ASUS Rampage II Extreme X58 Motherboard Preview Page: 1
Introduction ASUS Rampage II Extreme
 
Core i7 (Nehalem) is almost upon us, and I can't remember a time in the recent past where a product release has drawn so much excitement and hype before its release. Sure Conroe made a very large splash when it arrived, as it gave enthusiasts a reason to return to an Intel-based system after what can only be described as a very long time. This time around though, Intel has a new socket, a new processor and a chipset that will provide many features and performance that enthusiasts have been yearning for.
 
By now I'm sure that many of you have seen previews of Core i7 and what the new platform will entail, as well as preliminary performance benchmarks. Upon Core i7's release, we will see the move from the current LGA775 socket, to the LGA1366 socket; the inclusion of an integrated memory controller (IMC); SLI and CrossfireX support, and the near disappearance of the aging FSB thanks to the new QuickPath Interconnect (QPI). Although the biggest surprise would have to be the return of HyperThreading. Gone are the inefficient days of Pentium 4 CPU's struggling to cope with running two threads on a single core - Core i7 will be able to handle eight threads (two per core).This time around though, Core i7 promises significantly more power under the hood.
 
With all these new features and increased performance, there is a need for motherboards capable of providing performance equal to and complementing that of this new CPU. Which brings us to the subject of today's preview - the ASUS Rampage II Extreme motherboard.  Today we've been sent what will be the actual retail version of the ASUS Rampage II Extreme for some early analysis. Unfortunately, we cant post any performance figures of the board yet as we still have our commitment to the current NDA, but we're still going to take an up-close look at some of the board's finer points. Here are some words from ASUS' recent press release:
 
ASUS...today unveiled the most advanced and highest performing enthusiast motherboard at present: the Republic of Gamers (ROG) Rampage II Extreme. In keeping with ROG’s commitment to producing cutting-edge, boundary-redefining products for the serious gaming and overclocking community, the ROG Rampage II Extreme incorporates the latest innovations and components into its architecture, such as the latest Intel chipset and SLI/CrossFireX on Demand—delivering blistering performance through its support for the new range of Intel processors and multi-GPU technologies such as 3-Way SLI and CrossFireX™.

To enable users to push the capabilities of the new platform to the limit, the ROG Rampage II Extreme features ROG Extreme Engine, a true multi-phase power management system—16 phases for the CPU and 3 phases each for QPI/DRAM, the Northbridge and memory—with premium Multilayer type Polymer Capacitors (ML Caps) that keep the power supply stable even under the most demanding loads.
 
The ASUS Rampage II Extreme boasts a number of features that should keep the overclocking enthusiasts happier than a pig in sh&% mud. Without giving too much away, let's just say that voltage control features heavily here.
 
Let's head over the page to see how the ASUS Rampage II Extreme is packaged and what goodies ASUS have bundled into it...
 


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Packaging and Contents
 
If there was one word that I could use to describe the packaging of the Rampage II Extreme, it would have to be 'loud'. Featuring a Magenta-ish and white theme, there's an extremely remote chance that you're going to miss this on a retailer's shelf. On the front of the box, ASUS has included a fractal-style graphics in the now familiar Republic Of Gamers (ROG) colours. There is also the ROG logo present in the top left-hand corner. At the bottom right, there are a collection of smaller logos illustrating the predominant technologies included in the ASUS Rampage II Extreme. One logo I never thought that I would see on an Intel motherboard was an SLI one.
 
Rampage II Extreme front of box Rampage II Extreme rear of box
Close-up of Rampage II Extreme specifications Rampage II Extreme contants
 
It appears that ASUS have made a move away from their traditional packaging of the ROG motherboards, and done away with the fold-out lid that provides the prospective purchaser with a glimpse of the motherboard contained within. On the rear of the packaging, ASUS has clearly laid out the features of the Rampage II Extreme. Upon opening the top of the box, we were greeted by two secondary boxes, which look really classy in dark Grey I might add.
 
