I'm sure it wont have escaped your notice that ASUS have given us an exclusive chance to review their Rampage III Extreme. A board that is the follow up to the incredibly popular Rampage II Extreme and ASUS hope will reclaim the spot of premium X58 motherboard.
Not due to be officially released to the public for a couple of months, we managed to get hold of serial number 001 as we showed in our earlier preview, and now is the time to bring you all the results you're aching to see. There is a lot to cover, so let's get straight in to the technical specifications.
|Model||ROG Rampage III Extreme|
|CPU||Supports the Intel® Processors in the LGA1366 Package|
6 x DIMM, Triple Channel, up to 24G
|Expansion Slots||4 x PCIe2.0 x16 slot (x16; x16/x16; x16/x8/x8 and x8/x8/x8/x8)|
1 x PCIe x4
1 x PCI 2.2
|Multi-GPU||NVIDIA 3-Way SLI™ / ATI CrossFireX™ Technology, ready for 4 single PCB graphic cards|
|Storage||7 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ; 1 x eSATA 3.0 Gb/s; 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports|
Bluetooth V2.0/V2.1+EDR accessories cardRC Bluetooth ON/OFF switch
|LAN||Intel® Gigabit LAN|
8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
2 x 1394a ports (1 port at rear; 1 port onboard)
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (at back panel)
|Other I/O Ports||1*PS/2, 1*eSATA, 1*IEEE1394a, 1*Clr CMOS, 1* ROG Connect Switch|
|Fan connectors||8 x Fan connectors (1 x CPU / 1 x PWR / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional)|
|Software||Kaspersky anti-virus (1-year full edition); 3DMark® Vantage Advanced Edition|
|Features||Extreme Engine Digi+, USB BIOS Flashback, ROG Connect, ROG Extreme OC Kit, Extreme Tweaker, iROG, ProbeIt, ASUS Q-LED, Loadline Calibration, Q-Fan plus|
|Form Factor||extended ATX Form Factor, 12”x 10.6” (30.5cm x 26.9cm)|
Lots of information there, and lots for us to cover in the following pages. At a glance it looks like this is the Rampage II crossed with the P55 Maximus III Extreme. That definitely isn't a bad thing.
Despite this being a very early preview model, it nonetheless arrived here at OC3D Towers in retail packaging, so this will be how it arrives with you too.
ASUS have kept their distinctive packaging we saw on the Maximus III Extreme and it's nothing if not easily recognisable. The front comes with two Velcro fasteners so that you can life the lid and get a good look at the Rampage III Extreme itself. Thankfully we're not limited to merely looking longingly, so let's open her up.
Once out the box there are two further black boxes. One with a hard plastic lid containing the mobo, and one with all the accessories.
As we'd expect from any ASUS product, let alone their top of the line model, the accessories included are bountiful. We have the user guide and CD, the IO shield, a ROG Connect cable (more on which later) and the Bluetooth ROG Connect should you have a Bluetooth PDA to hand.
A full selection of connectors is included, with a Crossfire, SLI and hard Tri-SLI bridge. We also have the connectors for ProbeIt and the front-panel block. One thing we do wish is that ASUS would decide exactly what it's called. Both the Maximus III Extreme and now the Rampage III Extreme have the voltage monitoring section called either ProbeIt or Probelt, depending upon where you read.
Other than that we have the standard SATA cables and USB header.
Finally an additional heatsink and 40mm fan for the Northbridge, should you require additional cooling. It's nice to see ASUS have kept the design similar to the board rather than use an off-the-shelf part that doesn't match.
Here is a quick look at the board in all its glory before we move on to get a closer look.
Mmmm isn't she a beauty. Fancy a bit of macro goodness?
ASUS Rampage III Extreme Closer Look
This is definitely a feature packed board. Often the difference between medium boards and high-end ones is the bells and whistles, especially with the X58 chipset being so great.
The mother board is a work of art. Following the standard red and black ASUS ROG design the heatsinks certainly are incredible. When we previewed the photos we wondered if the would be a Marmite thing, but in the flesh they are gorgeous. I love them.
The Mosfet cooling in particular is akin to any great architectural work and looks the absolute business. The area surrounding the CPU socket even has the caps in a nice triangular pattern. Another thing worth mentioning is that their are holes for both 1366 coolers and 775 coolers. This might not mean much to your average user besides the ability to bring your old cooler along when you upgrade, but for the extreme overclockers who have a LN2 pot custom designed, to be able to use that instead of getting a new one fabricated is a boon.
The 24-pin ATX power is situated nicely. Just below it is a bank of LEDs giving an at-a-glance report if the motherboard fails during POST as exactly why. Next to that are the power buttons and the BIOS related "Go" button that instantly loads a certain setting. We will be looking at ProbeIt in a moment.
The rear IO panel has all the things you'd expect to see on a high-end motherboard such as the Rampage III Extreme. PS2, CMOS reset, USB 2 ports, USB3 ports, LAN, Firewire, eSATA, Audio and the ROG Connect.
