Asus mATX ROG Rampage II Gene X58 Motherboard Page: 1 Introduction
"The Planet is in peril. Once peaceful, evil now lurks in every corner.
But there is hope yet.
A new band of ROG heroes has emerged to battle the forces of darkness. Though small in number they possess the full might of ROG.
They are the Elite. They are the Gene squad." - Asus 2009
Up until now, high end motherboards were the preserve of ATX / E-ATX standards but a number of manufacturers are beginning to realise that hardcore gamers don't always want huge setups, massive tower cases and hulking, overweight power supplies. Ask any gamer who has dragged their watercooled V2000 to a LAN, they will tell you the attention it gets is simply not worth the aching arms.
Micro ATX has often been scoffed at by high end enthusiasts. They have not been popular with overclockers or gamers, not sought after by anyone other than those looking for a compact PC. Certainly not in the sense the latest and greatest motherboards have been, due in part that often with a shrink is size comes a shrink in features. Asus aim to change that viewpoint with the ROG Rampage II Gene X58.
Being from the ROG (Republic of Gamers) stable, the Rampage II Gene is feature packed, bursting with the same features that made its full fat stablemate so popular among the enthusiast community. Here's what Asus had to say about their latest release:
Atomic in Size, Atomic in Power
With the Rampage II GENE, ASUS has masterfully filled the mATX gap in its lauded ROG product line. For the first time, users will be able to harness the full power of the Intel® Core™ i7 processor in a chassis the fraction of the size and weight of an ATX desktop PC. The Rampage II GENE’s awesome combination of overclock ability, tweak ability and stability enable it to easily outgun other full-sized ATX motherboards.
MemOK! Any Memory is A-Okay!
MemOK! was developed to provide users with a worry-free memory upgrade experience. In the event of a boot failure after installing new RAM, all the user has to do is press an easily accessible button on the motherboard and MemOK! will automatically load the failsafe settings needed to ensure a successful system boot. MemOK! is able to rapidly detect and resolve memory issues—even if bad or unstable memory is used!
Supreme In-game Audio with SupremeFX X-Fi
An on-board SupremeFX X-Fi solution delivers crisp audio and incredibly realistic in-game sound effects. Official EAX sound effects from EAX 1.0 to EAX HD4.0 allow gamers to enjoy total immersion in supported games. X-Fi CMSS3D’s groundbreaking positional audio gives gamers a distinct in-game advantage, while Crystalizer enhances overall audio quality dramatically. Here's a breakdown of what the ROG Rampage II Gene has to offer:
The specification below was taken directly from Asus:
Model: Rampage II GENE
CPU: LGA1366 socket for Intel® Core™ i7
Chipset: Intel® X58/ICH10R
System: Bus Up to 6.4 GT/s with QuickPath Interconnection
Memory: 6 x DIMM, Triple Channel, up to 24GB
DDR3: 2000(O.C.)/1800(O.C.)/1600(O.C)/1333/1066 MHz
Expansion slot: 2 x PCIe2.0 x16 slot, supports dual x16, 1 x PCIe2.0 x4, 1 x PCI 2.2
Multi-GPU Support: NVIDIA SLI™ / ATI CrossFireX™
Storage: 7 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s, 1 x eSATA 3.0 Gb/s, 1 x UltraDMA 133, support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD
LAN: Gigabit LAN
Audio: Onboard SupremeFX X-Fi 8-Ch. Audio with EAX4.0 support
Other I/O ports: 1*PS/2, 1*eSATA, 1*IEEE1394a, 1*Clr CMOS, 1*Optical S/PDIF, USB / IEEE1394a 12 x USB2.0 (6+6) / 2 x 1394a ports (1 at back I/O, 1 onboard)
Fan connector: 5 (1 x CPU / 2 x Chassis / 2 x Optional)
Software: (Full version) Kaspersky anti-virus, Futuremark® 3DMark™06 Advanced Edition
Features: MemOK!, CPU Level Up, Keyboard-TweakIt, Extreme Tweaker, iROG, Loadline Calibration, LCD Poster, EPU-6 Engine, Q-Fan plus, Voltiminder LED
Form Factor: micro ATX Form Factor, 9.6”x 9.6” (24.4cm x 24.4cm)
As you can see from the specification above this motherboard is a feature packed motherboard. Let's take a look at the board itself...