Bundle ASUS Rampage II Extreme bundle out of box
 
Opening up the accessories box, we are greeted by a fairly typical ROG bundle. All of the bundle extras are neatly presented in compartmentalised sections within the box. Although I have noticed the omission of any of ASUS'  snap-on fans that they include with most of their motherboard packages. Interesting!
 
SATA and SATA power cables
 
Furthermore, ASUS has seen fit to include 4x SATA cables (two straight and two right angled) along with a 4-pin molex to SATA power cable.
 
Crossfire connector 3-way SLI connector
 
Now here's something that I would never have expected to see in an Intel-based bundle - a flexible SLI bridge and 3-way SLI bridge. For those with the need to have maximum graphics firepower on tap, the inclusion of these connectors heralds the new age of SLI on Intel chipsets.
 
I/O backplate
 
The ASUS Q-Shield remains in the bundle, and it is a welcome sight I must admit. Gone are the days of having to deal with those pesky pins on the back of the I/O shield when installing your motherboard.
 
ASUS LCD Poster User manual and ASUS quick connectors
 
As with all ROG motherboards, ASUS has included their LCD Poster for adjusting voltages on-the-fly and monitoring POST messages during booting. Rounding off the basic bundle, ASUS has included a motherboard manual in the same theme as the outer packaging and the finger/time/sanity saving Q-Connectors.
 
ProbeIt connectors
 
Now here is a something that should keep the tweakers/overclockers and voltage junkies extremely happy - it's the ProbeIt patch cables. These cables allow you to connect to any one of the eight, yes eight, voltage detection points on the ASUS Rampage II Extreme with a volt meter and measure the voltage.
 
SpremeFX daughter-board SupremeFX daughter board_2
 
As with all ASUS ROG motherboards, the ASUS Rampage II Extreme also features the SupremeFX daughter-board. The SupremeFX features Creative Labs' X-FI technology and provides 7.1 sound.
 
Well that rounds-off the packaging and contents, so let's head over the page to reveal the ASUS Rampage II Extreme in detail...


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The Board
 
The ASUS Rampage II  Extreme, unlike the ASUS P6T Deluxe motherboard that we previewed earlier, comes in an EATX format. This has been done purely to ensure that everything can fit on the motherboard PCB without being too crowded. Looking at the image (below left) we can see why. In similar fashion to the Rampage Extreme, the Rampage II Extreme features a number of heatsinks to cool down critical components, and these are attached to the motherboard via spring-loaded screws. This ensures a better contact with those components (chipset, MOSFET etc) and ensures that the weight of these heatsinks doesn't become an issue. The CPU socket is riveted onto the PCB courtesy of the Aluminium backplate.
 
ASUS Rampage II Extreme front view ASUS Rampage II Extreme rear of motherboard
Screwed on backplate screwed backplate_2
 
Beginning our tour of the ASUS Rampage II Extreme motherboard, we can see the inclusion of the heatsinks immediately below the CPU socket. The heatsink with the ROG logo on provides cooling to the 3-Phase power circuit underneath it that feeds power to QPI/DRAM and the NB.
 
In the lower left-hand corner of the motherboard, we can see the black PCIE 1x slot for the SupremeFX daughter-board, and below that, three PCIe 16x slots for multiple graphics card setups. According to ASUS documentation, when running two graphics cards (blue slots) they will both provide x16 bandwidth, but when running Tri-SLI or three cards in CrossfireX mode the top slot provides 16x bandwidth and the remaining two provide 8x. Additionally, there is one remaining PCIe 1x and PCI slot, but if running a multiple GPU setup these will be lost.
 
QPI cooling PCIE x16 slots
Dual BIOS and iROG SATA ports and IDE plug
 
Along the bottom edge of the Rampage II Extreme we have 1x IEEE1394; 1x floppy drive; 3x SATA (including extra 1394 module) ports and the front panel connectors. You'll also notice that the Rampage II Extreme has a dual BIOS setup and the jumper pins for selecting which BIOS you are going to boot from is immediately above the BIOS chips themselves. We can also see the inclusion of the iROG microcontroller behind the SATA ports which controls onboard temperatures, onboard LED's, Stepless voltage adjustment and BIOS Flashback.
 
