Closer Look:

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.

Closer Look:

With the Crosshair III board, ASUS has included some unique accessories that a lot of motherboards on the market do not come with. These are designed to make your experience more rich and easier when overclocking, gaming or just enjoying your new setup. One accessory the Crosshair III is compatible with, but does not include, is the ASUS OC Station, which will take hardware overclocking to the next level, once ASUS releases it. Back to what is included, ASUS has made troubleshooting very easy with its LCD POSTER, which will read out the POST codes in numbers or easy to understand text to make you aware of any errors during boot. In addition to showing the POST codes, the LCD will also display the current system time, temperatures of the components and probes, and the fan speeds that are attached to the board's fan headers. The LCD POSTER plugs into a small port on the top left of the board behind the PS/2 port column, which uses a USB 2.0 lead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I really like to see included with motherboards is extra port brackets. With all the headers on the board, why not include the expansion for them? ASUS's included bracket fits in one of the expansion slots in the back of the case and adds a Firewire port and two additional USB 2.0 ports for further expansion.

 

 

In my opinion, one of the best features of this motherboard and the ROG series is the addition of an external audio card. The SupremeFX uses the black PCI Express X1 slot on the board to give you high quality audio without having to buy an additional audio card. The SupremeFX audio card has a 24-bit X-Fi crystallizer and supports EAX 4.0 Advanced HD. The SupremeFX also uses an 8-Channel High Definition Audio Codec and includes a Coaxial SPDIF and an Optical SPDIF connection, in addition to the standard audio ports.

 

 

 

I say we put this baby together and check out the programs that come with the Crosshair III Formula.

Closer Look:

When you pop the driver CD into the drive, the ASUS installer comes up with several options for you to choose from, making installation a breeze. On the main screen, there are several tabs along the top to help you navigate the installer. The first tab is the Drivers tab, where you install the drivers needed to run the board, such as the chipset and LAN drivers. The second tab is the Utilities tab, where you can install additional programs to get the most out of your board, such as the AMD Overdrive utility, ASUS Update, and ASUS AI Suite. For the drivers, you can install all of them with one click using the "InstALL" button. The computer will reboot when needed and restart the next installation automatically. For the Utilities, you will need to install them manually one by one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next two tabs are the Make Disk tab and the Manual tab. The Make Disk tab allows you to create RAID driver disks for both Windows XP and Windows Vista in the 32-bit and 64-bit variants. The Manual tab gives you quick access to the Motherboard Installation Guide and the RaidXpert User Manual.

 

 

The last two tabs are the Video tab and the Contact tab. The Video tab links to two videos called "The Battle" and "Extreme OC Clip". "The Battle" is a short film showing two gamers going head-to-head, however, the gamer playing with a ROG motherboard instantly overclocks his system using the AI Suite and takes over his oponent with the faster rig. "The Extreme OC Clip" is a short film on extreme overclocking on a ROG motherboard using Liquid Nitrogen (LN2). The Contact tab lists the contact information, if you need support for your ROG product.

 

 

 

In addition to the tabs, there are four icons on the screen that allow you to do additional tasks. The MB shows you the Motherboard Information, the CD icon allows you to browse the CD, and the last two allow you to print a support request and view the file list for the CD.

 

 

 

Now that we have the utilities installed, let's take a look at a few of them.

Closer Look:

Now that the drivers and utilities are installed I want to show you some of the utilities that are included that will help you get the most out of your Crosshair III Formula motherboard. The first things I want to show you are designed to help you squeeze every bit of juice out of your system and help you obtain those blazing fast speeds. These programs allow you to overclock your system all at once, with pre-determined settings stored in the BIOS, or individually as you need them. The first one is called ASUS AI Suite. The AI Suite allows you to set overclocking profiles and allows you to switch between them on the fly. This also includes a utility called Q-Fan, which allows you to alter fan speeds.The next one is called TurboV, which is a really nice overclocking tool that allows you to change voltages, speeds, and multipliers all from within Windows for quick overclocking without having to reboot. The last one uses settings that are preset into the BIOS to overclock your system automatically to certain speeds depending on the processor you are using.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another great set of utilities keeps your motherboard up to date and assists with energy saving and keeping the environment green. The ASUS Update utility allows you to search the ASUS databases for updated BIOS images and updates it via Windows so you do not need to reboot from a floppy or thumb drive. The EPU, or Energy Processing Utility, is user setable to reduce power consumption when the computer is not being used to its fullest. This is also workable in conjunction with AMD Cool & Quiet which downclocks the CPU to conserve energy waste.