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Packaging & Appearance
From the outset the Rampage II Gene sets the stage for something explosive with the vibrant packaging. Dominated by the ROG colour scheme and font, the matt red packaging is very striking in appearance with only the compatibility emblems from Intel, ATI and Nvidia breaking up the red theme. Flipping the box over, we find the specification along with some key features of the board such as CPU level up and MemOK!.
Lifting the lid of the outer sleeve, Asus go into greater details explaining that MemOK! is a memory rescue tool that will patch memory issues that result in a non-boot scenario. With MemOK Asus claim they have drastically reduced this frustrating aspect as the tool determines failsafe settings. CPU level up is exactly what it says, it will 'level up' your CPU to a more expensive model to say a i7 940 or even an i7 965! In reality it will simply load in the default speeds for those CPU's and save you from messing around with different BIOS settings yourself, a lazy mans tool if you like.
Opening up the box we are initially greeted with the motherboard itself which is covered with a plastic lid. The whole packaging should ensure that your kit arrives unscathed and I am, as always, impressed by Asus' attention and care in this matter. Under the motherboard is yet another compartment holding all the accessories which includes 2 SATA data cables, IDE cable, SLI bridge, I/O shield, driver CD, LCD poster, a comprehensive manual and even a few tie wraps to tidy your installation up when complete. Strangely, Asus also included two huge 'explosion' stickers but I would imagine that few people would make use of these as they are a little tacky but then stickers normally are!
Moving on to the board itself the first thing you notice is how small it is. Being Micro ATX, it appears that the bottom section of the motherboard has been sliced away and that, in effect, is exactly what has been done. Shrinking the full number (usually 7 or 8) PCI/e slots down to just 4 has enabled Asus to make the board much smaller than the ATX standard. At first glance it appears that the ROG features have not diminished with SLI and Crossfire compatibility at the full 16x PCIe thanks to the PCIe slots. X-FI is still here too albeit in an on-board format and with six SATA ports it appears this is board could trump some full fat ATX motherboards for features.
Rather than spacing the Mosfets around the left and top positions of the CPU socket, Asus crammed them all under an aluminium heatsink to the left of the socket. The socket area still looks very busy thanks to the numerous solid capacitors and the ram slots being placed close to the socket. The power delivery is still 16 phase and uses the Asus EPU engine to drop the power delivery down to 8, shaving the power consumption of the board when idle. A nice touch to the ROG Gene is the Memory slots. Rather than have security clips on both ends of the memory slot, Asus have designed a nice feature that still allows the satisfying 'click' when installing the memory without the need to 'clip the memory in place. This will prevent any clearance issues with the top GPU card and is a well thought out feature of the board, something I hope to see more of in future releases.
The PCI area of the board is concise as you would expect from a mATX motherboard. With just 2x PCIe 16x slots, a 4x PCIe and a standard PCI slot you will have to plan your expansion card purchases carefully. With both PCIe 16x slots filled with dual slot cards, no other expansion is available. This is not a fault of Asus though as it is unavoidable by it's very design, however it is worthy of consideration. The bottom area of the board is as feature packed as it's bigger twin, the Rampage II. Removable BIOS chip, Firewire, 3 USB expansion ports, power, reset and MemOK! buttons finishing off with Asus' ingenious Q-connector allowing you to fit the motherboard headers to a connector before attaching it to the motherboard, saving both time and frustration.
Asus have thoughtfully made all the SATA ports of the ICH10R controller right angled so there should be no clearance issues blocked by a full length GPU or two. The connectors are also of snap lock design should you have compatible SATA cables (not included by Asus - just the standard ones here I'm afraid). The start and reset buttons look like something from a dragster where as the MemOK button looks like more of an afterthought. Both the power and reset button light up but the MemOK button does not.
The I/O area is trimmed back but still affords all the essentials. a PS/2 Keyboard port is still clinging on for dear life and I would have preferred to see this feature gone now with the addition of a couple of extra USB ports over the included six It is possible to expand the USB headers to a maximum of 12 with the use of the internal headers but sadly Asus did not include a bracket for such expansion. Fire wire and eSATA are available as is a handy Clr CMOS button should you get over ambitious with the overclocking. Finally we arrive at the on-board SuperemeFX X-FI. While other ROG board feature a separate riser card for audio, the Gene does not have the spare PCI space so instead of adding a cheap Realtek substitute, Asus have incorporated the X-FI chip on-board. The Supreme FX is not the best sound solution out there but it is certainly suitable for gaming, especially with EAX 4.0 / Alchemy emulation.
