Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 1
Introduction
 
ASUSAMD have been having quite a hard time of it lately with Intel being the CPU of choice for most enthusiasts, overclockers and gamers alike. Even the introduction of AMD’s much anticipated native quad-core ‘Phenom’ CPU could not bring back its once loyal fan base. Intel not only dominates the CPU market but also have a stunning lineup of chipsets to make full use of their Core2 range. It was then, with some surprise, that Asus are about to unleash what they claim to be "The Ultimate Gaming/Overclocking Platform" in the form of the Crosshair II Formula motherboard.

Tier 1 manufacturer Asus are the producers of some of the most revered boards available for both AMD and Intel and as it also carrying the ‘ROG’ moniker (Republic Of Gamers), which as Asus claim is the best hardware engineering and the fastest performance along with the most innovating ideas you can possess in a motherboard – a bold claim indeed. Rest assured then that this is a premium product aimed squarely at today’s high end AMD users.

A highly anticipated feature of this board is the inclusion of the Nvidia 780a chipset and rightly so. It not only allows the use of hybrid SLI, with up to three GPU’s operating together, but perhaps more importantly improved stability, power delivery and performance when overclocking. The previous Crosshair based on the 570 chipset promised a lot, but some users felt let down by the chipset. Is this simply a rinse and repeat or the return of the king? Let's check out the specs...
 
Crosshair II Specs
 
As the spec above shows, this is a feature-packed board. With 3 x PCIe 16 speed slots, up to 12 USB ports, Firewire, eSATA, Dual Gigabit Lan controllers and perhaps most unusually for one of today's boards, on-board VGA! Everything is there for today’s multimedia connectivity apart from the now seemingly obsolete serial port. Let's see how these specifications translate to the main features of the board...
 
PCIe 2.0
The Crosshair II features the latest PCIe 2.0 standard, which allows double the bandwidth of the previous 8x incarnation. Not only that, but there are 3 available PCIe 2.0 ports!

NVIDIA nForce 780a SLI Chipset
Nvidia’s latest AMD chipset supports Scalable Link Interface (SLI) technology that allows up to three (yes THREE) GPU’s in a single system. The 780a chipset is also designed from the ground up to provide extreme overclocking along with the provision of 6 x SATA II 3GB/s devices and 12 USB 2.0 ports.

Memory
Native DDR2 1066 support (depending on CPU model) providing faster data transfer rates and increased bandwidth.

Hybrid SLI
For those with older, underwhelming GPU’s (Nvidia only), rejoice as you can now receive a GeForce boost from the on-board GPU by combining the power of both dedicated and on-board GPU’s. Hybrid SLI also allows ‘Hybrid power’, which is a power saving feature for when 3D power is not required.

NVIDIA 3-way SLI

Link up to 3 GPU’s to take advantage of the increased bandwidth. The PCIe 2.0 standard should give a significant boost in 3D applications.

HDMI/DVI Support
High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) delivers multi channel audio and uncompressed digital video for full HD 1080p content through a single cable.

Quite an impressive list of features I'm sure you'll agree. So without further ado, let's have a look at what you get for your money.


Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 2
Packaging
 
Being familiar with the ROG range of motherboards based on the Intel chipset, I am happy to report that the familiar quality packaging and bundled accessories fail to disappoint with the latest addition to the ROG range. Asus really shine in this department with solid, glossy cardboard packing featuring everything you need to know about the board from the specs, features, down to the included software.
 
  front back
 
Starting with the exterior, it’s clear to see the box design is heavily influenced by the included Company of Heroes/Opposing Fronts game. The box background looks like a brick from the Berlin Wall, which is aptly emblazoned with a crosshair hovering over the embossed and reflective Crosshair II Formula title. The ROG logo and sketch effect hint at the performance this board will deliver. The nForce 780a SLI emblem confirmed our suspicions.
 
Carrying on with the Crosshair theme, the rear of the package gives an in-depth specification of the motherboard along with some of the more attractive features such as Overclocking, EZ DIY, Full versions of COH:OF and the Supreme FX, all of which I will go into greater detail later in the review. Asus’ usual 3 year warranty is confirmed by a label toward the bottom of the base along with age restrictions for the game and the various addresses of Asus from around the world.
 
