At last the 30th September has arrived; at the beginning of the month we received Asus' range topping Crosshair IV Extreme motherboard. Within just a few days we released another article, which confirmed the rumours that surrounded the motherboard last May. Sadly there was only so much we could mention due to the strict Non Disclosure Agreement issued by Asus, but thankfully today is the big day. As of this morning it should be possible to purchase one of these supposed gems, but after days of testing, what do we think of it?
We all know that budget is not a term associated with the Republic of Gamers brand and unsurprisingly the Crosshair IV is no exception. As always one would expect a level of innovation in a board that's set up to be one of the best or at least set of features that helps it stand out from the rest.
So what exactly does this hefty share of your pay cheque buy you?
|Form Factor||E-ATX, 12" x 10.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)|
|Processor Support||AMD Socket AM3 Sempron 100/Athlon II X2/X3/X4 and Phenom II X2/X3/X4/X6 Processors|
|Chipset||AMD 890FX / SB850 |
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB 1600/1333/1066 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory|
Dual Channel memory architecture
5 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (16x/16x Dual CrossfireX, SLI, ATi + nVidia)
|Multi-GPU Support||Lucid Hydra LT24102 Module|
ATi CrossfireX Supported
nVidia SLI Supported
Lucid ATi + nVidia Supported
AMD SB850 Southbridge
|LAN||One Gigabit LAN|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel HD Audio|
|USB ||AMD SB850 Southbridge|
- 9 x USB 2.0 ports (6 x Rear, 2 x Internal)
NEC USB 3.0 Controller
- 2 x Rear USB 3.0
|Firewire||2 x 1394 ports (1x Rear I/O, 1x Internal)|
|Back Panel I/O||2 x PS/2 |
1 x LAN
6 x USB2.0/1.1 ports
1 x USB3.0 (1x USB3.0 accessible with adapter)
1 x IEEE1394a port
6 x Audio
1 x SPDIF
Looks like the IV Extreme has plenty to offer, but as always there's more than meets the eye...
Packaging & Initial Impressions
As we've shown previously, the Crosshair IV Extreme comes in a large crimson themed box. The front is left mostly plain with the exception of product name and a couple of Asus, AMD, ATi and Lucid brand logos.
The box opens from the top, revealing two plain boxes. As one would guess, the top box contains the Crosshair IV Extreme's accessory set, while the other contains the motherboard itself. The boxes themselves are strong and once bundled together in the outer packaging, there's very little scope for the contents to be damaged.
As you would expect with a Republic of Gamers package, the accessory set is quite vast. Aside the obligatory manual and I/O shield, you receive no less than eight SATA cables, ROG Connect USB, Bluetooth module, additional USB and Firewire (via PCI bay) and some sticker "bling" for your chassis.
...and then we get to the motherboard itself. Again unsurprisingly the Crosshair IV Extreme follows a similar theme to its lesser sibling, the IV Formula. The extra 1" width on this E-ATX motherboard is more than apparent in person.
Time to take a closer look.
The Board Continued...
If you're surprised that this motherboard is Extrended ATX, don't be. The Crosshair IV Extreme is brimmed with features, which consume valuable PCB space.
The top right corner of the motherboard is populated by a number of features.
First of all, there's Asus' recent ProbeIt implementation. Here, overclocking enthusiasts can directly access voltage readings with a multimeter. You may either access them directly from the PCB, or if you're a little worried about digging a trench in your expensive purchase, you may also use the included wire adapter.
Next up are the five flick switches above the ProbeIt ports. This is a diagnostic feature that allows you to enable/disable PCI-Express ports. This may not seem like much, but you'll want to shake hands with Asus after it helps you find the faulty graphics card in your three way Radeon HD 5870 setup!
The "GO" button has two uses. Using the feature can be used to recover the system from a memory related boot failure. It is designed to fine tune memory parameters in order to reach a bootable state once again. The feature can also be associated with a "GO" profile within BIOS.
Last but not least, Asus have also implemented Power Toggle, Restart and instant "Core Unlock" buttons on the PCB.
The placement of PCI-E 16x ports ensures that 2, 3 and 4 card arrays of GPUs are possible, regardless of their shape and size.
The Crosshair IV Extreme allows you to install up to eight SATA 6Gbps devices; 6 are powered by the SB850 Southbridge while the others are linked to a separate Marvell controller.
