Asus Maximus Formula Special Edition X38 S775 Motherboard Page: 1
Introduction & Specifications
Just over two months ago Asus gave us the opportunity to sample the latest board in their "Republic of Gamers" linup. Based on the P35 chipset and named the "Blitz", the board literally blew our pants off with its wealth of features, extreme looks and outstanding performance. So it's no wonder why when Asus asked us to take a look at yet another "Republic of Gamers" board, but this time based on the X38 chipset, we literally bit their hands off.
Many of us already know what Intel's latest chipset; the X38 has to offer, but before we get down and dirty let's recap over some of the changes and extra features we can expect to receive from this virgin chipset...
First off the bat is PCI-Express 2.0. Effectively doubling the signaling rate from 2.5Gbps up to 5Gbps, this allows plenty of headroom for future bandwidth-hungry graphics cards. Of course until these graphics cards see the light of day, you're unlikely to see any performance gains. But it's good to "future-proof" yourself never less.
Going hand-in-hand with PCIe 2.0 on the X38 are two x16 (electrical) PCIe slots. This is certainly no surprise as the X38 is the successor to Intel's vastly popular 975x chipset, which also featured the same PCIe configuration for optimal performance when using dual graphics cards in Crossfire mode.
Finally, Intel claim that the X38 chipset was designed with overclocking in mind. Both the front-side bus and latency timings have been tweaked for increased performance and several improvements have been made to the X38's memory controller to allow for more stable overclocking of high-frequency memory modules.
With everything considered, the X38 doesn't really have many new features that would encourage enthusiasts to upgrade from their existing P35/975x chipsets. However, the success of many previous chipsets has been largely down to the creative genius of motherboard manufacturers who add many of their own features and further tweak the chipsets in order to make their latest motherboards a worthwhile upgrade over their previous products. With this in mind, lets take a look at what Asus have to say about their latest motherboard:
The Maximus motherboard provides awesome Overclocking speeds and challenges performance limitations. Equipped with the Fusion Block System - an effective 0dB fanless design cooling system with a chipset waterblock that adds onto a power user´s existing watercooling circuit to help keep operations cool. Additionally, SupremeFX II not only increases the sound quality, it also enhances aesthetic value. The Maximus also adopts the Intel X38/ICH9R chipset and supports DDR2 dual channel memory and CrossFire Technology - making it the Overclocker and Gamer´s first and best choice.
The Republic of Gamers consists only the best of the best. We offer the best hardware engineering, the fastest performance, the most innovating ideas, and we welcome the best gamers to join in. In the Republic of Gamers, mercy rules are only for the weak, and bragging rights means everything. We believe in making statements and we excel in competitions. If your character matches our trait, then join the elite club, make your presence felt, in the Republic of Gamers.
- Intel® Quad-core CPU Ready
- Supports Intel® next generation 45nm Multi-core CPU
- Intel® Core™2 Extreme / Core™2 Duo Ready
- Intel® X38/ICH9R
- Dual-channel DDR2 1200*/1066 MHz Support
- Fusion Block System
- Extreme Tweaker
- SupremeFX II 8-CH Audio
- CPU Level Up
- Voltiminder LED
- LCD Poster
- ASUS EPU (Energy Processing Unit) - 2-Phase DDR2 - COP EX
As with the previously reviewed Blitz Extreme motherboard, the Maximus Fusion comes with Asus' trademark Fusion Block System that consists of a copper Northbridge block linked to the Southbridge and Mosfets via heatpipes. Obviously we'll re-visit this later on in the review, but judging by some of our initial glimpses of the board, it's certainly fair to say that Asus have made some significant tweaks to its design.
A brand new feature to appear on some of Asus' very latest motherboards is Energy Processing Unit (or EPU for short). The EPU is an onboard, hardware-based power saving IC controller that digitally monitors and fine tunes your CPU's power supply in real-time, providing improved VRM efficiency under light and heavy loads. This allows the EPU to provide up to 58.6% CPU power savings when running low-intensity applications.
More information on the various features of the Maximus board can be found on Asus's website, but for the moment all we're interested in are the raw specs:
LGA775 socket for Intel® Core™2 Extreme / Core™2 Quad / Core™2 Duo / Pentium® Extreme / Pentium® D / Pentium® 4 Processors
Support Intel® next generation 45nm Multi-Core CPU
Compatible with Intel® 06/05B/05A processors
* Refer to www.asus.com
for Intel CPU support list
Intel® X38/ICH9R with Intel® Fast Memory Access Technology
Front Side Bus
1600 / 1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz
Dual channel memory architecture
4 x DIMM, support max. 8GB, DDR2-1200*/1066/800/667 MHz, ECC, non-ECC and un-buffered memory
*DDR2 1200 is O.C. speeds.
