It's been a while since we've had an entirely new Rampage to look at. The last one we saw was the Rampage III Extreme which was an X58 based motherboard, similar to the Rampage II.
Now with the release of the X79 chipset and LGA2011 socket it's time for a brand new board, and ASUS have certainly taken advantage of this by stuffing the Rampage IV Extreme so full of technologies and overclocking features that this is the longest review we've yet written.
We know that we have a lot to get through, and we equally know that you are aware of what we have on our hands, that we don't want to spend too long telling you vague details when we can be showing you.
So grab a large coffee and settle in.
If you've read the i7-3960X review, and if you haven't you're missing out, then you'll have a reasonable idea of the obvious new features on the X79 such as Quad channel RAM and a built-in Bluetooth receiver.
The R4E also has an array of ASUS specific features enabling extreme overclocking which we'll cover in the following pages.
Enough of the prologue, you're gagging for the details and we can't wait to tell you them.
Packaging and Accessories
Although the contents are all new, the box is the familiar Republic of Gamers design we've all come to know and love. The user-guide is a weighty tome, as befits something dripping with high-end features.
The collection of accessories is unrivalled. Because the Rampage IV Extreme supports Qual-SLI/Quad-Fire we have an array of bridges to connect your GPUs together. We often remark that the devil is in the details, and so often Crossfire bridges are a coppery colour that to see a black one, which would obviously fit the colour scheme better, is a nice touch.
This bundle of wires on the left are for fine over-volting control on the GPU. Rather than have to trim resistors you can attach one end to the motherboard and the other to your GPU, then control the voltage via the BIOS. In keeping with a theme that you'll be seeing throughout this review this might not be a feature that you thought you wanted, or even one you'll use, but it's a very cool feature nonetheless and only the tip of the iceberg.
Do you remember the old days when the IO Shield was there to fill up the many gaps you had at the back of the motherboard? There are so many inputs and outputs on the back of the R4E that there is almost no metal left in the shield. We're pretty certain that if they didn't need somewhere for the logo they'd have found something else to put on the board.
The cable on the right is part of connecting the OC Key, which we'll be getting to shortly.
Yet another one of those cool features the Rampage is bristling with, is this CPU backplate. Bear with me. Rather than have the mounting on the motherboard, necessitating quite a faff if you want to change it, the R4E is capable of supporting both LGA2011 CPU coolers, and current LGA1366 ones too. So if you've got anything from a high-end air cooler, via a CPU water block, all the way up to a pot for sub-zero cooling, it will be able to be used on the Rampage IV Extreme.
Oh and there are a load of SATA cables too.
Finally, here it is. The Rampage IV Extreme in the familiar red and black flesh, both with and without its cooling.
Considering the absolute art that was the heatsinks on both the Rampage III Extreme and Maximus IV Extreme, it's a bit of a surprise to find the heatsinks on the R4E are fairly bland. Although the sheer volume of stuff, 8 DIMM slots, Quad PCIe, naturally reduces the real estate available for the more arty designs.
The chipset cooler we will talk about on the next page, but it's worth taking a moment to appreciate the PCI Express slot layout. Most people will stick to a single or dual-GPU system and there is a lot of space between the first and third expansion slots, to give your card as much ventilation as possible.
No that isn't a newfangled form of storage connection. We have the standard SATA 6Gbp/s and SATA 3Gbp/s storage options, supporting RAID 0,1,5 and 10. The small box to the right of the SATAII is for reading the temperature of the board, even in sub-zero conditions. So if you're aiming for those world records, it's all a little bit easier to monitor.
If there is one thing that any overclocking board needs it is lots of power, and the R4E is capable of drawing on a lot of juice thanks to an additional 4pin ATX power connector alongside the standard 8pin number, and nestled to the left of the first PCIe slot we have another 6 pin connector for even more juice.
When we first opened the Rampage we were fairly surprised to see the inclusion of a 40mm fan on the chipset heatsink. Especially as the reference Intel board doesn't have one, so it's not just a case of the X79 being a toasty chip. Turning it over we were even more surprised it's a Delta *cue half the readership shuddering*. So let's answer your questions straight away. Yes it is as loud as you remember 40mm fans being, but no it's not vital under standard load scenarios and unless you really are the kind of person who is going for world records, or you have four lengthy GPUs in situ reducing airflow, then you can unplug it without finding the X79 anywhere near hot enough to trigger the alarm.
Beneath the cooling all is much as it was on the DX79SI with the X79 chip being modestly sized, and the top heatsink covering the vastly reduced power phase footprint when compared to its predecessors.