We also have an updated heatsink array in town. Turn over and we'll have a brief chinwag about it...
The Crosshair IV Extreme's heatsink follows on from the previously reviewed Formula motherboard.
All major integrated components are cooled by this single heatsink module. A single heatpipe connects two cooling arrays; the Northbridge and VRMs are kept at bay by the chunkier unit, while the Southbridge and Lucid chip sit under a metal plate. Naturally the heatpipe spans the whole length of the cooler.
There is a little more to the heatsink however. Those with a keen eye will have noticed two wires coming out of the VRM + NB cooling side of the heatsink. "OH NO", you might have exclaimed. Sadly we can only confirm your fears in that it is indeed actively cooled. Nope, it's not passive - there's a little fan sitting above the Northbridge! Thankfully the second cable isn't for another fan, but rather to power the LED that pulsates underneath the Republic of Gamers logo. But seriously, whether it has one or two fans, it's still bad news.
Let me tell you readers a short story - if you know me and my boring tales, then kindly skip paragraph.
Back in 2004, when AMD's Athlon 64 range and nVidia's nForce 4 MCPs were the king of platforms, Asus' motherboards were well known for one thing - Noise.
I remember the first time I ever came across the Asus A8N SLI Deluxe motherboard. It was great. It would let you combine two GeForce 6800 Ultra's in SLI, overclock Athlon 64 3000's to the dizzy heights of 2.70GHz and onwards and even had SATA II. This was all brilliant, except for one thing. Asus saw fit to cool their nForce 4 SLI chipset with a basic aluminium cooler and then drop a 40mm fan on top that would spin in excess of 7000RPM. It didn't push an awful lot of air but seriously, you could hear it from another room! Asus finally put an end to this with the release of the A8N SLI Premium, which sported a passive heatpipe design. From here on, the saga of active motherboard coolers were over...until now.
Needless to say, we installed the Crosshair IV Extreme with high hopes that the fan would rarely switch itself on...Oh how wrong we were. By default, the fan spins at its maximum speed and believe me it can be heard over the loudest of Multi GPU configurations. The motor noise is high pitched and much like the dreaded A8N Ultra/SLI series coolers, it can be heard from adjacent rooms.
Having now spoken to Asus, we were made aware of the fact that the 40mm fan was a space saving measure that replaces the optional "bolt on" fan that previous ROG packages included. Apparently the fan is only of use under conditions of low case airflow, such as watercooled CPU/GPU.
Our opinion still stands however. A 40mm fan can only move so much air during a given rotation and so it comes to no surprise that it has to spin very quickly. We would guess that the fan pushes no more than 20CFM. Even if the board's components are under stress due to low airflow, there is only so much this fan can do to ease temperatures. The endgame is that anyone that is serious about overclocking would ensure that there is sufficient airflow inside their chassis or on their test bench in the first place. Even a set of low speed 120mm fans in the vicinity of the motherboard would suffice in our opinion.
There is simply no way of sugar coating this. Asus are right; the heatsink is capable of cooling the Crosshair IV Extreme passively under most, if not all scenarios. Simply unplug it and the board will operate normally and in silence. On the basis of this, we continue to wonder why the fan was necessary in the first place but dwelling on this is futile.
We're almost out of pictures but fear not, the review will stay interesting for a while longer.
Lucid Hydra 200 Series
Before I get started, I wanted to summarise Lucid Hydra in a few words.
At present, ATi and nVidia incorporate a similar means of implementing Multi GPU technology - Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR). As the name suggests, each graphics card is responsible for the rendering of each frame in a game. It may sound crude and in fairness it does sound a little primitive. Obviously the implementation works well but it isn't flawless either.
Lucid's implementation is a lot more complex. The Hydra processing unit is designed to link with either the northbridge or processor. While the approach requires a dedicated Lucid chip, it also requires a very clever driver. Normally, the graphics card's driver would handle Direct X and OpenGL commands, but instead Mr Lucid acts as a middle man. The software carefully considers the power required for each command, then appropriately balances the load between each graphics card. It should be mentioned that Lucid splits the same frame and recompiles it.
On paper it sounds like a solid concept and our previous experience with it reveals respectable performance gains.
So what's in it for you?
In the past, we have already worked on motherboards featuring Lucid Hydra technology. However, most implementations that we have seen are used to make the northbridge’s PCI-Express functionality redundant. Usually, this is because previous Lucid boards have utilised relatively entry level chipsets which lack in the PCI-E lane department anyway. This is where the Crosshair IV Extreme stands out.
So what exactly does Lucid Hydra bring to the table?
With the exception of “hacked” SLI drivers, the only way to go about a SLI setup on Socket AM3 was to buy into relatively unpopular nVidia 980a MCP core logic. Quite predictably, if you decide to follow that route you can forget about using ATi’s CrossfireX technology. You simply cannot win… until now.
Lucid’s Multi GPU implementation is entirely independent of the core logic and graphics cards that it must interface with. This means the technology can be deployed on most chipsets but can also leverage the power of multiple ATi, nVidia and Mixed GPU configurations.
What I have said thus far applies to all Lucid equipped motherboards. However, Asus’ design offers a greater level of flexibility.
As shown above, the Crosshair IV Extreme allows the end user to harness the 890FX’s native 16x/16x lane CrossfireX, any of Lucid’s Dual/Triple/Quad configurations…or both. As Lucid Hydra is (by comparison to SLI/Crossfire) in its infancy, it could well be the case that a particular ATi Multi GPU arrangement might perform better with Crossfire’s proven “Alternate Frame Rendering” technique. At any rate, the ability to use either technology is very useful indeed.
Also note that even with Lucid operation, the CH4E always draws one 16x lane to the primary graphics card. Meanwhile Lucid pulls another 16x lane to handle the rest of the graphics cards in the configuration. In effect, the Crosshair IV Extreme has more PCI-Express lanes to play with, compared to previously reviewed samples such as the MSI 870A FUZION Power Edition.
Note that 4 way Lucid "A" and "N" modes will be available with a driver shortly.
Upon face value, it seems clear that the Crosshair IV Extreme has an incredibly flexible Multi GPU arrangement, which should suit every enthusiast’s needs.
ROG Connect Bluetooth
Back in April we showed you Asus' overclocking and diagnostics tool. ROG Connect sent data via USB to another desktop, where you would be able to overclock your ROG family motherboard, turn it on/off and even clear CMOS. You can read more about it here.
However, the Crosshair IV Extreme takes the concept a step further with the implementation of a bluetooth module. This time round, it is possible to install the utility on your Symbian or Android based mobile phone. Today we'll be trying the feature out with our HTC Hero, featuring Android 2.1.
The installation process is relatively simple. Unfortunately the application is not available on the google market, so you have to connect your phone to your computer and extract the APK installation file from the CD. You will also need to download a file manager in order to install the application; we used ApkInstaller, which is free on the market.
Once you have paired your phone to the RC Bluetooth module, you can then enter the utility. Once you're in, you can access three areas - Frequency, Monitor and RC Remote.
In terms of overclocking parameters, you have access to a wide range of voltages but only the Base HTT. You cannot adjust the processors Multipliers or the system's Memory frequency. Really, this application is only of use to "fine tune" a BIOS applied overclock, so don't expect anything quite as comprehensive as AMD Overdrive for example. There aren't many circumstances where this feature is a "must have", but we can see how it might be convenient if you wish to increment your systems frequency without interrupting a benchmark perhaps.
One particular perk about the RC Bluetooth app is the ability to apply an overclock prior to "power on". This is something comparatively unique.
Regardless, the execution itself is reliable. We were able to manipulate our 1090T's core frequency on the fly from a 10ft distance, quickly and without any crashing.
Next up is the monitoring section. This might prove to be a little more useful for those who are paranoid about their systems health during extended gaming sessions perhaps. Again, the temperature and voltage readouts appeared to be in keeping with those found with other hardware monitors.
Last but not least, we have the RC Remote. Its funny because out of the three features this was the one we liked the most. The power toggle feature is great if you want your system powered on and ready to use by the time you've rolled out of bed or done making a coffee.
I can sympathise with the more lazy individuals. Sometimes I have days when I would rather throw a pizza in the oven rather than cook and occasionally, I'll drive my car less than 500m if I'm particularly hungry. Likewise, the Clear CMOS and Force Shutdown options are convenience features.
If your system is under a table and may result in hitting your head on the way out, these features are brilliant. No longer do you need to crawl under the table to recover your system from a lock-up, nor will you need to pull your side panel out if your system overclock fails. Absolutely brilliant.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE 3.20GHz Processor
Asus ROG Crosshair IV Extreme Motherboard
Corsair Dominator GT 4GB 2000mhz
ATi Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
nVidia GeForce GTX 480 Graphics Card (For LUCID)
Corsair AX1200w PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Like the Crosshair IV Formula, you can immediately tell that this motherboard is centred around Overclocking. Really who cares about Date, Time or Current Boot devices? All that matters is that the overclock menu is in front of you from the word go!
As you would expect, a whole host of Voltage and Frequency parameters are available for you to access. The flexibility on offer suits the needs of everyone from novices to dry ice/LN2 lunatics.
As with most Asus boards these days, it is possible to save and load BIOS profiles in up to 8 banks. The Crosshair IV Extreme also includes a separate BIOS Profile named "Go Button", which links with a button on the motherboard. This is convenient for those times when a particular overclock fails and you simply need to call up some fail safe defaults with minimal hassle.
Finally, the BIOS menu provides you with access to the EZ Flash 2 tool. As mentioned before, you can even load BIOS ROMs from your Hard Disk Drive, as the tool is capable of navigating through most file systems.
Overclocking - Max HTT
Overclocking with the Crosshair IV Extreme was a pleasant enough experience. The board executed overclocks with minimal fuss, but was also capable of recovering itself whenever an overclock was too much for it.
Our HTT overclocking spree hit a brick wall at 350MHz. While this is an impressive enough result it is not exactly ground breaking either. A Max HTT of 300-350MHz will allow you to overclock any Athlon II/Phenom II to its (air cooled) limits but this particular sample is far from the best when the cheaper MSI 870A Fuzion Power Edition achieved a tastey 400MHz max.
Overclocking - Max Overall
After some further tweaking, we were able to push our 1090T Black Edition to 4.38GHz bootable, please ignore the 700 HT speed as this just seemed to be a strange quirk with our version of CPUZ and the board the correct value is actually 2100MHz. This of course was not stable and once again fell short of the MSI with its max bootable frequency of 4.50GHz dead.
For benchmarking purposes, we reached an optimum clock frequency of 4.03GHz, with the parameters of 350MHz * 11.5x.
All in all, not a poor show from the Crosshair IV Extreme, although there is no denying that we expected much more. Regardless, let the testing begin.
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.
The CPU arithmetic test ascertains the processor's capabilities in terms of numerical operations. Two subtests named Dhrystone and Whetstone are carried out respectively. This is not a measure of latency and thus higher is better.
Unsurprisingly, the Crosshair IV Extreme commences our testing with scores that nicely match the Crosshair IV Formula and the recently reviewed 870A Fuzion PE. As the man responsible for testing almost all of OC3D's Socket AM3 motherboards, let me assure you that these results are exactly as expected.
The CPU Multimedia Test focuses on CPU based operations that may occur during multimedia based tasks. The magnitude of the score depends on the processor's ability to handle Integer, Float and Double data types
Once again a similar story with CPU Multimedia. Strong gains are shown by our overclock in the region of 4.00GHz.
CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.
Everest's CPU benchmark suite usually tends to offer similar outcomes. The Queen benchmark also shows a level set of results.
PhotoWorxx as the name may suggest tests processors by means of invoking functions that are common to Photo Manipulation including Fill, Flip, Crop, Rotate, Difference and Colour to B&W conversion.
Photoworxx performance has a tendency to fluctuate and so its often required to repeat the benchmark quite a lot to determine concordant results. Regardless, the CH4 Extreme appears to take a fair lead over the rest, while the MSI 870A holds its unusually low score.
This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.
Equality is restored with the ZLib test. This is a particularly important test due to its operations having similarities with the likes of WinRAR.
The latest iteration of Cinebench's rendering benchmark takes greater advantage of multiple cores. With this in mind, what better way to test a processor with no less than six cores?
All seems well in the rendering department. All three boards remain identical within error margins, while at 4.0GHz our testbed pushes well above the 7.xx mark - exactly wheere it should be.
Persistence Of Vision RAYtracer is an application for creating three dimensional graphics. Within the program is a very popular benchmark that measures the processor's ability to render such images.
PovRAY, a similar style of benchmark follows a similar pattern. Once again, there is nothing particularly suspect.
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.
With an AMD K10 CPU at it's nominal NB frequency of 2000MHz, one would expect memory bandwidth performance of around 13GB/sec within SiSoft Sandra. With this in mind, all boards including the Extreme show no sign of invoking a limitation.