*Refer to www.asus.com
or this user manual for the Memory QVL(Qualified Vendors Lidts).
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 slot, support at full x16, x16 speed
3 x PCIe x1 ( the PCIEx1_1 (black) is compatible with audio slot)
2 x PCI 2.2
Support ATI CrossFire™ graphics cards
- 6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
- Intel Matrix Storage Technology supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10
JMicron® JMB368 PATA controller:
- 1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66/33 for up to 2 PATA devices
Dual Gigabit LAN controllers, both featuring AI NET2
Support Teaming Technology
SupremeFX II Audio Card:
- ADI 1988B 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Noise Filter
Coaxial, Optical S/PDIF out at back I/O
2 x 1394a ports(1 port at back I/O, 1 port onboard)
Max. 12 USB 2.0 ports(6 ports at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
Fusion Block System
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- CPU Level Up
- ASUS EPU (Energy Processing Unit)
- AI Gear 3™
- AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
- ASUS AI Booster Utility
- O.C Profile
- COP EX (Component Overheat Protection - EX)
- Voltiminder LED
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Onboard Switches: Power / Reset / Cls CMOS (at rear)
ASUS Q-Fan 2
ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 Keyboard port(purple)
1 x Optical 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
2 x LAN (RJ45) port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x IEEE1394a port
1 x Clr CMOS switch
Internal I/O Connectors
3 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector for two devices
6 x SATA connectors
8 x Fan connectors: 1 x CPU / 1 x PWR / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional
3 x thermal sensor connectors
1 x IEEE1394a connector
1 x S/PDIF output connector
1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x En/Dis-able Clr CMOS
System panel connector
16Mb AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS
WOL by PME, WOR by PME, Chasis Intrusion, PXE
Fusion Block System Accessory
ASUS Optional Fan
SupremeFX II Audio Card
3 in 1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
Floppy disk drive cable
SATA power cables
2-port USB2.0 IEEE 1394a module
The hottest 3D Game: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
- Drivers and applications
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS AI Suite
Futuremark ® 3DMark® 06 Advanced Edition
ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)
I've always been impressed with the features included on Asus' "Republic of Gamers" motherboards and the Maximus Fusion is certainly no exception. Complete with features such as OC Profile (for saving settings), Voltminder LED (for displaying voltage status) and Asus C.P.R (for recovering after bad overclock) all integrated into the board and BIOS, the Maximus should certainly appeal to Overclockers. Asus haven't skimped on I/O ports either with a total of 12 USB ports, 2 NIC's, 6x SATA ports and a SupremeFX II High Definition add-in sound card. The only thing thats really missing is eSATA ports, but the reasoning behind cutting these out will become clear over the next few pages.
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Packaging & Contents
The Maximus Formula uses the same style of packaging as seen on many of Asus' previous "Republic of Gamers" motherboards. I've always been a fan of this packaging as it manages to have a "Gamer" feel to it without being covered in cheesy CGI character graphics.
As you can see from above, the cardboard outer-box is printed with a grey gradient along with a bullet hole effect situated just above the large silver "Maximus" lettering. Very little information can be found on the front of the box, with only: Fusion, Intel X38 and Asus logos being displayed at the bottom.
However, as with the previously reviewed Blitz
board, Asus have placed a flap at the front of the box. Once opened you are presented with two plastic windows that show off the Fusion water block system along with the SuppremeFX II soundcard. Also at the top of the flap is a wealth of information regarding the features of the board along with brief explanations on what they do.
Around the back of the box Asus have printed the technical specifications for the Maximus. As we saw on page 1, the board provides provides support for all LGA775 processors along with backward compatibility for DDR2 memory (1066/800/667) and ATI Crossfire (with both cards in x16 mode).
To allow the motherboard to be seen from the top and side of the outer-box, Asus have placed the board inside a clear plastic moulded shell. This provides good protection against courier inflicted damage and keeps the board seperate from other items that could possibly be responsible for damaging the fragile components on the board during transit.