Even the middle heatsink hasn't exactly got much to do, with just the ASmedia PCI Express switches to be found beneath.
The antithesis of the middle heatsink, the top right of the board is positively stuffed with things. We have the standard items such as the ProbeIt, diagnostic LED and start stop. But the black and red pins are where the GPU voltage adjustment cables we saw on page 2 are connected. The 'Slow Mode' dip switch is for booting the board as stably as possible for the LN2 guys in the audience to obtain those insane clocks.
You certainly wont run out of USB ports on the Rampage IV Extreme. Although you need to be careful pressing the MemOk button without sticking a pin up your nail.
The OC Key is a strange little bit of kit. It plugs into the graphics card as a throughport, and then into the motherboard.
By pressing the RoG Connect button it brings up a live overclocking display which allows you to tweak in a manner similar to a software based overclocking option, but without the system overheads that it entails.
It's a little awkward, being stuck out the back of your system, for regular use. Perhaps it's also a little bit extravagant as it doesn't do much that we haven't seen from software applications, or indeed the BIOS itself. However it's another string to your overclocking bow, and yet more proof that the Rampage IV Extreme really has got everything in the ASUS armoury.
To say the BIOS has everything you could ever possibly think of is under-selling it. There is stuff on here you'd never imagine. As pictures tend to tell a lot of the story in the BIOS, and ASUS have thoughtfully included some explanatory text on the right.
No your eyes aren't playing tricks on you, there really are options for 2400MHz and 2666MHz RAM frequencies.
On the right is something similar to the options that are available on the LGA1155 version of Sandy Bridge. This X79 chipset has loads more items available to tweak.
It's nice to have a quick reference screen for all the RAM timings.
There certainly isn't a paucity of options to maximise your memory.
Where would an overclocking motherboard be without the option to have some ludicrous voltages? The R4E has voltage control in spades and, like on the RAM timing screen, has an instant guide to your current settings. It's a joy to use. There are various sub-menu tweaks available..
including clock skew for those tiny fractions of stability,
further options to gain those last ounces of performance from your RAM,
as well as making the most from your chipset. You can even decide which version of the PCI Express standard you wish your slots to use.
In some respects the power is the most important element to any good overclock. If you haven't got stable voltages and smooth power delivery then you're doomed from the outset.
We all know how tough it can be to get past the POST part. This is handled by both the inclusion of the OC Key we saw on page 5, as well as the ability to overvolt your CPU even further during the boot process, so that you can get into Windows without needing fatal levels of vCore all the time.
Thermal balance? Pah. We want all the power possible. It's aliiiiveee!!
There are definitely some options in here which aren't for the faint of heart. Thankfully most of these can be left at the defaults and still give you a good overclock. A lot of this is for the very extreme amongst you, who have the number of your local liquid nitrogen supplier on speed-dial.
The amount of choice that you have with the Rampage is almost mind blowing. You can monitor your voltages with the ProbeIt. Or with the OC Key. Or on the voltage screens in the BIOS. Or on the monitoring screens in the BIOS. They haven't limited you to a single option if you prefer doing it one way to another.
The screen on the right is a handy guide to knowing exactly the bandwidth available to your graphics card, and to each slot. Yes you can even see what would occur in certain configurations without actually installing it all if you so desire.
Finally we have some more normal screens that even those of you who never overclock will have come across. A staggering BIOS, in an entirely good way.
Welcome to those of you who have skipped straight to the overclocking results, and a heartier hello to those who have stayed with us through the initial part of the review.
Our test rig is the same as we used for the i7-3960X, just with the obvious addition of the Rampage IV Extreme (and removal of the Intel DX79SI for the pedants in the audience).
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Intel Core i7-3960X
16GB G.Skill RipjawsZ 2133MHz
Corsair AX1200 PSU
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB
Windows 7 x64
The Rampage IV Extreme, as well as offering more user control than many of us are ever likely to need, also has some one-click overclocks available. The Standard profile boost the processor from its default speed up to a healthy 4.375GHz. Not bad for such a simple solution.
At the other end of the scale is the High Current Extreme option, which gets us to 5GHz but this absolutely isn't a setting you want to accidentally apply. 1.624v on the CPU. Heavens.
Standard OC Profile Extreme High Current OC Profile
Back in the sane world we have the ability to modify the BCLK much more than we've recently seen on the original Sandy Bridge stuff, and this is a boon to overclocking and tweaking. The highest BCLK we were able to obtain from a 100MHz start was 130MHz, which is pretty handy. Some gentle playing to find the sweet spot between bus speed and CPU Multiplier ended up with a 4.75GHz overclock at 1.47v, which is what we'll be using today for all of our overclock benchmarks.