Moving round to the front we find 9 SATA ports. 6 horizontal SATA2 ports running at 3Gbps, one vertical SATA2 3Gbps and the two red SATA6 6Gbps ports. It's somewhat surprising on a premium motherboard such as this to find only two SATA6 ports, especially as it's not something you'll be upgrading every few months.
On the right is the NEC chip that controls the USB3 ports, and one of the two Molex sockets for extra power should you populate all the PCIE slots.
Among the audio and SPDIF headers below the PCI-E slots we find the second EZ-PLUG Molex for an extra bit of power should you require it. This is also in a much better position for cable routing than the one above, as it is horizontally mounted right at the edge of the board.
A little further to the right we find a header for the OC Station. When that was first released we all wondered if it was a piece of technology that would last the distance, or merely a gimmick. ASUS' constant support for it is great to see and really helps it show its worth. If nothing else, between the BIOS, OC Station and ROG Connect you're not short of ways of eeking the most out of the Rampage III Extreme.
Here are a couple of fantastic things. Firstly the ProbeIt which allows you to accurately check the current voltages using a multimeter. No longer do you need to faff about trying to find the exact bit of solder to probe. Above those are four dip switches. These are for turning on and off the PCI-E lanes. I'm sure you've all experienced a SLI or similar water-cooled setup and then one of your cards dies. Rather than go through the hassle of draining your loop and fiddling about trying to diagnose which one, now you can merely flick a dip switch and quickly pinpoint the faulty card without having to spend a weekend draining and filling your loop.
Speaking of PCI-E expansion ports, they are all very nicely spaced out and it's good to see the old PCI-E x1 that used to be at the top of every expansion port layout has been eliminated. The more airflow the better and as PCI-E x1 never took off it's nice to see it has gone.
Time to see the BIOS.
We will repeat this in the testing page for those who skip to that, but we have to make it very clear that this is a pre-production board and so the BIOS is most definitely in a beta stage. However the general layout and features should remain roughly like this and so we will show the shots and point out the interesting stuff.
Anyone fancy a 63x CPU Multiplier? Have they invented Absolute Zero cooling yet?
DDR3 speeds can be mind-blowing. I can't imagine a time in which DDR-3600MHz will exist, but if it does, ASUS have it covered.
Naturally with a monster DDR3 capability, we need a monster Uncore too.
QPI up to 9600MHz! I'm gonna need a lie down.
Differential amplitude and clock skew are things that I definitely wouldn't play with, but the sub-zero brigade are celebrating right about now.
Voltages can be set to insane levels. If your overclock isn't stable, it wont be for lack of power.
You'll recall the Go button from earlier? Well here is where you define exactly which BIOS save you would like to load when that button is pressed. Very handy for either wild post-POST overclocks, or having a energy saving setup for that overnight download.
I have a spare laptop here. I wonder what this ROG Connect button does...
Probably the coolest feature on the Rampage III Extreme is ROG Connect. Via either bluetooth or the supplied USB cable you can control the Rampage III Extreme completely from another computer, laptop or compatible PDA. And yes all you hipsters, an iPhone app is on the way. Could prove handy for surprising your friends. Sit on their sofa and ramp their clocks through the roof.
Plug the two together, install the small-footprint RC TweakIt onto your weapon of choice and you can control the Rampage as if you were sat in front of it. Pretty much everything is adjustable from the standard BLCK to IOH voltage. In fact the only thing that you can't adjust remotely is the CPU Multiplier.
Naturally when tweaking you always need to keep an eye on the actual values and temperatures. The RC TweakIt covers everything you need.
The RC Remote part of the package allows you turn your Rampage on, reset it, and even clear the CMOS, entirely remotely. Got into bed and realised you've left the PC on? No worries. Want to fire it up so all your mail and things loads by the time you get into the lounge/office? You can do that too.
Finally where would a sensor software package be without a good graph? RC Diagram has you covered providing information about the CPU Voltage and the current power draw.
So we know we can overclock it, how did it go?
Test Setup and Overclocking
There is no point in having a premium motherboard if you don't use premium parts. For this reason we spared no expense in making sure the hardware was capable of being pushed to the limit.
Motherboard : ASUS Rampage III Extreme
CPU : Intel Core i7 980x
RAM : 6GB Corsair Dominator GT @1333mhz
GPU : ATI 5870 1GB
PSU : OCZ 1000w Gold PSU
HDD : 160GB Western Digital
Monitor : Samsung 2433 24" @ 1920x1200
OS : Windows 7 Ultimate 64
We've already proven in our review for the i7 980X that it's perfectly capable of 4.5GHz, albeit not stable, on the Rampage II Extreme and so we were hoping that, although this is a VERY BETA BIOS, it could at least give us something approaching that thanks to the extra technology and development that has gone into this model.
Wow were we in for a shock. Keeping everything at sensible levels until a more stable BIOS arrives, we easily hit 4.6GHz, on air, without heat issues.
Stunning doesn't begin to cover it.
Naturally this comes with both bad news, and a piece of fantastic news, so let me get the bad news out the way first.