Moving up the right hand side of the Rampage II Extreme we have seven SATA ports, one of which (black one) is controlled by an additional controller. Next to the SATA ports we have the obligatory IDE port. 
 
There are six memory DIMM slots, which as we know will be need to be able to run at 1.65v or lower to prevent damaging your precious Core i7. These are nicely presented in the now familiar ROG blue and white theme, instead of the orange and black of the Ai Lifestyle motherboards. Under the large black heatsink there are 3-phase power ML capacitors for the memory DIMM's, as well as the SB chipset. The ASUS Rampage II Extreme also provides DDR3-1800(OC) memory support. The additional real estate of the Rampage II Extreme also means that there is plenty of room between the topmost graphics card and the memory DIMM slots. This means that there won't be any fouling of the DIMM clips against the graphics card, which unfortunately plagues motherboards that utilise the ATX format.
 
Large heatsink DIMM slots
TweakIt buttons and ProbeIt detection points
 
Situated next to the memory slots is an area that should draw the attention of many overclocking enthusiasts. In similar style to the X48-based Rampage Extreme, its younger sibling receives the same TweakIt buttons that allow voltage tweaking on-the-fly in Windows. Immediately below the TweakIt buttons are the eight voltage detection points that the 'ProbeIt' patch cables can be used with to measure voltages. Measurable voltages are: DRAM; ICH_PCIE; ICH; IOH_PCIE; IOH; QPI/DRAM; CPU_PLL, and CPU vCore.
 
CPU socket area MOSFET cooling
Rear I/O ports
 
The CPU socket area is reasonably clean; however, those who prefer more extreme cooling methods may have issues when it comes to preparing the socket area against condensation. In ASUS' defense, the socket area has been decked out with low-profile solid capacitors, so they shouldn't be too much cause for concern. Once again, the only way around this would have been to go with digital PWM like DFI, but this would add significantly to the cost of the motherboard. Additionally, there are 16 Ferrite chokes situated around the CPU socket in an 8 + 8 configuration.
 
The rear I/O panel features more than enough connectivity options with: 6x USB 2.0; 2x ethernet; 1x PS2 keyboard; 1x IEEE Firewire and 1x e-SATA ports. ASUS has also included the now standard CLR_CMOS button which makes things easier if you're pushing your hardware to the limit.
 
Now that we've managed to have a look at the ASUS Rampage II Extreme's packaging, bundle and the board itself, let's head over the page to see what conclusion we can draw about the motherboard...


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Thoughts ASUS Rampage II Extreme
 
As with our preview of the ASUS P6T Deluxe motherboard earlier, this is a prelude to a dedicated review once the NDA has been lifted. While it is hard to make a conclusion about the ASUS Rampage II Extreme motherboard in the absence of some dedicated benchmarks and performance comparisons to current hardware, there are some areas that are worth highlighting.
 
The ASUS Rampage II Extreme build quality is very apparent, and is decidedly well laid out and presented. The additional real estate provided by the EATX PCB certainly ensures ample room for critical areas of the board. The ASUS Rampage II Extreme is shaping up to be such a well presented and performing motherboard, and although we can't show you any of our BIOS images, let's just say that tweakers will be happy :D.
 
The inclusion of SLI will no doubt be welcomed by many who simply must have multiple GPU's, although there are some caveats associated with the luxury which I highlighted during the tour around the motherboard. For those who were thinking that the X58 could be the demise of NVIDIA and its SLI chipsets, I don't think this is going to be the case. Not in the short term anyway.
 
In conclusion, the ASUS Rampage II Extreme looks to be shaping up nicely, but as the saying goes - "the proof is in the pudding". Once the current NDA is removed and Core i7 is upon our shores, we can provide you with the bigger picture and where the ASUS Rampage II Extreme fits within the grand scheme of things.
 
Overclock3D would like to thank ASUS for making the Rampage II Extreme available.
 
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