Just to show how flexible the new arrangement is, you can have your 5GHz overclock in two ways, either with a hefty multiplier, or a BCLK increase. 5GHz on a Hexcore with HT still enabled. We're salivating.
It's very easy to become fixated upon overclocked results. They give us the biggest numbers, and we are Overclock3D after all. But before you look at the incredible AIDA64 scores from our overclock, take a moment to see how far ahead the stock i7-3960X is on the Rampage IV Extreme when compared to the Intel board.
Still, very close to 1 million in the AES test, over 500000 in zLib, when overclocked the combination of i7-3960X and R4E is intoxicating.
Normally we always graph the item we're reviewing at the top for easy reference, but because of the nature of our Memory graph it's worth noting it's in interleaved format. In all three frequency tests the Rampage 4 gives us a better result than we saw on the reference Intel board. Although the write result remains stubbornly fixed to 15000. It's consistent at least.
It's going to be very difficult not to run out of superlatives if the performance remains at these levels. With everything at stock the Rampage IV Extreme stands atop the graph, and with the overclock in place it's positively amazing. Just cast your eye to the middle of the graph where we have the 4.7GHz i7-990X, and then compare that to our 4.75GHz i7-3960X results.
In the fractal generation test that is SiSoft Sandra MultiMedia benchmark the results are much closer, but there is no denying what takes home the gold medal. Indeed it's our first ever Integer x16 result over 400 Mega Pixels a second.
PC Mark Vantage
After our pretty poor showing on the Intel board, in the RAM score particularly, things are redeemed on the ASUS R4E. Vantage still isn't putting up the numbers that we'd expect when you look at all the rest of our results, but the Rampage makes the best of it and certainly puts the DX79SI in the shade.
PC Mark 7
Demonstrating the underlying performance of the Rampage IV, the PC Mark 7 result is 300 points, 10%, better at stock than the reference board. That's a huge gain in anyone's book. Our overclock pushes that another 250 points higher. Remember, this is with a mechanical drive only. A quick SSD would pretty much double the total score.
Folding @ Home
Although we see a small increase from the Rampage IV Extreme at stock when compared to the Intel DX79SI, just look at the overclock result. 53470 PPD anybody?
It doesn't seem that long ago that you'd have needed a multi-CPU setup to get a result over 10 CPU pts. We have to be honest and say we didn't expect the 990X result to be beaten for some time, and whilst the stock results got very close to it, the overclock result is staggering. Just 0.08 shy of 14pts. One very cool little thing is that the difference between a stock and overclocked i7-990X is the same as the difference between a stock and overclocked i7-3960X.
The benchmark changes, but the story remains the same. The Rampage IV Extreme is capable of giving us an improved stock score, and the overclock makes mincemeat of everything.
If CPUs get much faster we're going to need a separate graph to make the 32M result wider than a pixel. It's a very close run thing between the two mightiest Intel CPUs, but the i7-3960X just shades the i7-990X. 2 minutes to run a 1024M wPrime95 test.
The beast is unleashed. Generally speaking the improvement you get from an overclock is fairly linear. The faster your CPU is the higher your result will be. This is most definitely not the case with the i7-3960X and Rampage IV Extreme combination as our overclock sprints off into the sunset like a thoroughbred over the final furlong.
3D Mark 11
Although there are some small gains to be had in the P-Score, and when talking about 3D Mark even the smallest gain is a triumph, it seems the i7-3960X allows us to become GPU limited in the Extreme test. I'm not sure if that's a bigger compliment to the CPU or the GTX570.
3D Mark Vantage
Vantage sees a very similar state of affairs. The P-Score creeps ever higher but the X-Score is unwavering. The Rampage IV Extreme does, just, give us our highest Vantage X-score on this particular card.
With both zero and eight times anti-aliasing the major improvement in Unigine on the ASUS when compared to the reference Intel motherboard is in the minimum frame-rate. Although the average is a gnats chuff apart, the whole thing was a lot smoother experience on the Rampage.
Alien vs Predator
Solid results across the board. It seems a toaster would be powerful enough to get 60FPS out of our GTX570.
Far Cry 2
The Dunia engine of Far Cry 2 makes one thing perfectly clear. If you absolutely adore setting fire to African bush, then you need to get yourself the AMD FX8150. Clearly this is a game that doesn't do Hyper-Threading but takes advantage of actual cores.
From the parched desert vistas of Far Cry 2 on to the lively cityscapes of Mafia 2. All of the four setups will provide a smooth gaming experience, although the stock result of the Rampage isn't as good as we saw from the Intel DX79SI.