As you'd expect from motherboard coming from Asus' "Repubic of Gamers" series, the Maximus is bundled with a whole host of goodies including a full version of the popular FPS shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R all packaged up inside the accessories box. Also included in the pack are the following items:
• Fusion Block System Accessory
• 1x ASUS Optional Fan
• 3 in 1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
• 1x UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
• 1x Floppy disk drive cable
• 6x SATA cables
• 2x SATA power cables
• 2-port USB2.0 module
• IEEE1394a module
• I/O Shield
• Cable Ties
• User's manual
• Futuremark ® 3DMark® 06 Advanced Edition
• Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
• The hottest 3D Game: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
• LCD Poster
• SupremeFX II HD sound card
Some of the more notable accessories are the items shown above. From top left to bottom right we have: the Asus LCD poster, Asus optional fans, Fusion block accessories and the 3-in-1 Q-Connector's.
Starting with the LCD Poster, this device displays information on the motherboard POST sequence. If at any point the board fails to boot or gets stuck during POST, a quick glance at the LCD Poster should identify what component in your system is malfunctioning.
Moving on to the optional fans...These coolers have been included with many of Asus' Premium, Deluxe and ROG motherboards for quite some time. Designed to clip on to the finned heatsink that covers the mosfets at the top of the board, the fans pull air up through the heatsink fins and expel the hot air out the back of your PC case. They are reasonably quiet and come complete with 3-Pin connectors so that they can easily be controlled using the BIOS or Asus software.
Next up are the Fusion block accessories. Asus have catered for all types of water cooling with barbs ranging from 10mm up to 1/2" ID diameters. Also included in the bag are several clips for securing the tubing to the barbs to prevent leaks.
Last but not least is the 3-in-1 Q-Connectors. These three small blocks are quite simply a godsend for the enthusiast who regulary disconnects their motherboard and is then faced with the frustration of trying to place the power/reset/activity LED connectors back on the motherboard header. They are also very clearly labeled - so no need to refer to the manual while setting your new motherboard up ;)
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Board Layout & Features
Asus certainly know when they are on to a good thing and this is undoubtedly reflected in the layout of their "Republic of Gamers" boards, which all share much the same overall layout. Therefore it's no surprise to see the Maximus following suit, with a strong resemblance to the recently reviewed Blitz Extreme board.
Thankfully Asus have also kept the inoffensive blue, black and white colour scheme found on the rest of the ROG series. This not only looks much more professional than multi-coloured combinations used by some other manufacturers, but also ensures that the Maximus doesn't stand out in modified cases with windows.
In terms of general layout, the 8-Pin EPS-12v connector has been placed at the very top left of the board, keeping any cables trainling across the board to a minimum. Over on the right side of the board, the ATX connector sits just above the floppy disk connector and allows for easy routing of the PSU's ATX cable around the top of the motherboard without interfering with the CPU socket area.
While the measurable clearance around the CPU socket on the Maximus is identical to Blitz
, The extra heatsinks and heatpipses on the Maximus certainly make the area feel much more claustrophobic. In addition to this Asus has switched back from the low-profile digital PWM found on the Blitz to a more traditional array of mosfets and capacitors. This certainly doesn't pose any problems for people wanting to watercool the board - as we successfully installed both Swiftech Apogee and D-Tek Fuzion waterblocks, but will certainly make things more tricky for those of us wanting to use any kind of sub-zero cooling.
The Maximus Fusion keeps thing fairly modern on the I/O panel, providing only one legacy port for a PS2 keyboard. This is a great idea considering I've often experience problems with my USB keyboard not working correctly when trying to enter the BIOS or after swapping a motherboard over. Unfortunately, due to the additional space taken up by the heatsink attached to the Fusion cooling system, Asus have been forced to remove the eSATA connectors.
Asus have also answered the prayers of many overclockers by providing a CMOS clear button on the I/O panel. I personally can't count the number of times I've been forced to pull the side off my PC case and fumble around for the CMOS jumper after a bad overclock. This little button will undoubtedly prove to be a life (and time) saver for many enthusiasts!
In addition to this, Asus have installed a large heatsink to the left of the Fusion Northbridge block. This should not only help reduce temperatures when using the Maximus with watercooling, but also provide some level of passive cooling for the Northbridge when watercooling is not available.
With three x1 and two x16 PCIe slots, the Maximus certainly seems to be putting its faith in manufacturers releasing their existing PCI cards in PCIe format. This is even more apparent when you consider that one of only two available PCI slots on the board will more than likely be blocked by a GPU cooler when two graphics cards are installed for Crossfire.
As with the rest of the "Republic of Gamers" series, the Maximus Formula features right-angled SATA and IDE connectors. These not only help to keep things looking a bit more tidy inside your PC case, but are also significantly more robust than the standard SATA connectors found on most other motherboards.
At the very bottom of the motherboard we can see where the Asus 3-in-1 Q-Connectors come in to play. Colour coded in red, blue and white for the IEEE1394, USB and Switch/LED headers respectively, these connectors are a boon for those of us who regulary install and remove our motherboards.
Last but not least is the illuminated Power and Reset switches. These make it extremely easy to use the motherboard outside of your PC case when benching (on a bench!) or testing other components.
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As with all of Asus' most recent motherboards, the Maximus Formula is based around a BIOS from Phoenix Technologies. Some enthusiasts tend to favour the Award BIOS layout over Phoenix, but it's extremely hard to find fault with the overall wealth of features available on the Maximus
The "Extreme Tweaker" section of the BIOS is where you'll find most of the overclocking related options. Settings such as CPU multiplier, FSB/NB Strap, FSB Frequency, Memory Frequency, Memory Timings and Transaction Booster can all be adjusted in the upper section of this page.
Asus have also included a new feature called "CPU Level Up" on the Maximus. This essentially allows you to pick a new model of processor from the list and the BIOS will automatically adjust the frequency/multiplier settings to bring your existing processor up to the speed of the chosen one. This is certainly a good idea for people without previous overclocking experience, or those who are just after a quick bump in speed without getting their hands dirty.
The table below details the selections available from some of the more notable options on this section of the BIOS:
|CPU Multiplier||x6 upwards|
|FSB Frequency||200-800mhz (1mhz steps)|
|PCI-E Frequency||100-150mhz (1mhz steps)|
When we previously reviewed the Blitz Extreme board, we were simply blown away by the number of options and range of voltages avaliable in the BIOS. Asus clearly wanted to take things one step further with the Maximus, and as a result have furnished the boards BIOS with some eye-watering voltage options. Not even the most hardcore cooling could prevent your precious silicon from melting this time around!
|CPU Voltage||1.1v-2.40v (0.00625v steps)|
|FSB Termination Voltage||1.20v-2.00v (0.02v steps)|
|Northbridge Voltage||1.25v-1.81v (0.02v steps)|
|DRAM Voltage||1.50-3.40v (0.02v steps)|
|Southbridge Voltage||1.050v-1.225v (0.025v steps)|
|PLL Voltage||1.05-3.00v (0.02v steps)|
With so many of these voltage options cleary being dangerous to the health of hardware, Asus have gone to the trouble of placing LED's at various points on the motherboard (CPU, Northbridge, Southbridge, DRAM Slots) that change from green to orange to red depending on how much voltage you are putting through the components.
Having such an extensive range of options available in the BIOS the last thing you wan't to do is lose your configuration once you've found the sweet spot for your overclock. This is where the Asus O.C Profile comes in to play. Allowing you to save all of your BIOS settings to one of two available profiles in the CMOS or to an external storage device, your settings can then be restored easily at a later date.
The "Hardware Monitor" section of the BIOS has also been given a re-vamp too since we last visited it on the Blitz. Temperature monitoring of three 'Optional' temperature points has been added and can be activated simply by inserting a thermal probe into one of the headers availabe on the motherboard. Asus have also consolidated all of the thermal shutdown options under a single header of "COP EX".
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With the X38 chipset (and upcoming chipsets from other manufacturers) being optimised for Quad-Core processors, Overclock3D has now updated its stock testing hardware and and software benchmarks to reflect this. The new hardware configuration used in this review can be seen below:
Asus Maximus Formula (X38)
DFI LANPARTY UT P35-T2R (P35)
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 "G0" 2.4GHz 2x4MB|
|Memory|| Cellshock PC2-6400 DDR2-800 (4-4-4-12)|
|Graphics Card || Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E|
|Hard Disk ||Hitachi Deskstar 80GB 7K80 SATA2 7200RPM 8mb|
|CPU Cooling ||Stock Intel Aluminium Cooler|
|Operating System ||Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate (Latest Updates)|
|Graphics Drivers ||ATI Catalyst 7.4.44981|
|Motherboard Drivers ||Intel INF 8.300.1013|
During the testing of the boards above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used between switching boards, preventing any possible performance issues due to left-over drivers from the previous motherboard install.