Hard Disk Performance
With our Samsung Spinpoint F1 Hard Disk Drive, ~90MB/s is the norm. Our SB850 equipped motherboards would never hold this drive back.
Do bear in mind that you shouldn't directly compare SiSoft Sandra memory results with Everest's benchmark. The nature of the two testing processes mean that the end result is very different. Regardless, the test is just as valid for comparing one platform against another.
Once again, the results show no real surprises. Let's move on shall we?
3DMark Vantage is Futuremarks flagship gaming oriented benchmark at present and is considered to be a demanding one at that. Our tests were carried out under the "Performance" prefix.
3DMark Vantage was the only benchmark that we used to test Lucid performance on the 870A Fuzion Power Edition. Interestingly we discovered that the Crosshair IV Formula offered considerably higher scores (both GPU and Overall). It seems quite clear that Asus' PCI-Express configuration for Lucid makes a significant difference to Multi GPU performance.
Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions. This time round we will be testing Warhead in two different modes; gamer and the GPU killing "Enthusiast" mode.
As we approached framerates upwards of 50fps, the gains from Multi GPU seemed to be diminishing. With this in mind we decided to crank the settings up to levels where the added GPU compute matters.
...and there we have it. While the jump in max framerate isn't all that high, you can see the minimum performance rising to levels where there is minimal stuttering. All in all Crysis Warhead gameplay was very fluid.
Metro 2033, is another popular game we were curious to see if an 800MHz boost in core frequency would push those framerates out of the gutter.
Once again, this is a game where owning more than one graphics card will offer great dividends. Performance with Lucid pushes performance into fluid realms even with the game's settings maxed.
Mafia 2 is a recent action-adventure game. With plenty of eyecandy we were keen to see how well it would perform on our Socket AM3 testbed.
Again, while the gains were noteable, framerates were upwards of 60fps regardless. As such the difference from a user perspective is negligible.
That's all folks! Let's wrap this one up...
Our comprehensive evaluation of the Crosshair IV Extreme has identified a number of the board's strengths but also a number of pitfalls.
In terms of performance, it would generally appear that we are onto a winner here. During our testing, we were able to reach a peak HTT of 350MHz and the CH4E's Lucid Hydra performance proved to be very competitive. This would have been brilliant news to us had the board have launched over two weeks ago, but alas we have also spent this month working on MSI's 870A Fuzion Power Edition.
It is unusual for us to start mentioning a motherboard that is almost £100 more affordable, but its performance almost suggests otherwise. While a maximum base HTT of ~350MHz would have been impressive to us in the past, our MSI 870A Fuzion rumbled its way to a stonking 400MHz. Of course a base HTT of 350MHz is unlikely to hold any current non black edition processor, but it really is food for thought that the range topping Crosshair IV Extreme can't match it.
Unlike MSI, Asus have implemented the highest specification Hydra module (LT24102), which offers three way and four way Multi GPU configurations. Our 3DMark Vantage benchmark showed the Crosshair IV Extreme gain a 1000 mark advantage over the MSI Fuzion. As a system orientated towards multiple graphics cards, it would most certainly appear that the Asus is the way to go.
Then there's the board's convenience features. Aside PCB mounted Power Toggle buttons, the board offers instant BIOS recovery, the ability to power, overclock or diagnose your system remotely and also determine graphics card faults with a switch panel. While you pay a lot for these conveniences, most of these are unique to the AMD platform.
One mustn't either forget that the Crosshair IV Extreme is in essence an AMD equivalent to the Rampage III Extreme. Despite offering an identical feature set, the Crosshair IV Extreme is set to cost substantially less, which goes a long way towards offering a (like for like) VFM advantage against Intel's Core i7 platform. For many however, the concept of spending upwards of £200 on a Socket AM3 motherboard is cringe worthy regardless.
The Crosshair IV Extreme was all set to blow us all away but unfortunately, the 870A Fuzion stole some of its thunder. To summarise, if you are in the market for the world's most feature rich Socket AM3 motherboard, then this is it. So long as you can find a use for all of its mod-cons you will never be disappointed. Our suggestion? If you have the money, then go for it; just prepare to budget some noise cancelling headphones to complement the purchase...
- Leading Lucid Performance
- Feature Set
- Board Layout
- Max HTT of 350 falls short of cheaper 870A Fuzion
- Active Heatsink cooler
Thanks as ever to Asus for the CH4E on test today, you can discuss this review in our forums.