Moving from Empire Bay into a dystopian future courtesy of Metro 2033. Although the variances are slight, the result does creep consistently upwards from the bottom of the graph to the top, as the CPU horsepower available increases.
Capcoms fantastic Resident Evil 5 is amazingly consistent across all platforms. A demonstration of how a PC conversion should be done, but the results are too similar to draw anything concrete from.
The Witcher 2
The adventures of Geralt tax even the most sturdy of systems. It's positively brutal, although turning off Ultra shaders makes the game very playable, we always want to test at the maximum. Clearly if you want all the eye-candy available then the overclocked i7-3960X and Rampage IV Extreme combination is the way to go.
SiSoft Sandra Memory Speeds
Finally a cool demonstration of how much better the memory performance is on the R4E when compared to the Intel board. Although the Int and Float results scale linearly, the combined Cache and Memory bandwidth score is better on the Rampage than the next speed up on the Intel.
So, the Rampage IV Extreme. It's alright I guess. Who are we kidding, it's amazing. There is so much crammed onto the board it's difficult to know where to begin to sum it all up in a pithy style. Even still, we're bound to miss something, which is why the preceding 21 pages are worth reading.
Let's draw a comparison. The last hardcore overclocking board we reviewed was the Gigabyte X58-OC. That was pared to the bone in the quest for sub-zero world record speeds. The Rampage IV Extreme has all of the adjustments and tweaks that any serious overclocker could ever desire, yet it hasn't forgotten that a few features would be nice. In fact we can't remember a board that came with quite so much.
The accessories package is plentiful. You get all the cables you need, including some that 99% of purchasers will never use. You get the OC Key, which we're a little divided upon. It's lovely to have such instant control over your system, and at the bleeding edge of overclocking running any software other than CPUz can have consequences, but it is just a little bit ostentatious and we could live with it being an option to help trim the price of the full package.
The motherboard itself is a fair looker. The Red and Black colour-scheme is a classic dating back to the 30s hot rods. It's slightly unfortunate that the sheer volume of stuff crammed on to the board, including those 8 DIMM slots, limit what can be done with the heat-sinks. It's perfectly fine, but a step back from the Rampage III Extreme. However whilst the looks might have suffered slightly, the technology and pure performance are a quantum leap ahead. Think of a technology you desire and it's here. Quad Channel RAM. Quad-GPU support. USB 3.0 aplenty. Bluetooth. Four SATA 6Gbp/s ports and four SATA 3 Gbp/s ports. RoG Connect. eSATA. Gigabit LAN. The list goes on and on.
A huge amount of effort has gone in to the overclocking side of things. So much so that it's almost a Republic of Overclockers board. For the LN2 crowd there is slow boot, sub-zero temperature monitoring and more amps than you can use. But that doesn't mean that it's incomprehensible to the standard user, or those who want a little bit of oomph without a degree in electronics. The BIOS is a work of art with all of the main stuff you need, including a robust one-click overclock, right there in front of you. Scratch the surface slightly and you discover everything is adjustable to the nth degree. You don't have to use it all, but it's nice to know it's there.
It's also quite a beast to those of you who just want to have the best, but not actually dare overclock it. The stock results are a fair bit ahead of the already good scores we saw from the DX79SI. But that's like owning a Ferrari and just going to the shops. Give your CPU a boost and this thing flies, breaking our benchmark records left, right and centre. You can't look at the results and not find yourself slack-jawed and reaching for your wallet.
That does bring us to the rather thorny issue of price. With a 'free' copy of BattleField 3 this is expect to retail for around £330. After getting used to the low pricing of the LGA1155 boards it's quite a shock to be back in £300+ territory, but this is a very premium product for those who demand nothing but the best. Like a tailored suit, or our aforementioned Ferrari. The only minor niggle we have is that Delta fan whining away. Even overclocked to 4.75GHz with a 125MHz BCLK the X79 chip reached 44°C, a long way below the alarm temperature of 60°C.
The ASUS Rampage IV Extreme is a Titan. We can't think of anything we'd like on a motherboard it hasn't got, apart from the 'Back to BIOS' button on the DX79SI. Performance is stunning in stock or overclocked trim. We're sure other boards will come close for in performance the average user, but if you want a motherboard that will take you to the stratosphere and beyond, the Rampage IV Extreme is the one, and a winner of our OC3D Performance award.
*Video will be added once uploading is complete*
Thanks to ASUS for supplying the Rampage IV Extreme for review. Discuss in our forums.