Worthy of mention is a very secure, plastic carry handle which can be popped out of the top for those who wisely won’t trust a 10p carrier bag with their newly purchased hardware. Asus really have outdone themselves with this packaging, but it doesn’t stop there. Pop the Velcro-secured lid off the front and you are greeted with yet more information on the board which goes into further detail with regards to the many features this board has to offer. The lid section concentrates on the features that will appeal to the performance enthusiast such as CPU level up, 8+2 phase power design, Extreme tweaker, Voltminder and COP EX. Adjacent to this is an introduction into ROG and below, EZ-DIY and EL I/O. To the base of the lid we get the bundled software: Company of Heroes, 3dMark06 and Kaspersky Antivirus.
 
lid1 lid2
 
The lower section goes on to describe the cooling capabilities of the board with the new ‘Pin-Fin’ design of the MCP heat sink. With thermal imaging and a cut-out showing the heat sink itself, it is clear Asus believe this is yet another key selling point of the board. Finally, towards the bottom of the box is another cut out showing the Supreme FX II sound card which is now an established feature of ROG boards.
 
 
Contents
 
Opening the box we find that the motherboard is encased in a plastic container with sufficient anti-static properties and which should also protect the board from damage during transit – a much better option than the anti-static bags of old. Along with the board we also find a large accessory box.
 
board accessories
    
 
As you would expect from a high-end motherboard, the contents list is comprehensive.

contents• 3-Way SLI Bridge
• SLI Bridge
• HDMI/DVI converter
• ASUS Optional Fan
• 3 in 1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
• UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable 
• Floppy disk drive cable
• SATA cables
• SATA power cables
• 2-port USB2.0 module+IEEE1394a module
• ASUS Q-Shield
• Cable Ties
• User's manual
 
 
Some of the more interesting accessories are pictured below:
 
 lcd q-connector

Here we see the updated version of the LCD poster. This is a really useful accessory, as no more do we need the BIOS beep codes of old nor the digital LED codes on the motherboard itself. This little gadget will tell you where your POST problems are by displaying numerous readouts in (almost) plain English, such as CPU Init (CPU initialisation), DET DRAM (Detecting Ram), DET VRAM (detecting Video Ram) etc etc. A very handy tool for those troublesome times when your PC refuses to boot due to first installation or through overambitious overclocking. Not only will it aid in troubleshooting, but it can also be set to display your own custom display string or the (default) time. Whatever setting you choose, it can be displayed with or without the blue backlight.
 
Another familiar feature of high-end motherboards is the 3-in-1 Q-connectors. These are a time and hassle saving feature that enables the system builder to quickly and safely connect the motherboard headers as well as the USB and Firewire front-panel connectors should you have them. As the connectors themselves are clearly labeled, there shouldn’t be any more need to fumble with that Mag-light when finalising your build.
 
shield sli

Here’s a handy little ‘feature’ - the Asus Q-Shield I/O backplate. How many times have you built your setup only to find that the metal fingers on the backplate are either blocking (or worse) sticking in the USB, firewire ports etc? The Q-Shield does away with them but still keeps the static away from the motherboard using a padded shield. The backplate is printed matte-grey and is clearly labeled, although it doesn’t light up as with some other I/O plates from the ROG range. In addition to the above accessories, Asus have also included 2 SLI bridges: an extra long floppy-type bridge as well as a dual ‘hard’ PCB type bridge for use in 3-way SLI. 

sound sound1

Finally we come to the Asus SupremeFX II sound card. Once again, this is a staple addition to the ROG range of boards. It’s good to see Asus coming to the realisation that users of high-end boards are unlikely to be satisfied with on-board sound and as such give you the option of installing their own ‘freebie’ or using your own card. While the SupremeFX is not exactly high-end, it is much better than the usual on-board sound solutions and perfectly adequate in satisfying your everyday audio needs. Also, being PCIe x1, it won’t take up that much room on your motherboard should you intend to use a multi-GPU setup.


Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 3
Board layout & Features
 
As with all of the Republic Of Gamers boards, Asus continue to make use of a Black PCB with blue, white and red slots. Maybe it’s just me, but I would like to see a shift in theme as the board at first glance looks much the same as the other ROG boards and while the theme is not unsightly and certainly not as badly coloured as some boards on the market today, it certainly would be nice to see a difference in your board from other ROG boards around.
 
board1 board 3

Apart from the obvious three PCIe x16 slots what does pop out at you is the massive cooler next to the CPU socket. Rather than surround the socket with Copper and thereby restricting the use of the CPU HSF size, Asus have put all their eggs in one basket. So what’s under there that requires so much cooling I hear you ask? Well I was as interested as you so I just had to have a peek:
 
board2 fets
 
Yup that’s a lot of Mosfets which deliver 10 phase power (or 8+2 phase as Asus declare) to your components ensuring that the voltages are cleaner with less ripple under load and more stable than ever before. With power delivery such as this the Crosshair is shaping up to be a monster overclocker.
 
780a http://www.overclock3d.net/gfx/articles/2008/05/06105152561l.jpg
 
Connected via heatpipe to the mosfets is the new 780a (MCP) chipset and the nForce 200 chip. This chipset is heavily related to the Intel 780i but does have some significant differences. In contrast to the 780i, the 780a attaches all three SLI slots directly to the nForce 200 chip and then splits the bandwidth between them in a 16/8x/8x configuration. Therefore the 780a’s third slot is not crippled as in the 780i’s PCIe x1 slot which leaves the 780a a much more viable solution to Tri-SLI than its Intel based sibling.
 
As reported earlier the 780a has an on-board GPU which, assuming you have a low end 8000 series card, can pair up and give your 3D applications a boost (Geforce boost) via the new Hybrid SLI, or could be used with 9000 series cards to save power by cutting power to your main 3D card and using the on-board GPU instead when 3D is not required via Hybrid Power.
 
heatpipe heatsink2
 
The main heatsink itself appears to be Copper coated aluminium and is emblazoned with ROG and Asus wherever you look. Asus have redesigned the fins themselves and advertise this as ‘Pin-Fin’ which in effect increases the surface area of the heatsink and while hardly revolutionary it is welcomed. I am however, puzzled as to why Asus take the time to install a new heatsink fin design and then partially cover it with a cosmetic emblem (which lights up white by the way and does look nice). It seems form is just as important as function with the Crosshair II. But I digress.
 
backplates backplates 2

I applaud Asus in finally doing away with push pins to affix the 2 chipset heatsinks to the board. Instead they elected to use spring loaded screws with the Crosshair II. Push pins are still used in the mosfet area but this is sufficient for a solid mount. The screws are a godsend for those of us who wish to get a good, even and solid mount on the chipsets.
 
Easy removal of the heatsink assembly is also a credit to Asus, as past boards have had a thick cement like TIM on the chipsets which never gave the best possible contact with the chips as well as making the heatsinks very difficult to remove. The Crosshair II however uses thermal tape on the mosfets and a thin sliver of thermal tape on both the 780a and NF200 chips which creates a much better thermal transfer and also allows easy removal should you wish to fit alternative blocks or indeed watercooling blocks. Asus have also gone one step further. Because the chipsets are held on by screws they have also added backplates to the motherboard for added strength and counter the added pressure on the chips thereby preventing damage.

Upon checking this particular board there didn’t appear to be any mounting issues and good contact was made throughout with the chipset. I should point out that removing the heatsink assembly will invalidate your warranty and as I have shown there is little need for you to do so anyway. So it’s all good in the power delivery, chipset and cooling department but what else has the board to offer? 
 
connections 1 connections 2
 
There is just about every conceivable connection you could wish for on the I/O backplate with the option for more 3 more USB hubs and an additional Firewire connection on board should you wish to use the provided adapter or require front panel connectivity. 2x PCIe x1 slots, 3x PCIe x16 slots and 2 traditional PCI slots provide the bulk of PCB connections and along with 6 SATA connections, 1x PATA as well as a floppy port should be all that even the most hardware endowed enthusiast requires. Perhaps of notable absence that you may have use for is the PS2 mouse port. Asus have finally abandoned the traditional port and now expect everyone to be using a USB mouse which is fair play as I fail to understand why anyone would use a PS2 mouse with a gamer orientated board such as the Crosshair II.

onboard switch switch 3
 
As with all ROG boards there is the usual and very useful onboard Power and Reset buttons which light up red and green respectively. This is a definite plus for those who prefer to benchmark their hardware outside of a case and therefore don’t have to rely on shorting the power pins to get the board to boot. While not exactly new as DFI have been doing this for some time now, it is a welcome addition and will hopefully be passed down to other boards in the Asus range and not limited exclusively to the ROG boards as it is an invaluable addition for system builders. You shouldn’t need to clear the CMOS due to the boards CPU parameter recall feature which will reboot to the last known good settings should your overclock fail for whatever reason. However this isn’t bullet proof and on the odd occasion that you do need to clear the CMOS Asus have made it very easy.
 
Situated on the I/O section of the board is another button, not dissimilar to the power and reset buttons allowing you to reset the CMOS from outside the case. Not only that but Asus have also included a fail-safe switch on the motherboard that should you switch from the default (enabled) position you can disable the Clear CMOS button and therefore prevent any accidental erasures when plugging in your peripherals.
 
onboard switch 2

The 8-pin ATX socket is situated in the usual position for Asus boards, towards the top, which will prevent cabling from hindering your view of the onboard LED’s which Asus call ‘Voltminders’. These groups of three LEDs (Red, Yellow and Green) appear next to the CPU, Memory, Southbridge and BR chip and indicate the voltage level you have set: (Red = ‘Crazy’, Yellow=High and Green = Normal). I’m not sure of the usefulness of these as I should already be well aware of the ‘crazyness’ of my settings but it could act as a reminder should I have inadvertently set something too high in error.
 
With solid capacitors decorating the board ensuring durability and 8 fan headers for supreme cooling it appears that Asus have thought of everything when designing this board. 


Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 4
BIOS Options

As always with Asus boards there are software applications that will do the majority of the work for you when overclocking but there are limits to using such software, and to get the best from an overclock the BIOS is where you should input your desired settings. Skipping through the most basic settings, here's a rundown of what to expect with the Crosshair II BIOS (ver.0401).
 
Upon booting up we are greeted with, yup you guessed it, another Republic of Gamers emblem that’s actually quite funky and yet another reminder that this is a performance board. This screen can be customised to whatever picture you like although there are inherent risks with doing so as you are programming the BIOS chip, which is always risky to a certain extent.
 
main tweaker

I was happy to see the Crosshair II uses a Phoenix AWARD BIOS which most overclockers will be familiar with. Skipping the usual screens of which are pretty straightforward, I’ll jump straight into the Extreme Tweaker section, which Asus correctly assumes will be the most used page and saves tabbing through the pages to get to the most important settings of the board.

Straight away we see a plethora of options, most of which seasoned overclockers will be familiar with. The usual Vcore, Vdimm, SB, and CPU multi’s are all there along with Nvidia's link width and voltage settings, but there are a few new additions such as VDDA Voltage, BR Voltage and DDR2 reference voltages. Each voltage brings up a new window in which you either scroll to the setting you want or directly type it in. Let’s have a deeper look at what settings are available.
 
fsb multi

CPU Frequency (FSB) ranges from 200mhz-600mhz and because it’s such a huge range, you can type in the exact value you require rather than scrolling through the multitude of values. The CPU multi on our Phenom CPU is unlocked allowing us to set the multi from 5x all the way up to 25x with half multi’s in between.
 
cpu volt vcore

A new one for me is the CPU Voltage setting. This is not CPU Vcore as I first thought and unfortunately there is no reference to this voltage in the manual. Settings range from 1.55v – 0.7750v. Vcore voltage is ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ and with adjustments ranging from a minuscule 0.7750v to a Chernobyl equalling 2.000v. This should satisfy even the most ardent of extreme cooling enthusiasts. 

vddnb vdimm

Here’s another voltage setting I am unfamiliar with - VDDNB. Apparently this setting is specific to Phenom CPU’s and controls the power supply to the Northbridge switching circuits. Values range from +100mv - +450mv. DDR2 Voltage has an astronomic top value of 3.4v, easily enough to kill your sticks so only the brave need apply. For the mere mortals among us settings begin at 1.8v and increase in increments of 0.02v.
 
sb vdda
 
SB voltage allows you to set the power to the 780a chip and values range from 1.10v to 2.36v in increments of 0.02v. With the reportedly high temps of the 780i chipset it will be interesting to see how hot the 780a gets, although I am not cruel enough to push 2.36v though it! Yet another new setting is the VDDA setting. Even the might of Google failed to bring up an explanation of this so it’s a question for Asus to answer I’m afraid. 

br reference

The BR Voltage controls the NF200 volts, which controls the PCIe bridge voltage. Settings range from 1.20v – 2.46v. Last of all we come to the DDR reference voltages whereby you can set the controller, Channel A and Channel B voltages independently. Values range from -30mv - +30mv. Which brings me neatly onto the DRAM configuration settings where the bread and butter memory settings are. There are however hidden treasures here!

mem basic advanced
 
Apart from the standard timings, opening up the advanced memory settings gives you plenty of scope for fine tuning your memory. But that’s not all! You can also tweak the memory further in the ‘Timing control’ area. But still that isn’t the end of the memory section...

timings drive strength
 
Every brand of memory, be it D9GSR or Elpida, has preferences for driving control and strengths so this is where you can tweak those settings to further your memory performance and stability. With the huge amount of options available in the memory section one could quite easily get lost in the sheer numbers involved, well done Asus! 

voltage temps

With the many voltage tweaks available it is important to see if the value you set is actually the value you get. You can view the voltage readouts as well as the temperature settings in the 'Power' section of the BIOS. I didn’t notice any serious drops in voltages although some settings were a little above/below what I had initially set that needed to be compensated for so it is worthwhile having a look in here after you have set the values you require. Due to the numerous (and sometimes excessive!) amounts of voltages options available it is imperative that you can monitor each component's temperature to keep it within a reasonable limit. Asus haven’t failed to deliver with the essential temps available which should also be transferable to Windows based monitors (with the correct config).

So, a very well laid out and comprehensive BIOS indeed. Whether you fancy a quick overclock or a more in-depth tweaking session this BIOS has it all and caters for novices with auto-overclocking or extreme enthusiasts alike with the huge amount of settings available. The BIOS contains profiles which allow you to store those precious settings be it for suicide runs or your 24/7 stability values and if all else fails you have the option of using EZ-Flash which is a pre-loaded utility allowing you to easily update the BIOS from a DOS based environment rather than the treacherous and risky Windows flash utilities.


Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 5
Test Setup
 
As I don’t have a reference to base this board upon I will have to take it on its own merits so with the abundance of settings available in the BIOS I set about seeing how far this motherboard could go
 
Asus Crosshair II Setup Specs
 
A fresh copy of Windows Vista Ultimate 32bit with SP1 installed along with the most recent drivers then applied. No applications/programs apart from the ones used in benchmarking were installed to ensure a totally clean fair environment to which you can base your comparisons.
 
Synthetic CPU & Memory Subsystem
• SiSoft Sandra
• Everest

CPU & Motherboard stress test
• Prime95 ver25.6
• PC Probe II

File Compression & Encoding
• 7-Zip
• ViMark

Hard Disk I/O performance
• HDTach
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008cc

3D Rendering
• 3Dmark 06
• 3Dmark Vantage
• Cinebench 10

3D Games
• Crysis
• Cod 4
• Bioshock
 
 
 
Overclocking
 

It is common knowledge that the AMD CPU’s of late have not been great overclockers regardless of what motherboard has been used especially when compared to Intel, AMD already seem to have binned their chips at the max level. Add to that the fact that the CPU I have is reportedly very stubborn in the overclocking department should make this overclocking experience a very testing one. I will however, endeavour to get the best results possible on air cooling which hopefully will provide the end user with some insight as to the possibilities available with this motherboard.
 
I am particularly interested in the power regulation with the 8+2 phase design and while only having a mid-top end air cooler available which no doubt limits the amount of vcore available to use safely I will see how far I can push the vcore and what vdrop/droop I encounter when the cpu is under 100% load.
 
Stock Overclocked
 
 To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I expected a much bigger overclock but I guess the CPU I have really is nothing special and despite my best efforts which includes 2 days of fiddling with the many BIOS options, the most I could squeeze out of it was little over 2.5ghz. I had similar luck with the max FSB of the board despite raising the voltages past what I would normally recommend. Any more than 220FSB, regardless of CPU multi and voltages, simply refused to POST. Despite the many voltage, CPU and memory tweaks the Crosshair has, it made little effect on the max FSB, emphasizing the fact that this board and therefore my overclocking were crippled by the Phenom in this review. One good point to come out of this is that I didn’t notice ANY droop when putting the CPU under load – the vcore just didn’t budge – testament to the 8+2 phase power delivery the Crosshair II has.

It was a very frustrating couple of days testing and in the end I had to accept defeat. It’s a real shame especially as this board is crying out for a decent CPU.



Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 6
 Sisoft Sandra

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three. 
 
CPU
CPU2
multi Int
multi float


Everest
 
Everest is in many ways similar to Sisoft Sandra. Focusing mainly on Software and Hardware information reporting, Everest also comes with a benchmark utility suitable for testing the read, write and latency performance of the memory subsystem. Each of these benchmarks were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average calculated from the remaining 3.
 
Everest Read
Everest Write
Everest Latency


7-Zip

7-Zip is an open source winzip-style file compression utility that has the ability to compress and decompress many file formats including its own .7z compression scheme. 7-Zip also comes complete with its own benchmarking utility for gauging the compression and decompression speed of the system that it is installed on.
 
7-Zip compression
7-Zip Decompression
 
 
HDTach

HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. The "Long bench" was run a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
Burst
access
CPU
 
 

Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to gauge the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
 
1x cpu
4x cpu
Open GL


Results and Observations
The small overclock has resulted in an all round average increase in performance which is not surprising. Nonetheless it's always good to see the fruits of your labour and confirming that your system is running faster than previously. Let's see if how the 3D applications fair.


Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 7
Note: For the 3D gaming and benchmarks we will be using both single and dual 9800GX2's to both test the Crosshair's function and the scalability of Quad SLI on this motherboard. We shall also endeavour to see how much of a bottleneck the AMD Phenom processor is for the 9800GX2.
 
 Vantage
 
3DMark® Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark® Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
 
 
 
3d06
 
3DMark® 06 is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's taking advantage of todays multi CPU and GPU performance. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results. 
 
 
 
Crysis
 
Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-Intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmarks scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
Bioshock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10 minute long gameplay demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
Observations
 
It's quite clear that we are CPU limited in the Futuremark tests, scoring very low in comparison to Intel based CPU's. Still, the SLI proved worthwhile in 3DMark Vantage giving nearly a 25% increase. COD 4 showed some of the biggest gains to be had with SLI allowing an increase of almost a third in FPS, with Bioshock also showing good gains. Crysis on the other hand showed little to no gains in SLI which I found surprising. I checked, double checked and triple checked along with trying 3 different sets of drivers and 3 more Vista installs(!) but to no avail. Whether this is a CPU limitation or a platform limitation I couldn't tell you but similar problems have been discussed around the web on various platforms which leads me to suspect its most likely a driver issue that is STILL to be resolved.
 
I also gave the onboard VGA a quick test to see how it could cope with a quick blast of COD 4 and although I had to dramatically lower the res (1024x768) and turn off the goodies, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could attain a respectable 40 FPS! I shouldn't really be too surprised considering its based on the 8400 chip but on-board VGA has never been so good!
 
So, a mixed bag of results. I still get the nagging feeling that the AMD CPU is holding back many of the scores, especially SLI so it begs the questions should you even bother with SLI on an AMD based platform, head over to the conclusion to read my thoughts on that....


Asus Crosshair II AM2+ Motherboard Page: 8
Conclusion
 
Crosshair II Stock PhotoIt's clear Asus have pulled out all the stops to bring the first SLI capable motherboard to the current AMD chipset. With new features such as Hybrid SLI and Geforce boost along with the usual crop of Asus gadgetry seen on their other high-end ROG boards, the Crosshair II sets the stage to be the perfect AMD platform whether you require all out power or indeed wish to hug a tree and shave some money off the electricty bill - the Crosshair II is quite capable of catering for both quarters.

I thought the design layout was good apart from the plastic used on the SATA ports being a little hit and miss (no satisfying click to tell you the SATA cable is in place) and the possibility of the CPU HSF encroaching over the first DDR2 slot if you used anything larger than the Xigmatek used in this review. The on-board features such as voltminders (pretty useless but 'pretty' nonetheless), on-board power, reset and CMOS reset switches along with an abundance of connectivity more than quelled the previous disappointments.

The benchmark results, while not exactly ground breaking are pretty consistent with the 790FX boards. My one major disappointment was the dismal 3D benchmarks. While on the surface they appear respectable you have to bear in mind were are talking about a setup (motherboard & 2x GPU's) that at RRP costs close to £1000. Who is going to pay that kind of money for a setup that is crippled by a CPU's performance? While Asus' efforts are most welcome and it's clear they have outdone themselves with the feature packed Crosshair II, I cannot help but wonder who would actually buy this board? Priced around the £180 mark its difficult to see any enthusiast with any sense making the switch to AMD from Intel purely because of this board as they should know that Intel is where the performance is at this moment in time. Which leaves the AMD enthusiast...

With AMD still lagging behind Intel in both price and performance it's hard to imagine anyone basing their ultimate gaming rig on an AMD platform so the inclusion of SLI seems a little but redundant. So would you buy it for its power saving features? Maybe but Hybrid SLI at the time of writing this review is only compatible with the two Nvidia flagship models - 9800GTX and 9800GX2 which again leads me back to asking why bother basing your high-end gaming platform on AMD? There is no logical answer to this unless you have a distinct hatred of Intel or feel some sort of fanboy loyalty to AMD. If you are this person then I can honestly say you won't find a better AMD platform for their current CPU line up. The Crosshair II is a simply a monster offering everything you could possibly want from a motherboard and if it were a skt 775 based Intel board I would buy it tomorrow. Sadly it isn't and while I would love to jump ship to AMD as I adored my old NF4 based setup, I don't think the performance hit would be worth it despite the fantastic effort Asus have put in with the Crosshair II.

Put simply this motherboard is akin to driving a Rolls Royce with all the 'options' only to find its powered by a Lada engine. Great motherboard based on a great chipset that's let down with an underperforming CPU. The ball is now firmly in AMD's court to release a CPU worthy of such a motherboard.

The Good
• On board VGA
• Feature packed BIOS
• SLI capability
• Excellent connectivity
• On board switches
• Asus accessories
• Screw down design on the heat pipe assembly

The Mediocre

• The PCI-e release mechanism could be better designed
• Slight issues with the SATA port plastic

The Bad
• The Price - AMD and therefore anything based on AMD needs to be cheap to offset the performance difference with Intel. While the price is comparative to Intel based boards I would like to have seen an AMD platform be better priced if it was going to tempt anyone away for Core2.


I am reluctant to give the board a performance rating as I feel the derogatory score would not reflect how good the board really is. Not only is it crippled by a poor CPU design but our Phenom isn't the best clocker in the world. I am however confident that with the right CPU this board could fly that is why I would like to give the board a score based only on my gut feeling - I could be wrong so you will have to take the score with a pinch of salt but it would be unfair of me to give the board a poor score due to a poor CPU.
 
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