To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
Synthetic CPU & Memory Subsystem
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c
• Lavalys Everest 4.0
File Compression & Encoding
• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark
Disk I/O Performance
• HDTach 220.127.116.11
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• Quake 4
Going head-to-head with the P35 based DFI Lanparty UT board, the Maximus Formula is certainly up against some stiff competition. However, if Intel's promises of the X38 chipset being even more overclocker friendly that it's P35 and P965 predecessors stand true, we should certainly be seeing some good results from Asus' corner.
Both the Asus Maximus and DFI Lanparty boards managed to take our brand new Q6600 "G0" chip all the way up to 3650mhz using only the stock Intel cooler. Admitedly things did get a little toasty, but both boards passed several hours of Prime95 stability testing without any problems. Attempting to go past this point startarted to throw up some errors and random Windows crashes on both boards, so it seemed that either our Q6600 had reached its maximum overclock, or the P35 based Lanparty was proving just as capable as the X38 based Formula.
Dropping the multiplier on the Q6600 from x9 down to x6 and bumping up the NB and FSB voltages allowed us to push both boards to their maximum front-side bus speeds. Bearing in mind that this is a quad-core chip we are overclocking here and both boards are running on passive cooling, the final result of 497FSB for the Asus and 490FSB for ther DFI are certainly not to be scoffed at.
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Sisoft Sandra is a synthetic benchmark utility capable of reporting and benchmarking a wide range of system components. For the Maximus Formula and Lanparty P35-T2R motherboards we run both the CPU and Memory benchmarks three times to ensure accuracy of results.
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.
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ViMark is the latest addition to the OC3D motherboard testing process and a relatively new benchmarking application in general. Designed to take the inaccuracies and guesswork out of measuring the time taken to encode video files, ViMark produces easily comparable and consistent results for encoding Windows Media, Quicktime, AVI and Gif files.
is an open source winzip-style file compression utility that has the ability to compress and decompress many file formats including it's 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.
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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.
is a synthetic benchmark utility capable of reporting and benchmarking a wide range of system components. For the Maximus Formula and Lanparty P35-T2R motherboards we run the Disk Read & Access benchmarks three times to ensure accuracy of results.
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Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using Cinebench carry significant weight when analysing a computer’s performance in everyday use.
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed 3 times with averages being calculated from each of the results.
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Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording along with 0xAA, 0xAF settings at a resolution of 1024x768.
is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. Included in the game is a benchmark facility that taxes the entire PC system. This benchmark was run 3 times to ensure uniformity of results.
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 several identical runs through the same area of the game.
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Just when we thought that things couldn't get any better than the recently reviewed Blitz Extreme motherboard, Asus prove us totally wrong with the X38 based Maximus. Not only does the Maximus have all the best features of every Asus "Republic of Gamers" board before it, but it also adds a plethora of extra BIOS options and insane voltage selections that will have even the most hardened of overclocker trembling with fear.
As you'd expect from an Asus board, the Maximus has a superb layout. All connectors on the board are just where you'd expect to find them and there are no stray molex connectors or other anomalies that are often common on motherboards from other manufacturers. Asus have also made significant improvements to the Fusion cooling system that allows the board to run without the need for watercooling, even when overclocked, unlike on previous Fusion cooled boards.
Throughout our testing over the previous pages, the Maximus performed consistently faster than the P35 based DFI Lanparty board and even managed to come within a whisker of 500FSB on our quad-core Q6600 chip. Whether or not this is directly down to the use of the X38 chipset, Asus playing with chipset and memory sub-timings or a combination of both is up for debate - but either way, Asus certainly have come up trumps yet again with another top motherboard in their ROG lineup.
Priced at £170-180 on most websites, there's no doubt that the Maximus Formula SE will burn a hole in your pocket. But with the wealth features and excellent overclocking abilities of the board, it's worth every penny!
• Sexy looking board with no stupid colour schemes.
• Full x16 Crossfire support on both PCI-E slots.
• Decent quality add-in sound card.
• Insane range of voltages in BIOS
• Ability to save BIOS settings.
• Managed to outperform our P35 based DFI Lanparty board in almost all benchmarks.
• Great layout, and handy features such as 3-in-1 Q-Connectors and right-angle SATA connectors.
• Good package including a full version of S.T.A.L.K.E.R, plenty of cables and a diagnostic LCD display.
• Fusion water block system for keeping Northbridge, Southbridge, Crosslinx and Mosfets cool.
• Running Crossfire will more than likely only leave you with one PCI slot!
• Price = OUCH!
• Nothing to report.
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