 

 

 

A nice utility for monitoring your system is called ASUS PC Probe. PC Probe lets you monitor everything about your system, from voltages and fan speeds to temperatures and more. You can even set warning thresholds if your temperatures get too high or for your fans if they fail.

 

 

Lastly, we have the Creative X-Fi Audio Suite. The Creative X-Fi Audio Suite gives you total control over your sound from the SupremeFX sound card. You can set 3D settings, adjust the equalizer, change volumes, and more. This is a fully licensed version with the serial number included on the driver CD sleeve.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have everything installed and configured, we can move on and check out the BIOS.

Closer Look:

In my opinion, one of the most important parts of the motherboard is the BIOS. This is where an enthusiast makes magic happen. There are many tasks that you can do in the BIOS of a motherboard, including changing boot sequence, overclocking, etc. I am going to take you through some of the parts of the BIOS for the ASUS Crosshair III motherboard, but there is a lot more you can do than what is shown. This BIOS is fully featured and will help you get the most out of your system's speed and stability. To make the BIOS easier to understand, I am going to break it down by sections and explain a little about some of the settings that can be changed in each one.

Main:

The Main section is where you control the time of the system and the hard drives that are attached. Here you can set the properties of the drives and select the way the SATA drives operate, such as in IDE mode, ACHI mode for hot plug abilities, or in RAID. You can also check the BIOS version and system specs for the CPU and Memory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced:

In the Advanced section of the BIOS, you are able to adjust things such as the CPU configuration, Chipset configuration, how onboard devices work, and more. In the CPU Configuration, you can turn on or off Cool'n'Quiet and C1E support, as well as enable Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC) to potentially unlock the extra cores of some of AMD's Dual and Triple Core processors (Unlocking of the core is not recommended by OCC and is done at your own risk, not to mention, voiding your warranty). You can also change how ECC memory functions, which is supported by the Crosshair III Formula. In the Advanced section, there is also the sub menus for the LCD and LED controls on the board, as well as the iROG settings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power:

In the Power section, some of the configuration settings you can change is the Suspend mode from S1 to S3 to Auto, APM (Advanced Power Management) for "Power On" properties, and settings for the hardware monitor. The hardware monitor section lets you view current system voltages, in addition to allowing you to set thresholds and warnings for temperatures and fan speeds, and set up fan profiles for use with Q-Fan.

 

 

 

 

 

Boot:

The Boot section allows you to set the Boot Device Priority and settings for boot up, such as quick boot, error messages, and boot logos. You can also set a supervisor password for entering the BIOS.

 

 

 

Tools:

One of the neat sections I like is the Tools section. This section has tools available to you such as ASUS O.C. Profile, which allows you to save and load BIOS profiles for overclocked settings. This helps you from having to re-enter everything after a failed overclock. There is also ASUS EZ Flash 2, which is a BIOS update utility that allows you to save and update to the latest BIOS image using a hard drive or thumb drive. This keeps you from needing to have an old floppy drive to update it.

 

 

 

Closer Look:

Extreme Tweaker:

This is the section every overclocker and enthusiast loves. This is where all the overclocking magic takes place. In the top part of the Extreme Tweaker section is where the CPU properties are adjusted. This is where the BUS speed, multipliers and memory straps are set for maximum performance. One of the best features of this board is the Auto Clock feature, or "CPU Level Up" as they call it. This feature takes the CPU you have and designs a safe auto-setting profile for overclocking. There were three settings for the Phenom II X4 955, which were 3.4GHz, 3.6GHz and 3.8GHz.. The system will automatically set the voltages needed for these overclocks and they are benchmark stable with no issues. For the memory, there are four straps that are set as memory speeds. In this case, with the CPU BUS speed at 200MHz, there is an 800MHz option, a 1066Mhz option, a 1333MHz option, and a 1600MHz option. To get more than 1600MHz, you need to overclock the CPU BUS speed, which will in turn raise the strap and push the memory speed further. In addition to memory speed, there are two sub menus that allow you to control the way the memory operates and the timings for the modules, with numerous options for a more precise and stable set of memory.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the lower part of the Extreme Tweaker section is where the voltages are changed. There are options for the CPU, memory, Northbridge, Southbridge, and Hypertransport. To change the voltages, you just key in the number that you want or type Auto for auto settings. There are even current voltage displays for you to know where you are sitting in reference to where you want to place them. Below the voltages there is a section for you to set memory reference voltages as well as select how you want the LCD POSTER to show debug information, such as in text or POST codes.

