It's been a busy week in the Overclock3D labs... While I'm sure many of you will have relished the warmth and sunshine of the weekend and perhaps a select few of you may have even participated in Sunday's London Marathon too, unfortunately the same cannot be said for our reviewing squad. They have been trapped indoors running a different sort of marathon; an extensive regime of component photography, tweaking and benchmarking. Yes, it's been a tiring week, but it has most certainly paid off as today we're proud to present a fully fledged review of the Asus ROG Crosshair IV Formula 890FX motherboard.
Following on from our previously published preview of the motherboard we can safely say that Asus, ROG and the board itself needs no introduction. For those who need a brief reminder of the Crosshair IV Formula's fundamental specifications they are as follows.
|Form Factor||ATX, 12" x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)|
|Processor Support||AMD Socket AM3 Sempron 100/Athlon II X2/X3/X4 and Phenom II X2/X3/X4 Processors|
|Chipset||AMD 890FX / SB850 |
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB 2000(OC)/1600/1333/1066 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory|
Dual Channel memory architecture
|Expansion Slots||4 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (Operates in Dual 16x/16x, Triple 16x/8x/8x or Quad 8x/8x/8x/8x)|
2 x PCI
|Multi-GPU Support||ATi CrossfireX Supported|
AMD SB850 Southbridge
JMicron 363 SATA Controller.
|LAN||One Marvell 8059 PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000|
Creative SupremeFX X-Fi 7.1 Audio
|USB||AMD SB850 Southbridge|
- 12 x USB 2.0 ports (7 x Rear, 5 x Internal)
NEC USB 3.0 Controller
- 2 x rear USB 3.0 ports
|Firewire||2 x 1394a ports (1x Rear I/O, 1x Onboard)|
|Back Panel I/O||1 x PS/2 Keyboard|
1 x e-SATA
1 x LAN
6 x USB2.0/1.1 ports
1 x IEEE1394a port
1 x Clear CMOS switch
The Crosshair IV Formula looks brilliant on paper. However, it has much to achieve in order to surpass it's predecessor. On that note I believe it's time to cut the red tape and get testing!
Unboxing the Crosshair IV...
Our Crosshair IV Formula sample arrived in true Republic of Gamers style, sporting the division's logo and easily distinguishable colour scheme. The box was not as large as expected, however it felt robust and tightly packed. At the top there's an opening that reveals two more boxes inside...
The first box contains the motherboard itself, held firmly in place by cardboard tabs. The second box contains the Crosshair IV Formula's accessory set.
Within the accessory set you'll find a number of items. Aside the obligatory User Guide, Driver Disc and I/O shield, you will also find two SATA cables, one CrossfireX bridge, additional USB 2.0 + e-SATA ports (occupies one expansion bay), a Male-to-Male USB Cable (for ROG Connect) and Asus Q Connect adapters. Overall the set of accessories are fair. However we would have hoped to see more SATA cables included in the package.
...and what a board it is. As mentioned previously Asus have done away with the"childish" blue and white colour scheme on their Crosshair motherboards, replacing them with shades of red and the obligatory blacks. If you're one that cares greatly about the aesthetics of the motherboard you're buying then you should be in for a treat. There isn't anything particularly marmite about the Crosshair IV Formula's physical appearance and we reckon it'll suit a number of system configurations quite nicely.
Time for some close up shots...
The Board Continued...
You shouldn't have much to complain about the board's layout either. Despite the amount of on board equipment, Asus have managed to arrange most components in a logical manner. There's plenty of open space around the CPU, easy access to the side-mounted SATA ports as well as I/O headers.
The Rear I/O cluster is fairly conventional. You'll find six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 (in blue), Firewire, CMOS Clear, e-SATA, Gigabit Ethernet, 7.1 Sound and SPDIF. It is indeed a conventional cluster, but with one exception. You might be wondering what that vertically mounted USB port is for. This is for the ROG Connect Remote Overclocking and Diagnosis feature, which we will cover later.
All six of the "Red" SATA ports are operated by the new SB850 southbridge which permits 6.0Gb/s operation. There is also an isolated SATA 3.0Gb/s port powered by a JMicron controller. An interesting observation is that the layout of the Heatpipe Cooler prevented a seventh expansion port from being implemented. As a result, the four PCI-Express slots have been shifted down one space, resulting in the third and fourth slots sitting directly next to each other. This will prove problematic for prospective Quad CrossfireX users but I'm sure it's far from the end of the world for most.
