ASUS Rampage IV Extreme Review

The last ASUS board we looked at was for AMD’s new Bulldozer platform, the Crosshair V Formula. It is currently their top of the line AMD board, but it isn’t top of the line like an “Extreme” ASUS board. Today we’re looking at the Rampage IV Extreme, and let me tell you, top of the line may not be strong enough.

Packaging and First Look

ASUS’ box for the Rampage IV Extreme is the same we’ve come to know from their other RoG motherboards. What you might notice right off the bat is the item in the upper right hand corner – PCIe 3.0 Ready. We already know Sandy Bridge-E has enough bandwidth for it and this is further confirmation.

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme Box

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme Box

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme Box Rear

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme Box Rear

Box Flap Opened

Box Flap Opened

Looking nice already through that window. The same RoG red and black colors as those that have come before, but this one looks even better than the others. It’s slightly larger than standard ATX; the same size as the Crosshair IV Extreme we saw last year.

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

It really is a good looking board. One of the first things you probably noticed was the X79 PCH cooling fan. I thought we were done with those things for good, but ASUS seems to have a different view. It’s not annoyingly loud at reasonable RPMs, but if it spools up, you are definitely made aware of its existence.

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

This board is a work of overclocking art. Some features you already know from just looking at it, but I guarantee there are things that will surprise even hardened hardware hot shots.

Specifications and Features

First up, the specifications. Thankfully in graphic form rather than the massive chart. If you would like to see said massive chart, you can always head on over to ASUS’ product page and have a look at it.

RIVE Specifications

Rampage IV Extreme Specifications

The features are solid and extensive. We’ll go over them as we tour the board below, but some are worth mentioning more than once. ASUS’ product overview does a good job of pointing most everything out in one fell swoop.

Rampage IV Extreme Overview - Courtesy ASUS

Rampage IV Extreme Overview - Courtesy ASUS

First up is one of the points of contention about the new platform – it’s not PCIe 3.0 certified. That said, as mentioned in the i7-3960X review, there is enough available bandwidth for PCIe 3.0, there just wasn’t enough hardware to be able to legally certify it. ASUS goes a step further, claiming PCIe 3.0 readiness.

PCIe 3.0 Ready

The latest PCI Express bus standard delivers imporved encoding for twice the performance of current PCIe 2.0. Total bandwidth for a x16 link reaches a maximum of 32GB/s, double the 16GB/s of PCIe 2.0 (in x16 mode). PCIe 3.0 provides users unprecedented data speeds combined with the convenience and seamless transition offered by complete backward compatibility with PCIe1.0 and PCIe 2.0 devices. It is a must-have feature PC users aiming to improve and optimize graphics performance, as well as have the latest, most future-proof technology.

* This motherboard is ready to support PCIe 3.0 SPEC. Functions will be available when using PCIe 3.0-compliant devices. Please refer to www.asus.com for updated details.

This one you probably already know, but you can run SLI and Crossfire both, just like you could on Intel chipsets starting with the original Sandy Bridge / P67 platform.

SLI/CrossFire On-Demand

Why choose when you can have both?
SLI or CrossFireX? Fret no longer because with the ROG Rampage IV Extreme you’ll be able to run both multi-GPU setups. The board features SLI/CrossFire on Demand technology, supporting up to four graphics cards in a 4-Way SLI or CrossFireX configuration. Whichever path you take, you can be assured of jaw-dropping graphics at a level previously unseen.

Sandy Bridge-E brings the massive bandwidth of quad channel memory. It might not help with everything you do, but it certainly helps with certain benchmarks.

Quad-Channel, DDR3 2400 MHz

Quad-Channel DDR3 2400 MHz
The motherboard supports DDR3 memory that features data transfer rates of 2400/2133/1866/1600/1333 MHz to meet the higher bandwidth requirements of the latest operation system, 3D graphics, multimedia, and Internet applications. The quad-channel DDR3 architecture double the bandwidth of your system memory to boost system performance.

The next two are features of the OC Key, a really cool accessory we’ll show you later.

OSD Monitor

The key to real time monitoring!
Knowing information is key in any situation. Monitor the status of your system in real-time with a convenient graphical overlay displayed right on screen with OSD Monitor. It allows you to view POST codes in real-time, complete hardware status and even the readout from VGA Hotwire and Subzero Sense, all at a pure hardware level.

OSD TweakIt

The key to real time overclocking!
Tweak the parameters of your system in real-time with a convenient graphical overlay displayed right on the screen with OSD TweakIt. It provides you with a set of critical and hardware-driven functions so you can tweak your system on-the-fly.

As with most new sockets, LGA2011 came with a new mounting mechanism. The positive aspect to that is the hole spacing, which is identical to socket 1366. Most boards will require you to get a new mounting kit, fashion one on your own that fits the new threaded holes or drill the holes out. The RIVE comes with an interchangeable backplate that holds the socket hold-down but frees the mounting holes to use as you see fit.

X-Socket

Get more life out of your LGA1366 CPU coolers 
Don’t junk that expensive LGA1366 heatsink! With X-Socket, switch out the LGA2011 pad for a 1366 one and get more life out of your previous CPU cooler.

VGA Hotwire isn’t going to be used by a ton of people, but those that volt-mod video cards are going to LOVE this one.