 

 

Now we can move on to what we have been waiting for, the testing.

Specifications:

CPU
AMD Socket AM3 ; Phenom™II/Athlon™II/Sempron™ 100 Series Processors
AMD 140W CPU Support
AMD Cool 'n' Quiet™ Technology
Supports 45nm CPU
Chipset
AMD 790FX/SB750
System BUS
Up to 5200 MT/s ; HyperTransport™ 3.0
Memory
4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB, DDR3 1600(O.C.)/1333/1066 ECC,Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
*Refer to www.asus.com or user manual for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists)
**Due to OS limitation, when installing total memory of 4GB capacity or more, Windows® 32-bit operation system may only recognize less than 3GB. Hence, a total installed memory of less than 3GB is recommended.
Expansion Slots
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (@ dual x16)
3 x PCIe 2.0 x 1 ( the PCIEx1_1 (black) is compatible with audio slot)
1 x PCI 2.2
Multi-GPU Support
Support ATI CrossFire™X Technology graphics cards
Storage
SB750 Chipset
1 xUltraDMA 133/100/66 for up to 2 PATA devices
5 xSATA 3 Gb/s ports
Support RAID 0,1,5,10,JBOD

1 x External SATA 3Gb/s port on rear (SATA On-the-Go)

* Due to the Windows XP/ Vista limitation, the RAID array with the total capacity over 2TB cannot be set as a boot disk. A RAID array over 2TB can only be set as a data disk only.
LAN

Gigabit LAN controller, featuring AI NET 2

Audio
SupremeFX X-Fi Audio Card
8 -Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- EAX® Advanced™ HD 4.0
- X-Fi CMSS®-3D
- X-Fi Crystalizer™
- Creative ALchemy
- Supports 1 x S/PDIF out header
- Supports Coaxial/Optical S/PDIF out ports on rear
IEEE 1394
2 x 1394a ports (1 port at back I/O, 1 port onboard)
USB
12 xUSB 2.0 ports (6 ports at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
Overclocking Features
MemOK!
CPU Level Up
Extreme Tweaker
Power Design:
- 8+2 phase CPU power design
Keyboard-TweakIt
iROG
Loadline Calibration
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- ASUS TurboV
- O.C Profile
Overclocking Protection:
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Special Features ASUS MyLogo 3
ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
Q-Connector
ASUS Q-Fan 2
External LCD Poster
ASUS Q-Shield
AMD® OverDrive Support*
ASUS TurboV
Back Panel I/O
1 x External SATA
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x LAN(RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
1 x Clr CMOS switch
1 x PS/2 Keyboard port(purple)
Internal I/O
3 x USB connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x IEEE 1394a connector
1 x IDE connector for two devices
3 x thermal sensor connector
5 x SATA connectors (Blue)
System Panel connector
8 x Fan connectors: 1 x CPU / 1 x PWR / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional
1 x LCD Poster connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
BIOS
16 Mb Flash ROM
AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS
Manageability
WOL by PME,WOR by PME,PXE
Accessories
SupremeFX X-Fi audio card
1 x 2 in 1 Q-connector (USB, System panel; Retail version only)
1 x Multi-functional module (1-port IEEE 1394a + 2-port USB2.0)
External LCD Poster
UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
Serial ATA cables
I/O shield
Cable Ties
User's manual
Support Disk
Drivers
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS AI Suite
ASUS Update
Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
AMD OverDrive Utility (AOD)
Sound Blaster X-Fi Utility
Futuremark® 3DMark® 06 Advanced Edition
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.5 cm )

 

Features:

  

 

All information taken from the ASUS Website at: http://usa.asus.com/products.aspx?l1=3&l2=181&l3=896&l4=0&model=3063&modelmenu=2 and http://usa.asus.com/products.aspx?l1=3&l2=181&l3=896&l4=0&model=3063&modelmenu=1

 

Testing:

Now we get to the part we have all been waiting for. I am ready to put this board through the paces to see what she can do. I will be running a series of video and scientific benchmarks designed to push the limits of the ASUS Crosshair III Formula motherboard. Then it will be compared against other motherboards built around the same chipset to show how it stands among the competition and if the ROG features help push it above the rest. All the hardware, unless otherwise noted, will be run at its stock speeds, voltages and timings to keep any variables from interfering with the scores.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

When it came to overclocking on the ASUS Crosshair III Formula, I found it easier and more effective to push the BUS speed versus raising the multiplier. When raising the multiplier, I was only able to push it to 18x for a total speed of 3.6GHz before I lost stability. However, by putting the voltage to the maximum of 1.5v, I was able to push the BUS speed all the way to 241MHz for a total overclocked speed of 3.854GHz, which is over 200MHz more than the previous attempt. With this stable speed, the overclocked settings will be run at 241x16 for 3.85GHz.