As you would expect from a ROG motherboard, the cooling is very well designed (aesthetically at least). The anodised red and gun metal grey scheme is a treat to behold and with the patented 'pin-fin' design of the sink it should cool well. In testing however we found the Northbridge hit 70c easily which was very alarming. It did settle down a little when I put a fan over the area but 60c is still way too hot.
If you are not happy with the stock cooling (we weren't) you can always replace the 'pin fin' area with something more substantial like a waterblock perhaps. I do like the modular northbridges coming from manufacturers of late but I can't help feeling that people who have no intention of adding a waterblock are getting worse temps than they would with say a solid block of copper. The Southbridge block again uses the pin design of the Northbridge but is still made of aluminium.
The Northbridge cooler is attached to the MOSFET heatsink via heatpipe which should help dissipate temperatures better. Taking the heatsink assembly off was easy enough with push-pins and spring loaded screws holding the Mosfet and Northbridge heatsinks to the motherboard respectively.
Strangely, Asus have used what appears to be both a thermal pad AND paste on the Northbridge heatsink. This is what might account for the high temperatures being reported. The Southbridge had the blue paste with no pad and the Mosfet had thermal tape used as a conductive barrier.
All in all an exceptional start to the review from Asus. The packaging is fantastic, the motherboard certainly looks the business and the features are what you would expect to find on a full size motherboard. My only reservation is the cooling of the board but we will see if this has any major effect on the stability or overclocking of the Asus Rampage II Gene in our Testing area. Firstly let's take a look at the BIOS which being a ROG should have a wealth of features to compliment the ROG name...
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After detecting the GPU BIOS, the board boots into a flash sequence ending with the ROG (Republic of Gamers) emblem. This can be changed with the BIOS option to display the POST details if you so wish.
The first section in the BIOS is the Extreme tweaker area and as this is Overclock3D it is the one section that interests us most. While from the outset the BIOS looks substantial and intimidating it is riddled with auto overclocking features. Extreme OC setting allows the full fat features for the overclocking enthusiast whereas the gaming setting allows the basic settings to be available and the board does the rest for you. We will be exploring all of the features so have set this to Extreme OC.
If you are looking for a quick and dirty overclock then the CPU level up feature is for you. This allowed out i7 920 test CPU to be automatically 'levelled up' to the range topping i7 965 extreme edition CPU. Sadly it didn't suddenly unlock the CPU multipliers but it did give us a clockspeed of 3.2GHz. This is ideal for those looking for a boost in performance but not wanting to dabble in the dark arts of overclocking. The memory up feature has the same effect but this time, on the memory. Sadly we did not have the same success here with 2000MHz unattainable by our DDR3 kit.
The CPU features are all there with the usual restrictions on CPU overclocking all enabled so if you are looking for the best possible performance I advise you to disable the majority of these. The Unclock frequency is adjusted by means of a menu scrolling up and down with the arrow keys or the +/- keys.
The QPI Link data rate is a small menu dictated by the Base clock setting again set by the use of arrow or plus/minus keys. Next we come to the EPU Phase setting. This is a power saving feature of Asus boards that alter the power modulation in effect lowering power consumption of your setup when in an idle state. This however can sometimes affect and overclock so Asus have thoughtfully allowed the setting to be turned off by tuning the setting to 'Full Phase' (16).
CPU Differential Amplitude can be fine tuned in 100Mv jumps to enhance stability under extreme overclocked conditions. Below right we see the beginning of the numerous voltage options. I have set all the voltages to there maximum level but rest assured I would not dare use these on a day to day basis as, for example, 2.5v on the CPU or memory would turn our test rig into a squealing puff of smoke in no time at all, such are the extreme voltages available here.
Data and control reference voltages can be tweaked on each channel (A, B and C) by the means of a sub menu, further enhancing the possibilities of high overclocks with the Rampage II Gene. A nice feature of the BIOS are the coloured reminders of what level of safety your are setting the voltages at. Blue = standard, yellow = steady now, red = she's gonna blow! At least thats my interpretation of the colours!