VGA Hotwire

Hotwire your system
Love to overvolt but got mad trimming the tiny variable resistors? With the VGA Hotwire feature, plug the two-wire cable onboard and solder two wires on the VGA’s voltage regulator and accurately adjust the voltage, taking your system to the next level while avoiding some risks.

The sub-zero fun doesn’t stop with GPUs. This board has two ports to plug K-type temperature probes (the ones used for liquid nitrogen because they read to -200ºC) into.

Subzero Sense

Find out how cold your board is
Love overclocking in LN2 mode, but have trouble finding out just how cold your board is? Worry no more, with Subzero Sense you can read the system’s temperature even in its coldest subzero degrees temperature.

ASUS always makes a big deal out of its power section and this board is no exception. Based on the difference between the Crosshair V Formula and Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 we saw, it’s worth making a big deal about.

Extreme Engine Digi+ II

Optimum power efficiency with premium components and intelligent digital design
The Extreme Engine Digi+ II has been upgraded and equipped with the finest Japan-made 10K Black metallic capacitors, while the digital VRM design allows you to achieve ultimate performance with adjustable CPU and memory power management frequencies. Precise adjustments create greater efficiency, stability, five times longer lifespan than solid capacitors* and performance for total system control. (*At operating temperature of 105°C)

ROG Connect isn’t new any more, but it’s still worth a mention.

ROG Connect

Plug and Overclock – Tweak it the hardcore way!
Monitor the status of your desktop PC and tweak its parameters in real-time via a notebook—just like a race car engineer—with ROG Connect. ROG Connect links your main system to a notebook through a USB cable, allowing you to view real-time POST code and hardware status readouts on your notebook, as well as make on-the-fly parameter adjustments at a purely hardware level.

This one is new – bluetooth overclocking. I’d rather have hard-wired ROG connect, but to each their own! Author’s Note: This was new to me, but did exist on the Maximus IV Extreme and Rampage III Extreme prior to this board. (Thanks Janus67 and nzaneb!)

ROG iDirect

Tune your PC from your iPhone or iPad now!
Still overclocking your PC the old-fashioned way? Let ROG iDirect bring you a whole new tweaking experience right on your iPhone or iPad! Thanks to the Bluetooth card that comes with select ASUS ROG motherboards, you can monitor your PC and tweak parameters such as voltages and frequencies in real time wirelessly from your iPhone or iPad!

It’s definitely a strong feature set. Some of the neatest, most original features yet seen on any motherboard and definitely fitting for the newest, strongest processors on the planet.

Accessories

There is a large accessory bundle with this board. You get eight SATA cables, the ROG connect cable, ASUS’ handy front-panel quick connector and of course the backplate, manual and driver disc. After that, it gets interesting.

Accessories Pack

Accessories Pack

Accessories Galore!

Accessories Galore!

Important to those that don’t necessarily want to purchase new mounting hardware, this is the star drive key and LGA1366 backplate that allows you to reuse your cooler.

LGA1366 Backplate

LGA1366 Backplate

We first saw these on the Crosshair IV Extreme. They are multimeter probe plugins for ProbeIt. There are two in case you wanted to monitor two voltages at once. This is much easier because you can plug your multimeter in and then just watch the multimeter rather than having to actively probe the small voltage read points on other boards.

Easy Voltmeter Leads

Easy Voltmeter Leads

SLI seems to be slightly more of a focus than Crossfire. You get two- three- and four-way SLI connectors but only one two-card Crossfire connector.

Three SLI Bridges and a Crossfire Bridge

Three SLI Bridges and a Crossfire Bridge

Now, we never spend a ton of time talking about an accessory. They’re usually just worth a mention on the way to the main event. This is different. ASUS’ OC Key is a completely new, original piece of hardware. You’ve never seen one of these before this board folks.

ASUS OC Key

ASUS OC Key

The OC Key plugs inline between your GPU and monitor plug. You then plug what appears to be an internal USB header wire from the board to the OC Key. After that, it’s on. To activate the OC Key, you hold the ROG connect button down for three seconds, and then the fun starts.

Once activated, OC Key displays on your monitor real time temperature, voltage and fan speed monitoring. This is completely independent of the operating system. It can even work with just standby power while the system is powered off. Not one CPU cycle is wasted on monitoring; it’s all done by the board itself, so even extreme overclockers can monitor their system right there on the screen.

OC Key Enabled

OC Key Enabled

OC Key Voltage Monitoring

OC Key Voltage Monitoring

Oh, and did I mention you can use it to overclock your system? No? Well you can.

OC Key - OC Tweakit

OC Key - OC Tweakit

If you want to make a reviewer gush, this is how you do it. Seriously jaw dropping. My only complaint about the OC Key is that it disables the PrintScreen key when active. You can actually use a second keyboard just for the OC Key if you really want to keep it active and take a screenshot at the same time.

Up Close and Personal

The upper right corner of this board could be considered overclocking heaven. It has more features packed in that little corner than anywhere else on the board, which is actually quite convenient. As you can see, ASUS has added a POST code indicator. This is in addition to (rather than in place of) their very convenient Q-LED POST status lights (in the photo on the right). You get not only the light-up indicator telling you which component is causing the problem, you get the POST code that tells you why. It’s the best of both worlds.

Of course, you also have the power and reset buttons. To their left are switches to turn PCIe slots on and off. If you have a water loop with multiple GPUs in it, you don’t want to have to pull one out of the loop just to troubleshoot. That’s even more important for sub-zero GPU benching. These allow you to disable any of your GPUs with a mere flip of a switch.

Speaking of sub-zero, you see those two rows of red and black pins? Those are the VGA Hotwire headers. For anyone that benches sub-zero GPUs (which will probably happen a lot on this platform considering that’s one of its best qualities) these are a godsend. No longer do you have to mess with variable resistors and tiny screwdrivers. Just wire your GPU up to these headers and you can control the GPU, video RAM and GPU PLL voltages of two GPUs. The voltage can then be controlled via the UEFI, TurboV EVO, the OC Key or ROG Connect. This is the first time this has ever been implemented and is just an awesome feature for GPU volt-modding gurus.

Whew, we’re still nowhere near done with this small corner. The beige headers are where you can plug the multimeter headers in for monitoring voltage. If two voltages aren’t enough for you, there are also the ProbeIt read points right there on the board for all of your voltages. There are also LEDs to tell you what voltage you may need more of when an overclock fails. To their right is the Slow Mode switch. Sometimes when benching at or near your CPU’s cold bug point, you can avoid crashes by essentially throttling the clocks. This allows you to do it on the fly, instantly as you need to. This only functions when the LN2 mode is turned on with the LN2 mode jumper above it.

Last but not lest, you have the GO Button to the left of the PCIe lane switches. The GO Button serves two purposes. First, it will load the overclocking profile you have set for the GO button in the UEFI. That’s handy, but not as handy as its second function – the Mem OK! Button. That function allows you to POST after pushing your memory too far.

Control Corner

Control Corner

Control Corner II

Control Corner II

After that, the rest of the board isn’t quite as packed in small areas, but what a corner! So many features and every one of them will make extreme overclockers very happy.

Moving to the bottom of the board, you can see all of the front panel headers (except one USB 3.0 header pictured above to the left of the main power connector) and three of the board’s eight fan headers. You can also see the dual BIOS chips featured on this board. The switch to choose between them is in the far lower right. This is another can’t-do-without feature for overclockers.

Bottom Left Corner

Bottom Left Corner

Bottom Right Corner

Bottom Right Corner

Looking up a little bit you can see the board’s five PCIe 16x slots. The top slot operates at 16x all the time. The second one down is 8x, the third (black) is 8x, the fourth down is 16x or 8x depending on configuration and the fifth operates at 8x. If you run three GPUs, you’d run the top red slot, middle black slot and bottom red slot. If you run four, you’d use all four red slots. Two would use the first and third red slots.

Listening to criticism from previous boards that had the 1x PCIe slot buried under or too close to the primary GPU, ASUS moved that slot down toward the bottom, putting it in a much more convenient and accessible location.

PCIe Connectivity

PCIe Connectivity

Looking at internal connectivity you can see this board is equipped with eight SATA ports. There are the two SATA 6Gb/s and four SATA 3Gb/s ports that come standard with the LGA2011 platform as well as two more SATA 6Gb/s ports courtesy of an ASMedia controller.

What, you may ask, are those funny looking ports next to the SATA ports? Those, my friends, are the Sub-Zero Sense headers to plug in K-type temperature probes. No need for an external (often expensive) thermometer with this board, just plug your probes in there and check your temps with OC Key while you’re pushing the clocks. Yet another seriously awesome feature given to hardcore overclockers. (Note there are still the normal two-pin sensors onboard, these are in addition to that feature.)

SATA and Sub-Zero Probe Connectivity

SATA and Sub-Zero Probe Connectivity

Last on our closeup is the rear I/O panel. There is a ton of connectivity here. Eight USB 2.0 ports (one is the ROG Connect port), four USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA 6Gb/s ports, the LAN port and of course the audio headers. There is also the rear clear CMOS button (another very important feature for overclockers), the ROG connect button (which also turns the OC Key on and off), and a bluetooth module.

Rear I/O

Rear I/O

Controllers Galore

What gives us all that connectivity we just saw? A crazy number of controllers, that’s what. With the X79 chipset essentially kneecapped by Intel from its original specifications, third party controllers have had to step in and pick up the slack. ASUS has gone with ASMedia controllers all over the board. In the upper left is the USB 3.0 controller corresponding with that header. On the upper right photo is the SATA 6Gb/s controller for the extra two internal ports. The photo at the bottom shows us two more USB 3.0 controllers and the other SATA 6GB/s controller for the eSATA ports.

ASMedia USB 3.0 Controller

ASMedia USB 3.0 Controller

ASMedia SATA 6.0 Gb/s Controller

ASMedia SATA 6.0 Gb/s Controller

2x ASMedia USB 3.0 & 1x ASMedia SATA 6.0 GB/s

2x ASMedia USB 3.0 & 1x ASMedia SATA 6.0 GB/s

As ASUS has done for their top-of-the-line boards for a while now, this board comes with an Intel LAN controller, which they say is superior to other alternatives (such as Realtek). I’m sure there are some people, somewhere that care about that difference but they aren’t benchmarkers.

Intel Ethernet Controller

Intel Ethernet Controller

Also plastered all over the board are ASUS DIGI+ controllers. These little guys allow UEFI and software control of lots of voltages, allowing you to fine-tune as you see fit. Other boards have power options, but none like ASUS that I’ve seen. They are a step ahead of the rest of the pack when it comes to great voltage control.

Digi+

Digi+

Digi+

Digi+

Digi+ | EPU

Digi+ | EPU

There is also another fan header in this photo and one last button we need to mention – the Q Reset button. ASUS’ reviewer guide says it is “to prevent cold bug from happening in the middle of a smooth LN2 run.” It’s a bit ambiguous. The manual goes into a little more detail and says when you’ve cold bugged out and can’t POST, pressing that button will temporarily stop power to the CPU to help it recover from a frozen condition.

Under the Hood

Pulling the heatpipe assembly off the board, there is a very interesting design here. The VRMs are all concentrated in one small spot on X79 boards, right in between the RAM slots above the CPU socket. To solve the problem of needing to dissipate a good amount of heat from a small area, ASUS has attached additional heatsinks with a heatpipe to assist.

The interesting part is that their entire purpose is just that – to dissipate VRM heat. The sinks in the middle and upper left of the board don’t really touch anything except where they screw down. As mentioned before, ASUS brought back the accursed 40 mm fan, residing next to where the heatpipe assembly contacts the X79 PCH. It’s really not very bad as long as you let the UEFI control it, though at full speed you can tell it’s there if the board isn’t inside a case. There is a method to the madness though – increasing PCH voltage does help somewhat when pushing BCLK and RAM on this platform. Additionally, this heatsink is connected to the others via heatpipes. ASUS says the fan helps significantly in dissipating heat from the VRMs.

My only complaint about this otherwise strong heatpipe assembly is that it makes insulating this board a pain. AMD always has essentially clear socket areas and boy do I miss that when insulating Intel boards. It makes my preferred method of insulation (Frost King) much more difficult. That’s more Intel’s fault than ASUS’ though, as all X79 boards have the power section in the same location.

Heatpipe Assembly

Heatpipe Assembly

Heatpipe Assembly

Heatpipe Assembly

Heatpipe Interconnected

Heatpipe Interconnected

On the under side, there are two very positive things to note. First, there is great contact throughout. Second, they use actual, honest to goodness TIM!!! None of that nasty yellow stuff they have used on past boards, this is the real deal. Contact was great there too and removal for replacement has never been easier.

Heatpipe Assembly

Heatpipe Assembly

PCH Heatsink Contact

PCH Heatsink Contact

VRM Heatsink Contact

VRM Heatsink Contact

Heatsink Assembly

Heatsink Assembly

Under Board VRM Contact

Under Board VRM Contact

Actual TIM!

Actual TIM!

The power section on this board is very strong. There is an eleven phase power section on the top of the board. Eight of these are dedicated to the CPU core and three are dedicated to the VCCSA – chip’s memory controller. In addition to these (and not pictured) are 2+2 phase dedicated power for the RAM.

The components are solid too, NexFET Power Block MOSFETs (which ASUS says has 2x the current capacity of low RDS_on MOSFETS used on other boards), 10K Black Metallic capacitors and Black Metallic Chokes. It’s interesting they went with these chokes, after touting their alloy chokes for so long. I spoke with ASUS about that and they say these are still alloy, but they are rated for several amps more than their previous alloy chokes, coming in at 50 amps vs. 46-48 amps.

Power Section

Power Section

Rear Power Section

Rear Power Section

Here we have the X79 platform controller hub (PCH) itself.

X79 PCH

X79 PCH

Overall this appears to be a really solid board, with features galore for every type of overclocker. It’s obviously geared more toward the hardcore crowd, but that doesn’t mean ambient folks can’t use this board too, but a lot of the features might end up wasted on them.

The UEFI

The ASUS UEFI has been smooth since they switched to it from a BIOS interface. It’s just as responsive as any BIOS and if you don’t like using your mouse, you can use the keyboard as if nothing ever changed. They did their UEFI right. If SNB-E goes to 11, this UEFI helps it get there. There are so many features it’s almost overwhelming, but their “Auto” settings are strong enough that it’s only as difficult as you want to make it.

The first menu you see when booting into the UEFI is the Extreme Tweaker menu. This is your main overclocking menu, where you adjust your turbo multiplier (how you overclock this platform via multi), all voltages, BCLK, etc. etc. You get your first glimpse into how extensive this thing is with the first four menu items – OC Profiles from “Normal” to “Extreme OC”. They mean Extreme too, those are for sub-zero overclockers.

After scrolling through the many options, you get to the bottom and see glimpse number two – Tweakers’ Paradise. Four of them, all of which we’ll look at in a bit.

Extreme Tweaker

Extreme Tweaker

Extreme Tweaker - 2

Extreme Tweaker - 2

Extreme Tweaker - 3

Extreme Tweaker - 3

The first sub-menu we’ll check out is the DRAM timing control. There are four auto-profiles here that will make overclockers happy. If you have Elipida Hyper IC based RAM (some of the best sticks, ever), you know Sandy Bridge wasn’t necessarily very kind to it. ASUS has given you a profile just for your RAM so you can use it to its full potential. PSC is another popular IC and there are two profiles for it as well as a RAW MHz profile.

They wouldn’t be ASUS if they didn’t continue on though. Every single possible sub-timing you could ever consider is in this UEFI. There are so many, it took five photos to go through them. Several are repeating though because they can be set per controller channel. Still, there’s enough to keep hardcore tweakers in here for days.

DRAM Timing Control

DRAM Timing Control

Up next we’ll check out the DIGI+ Power Control menus. DIGI+ usually has several options for controlling power to your CPU. All of those options are here, one of the most important of which is Load Line Calibration (LLC), which works great. They’ve gone a step farther on this board though and included full DIGI+ controls for the VCCSA (memory controller), VTT and RAM.

DIGI+ Power Control

DIGI+ Power Control

DIGI+ Power Control - 2

DIGI+ Power Control - 2

There are four CPU menus to toy with. The first (CPU Performance Settings) is a sub-menu of the Extreme Tweaker menu and is where you can adjust the base (non-turbo) multiplier, usually for underclocking, which is not really our strong point. The other CPU menus are located as sub-menus to the Advanced section. In this menu you can control things like HT, turning cores on and off, C-States and the like.

CPU Performance Settings

CPU Performance Settings

CPU Configuration

CPU Configuration

CPU Configuration - 2

CPU Configuration - 2

CPU Power Management Configuration

CPU Power Management Configuration

Now we get to Tweakers’ Paradise.

  • CPU Tweakers’ Paradise gives you some skew controls (which were extremely important on Core2 platform, so perhaps they can lend some assistance here too) and a drive strength control.
  • DRAM Tweakers’ Paradise is just adding even more RAM tweaking options to the already exhaustive RAM tweaking ability of this board.
  • PCH Tweakers’ Paradise let’s you toy with the PCH and see if that helps your clocks any; these will be most helpful when considering BCLK overclocking.
  • GPU Tweakers’ Paradise is the location within UEFI that you can access the GPU Hotwire controls to adjust GPU, VTT and video RAM voltage of the GPUs you’ve wired up to the board.

CPU Tweaker's Paradise

CPU Tweaker's Paradise

Memory Tweaker's Paradise

Memory Tweaker's Paradise

PCH Tweaker's Paradise

PCH Tweaker's Paradise

VGA Tweaker's Paradise

VGA Tweaker's Paradise

There is also the strong voltage, temperature and fan speed monitoring you’re used to on ROG boards by now. The fan control is extensive on this board too. You can control the CPU fan header, the Chassis fan header (one of them), the PCH fan and four of the optional fans, totaling six you can control via UEFI. That’s out of eight fan headers total on the board. Only those controlled by Q-Fan (CPU header and Chassis header) are controllable by AISuite’s Fan Xpert, but most people don’t need more than automatic UEFI control of their optional fans anyway.

Now we’ll check out the Tools menu. There are quite a few important things here. First is EZ Flash 2, which hasn’t changed in a while but it doesn’t need to. Select your new UEFI build either on your HDD or your USB flash drive, confirm twice and watch it do its thing. Easiest UEFI (or BIOS, for that matter) flash ever.

Tool Menu

Tool Menu

EZ Flash 2

EZ Flash 2

O.C. Profile is the best thing since sliced bread. You get eight profiles per UEFI chip, so if you flash both chips to the same UEFI, that’s 16 profiles at your finger tips. Overclockers can’t live without their profiles!

Speaking of profiles, there is one extra profile for you – the Go Button profile. Plug the values you want the Go Button to apply when you press it and you have a single button-push overclock.

ASUS O.C. Profile

ASUS O.C. Profile

Go Button Profile

Go Button Profile

The last Tool is BIOS flashback. This lets you select the UEFI to which you want to boot. It also lets you flash from one chip to another if you bork one of them.

BIOS Flashback

BIOS Flashback

This isn’t to be confused with the awesome other BIOS flashback feature. Did you know on certain ASUS boards (this is one of them), you can flash your BIOS without so much as a CPU installed? No RAM, no GPU – nothing but the 24-pin power plug.

If you find yourself in a dire situation where your board won’t POST with either BIOS, as a last resort try auto BIOS flashback. All you do is load the BIOS onto a flash drive and rename it R4E.ROM. Plug it into the ROG Connect port (the white one) and hold the ROG Connect button for three seconds, then watch it go. Do NOT disconnect power until all activity stops. This is a lifesaver for those who really push the limits and have accidentally messed up both BIOS chips.

We have a couple more screens to go through in the UEFI and then we’ll be done. These screens are unique to ASUS – the GPU POST and DIMM POST screens. GPU POST gives data on your GPU(s) and how it/they running (i.e. if you have multiple cards, it will tell you if they’re running 16x or 8x).  An interesting feature added here is the PCIe Lane Simulator, which allows you to see what would happen if you populate the PCIe slots in different configuations.

DIMM POST tells you which slots you have populated and what speed you’re running them. The RAM SPD info screen shows you just that – info on your RAM’s SPD tables. It will also tell you if one of your DIMMs has failed to initialize for some reason, which you can sometimes run into but mostly when pushing higher clocks with eight DIMMs installed.

The rest of the UEFI is your standard fare and we won’t go into detail here. The screens are below for your viewing pleasure.

This is one of, if not the most comprehensive UEFI/BIOS that I’ve ever used. Tweakers will simply love this board for that; they can spend weeks going through and fine-tuning everything. Those that don’t can use Auto settings to good ends.

ASUS Software

ASUS gives us several pieces of software with their flagship. They give a free copy of Kapersky antivirus for anyone that needs that. In addition they have several ASUS-authored titles.

AISuite

In my review of the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD7 I said Gigabyte’s EasyTune 6 software doesn’t hold a candle to AISuite and this is why. AISuite is pretty heavy, with a ton of features – but that said, it only loads them as-needed. At startup (at least with the SSD used in this system), there is very little added time getting up and running. You can also selectively install everything in the suite, so it can be as comprehensive or as light as you want it to be. If you decide you don’t need something, simply uncheck it in the settings box and away it goes.

Here we have the main menu bar and sub-menus. Like I said, there is a lot to choose from.

AISuite Main Menu

AISuite Main Menu

Tool Menu

Tool Menu

Monitor Menu

Monitor Menu

Update Menu

Update Menu

This is TurboV EVO. It is is far and away the best overclocking software I’ve used. While I haven’t had a chance to take MSI’s for a spin, this beats out software from Biostar, Gigabyte, EVGA and ASRock – by a long shot. There are voltages galore, multiplier and BCLK adjustment, and even CPU strap adjustment.

Note that the CPU strap requires a restart, so I’m not sure why you’d do that here instead of solely in the UEFI, but the option is available if you care to use it. All other settings are applied instantly and the experience of using this software is seamless.

TurboV EVO

TurboV EVO

TurboV EVO - CPU Multiplier

TurboV EVO - CPU Multiplier

TurboV EVO - CPU Strap

TurboV EVO - CPU Strap

ASUS also gives you full DIGI+ power control of CPU and DRAM power. No other manufacturer gives this level of power section control in the OS. At most you can get LLC control (Gigabyte), but nothing like this. The DRAM power control is just icing on the cake.

EPU is ASUS’ power saving software. It works as designed, though I doubt too many people with this board and an SNB-E CPU will be using that one too much.

DIGI+ Power Control

DIGI+ Power Control

EPU

EPU

Fan Xpert+ offers control of the CPU and Chassis fan headers. You can make your own curve so that your fans ramp up as the sensors reach a certain temperature, which is nice. The only thing that would make this better is if you could control all of the eight fan headers on the board rather than just two.

Probe II lets you adjust warning levels for your voltages. If your voltages/temperatures/fan speeds fall outside the set range, AISuite will pop up a warning in the lower right of your screen telling you what’s out of whack and what the sensor is currently reading.

Sensor Recorder does just that and offers the ability to graph voltages, temperatures and fan speeds.

Fan Xpert+

Fan Xpert+

Probe II

Probe II

Sensor Recorder

Sensor Recorder

Then there is the System Information tab, which obviously shows you system information. The Settings menu lets you enable or disable individual parts of the suite as well as adjust the Bar.

System Info - Motherboard

System Info - Motherboard

System Info - CPU

System Info - CPU

System Info - SPD

System Info - SPD

Settings

Settings

Last is USB 3.0 boost, which ASUS says “instantly boosts all USB transfer speeds up to 70%.”

USB 3.0 Boost

USB 3.0 Boost

ASUS says Turbo can increase speeds on all USB devices, not just USB 3.0; they’ve seen up to double speed out of a normal 8 GB flash drive. UASP requires a client device with that capability and they expect more devices with it to continue to come to market. More info on that is available at the link above.

ROG Connect

ROG Connect allows you to connect another PC (or laptop) via USB cable to your board and overclock it remotely. There are two major reasons why this is a good thing. First, some benchmarking-oriented (stripped) versions of operating systems don’t have the proper services installed to let you use things like AISuite. Second -and a really big deal for a platform that at 3D benchmarking- you can adjust frequency on the fly.

For instance, the CPU tests for 3DMark06 are in the middle of the test. You can usually run the graphics tests at higher CPU clocks than you can the CPU tests. So, clock your system up for the first set of graphics tests. Then, as the CPU test loads, drop the overclock to what is required for stability in the CPU tests. Once those are done and it’s loading the last graphics test, crank it back up!

Like AISuite, ROG Connect does its job well without giving you any grief. Even better, unlike some versions of ROG Connect, this one allows adjusting the CPU multiplier.

RoG Connect

ROG Connect - Voltage

ROG Connect - Temps

ROG Connect - Temps

ROG Connect - Fan Speeds

ROG Connect - Fan Speeds

RoG Connect - Frequency

RoG Connect - Frequency

There are several other features you can access from the buttons on the bottom. RC Diagram graphs items over time, RC Remote lets you power on, reset and even clear CMOS (crazy!) remotely. RC Poster shows you the POST codes as the board cycles through them, along with their explanations (the OC Key does that too).

ROG Connect - Extras

ROG Connect - Extras

A lot of these features can be found on the new OC Key, but it’s easier to implement via ROG Connect. This is another great addition for extreme overclockers.

CPU Maximizer

CPU Maximizer is a completely new program. It isn’t even up on ASUS’ site yet. This nifty little item is for 24/7 overclock users that may have temperature problems. It will automatically set your overclock (multiplier and voltage) based on the temperature of your CPU.

ASUS CPU Maximizer

ASUS CPU Maximizer

While most make sure their overclocked temperatures are in line to begin with, this is a really neat value-add for this board. It actually works on the Crosshair V Formula too, for anyone that runs that board.

Test Systems

There are two test systems in this review; the only thing that changed was the motherboard.

CPU Intel i7-3960X
Motherboard

Intel DX79SI

vs.

ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

RAM

G.Skill RipjawsZ Quad-Channel

DDR3-2133 / 9-11-9-28

GPU AMD HD6970
OS Windows 7 Professional x64

The BIOSes were the latest available at the time of testing. Stock benchmarks were run three times each and the results you see are averaged. The only exceptions were 3D benchmarks, game tests, and overclocked benchmarks, which were run once each. There are two significant differences between these two systems, both of which affect performance.

#1 – The RAM speed was different. The Intel board simply would not run DDR3-2133, thus its results were run a step down at DDR3-1866 with the same timings.

#2 – The ‘stock’ CPU speed is different. With the exception of RAM speed, timings and voltage, when reviewing boards we decided to run them at whatever the board sets when you select “Load Optimized Defaults”. In ASUS’ case, they say they have listened to user feedback and decided to set all cores at the maximum turbo frequency all the time, meaning 3.9 GHz. This is not the default from Intel, which has a gradual ramping up as the load threading lightens up. In single-threaded benchmarks (mostly just SuperPi), the difference you see can be chalked up to RAM speed. In multi-threaded, the difference will be larger because of how ASUS chose to define “Optimized Defaults”.

The results you will see below are graphed relative to the Rampage IV Extreme’s stock performance. This means that results by the RIVE at stock all equal 100% and the other results are graphed as a percentage relative to the its performance. So, for instance, if the RIVE scored 200 points on a benchmark and the DX79SI scored 180 points, on the graph the RIVE would be 100% and the DX79SI would be 90%, meaning in that benchmark, theDX79SI is 90% as good as the RIVE.

Rampage IV Extreme Test Setup

Rampage IV Extreme Test Setup

Overclocking

This board was much less painful than the Intel board to overclock, primarily because I knew the voltages being applied. At the same voltage I chose in he initial 3960X review (1.4-1.41 V), but with LLC this time keeping it steady, this chip gained 200 MHz at the same voltage level. Obviously there were some Vdroop issues on the Intel board. Temperatures were still in line, reaching the low-to-mid 60°’s on this water loop.

4.7 GHz LinX Stable

4.7 GHz LinX Stable

The best part about this was that obtaining the overclock was much easier. I could set a base in the UEFI and then boot into windows to feel out a better overclock with AISuite. The Intel board had no such program; at least not one that functioned. It sure makes overclocking much easier.

Benchmark Results

As you heard above, these benches were all at different clocks. The most important takeaway will be what happens when you get a more solid board that will overclock an extra 200 MHz. The other is an interesting question. For a little power penalty (just a few watts at the wall) – even for those that don’t overclock for whatever strange reason – what’s the gain from sustaining max turbo on all cores at the same time?

AIDA 64

AIDA 64 is the only bench run solely at stock. It’s a good test of various CPU, FPU and memory metrics.

AIDA 64 CPU Tests

AIDA 64 CPU Tests

AIDA 64 FPU Tests

AIDA 64 FPU Tests

The additional CPU and RAM speed definitely showed its muscle here, with the Rampage IV Extreme trouncing Intel’s Siler board. How does the increased memory speed compare?

AIDA 64 Memory Tests

AIDA 64 Memory Tests

Latency is the biggest boon, with an 11% drop. Reads and copies were both up a good bit. Writes didn’t get as much of a boost, but did increase some. Remember too that this test doesn’t saturate all of the channels properly like SiSoft Sandra, so these increases would be amplified in that benchmark. Unfortunately we don’t have results from the Intel board for Sandra to compare.

Rendering and Encoding

Now to the real world results. The first rendering tests we’ll look at are Cinebench R10 and Cinebench R11.5.

Cinebench R10 and R11.5

Cinebench R10 and R11.5

Increases across the board. If nothing else, this shows that ASUS made a sound decision making these clocks the default. There is little reason not to run all your cores at that basic level.

PoV Ray and x264 Benchmark

PoV Ray and x264 Benchmark

More of the same with gains all around in both rendering and video encoding.

Gaming

We’ll look at three games today, with the first being Stalker: Call of Pripyat.

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

The overall trend seems to be up, especially with the increased stock speed; but as we found in the initial SNB-E review, even an increased overclock isn’t going to make a ton of difference in gaming with this CPU.

Hawx 2 and Dirt 2

Hawx 2 and Dirt 2

HAWX 2 shows increases but Dirt 2 actually lost a little bit with the stronger overclock. To ensure there wasn’t a bad result, I ran it again with identical results. Something caused Dirt 2 to lose FPS when overclocked higher, but I’ve no idea why.

Regardless, games can only take advantage of so many cores and as we said before, if your entire purpose is gaming (and if you don’t run multiple GPUs that might need the additional bandwidth), go with a 2600K.

3D Benchmarking

Now, 3D benchmarking is another story altogether. For competitive benchmarkers, some people say this is the biggest purpose of getting this platform. It gives ridiculously high CPU Scores.

3DMark06

3DMark06

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

For 3DMark06 and Vantage, the news is nothing but good. Overall and CPU scores were up all around.

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

HWBot Heaven Benchmark

HWBot Heaven Benchmark

3DMark 11 was more of the same, good news left and right. Heaven was another anomaly – and like Dirt2, I reran the test only to be met with the same result. Looks like you’ll need a little extra overclock with this board on Heaven, but the rest look good as gold.

2D Benchmarking

Now we’ll have a little 2D benching and be done with the comparisons. SuperPi does not benefit from ASUS’ stock clockspeed increase here as it is single-threaded, which would run at max turbo anyway. It does, however, benefit from the RAM ability Intel’s board lacked.

SuperPi 1M and 32M

SuperPi 1M and 32M

As expected, SuperPi 1M didn’t benefit much – all of its memory needs are served by the CPU’s cache. SuperPi 32M definitely shows the difference, gaining over ten seconds at the same clock. That’s actually a very impressive gain.

WPrime 32M and 1024M

WPrime 32M and 1024M

WPrime shows the difference from the ‘stock’ speed gain pretty well. Overclocked with an extra 200 MHz also scales as it has with other multi-threaded benchmarks.

Pushing the Envelope

Overclocking this setup was much easier than Intel for the same reasons it was easier to push the 24/7 overclock: You know the voltages you are applying and you can overclock from the OS with ease.

Unfortunately for this chip, it doesn’t seem to want to go past 5.1 GHz on ambient cooling. I managed several benchmarks fully stable at 5095 Mhz, but tipping the 5.1 GHz point crashes the system no matter what. It will run there for several seconds, so it’s definitely capable but will need to be frozen to stay there or go above it.

Super Pi looks very similar to its little brother, the 2600K. At this speed it came in just below 7.5 seconds.

SuperPi 1M at 5094 MHz

SuperPi 1M @ 5094 MHz

WPrime results were definitely impressive, with WPrime 32M and 1024M results under 3.4 seconds and 101.6 seconds, respectively. No doubt these and the SuperPi result would decrease substantially on a more optimized OS.

WPrime 32M @ 5095 MHz

WPrime 32M @ 5095 MHz

WPrime 1024M @ 5095 MHz

WPrime 1024M @ 5095 MHz

Of course, a large part of this board’s abilities are focused on sub-zero benching. We wanted to get this review (which ended up being quite long thanks to all of the features) out before Thanksgiving for your reading pleasure. Never fear though, there is a method to our madness. I will be livestreaming my first sub-zero Sandy Bridge-E session! We’ll make an announcement on the front page ahead of time so you can watch.  If you miss it, don’t worry – I’ll put up an article on the experience and results too. Expect this to happen (hopefully, if I can get the LN2) sometime next week or the one after!

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

ASUS’ Rampage IV Extreme is what all motherboards should want to be. It has the most comprehensive feature set I’ve ever seen in a motherboard. There are things that even hardcore sub-zero benchmarkers wouldn’t have thought of, but that we all can agree add immense value to the experience of benchmarking at that level.

It’s not without its flaws, though they are minor quibbles indeed. Everyone that doesn’t use conformal will wish they found a way to clear the clutter around the socket area for easier insulation.

The return of a 40 mm chipset fan is slightly annoying based on past experiences, but ASUS at least makes it work by connecting that heatsink with the rest of the heatsinks. I suppose it makes sense, but on past boards they were noisy and died early deaths. On the plus side, it is user-replaceable. This one isn’t noisy at all if you let the board control it, but when it spins up, the 40 mm fan sound is unmistakable. People everywhere who had motherboards with these in the past – and who had been extremely happy about their disappearance – cringed when they saw it. It’s not that bad; not great, but not that bad either. You can always unplug or disable it if you have adequate airflow otherwise.

Everywhere else this board excels. There are more features than you can shake a stick at. The new features are also innovative. Before this board, who would have thought any motherboard manufacturer would build a thermometer into the board that takes K-type sub-zero probes? Or that they’d introduce on-board resistance changes to increase GPU voltage and replace variable resistors?

An accessory really steals the show too. The OC Key is the best accessory I’ve ever seen with a motherboard, bar none. Its abilities are amazing, implementation is seamless and it does its job exactly as designed. It’s also not something you are required to purchase separately (a la EVGA’s EV Bot). Plus, unlike external controllers, it displays everything right there on your monitor.

The only major drawback is that you have to, you know, pay for all of these features. The Rampage IV Extreme currently retails for a cool $450, or $470 with a copy of Battlefield 3 thrown in. This is the most expensive X79 board on the market. That said, if you look at the value added just from the built-in thermometer, that saves you anywhere from the cheapest generic $45 dual-input thermometer to Fluke models that cost upwards of $100-150. Considering the next-most-expensive board (the Gigabyte G1.Assassin2) retails for $400, there’s the price difference in just that one feature.

The question you need to ask when considering it is whether you’ll use all of the features available. If you don’t plan on running the CPU below zero or run your heavily modified GPUs sub-zero, it’s probably a bit more than you need. If you do, this is the board for you.

If you don’t run sub-zero and just want an absolutely superb motherboard, this is the board for you – but you still might want to consider a less expensive option because you won’t be using the features that separate this board from its competition by such a massive margin.

In our benchmarking team’s (private – click here to learn how to join!) forum, I remarked, “The RIVE is literally the best motherboard I’ve ever had my hands on, period.” It’s true; this board beats all others that I’ve touched. A longtime senior member of the forum, Gautam, who is known and respected throughout the worldwide overclocking community took that quote and corrected it to read, “The RIVE is literally the best motherboard … ever.” After seeing everything the Rampage IV Extreme is capable of, I’m inclined to agree.

Now, if only Intel would make a CPU that likes cold enough to make all of this more useful…

Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)