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty: World at War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fallout 3 
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

  

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds; the lower the better.

 

ZIP:

   

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

In Apophysis the scores were all the same, however, in Winrar the true power shined as the workload grew.

Testing:

SPECviewPerf 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

   

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.

 

In Specview, the Crosshair III tied or won in all but one of the tests, and in PCMark Vantage it was way faster then the competition.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 Processor Arithmetic

 

 

 

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

For Sandra, the Crosshair III Formula once again did better than the competition in more than half of the tests.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

Higher is Better

 

CineBench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

In Sciencemark, the ASUS M4A79T had a 3-point advantage, just as it was slightly better in Cinebench. In HDTune, however, the Crosshair III shined.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real-time effects and damage. This next generation first-person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft, surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this Far Cry game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

The ASUS boards tied in Far Cry 2.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the storyline of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and Aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crosshair III stayed on the top end, alongside the Gigabyte offering.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddys". It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment, as well as the storyline, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the resolution grew, so did the lead for the Crosshair III Formula.

Testing:

Activision's Call Of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30-inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, at the top of the spectrum with the Gigabyte 790FX board.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse, starting with the crash landing of the seemingly silent and "dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional, over-the-shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

The Crosshair III Formula was the best in all the resolutions in Dead Space.

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again the Crosshair III ties or leads in this benchmark.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. Your goal is to make it to a rescue point, all while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie "I Am Legend" comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombies. These zombies are quick and work with pack mentality. You have but one job; survival!

Settings:

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

It was tight until the end, where the M4A79T had a one frame advantage.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

The scores of the Crosshair III Formula were above all the rest.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024x768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crosshair III blew away the competition in the "Entry" setting and maintained its top position for the rest of the settings.

Conslusion:

The ASUS Crosshair III Formula was a pleasure to work with. The ease of setting it up and getting it running was almost child-like. There were no hiccups or issues that I needed to address and installing any type of memory with the MemOK button was a breeze. There are so many options available with this board that you have endless control over your system and there are plenty of accessories included that are designed to make your life so much easier and simple when working with the ASUS Crosshair III Formula Motherboard. I am really impressed with the SupremeFX audio card, which put out sounds that matched or sounded better than my Creative ExtremeMusic card. The layout of the board utilizes the space it has and there are no problems with covered ports or buttons. In addition, the CPU area is suitable for installing large heatsinks or water blocks with no problem. I was even able to include a memory fan with no issues of crowding with a CoolIT Domino A.L.C. cooler attached.

When it came to the performance of the Crosshair III Formula, it was excellent. The majority of the time the Crosshair III Formula either matched the competition or exceeded it. Very rarely did if falter behind and when it did it was within a margin of error that would keep it on par with the rest of the 790FX based boards that it was compared too. Overclocking was very easy with both the BIOS and with the addition of AMD Overdrive included on the driver CD. The ability to overclock via the "CPU Level Up" feature will make users new to this type of addicting computing have an easier time squeezing the juice from their hardware. For the experts, you have so many options to change, that system stability is almost a no brainer with some fine tuning. With extreme cooling methods such as Dry Ice or Liquid Nitrogen, this would make a great platform for extreme speeds and breaking records. I really liked the voltage LEDs on the board, which helped me judge if I was pushing an overclock way too hard or not.

With so much to offer and at a price under $200 for all of this, I have to put this motherboard at the top of what I have tested. While a little bit more than the ASUS M4A79T and the Gigabyte 790FX, the Crosshair III Formula has plenty more to offer and this makes up for the premium price. Considering this is one of the top boards available for the AMD platform and it is still priced fairly low, the extra cash would be well spent. I highly recommend the Crosshair III to anyone wanting to take their love of pushing their systems to the next level.

 

 Pros:

 

Cons: