ASUS Rampage III Extreme ReviewGeekspeak411 - August 3, 2010
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Like its older brethren, the Rampage II Extreme, the Rampage III Extreme pushes the limits of its form factor. Sitting one inch wider than standard ATX motherboards, fitting the RIIIE in a mid-tower case isn't unheard of, but internal case dimensions must be double-checked before committing. The space doesn't go to waste though, as all of those extra inches allow the iROG chips to live onboard. I think it is a good trade-off. Taking a look at the board itself, the RIIIE comes packaged in a standard black holding box that keeps the board stable during shipping. Once that is removed, the motherboard can be seen in all its glory, and the intense red and black color scheme really has a chance to shine.
The Rampage III Extreme has a very clean area around the CPU. Everything is kept low and out of the way, so there should be no issues with any kind of CPU coolers, unless the previously mentioned extended chipset cooler is mounted. The LGA 1366 socket is made by Lotes, which should sidestep any possible incidents that the Foxconn sockets experienced with the LGA 1156 versions. The IHS on the back of the motherboard is pretty standard grade for the X58 boards. It is worth mentioning that ASUS completely re-arranged this motherboard to enable four dual-slot PCI-E 2.0 cards inserted at once. To allow all that space, the entire chipset and CPU socket was moved up. That move, however, required the components that are usually found above the CPU to be moved over to the left of it. As such, the left heat sink was made a little beefier to handle the increased load.
Moving over to the IO panel, there is, as expected, a plethora of connectivity options. ASUS threw all kinds of ports in the mix to include 6+1 USB 2.0 ports (the +1 is the dual-purpose ROG Connect Port), 2 USB 3.0 ports, a single PS/2 port for a legacy keyboard, a single gigabit Ethernet port, Firewire, e-SATA, optical audio and 7.1 channel audio. Additionally, a handy Clear CMOS button is up top, and the ROG Connect toggle button is positioned right above the dedicated USB port. The Bluetooth dongle attaches right here. The module fits right onto the headers, positioning the Bluetooth button right next to the ROG Connect button. The USB 3.0 ports are supported by the current standard-grade NEC chip.
Moving down along the motherboard, all of the expansion slots come in to play. Hosting four PCI-E 2.1 ports, a PCI-E x4 port, and a PCI port, the assortment is pretty impressive. Less impressive, though, is the fact that when all four slots are filled, you are limited to a 4x8 lane arrangement instead of pushing 16 lanes to each. A disappointing limitation of the X58 chipset, although not by any means a deal breaker.
Rounding the bottom corner, the standard assortment of headers can be found here, plus one. ASUS has mounted a standard four-pin Molex connector here, claiming to offer additional power to PCI-E support to increase performance under load and overclocking. I suppose this could be a boon to extreme graphics overclockers, but I doubt it would have any day-to-day benefits worth writing home about. There are two four-pin fan headers and a temperature header here as well. The two BIOS chips that allow the BIOS flashback feature are found along this bottom stretch, as well as the front panel header connection that is compatible with the ASUS Q-Connector heads. At the very right extremity, ASUS has kindly placed a BIOS Switch button, allowing me to switch between the two BIOS chips without having to boot into the BIOS software and switch it manually, which is handy.
The RIIE features seven SATA 3.0Gbps ports, as well as two SATA 6.0Gbps ports, which are supported by a Marvell chip right above them. Before I start going over the right-side of the board, I want to draw attention to the iROG chips that inhabit this corner, enabling all of the extra features found on the ASUS Rampage III Extreme. There are three major chips to be seen, which enable Q-LED's in order to pinpoint failures during boot, which is just plain invaluable when overclocking, the Voltage LED's that give instant feedback on the voltage range of multiple critical components onboard, Q-Reset which helps LN2 overclockers get out of their cold-boot states, and of course, the ROG Connect features I described above.
Up above the SATA ports, there is the noticeable exception of an IDE port, that, while its exclusion is understandable, would have still been a nice inclusion for all of the legacy devices out there and that are still being sold. Seeing as how there really isn't room for it though, it was a worthy loss. Mid-board, the 24-pin ATX power connector sits snugly between the Q-LED's and DRAM Voltage LED's. Another four-pin fan connector sits directly above it.
At the top of the board, the majority of the iROG controls sit much more conveniently than they have in previous generations. This area houses a "Go Button" which, when pressed, will execute a custom BIOS batch file. The extremely convenient voltage headers are also found here and there are eight in total. The regular ROG Start and Reset buttons are here as well as a new feature in the form of four small 'on/off' switches. These switches are billed to individually disable their respective PCI-E 2.1 ports making it incredibly easy to narrow down which GPU in your setup is at blame for a failed boot. I can only begin to think of the usefulness to be found here, especially with how big of a pain it is to be switching out four cards trying to root out a faulty one. This has huge potential and really boosts the motherboard's ease of use factor! Don't miss the LN2 Mode header right next to the Start button either.
The Rampage III Extreme understandably tries to push the limit with specifications. As such, ASUS has officially added support for DDR3 2200MHz which, with the right set of RAM, could go undoubtedly higher. As per the processors restriction, the board is limited to 24GB of RAM, or a 4GB stick in each slot.
Now, with all of these features, it is nigh-on impossible to consider the RIIIE underwhelming. To fully exploit this board, however, you need a lot of power. This board has more auxiliary power connections than any other I have seen, so make sure your power supply is up to the task. If it isn't, the system will still run, but that ever elusive prime overclock might remain out of reach. To start out with, the board needs a standard 24-pin ATX power connection. Additionally, it requires at least one 8-pin CPU connection, but two of them for extreme overclocking performance. Finally, the board has two optional four-pin Molex connections to support the insane power requirements of a four-Way SLI setup or a CrossfireX configuration. That is a lot of power, but that is a lot of performance to boot. Sounds good to me!