A nifty set of buttons have been implemented at the bottom of the Crosshair IV Formula. From left to right this includes "TURBO KEY", an automatic overclocking function, "CORE UNLOCK" which provides you with the opportunity to unlock your castrated Phenom II X2, X3 or Zosma based X4 (9xxT) Processors. Again, if you intend on occupying the lower most PCI-E 16x slot, these buttons may not be accessible.
The motherboard's cooler can be removed with relative ease, exposing the 890FX and SB850 chips. Asus have been fairly careful with Thermal Paste application and the quality of contact is very good.
With the cooler refitted, it's now time to really get testing!
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
Asus ROG Crossfire IV Formula Motherboard
4GB Corsair XMS3 PC3-12800C8 RAM
HIS Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB SATA II Hard Disk Drive
Samsung 22x DVD+/-RW SATA
Arctic Freezer 64 Pro CPU Cooler
BeQuiet! Dark Power 750W 80PLUS PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
As a Republic of Gamers motherboard one expects a high quality BIOS heavily orientated towards Overclocking. None the less, this is exactly what you get. The roots of the Crosshair IV Formula are all too apparent when the first menu visible upon entering BIOS is the Overclocking section. Forget setting the time and date of your motherboard, this is much more important.
The layout of the System Performance tab remains strikingly similar to the Socket AM3 boards we've previously reviewed. From the top down you're offered the option between Manual and Automated Overclocking, CPU and RAM Frequency Ratios, followed by their corresponding Voltage parameters.
For those who use more exotic cooling solutions, Asus have also offered an Extreme Overvoltage option, which enables a higher range of Voltages across the board. With up to 2.1000V available for the CPU and up to 2.9000V for the RAM, it should be said that you won't be left limited on the Voltage front. We'll cover the board's Overclocking Abilities later on...
One of the more important features of the Crosshair IV Formula is it's Core Unlocking abilities. For those who are unaware, AMD removed the quirky (unlocking) Advanced Clock Calibration feature from the new SB850 southbridge so Asus have created their own implementation. You are also at liberty to select which cores you choose to unlock, such that a Dual Core can be unlocked to a Tri Core if one of it's cores are infact defective.
Another useful ROG feature is the Asus GO Button, which is effectively a hotkey that allows you to switch from your usual overclock configuration to another. Within a separate menu in BIOS it is possible to adjust the parameters you wish to associate with the GO button.
This is not a unique Asus ROG feature, however Asus' EZ Flash 2 utility deserves a mention. EZ Flash 2 allows the user to seek BIOS ROM Files from CD, USB Memory Stick and also your Hard Disk Drive.
Asus OC Profile permits up to 8 OC Profiles to be saved to your motherboard for you to recall at a later stage.
Asus ROG Connect
Asus ROG serves as an (arguably) useful remote diagnosis and overclocking tool. By using the included USB cable to connect your Crosshair IV Formula to another desktop or laptop/netbook and installing the relevant software, it is possible to gain real time information about your system and even overclock on the fly. There are four main segments within the tool. TweakIt, Poster, Diagram and Remote.
RC TweakIt includes a number of vital overclocking parameters however it's not BIOS or AMD Overdrive replacement. It's largest limitation is the lack of Memory Frequency, CPU Multiplier and Northbridge or HTT Multiplier parameters. The options available do function well and at no point did the machine BSoD or Force Restart.
RC Diagram offers real time Frequency and Voltage information, displayed on multiple graphs. This is a particularly nice touch as it aids system monitoring while you're elsewhere. The Frequency and Voltage statistics were in keeping with the readings offered by other applications.
RC Poster is a particularly useful diagnosis tool. In the event that the system failed to boot, the current status of system initialisation is shown within the application. This can either be a String (as above) or a diagnosis code. If for example your memory was causing a failed system boot, the RC Poster should indicate the state the system is currently held at and in turn, allow you to diagnose the problem.
Feeling a little too lazy to switch your computer on? Simply use the RC Remote to toggle your system's power, restart and even clear CMOS.
Creative X-Fi Audio
As previously mentioned, the Crosshair IV Formula supports a variant of Creative's Supreme X-Fi Audio. It should be made quite clear that contrary to what you might believe, the hardware is based upon a VIA Audio Module. As such, if you were to proceed to install the Creative X-Fi software alone, you will find yourself out of luck due to the device being unidentifiable. In order to make Creative X-Fi fully operative, you are required to install the VIA Audio Driver first and then install Creative's X-Fi Software.
We concede that the solution may not be a dedicated Sound Card alternative for the audiophiles out there, however it's only fair to objectively test the Creative X-Fi software before forming any judgement.
The major component of the X-Fi Software is it's Control Panel.
The main section of the control panel allows you to define your speaker's configuration. As the drivers default to a 2.1 style setup, being able to reconfigure our speaker configuration to it's true 4.1 configuration made a significant difference to the audio output. The first notable feature is Creative's SVM. Known as Sound Volume Management, the feature does exactly what it says on the tin. The feature acts as a form of normaliser that attempts to maintain a standardised volume level across all music tracks being played back. From our testing, it seems to work reasonably well.
Also included in the Audio Control Panel is Creative' EAX Effects Package. This tends to be a rather marmite feature as it attempts to simulate the echos of different sized rooms and also adjusts bass and treble. It's great to see that the option has been included however we're less than certain that users are likely to use it.
The utility also allows the user to adjust the depth of sound. Two different upmix modes are available; Stereo Surround and Stereo Xpand. For our 4.1 sound configuration, Stereo Surround offered better sound quality.
Finally, Creative have included their X-Fi Crystalizer. This is a feature that aims to restore aspects of sound that are lost during the compression from a high quality format to MP3 or equivalent. While it's arguable as to how much difference it can really make, enabling Crystalizer vastly improved sound clarity over the basic VIA Sound Driver.
As mentioned already, the sound implementation is not necessarily a sound card replacement. As a matter of fact it really isn't as those who truly care about sound quality will go out and buy the latest and greatest sound orientated equipment. However, as far as sound quality goes, it appears to be a better solution than some of Realtek's Audio Modules.
Turbo V vs Turbo Key...
As you may or may not be aware, there are two different Automatic Overclocking options on the Crosshair IV Formula motherboard. Asus TurboV is the brand's software utility, which deals with both manual and automated overclocking within your Operating System.
Asus Turbo Key is probably the fastest way to overclock your processor. The only prerequisite knowledge required is how to press a button, as the next time you boot into your operating system you'll find yourself with an overclocked CPU. While the final result is far from optimal, it has certainly done reasonably well by overclocking our Phenom II X4 965 Processor to 3685MHz; an 8% improvement. Unfortunately this 8% improvement in CPU frequency has also resulted in a 10% decrease in Memory Frequency and a Voltage bump of 0.05V.
Not a brilliant overclock but in most tasks should yield a small performance boost. Given the ease of use and time involved, one can't complain.
Asus TurboV is a software utility that offers Manual and Automatic Overclocking functionality. As a manual tweaking utility it allows you to manipulate most of the vital parameters you'd find in BIOS. The tool doesn't offer quite as much flexibility as AMD Overdrive however TurboV also allows the user to adjust the CPU Multiplier of individual CPU cores.
The automated overclocking tool is probably the most interesting aspect of the application. Like Turbo Key, no prerequisite overclocking knowledge is required; the Auto Tab shows a self explanatory diagram, indicating the key phases of a CPU Overclock (Frequency Increase, Voltage manipulation, Stability Testing etc)
Once you commence the Automatic Tuner, the TurboV window maximises to occupy the entire screen. This prevents the user from running other tasks at the same time but also provides vital information about the status of the overclock.
After several cycles of the procedure, the system locked up and restarted. Once the operating system had reloaded, Asus TurboV automatically continues where it left off. After a further ten minutes, the tuner confirmed a final frequency of 3838MHz and a marginally reduced memory frequency of DDR3-1504. As far as automated overclocks are concerned, this is rather impressive.
In short, those who are less keen to learn about CPU Overclocking may find either of these utilities very useful. As always your mileage may vary and any overclock should be followed by an extensive run of CPU Stability tests such as OCCT and Prime95.
Let's move on to manual overclocking shall we?
Our overclocking procedure is fairly simple but effective. The first task is to find the motherboard's Maximum Stable Base Frequency. With a maximum base frequency determined, we then try multiple combinations of CPU HTT and CPU Multiplier to find a "sweetspot" processor frequency. Other factors kept in consideration are the Memory Frequencies and the CPU's Northbridge Frequency.
The return of the dreaded Vdroop?
For those who aren't aware, Vdroop is a sudden drop in supplied Voltage to the CPU when a load is applied. It's been some time since I've written about this however it seemed quite apparent that the Crosshair IV Formula seems to suffer from this. The phenomena was observed with both initial release and the later 0602 BIOS. Given the board's power regulation spec, we were a little surprised to see a VDroop this substantial.
The board does indeed come with Asus' Load Line Calibration feature which completely eliminates the problem. It does remain a little perplexing as to why the VDroop is so bad without LLC and why it wasn't enabled by default. I concede that the LLC feature may occasionally cause instability under certain overclocked configurations but that doesn't explain why anyone would voluntarily prefer to feed their processor a high voltage under idle and a drooped voltage under load from out of the box.
We fully appreciate that a large proportion of AMD's Processor line-up are Black Edition processors and therefore have upwards unlocked CPU Multipliers. For many, the Base Hypertransport parameter will be nigh on redundant. Regardless, a motherboard of this calibre must offer the flexibility to use such a fundamental variable to it's maximum ability. Initially our journey was cut short at a maximum bootable frequency of 291MHz. However, with the release of a more recent BIOS (version 0602) this was expedited to a much healthier 330MHz. For those who are too cool for unlocked CPU Multipliers, you're most certainly in luck here.
Maximum CPU Frequency
As always it took some time to find the ideal combination of Frequencies and Voltages but we finally got there. At this point, I would like to say that the Asus Crosshair IV BIOS is a pleasure to work with and regardless of the amount of abuse it received, it always recovered. After applying the new 0602 BIOS, we were able to achieve a final CPU Frequency of 3913MHz, accompanied by a 313MHz base clock, 12.5x multiplier and a whopping 2818MHz Northbridge frequency. We believe that this could well be the fastest configuration we've ever achieved with this particular Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Processor.
The above overclock was verified OCCT Linpack stable and ready for the testing regime that will soon follow...
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.
Right off the bat, the overclocked X4 is taking full advantage of it's 15% overclock, while at stock speeds the Crosshair IV Formula is running on par with it's 890GX based sibling.
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, there is little separating the two 8 series motherboards, however the scores are both competitive and impressive never the less.
CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.
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.
This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.
Throughout the Everest Ultimate Edition suite, it can be said that the scores are right where they should be for a Phenom II X4 965 CPU. The scores themselves are very respectable and suggests that the 965 Black is fair CPU to use for a high end system such as this.
WinRAR's embedded Benchmark focuses on the processor's File Compression capability.
File Compression is a very important function and one would hate performance to be lacking in this department. Thankfully it isn't as once again the two 890 series boards perform on par with each other and a significant performance boost is exhibited from the overclock.
WPrime is an excellent multicore compliant alternative to SuperPi.
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.
As seen, this particular application benefits greatly from multiple cores. Once again, the 3.90GHz Phenom II X4 is hauling some impressive figures.
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 Memory Bandwidth test paints a rather interesting picture. Stock for Stock, the Crosshair IV Formula has taken a considerably lead over the Asus M4A89GTD PRO. What's most interesting is the huge increase in memory bandwidth from the 800MHz increase over the processor's nominal 2000MHz Northbridge frequency.
Everest Ultimate Edition includes read and write benchmarks. Do note that the testing methods vary from SiSoft Sandra's bandwidth test and as such, the results between the two programs cannot be compared directly.
Both the M4A89GTD and Crosshair IV are hauling comparable results, while the steroids injected Phenom II assumes a fair lead.
Hard Disk Performance
HDTune analyses the performance and health of your Hard Disk Drive. It's comprehensive test will determine minimum, maximum and average transfer rates.
This comes to no surprise however the Crosshair IV and M4A89GTD PRO are offering nigh on identical Hard Disk performance on their SB850 Southbridges.
Unfortunately our HIS Radeon HD 5850 was unavailable during the timeframe that the M4A89GTD PRO was being tested. As a result, there is no comparison data available for the following benchmarks.
Passmark paints a picture about the system as a whole by testing processor, memory, hard disk drive, optical drive and graphics card.
