ASUS Crosshair III Formula Motherboard Review

ASUS releases yet another Republic of Gamers motherboard, this time for our AMD users. The Crosshair III Formula is the latest incarnation of the ROG series which means that it comes from excellent pedigree. The Crosshair III Formula has some big shoes to fill. Is the Crosshair III AMD 790FX chipset motherboard is up to the challenge?

Introduction

ASUS is the world's largest motherboard manufacturer and is one that the gaming and general computing enthusiasts are certainly familiar with. ASUS is well known for its motherboards, but it manufacturers a number of other items; small electronics, video cards, and many others. Still it is most recognizable for its motherboard brands. To differentiate its gaming line from its regular board brand ASUS created the "Republic of Gamers" (ROG) brand. Generally these boards have more features and nicer packaging than ASUS' more contemporary motherboards.

The ASUS Crosshair III is based on AMD's 790FX chipset. In this case the board is also equipped with the SB750. The board supports all current socket AM3 CPUs. It also supports DDR3 1600MHz memory and AMD's Crossfire and CrossfireX multi-GPU technologies. It also features 8+2 phase power for stability, ferrite chokes and all solid state capacitors. The Crosshair III Formula isn't quite as packed with features as I expected. Typically the ROG boards have dual LAN ports, extra RAID controllers, etc.

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There is really none of that here. There is only the SATA ports built into the chipset; IEEE1394a added on and of course one LAN port. Granted the need for some of the extra bells and whistles often included with high-end boards is often debatable but I found it surprising that this board was so "stripped" down. With that said the "Formula" boards tend to have fewer features than ROG boards with the "Extreme" moniker attached to them. This being the former rather than the latter, this is understandable.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is what I've come to expect from ROG boards. Elegant, attractive and packed with accessories. The board comes with six SATA cables, one EIDE cable, an external USB and IEEE1394a header, LCD poster, zip ties, I/O shield, and ASUS Q-Connectors. Also included are a driver DVD, manual and a SupremeFX audio card. The board itself is kept suspended in a clear plastic container which protects the board from damage while in transit. There is a separate smaller box which has all the included accessories contained within it. The packaging is adequate to prevent damage and is appealing in regard to quality and looks. Not that I'd complain too much if the board was in a plain brown box with no markings what so ever. What is important are the contents. Still the packaging is impressive and is nice to have if you plan to ever re-sell you motherboard.

Board Layout

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The layout of the ASUS Crosshair III is actually quite good with very few problem areas. I still have complaints to make concerning the layout but they are relatively small. The first complaint is one that has haunted ASUS' designs for several years now. The location of the IEEE1394a header. This location sucks for two reasons I can come up with. The first is that many of the chassis out there lack front panel cables of sufficient length to reach the header where it’s positioned. You can blame case manufacturers or ASUS for this. Take your pick on that but ASUS could move the header up and resolve the issue. Even if you can plug the cable into the header it may only be just barely long enough to reach and therefore it will lie across the board and look horrid. For some people who don't clean up their wiring this isn't a big deal but for the perfectionists out there it will bother them quite a bit. The second issue I have with the location of the header is that the location leaves the header all by itself. Thus you can't group your wires together. This sort of ties in with the first reason as it relates to cable management but it is kind of a separate issue at the same time. Really ASUS probably designs the board to use the included USB/IEEE1394a bracket but I've not seen anyone actually use one of those things in quite some time. In any case this is far from a deal breaker but it is annoying to me.

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The CPU area is relatively clear of obstructions. I had no problem fitting either a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme or an Apogee GT waterblock to the board which are both known for being excessively large compared to their respective pears. The memory slots are closer than I'd like but this seems to be par for the course with all AM2/AM3 boards.

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The ASUS Crosshair III has four DDR3 DIMM slots. The board supports a maximum of 16GB of RAM. As I said earlier it would be nice if they'd move the slots a bit farther from the CPU but all in all the location works fairly well. On the upside the slots aren't close to the expansion slots making memory upgrades much easier.

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The north bridge is just to the left of the CPU socket as is expected. The cooling solution is a rather nice looking heat pipe setup which cools the MOSFETS, the north bridge and the south bridge all simultaneously. The north bridge temperature idled at 32c according to the ASUS PC Probe II software. The typical load temperature was 38c. On a more subjective note the cooling solution directly atop the north bridge always seemed "barely warm" to the touch. So all in all it seemed adequate.

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Again the south bridge shares the same cooling solution as the north bridge does. It always seemed "barely warm" to the touch and temperatures hovered around 34c. This was true while under load and idle. Idle temperatures were usually only about 1c or 2c lower generally speaking.

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The expansion slot area was very nice. The top most PCI-Express x1 slot wasn't blocked by the north bridge cooling solution which is most often the case. The two PCI-Express x16 slots operate at full x16 speeds and again are well positioned. The legacy PCI slot is always available regardless of the PCI-Express card configuration used here. The PCI-Express x16 slots are also positioned away from the board's edge which means that you shouldn't have card slot problems regardless of the case design. (Assuming your case will accommodate longer cards.)

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The I/O panel has a PS/2 keyboard port, six USB ports, eSATA port, IEEE1394a port, and one RJ-45 LAN port. Additionally there is a CMOS clear button which I've found to be a very nice touch over the last couple years manufacturers have been including these. As you can see from the photo there is an LCD poster plug in the board's upper corner. Unfortunately the LCD poster doesn't really amount to anything and therefore always dangles some place if you plug it in at all. Nice for diagnostic use but it would be nice to put it somewhere and have it look good and be useful. (I miss the LCD poster on the back of the Striker Extreme.)

TurboV

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A few months ago or so ASUS started to include their TurboV overclocking software with its boards. It is much simpler than previous overclocking utilities that it has included in the past and is more aesthetically pleasing. Function matters more than form but it's nice that this board has both. The software supports the use of overclocking profiles and the basic settings can be adjusted by simple sliders as seen in the first utility screen capture. In advanced mode sliders appear for various voltage settings. The text in the image looks jumbled in the advanced menu in the image. This is how the numbers appeared in the utility while using it. I don't know why it was like this but hopefully a software update will clear this issue up. It is hard to tell what settings are what in its current state. As always your mileage may vary with this. Finally there is a CPU ratio function which allows you to adjust the CPU ratio on Black Edition CPUs. (Or Extreme Edition CPUs which are also unlocked if you are dealing with Intel CPUs.)