CPU clock Skew can have a dramatic effect on what Base Clock the motherboard and therefore you CPU can reach. The Gene gives you the opportunity to fine tune this setting as well ranging in 100ps delay multiples. After you have made all your significant overclock changes to the BIOS you can the save them to one of 8 profiles which is a great time saving feature and one that I make use of every time I set an overclock, especially when I know I am on the boundaries of stability as if the board fails to boot resulting in a CLR CMOS situation you can easily dial in your previous bootable options without wasting 10 minutes searching for that scrap of paper you (hopefully) wrote them all down on.
The TweakIt Batch file features allows you to save the individual setting for future reference and load those values at a later date. Think of this as a memoriser for your individual settings rather than the whole settings and you won't go far wrong. Entering the PC Health Status area we see that there are numerous options available depending on what you want to view. Voltage, Temperatures, Fan speed (Control and Monitor).
This is perhaps one of the most complete, yet user friendly BIOS' I have come across in a long time. There are plenty of options for both enthusiast and novice alike and the features available are nothing short than phenomenal. I would have liked a better description in the motherboard manual as to what the more complex features did as in it's current state it appears that the writer had use of limited vocabulary and/or understanding of what the features were themselves. The annotations in the BIOS do help explain a little but are very basic and when you are playing around with what is very expensive hardware you need some reassurance and education of what you are about to do is safe and will actually have a benefit.
Nonetheless, the options are there to be experimented with if you are feeling brave and thus the BIOS section of our review is complete. Let's move on to our test setup...
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To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configuration used in this review can be seen below:
Processor: Intel Core i7 920 (2.66Ghz)
Motherboard: Asus mATX ROG Rampage II Gene X58
Memory: Corsair Dominator @ 8-8-8-24 1600MHz
Graphics Card: NVidia GTX280
Power Supply: Gigabyte Odin 1200W
CPU Cooling: Stock Intel Cooling
Hard Disk: Hitachi Deskstar 7K160 7200rpm 80GB
Graphics Drivers: Geforce 180.60 CUDA
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1
I had no major issues setting the board up as everything was in it's logical and optimal location. I did have some concerns of the memory slots positioning as this is perilously close to the CPU socket making the choice of CPU cooler very difficult. Our test heatsink, the OCZ Gladiator fitted with ease, as did its backplate but I do worry for anyone fitting anything bigger as this would most certainly clash with at least the first memory slot. It is however doubtful that a massive cooler would be fitted in a small case anyway so this may be a non-issue but it is worth pointing out to potential buyers.
During the testing of the setup above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.
To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
Synthetic CPU Test
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• PassMark CPU test
• SuperPI 1m, 8m, 32m
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• Everest 4.60
File Compression & Encoding
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark
Disk I/O Performance
• HDTach 126.96.36.199
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage
• Far Cry 2
• Call of Duty 4
Overall System Performance
• PCMark Vantage
Power consumption is an aspect often forgotten when it comes to enthusiast motherboards but in todays climate, with rising utility bills special consideration needs to be taken when choosing you components as over a period of time, one components can prove to be much more expensive than another over its lifetime.
Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of 3DMark Vantage.
Despite it's demure size, the Rampage II Gene still sucked plenty of watts from the PSU hitting the middle ground in comparison to our other boards on test. While the power consumption would no doubt decrease at idle with the use of the EPU engine we are assuming that this feature is not used by the end user.
Using a respectable Vcore of 1.40v, loadline calibration and Turbo technology enabled, the remainder of BIOS voltage settings were left in their stock state to ensure equality throughout the testing.
Oh my (insert expletive here) God! 4.3 Ghz is an amazing overclock, made even better that it comes from an mATX board and this is on air cooling! Beating all other motherboards we have tested to date, this is the maximum overclock we have achieved with our test i7 920 CPU. While I would say that our test CPU is from a good batch, it is not a cherry picked item and goes to show that motherboard choice, in this case the Rampage II Gene is all important when aiming for serious overclocks. It is also the highest Base clock we have achieved on an X58 motherboard. Gone are the restrictions of the magical 200 Bclk frequency. We did try higher but 205 was the best we could achieve, with 206 resulting in a non POST state. The overclock could perhaps have been pushed even further given more time and tweaking of the massive amount of settings available in the BIOS but I am in awe of the Gene's capability with just the standard tweaks applied.