Overall scores north of 1500 indicate a very capable machine. The results indicated at both Stock and Overclocked speeds are exactly as one would expect them.
PCMark Vantage is Futuremark's flagship "System Wide" benchmark. With a large focus on day to day operations, it's an excellent means of judging the capability of a computer as a whole.
Our test setup performed exceedingly well across all testing suites. The effects of the Phenom II's 15% overclock is all too apparent
Futuremark's 3DMark06 is a means of testing a system's capability as a gaming machine. It has aged a little, however remains to be an excellent benchmark for all round 3D testing.
While at stock speeds the system still performs admirably, however the overclocked Phenom II affords a considerable lead here.
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.
A 3DMark Vantage score of ~13,000 in performance mode is exactly what we'd expect a Radeon HD 5850 based machine to achieve. Impressive results thus far...
Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions and a dash of Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering.
It has to be said that Crysis Warhead is one of just a handful of games that can bring a Radeon HD 5850 to it's knees. While the framerates attained are certainly in keeping with the system's calibre, it's also quite notable that the CPU overclock makes a negligible difference to framerates.
Call of Duty - Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2 is among the most popular games available at present. With plenty of explosions and densely (polygon) populated maps, it should prove to be an interesting test for our test setup.
Our Crosshair IV Formula based testbed eats this game for breakfast. Overall game play was fluid and immersive. You can guarantee that with the right CPU and Graphics Card, it's possible to play Modern Warfare with all settings maxed.
DiRT2 is a very recent race driving game, known for it's Direct X 11 support. Let's crank up the settings and give it a whirl...
Again, the CPU overclock makes a fractional difference however overall game play was fluid regardless. The results are also about right for a system such as this.
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Flight Simulator X remains to be a terribly demanding game for it's age. Known for being very demanding on the CPU but also requiring a level of GPU power in the process, we thought it'd be interesting to see how it faired.
This is where an overclocked Quad Core really comes in handy. As shown, some significant performance gains can be had.
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead is a very popular hit and should be an interesting choice to take our testbed for a spin. Let's see how well it performs.
I don't think anyone would have expected Left 4 Dead to task this setup however the results are still impressive.
That's all folks! Time to conclude...
With the testing drawn to a close it's now time to take off our testing hats and comment. I hate to say it but there isn't a lot to say as quite frankly it's an excellent motherboard. Throughout the testing procedure it performed exactly as it should, matching and even surpassing it's 890GX sibling. Out of all the Socket AM3 motherboards tested, the Crosshair IV Formula has been the most forgiving as we relentlessly ramped up CPU, Northbridge and Memory frequencies. The motherboard successfully combined both form and function, by offering a stylish appearance and a very usable board layout.
The Crosshair IV Formula sports an extensive feature list. To some, the ROG modcons might be considered "gimmicky", but every single one of it's utilities have genuine purposes. For novices, the automated overclocking functions (Turbo Key and TurboV) are absolutely invaluable. These utilities do not require any prerequisite overclocking knowledge and truly define the meaning of free and easy performance gains. Meanwhile, the more adventurous users are presented with a number of excellent diagnosis and tweaking utilities as well as a fantastic BIOS.
As far as high end Socket AM3 motherboards go, this one must be among the best. If value for money is a concern then this motherboard is definitely not for you. As much as I would like to complement this particular offering all day long, there's no avoiding the fact that the price of the Crosshair IV Formula lies in Intel Core i7 X58 territory. As my colleague's take on the Phenom II X6 1090T processor reveals, AMD are effectively pitching their six core processors against Intel's Core i7 Quad Core processors.
All things considered, the Republic of Gamers division is not about value for money or for that matter, common sense. If you live, eat and breath AMD, and are able to fully justify the added premium for additional features, then this is your motherboard. We would love to offer the Crosshair IV Formula the "Best in Class" award but with plenty of AMD 8 series boards to test, only time will tell if we can...
- Excellent Overclocker
- Excellent Automated Overclock Functionality
- Sensible Board Layout
- Asus Core Unlocking Functionality
- ROG Connect works a treat
- Creative X-Fi Software Offers Improved Sound Quality
- Questionable VDroop with LLC set to Auto or Disabled
Thanks to Asus for sample today you can discuss all todays reviews in our forums.