Similarly to our results on the Rampage II, the PC was not at all stable at this speed. We could have got it stable with huge volts and things, but as this is a very early BIOS we thought it was best to return to stable overclocking later on in the year.
The good news though, is that not only did we obtain a 1.3GHz overclock but that ASUS have assured us the BIOS will be stable by the time the Rampage III Extreme hits the shelves. Nearly every manufacturer goes for absolute performance first, and then seeks stability, so this is not a change from the norm.
But 4.6GHz from an unstable BIOS? Without much tweaking! We're drooling already at what this is capable of in retail trim.
Ok benchmarking time.
For our testing today we ran the Rampage III Extreme against its predecessor the Rampage II Extreme. Primarily the key to remember throughout these results is that the Rampage II uses a very mature BIOS and has been tested to the point we know exactly how to get the most from it. Whilst the Rampage III Extreme is using a BIOS so beta it's almost an alpha, and we've only had a few days with it.
The Sisoft Sandra suite of tests provides a good view of how the subsystem works and how little resources the mainboard takes up. With both chips running at the same speed we can see that even with this early BIOS the R3E has a healthy lead over the R2E. Something that will only improve as ASUS tweak the BIOS.
WPrime is similar to Super Pi in that it performs mathmatical functions to test the raw power of the CPU and mainboard, and again the R3E edges ahead of the R2E.
We're all very familiar with WinRAR and its in-built benchmark. The difference between the two tests here is within tolerance really. 30 out of a score of 4500 isn't enough to worry about.
Moving on to some more comprehensive tests.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark Vantage is one of the better ways to quickly test an entire system without spending the whole day loading various applications and utilities, as the program itself has all the main ones built in and performs an huge amount of actions very quickly.
As you can see the Rampage II and Rampage III are pretty much inseparable throughout the tests, but the Rampage III Extreme gains enough where it matters than we just can't wait to play with a retail BIOS.
PassMark tests in a very different way to PC Mark, but the results are nonetheless a fair representation of the performance level you could expect.
Again both systems are within a gnats chuff of identical.
Everest Ultimate seemed to have a few issues with our Rampage III Extreme. If you consider all of these tests are really testing the CPU, then the differences are staggering, and baffling. This is definitely a test we will revisit when we have a final BIOS on our hands.
The Persistence Of Vision RAYtracer puts us back where the other tests have shown us to be, right on a par with the Rampage II Extreme.
However, at the risk of beating a dead horse, the huge gain seen in the average PPS test is very impressive considering the relative maturities of the respective BIOS.
CineBench is the latest version of the Cinema4D based benchmarking suite. The OpenGL test, whilst not giving a result either way, was such a shock we had to show you it. No we didn't accidently paste the wrong data in. Both of them really got 33.54. Demonstrating the purity of the CineBench test.
CPU results mirror the POVRay test in that the Rampage III Extreme has a definite edge that will only improve in time.
We'll have a quick look at the 3D and gaming benchmarks before heading to our conclusion.
3D and Gaming Benchmarks
3D Mark Vantage
3D Mark, whilst normally fairly unreflective of anything but its own scores, actually does a good job here of replicating all our previous findings. There is definitely something under the hood of the Rampage III Extreme that allowing our CPU to really stretch its legs.
Both of our gaming results were as similar as you'd expect with games being so GPU dependant these days. Although it is pleasing to see Warhead hit 60FPS average, largely thanks to the little legroom the CPU gains on this platform as we mentioned above.
Need For Speed Shift
Need for Speed Shift gave similar results, a few frames here and there but nothing you would expect to see in a bunch of bench runs. Of course as we run things five times and discard the highest and lowest it does show that generally the Rampage III Extreme is able to get a little more out of the system than the Rampage II was.
It's not often when reviewing something that we are impressed as much by what it actually delivers, as by what it promises to. The ASUS Rampage III Extreme is one such product.
The packaging is up to the usual ASUS standards, and anyone who has seen my preview on Youtube will know how great this looks in the flesh. Within the accessories box is everything you need to get up and running in a hurry, along with a comprehensive manual.
The board itself is really as gorgeous in the flesh as we hoped it would be from the preview pictures. The old adage is that a picture paints a thousand words, but having something in your hands paints millions. The quality of the heatsinks is outstanding with very accurate milling and they just look wonderful. Any doubts that the Mosfet heatsink would be a Toblerone or cheese-grater are quickly dispelled once you can view it in its natural environment.
Feature-wise ASUS have stuffed everything you can think of on the Rampage III Extreme. USB3, SATA6, Voltage Probes, Thermal Probes, OC Station header, USB headers the list goes on and on.
We especially liked so many of the little features and touches :
However you really need to take another look at the graphs to get a feel for what we have. If a pre-release, serial 001, sample with a very early BIOS Rampage III Extreme can match the long-tested and very mature Rampage II Extreme, this should be a belter by the time it's in the shops.
We would like to thank Asus for the world exclusive, you can discuss our review in the forums.