The motherboard recovered from bad overclocks with ease and not once did I have to reset the CMOS. I should also point out that Vdrop and droop was pretty much non existent thanks to Asus's loadline calibration, making the voltages stable as a rock and thereby allowing a much more pleasant overclocking experience.
Returning the settings back to their stock state and disabling the Turbotech setting we started our suite of benchmarks. The Asus Rampage II Gene's stock speed on the CPU read 2670MHz instead of the correct value of 2666 MHz resulting in a 4MHz increase. Consideration to that fact should therefore be given to the following results and while 4MHz is not exactly a major difference it could have a very slight skew on the results...
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The Gene certainly does not disgrace itself when pitched up against the full size motherboards from the other manufacturers, indeed beating the lesser ones in out CPU tests albeit not by any significant margin.
Let's see if there is anything to separate the board with our run of memory benchmarks...
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While not dominating the pack by any stretch of the imagination, the Rampage II Gene does score highly and is among the top performers in each benchmarks, indeed leading the pack in our Far Cry 2 test. The Rampage II is more than just a gaming motherboard though as our previous results have shown and has a lot more to offer than just an increase in frames per second. Overall though it has been a 'Topsy turvy' display so it will make interesting reading to see how PCMark Vantage interprets the motherboard.
Let's take a look at it's overall performance...
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PCMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking suite from Futuremark. Differing significantly from their 3DMark suites, PCMark performs a series of benchmarks designed to recreate and benchmark scenarios of a PC being used for everyday tasks. Vantage has a Vista only requirement as it actually relies on several different components from the OS in order to run correctly.
True to form, the Rampage II Gene excels in some areas while in others it remains still above average. It excelled in music encoding beating the competition by quite a margin and remained near the top of the pile in the other tests but could not manage a clean sweep.
Let's head over to the conclusion where I attempt to put today's testing into perspective...
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'Size doesn't matter' so they say and if motherboards are anything to go by and on the back of this review I would be inclined to agree. The Rampage II Gene's diminutive size is misleading as it is a very capable performer. While we did not have any other mATX boards to compare the performance of the Gene to, I am confident that the Asus motherboard would be hard to beat.
The motherboard packaging is excellent with the balance of protection and aesthetics nigh on perfect. The motherboard layout is very well designed with no major issues encountered, this is reinforced by the fact that this is an mATX motherboard and to cram so many features into such a small space is nothing short of amazing. I could say the colour scheme is getting a little tired but it is certainly not offencive. The DDR3 slots positioning may be an issue for some but the only way around this would be to lose IDE, something which Asus decided would be a bad move and for the moment at least I am inclined to agree.
The motherboard cooling could be better, especially when you consider that this boards home is most likely to be in a small case with relatively poor airflow. In an open test bed the NB hit temps in excess of 70c so this would most likely increase further in a closed case environment. While we had no issues with stability at this temperature, 70c on the Northbridge is quite disturbing and one can only hope this was a sensor calibration issue which will be rectified by future BIOS releases. The modular Northbridge is another ingenious idea that will appeal to a lot of folk, especially those who intend to watercool as this eradicates the need to strip the whole of the heatsink and find suitable replacement waterblocks.
I would like to aim some sort of criticism at the Rampage II Gene to even out the review and I thought the price of the motherboard would put most people off as its £300+ bigger brother seems to have done. However, priced at a reasonable (for X58 motherboards) £223 at the time of writing is not something I can level any criticism at. Sure for £220 you can get a full size motherboard but with more features? With better overclocking? On board XFI? mATX? I think you would struggle. I could level criticism to the fact that its expansion card possibilities are severely limited but this is a design of the motherboard and there is simply no way of getting around this.
In short, this motherboard is simply amazing. Asus have done the impossible by including most of the features of it's bigger brother, increased overclocking potential, lowered the price, all bundled up in a small package ideal for LAN gamers and overclockers alike.
- Best overclocking performance bar none
- Great layout
- Onboard X-FI
- Onboard switches
- SLI/Crossfire Capable
- Fantastic BIOS
- Only 2 Sata cables included (non latch type)
- No USB expansion plate
- Cooling could be an issue under certain circumstances.
- It will certainly create a lot of envy!
Thanks to Asus for providing the Rampage II Gene for todays review. Discuss in our forums