ASUS Rampage IV Extreme LGA 2011 Motherboard Review

ASUS expands its ROG line once again to include offerings based on Intel’s latest X79 chipset and support for the new Sandy Bridge-E processors. The ASUS Rampage IV Extreme comes from a long line of Rampage motherboards most of which have been excellent products. Our expectations are extremely high for this "Extreme" offering.

Introduction

ASUS is a brand we cover a lot, and for good reason. ASUS is the largest motherboard manufacturer on the planet. Its lineup covers every imaginable price point and every market segment. ASUS products are quite popular and get a lot of attention. In an effort to differentiate its highest end offerings and target those at hardware enthusiasts and knowledgeable gamers, ASUS created the Republic of Gamers’ brand. These products tend to follow a particular theme with regard to color and features. Red and black, with every feature you can imagine at the time the motherboard is introduced. Today we look at ASUS’ latest ROG offering, the Rampage IV Extreme.

It seems like only yesterday we took a look at the Rampage III Black Edition. The Rampage III Black Edition was bar none one of the best motherboards we’ve ever used and one of the finest examples of ASUS’ ROG brand. I was so impressed with the board I actually installed it in my own personal machine and in fact, I’m using it as I type this. Not only was it the best ROG board I’ve used to date but it was easily the best X58 Express chipset based board I’ve ever seen. It’s rare that I’m so impressed with a particular board that I actually want one for myself. The Rampage III Black Edition exceeded all my expectations.

I also own a Rampage III Formula. I’ve used every Rampage Edition board ever made to date and as a result I’ve experienced all of these. So when I see another board sporting the "Rampage" name I automatically think; "this one will be great." So far I’ve not been disappointed. However, all good things must come to an end and after so many Rampage boards you have to start wondering when ASUS will start to slip.

Well, the Rampage III Formula and Rampage III Black Edition weren’t so long ago. I remember these clearly, and again I use these boards daily in my own personal machines. But as always new chipsets and new technologies are introduced. So once again we have yet another Rampage board to take a look at. This one isn’t a "Black Edition" but it does come with the same red and black color scheme all other ROG boards have. Additionally it represents the pinnacle of technological evolution at the time of its introduction.

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The Rampage IV Extreme is based off Intel’s brand new X79 Express chipset which is a unified chipset supporting LGA 2011 processors. Right now all the processors for it are known under the codename; "Sandy Bridge-E" or by the retail names in the Core i7 39xx series. A 3820 is planned for release next year, but for right now only the 3960X and 3930K are available for purchase. Given the price points of $600 and $1,000 respectively, these aren’t cheap. These aren’t processors you’ll be seeing in the bulk of enthusiast machines and we spelled this out plainly in our review. If anything LGA2011 bridges the gap between desktop performance and workstation performance. Designed for enthusiasts and gamers, these fill out the high end and ultra-high end market which hasn’t had a refresh since the introduction of the Core i7 990X processor. The X58 platform itself is over two years old now and is a bit long in the tooth.

Unfortunately, the X79 isn’t the breath of fresh air we were hoping it would be. Rumors of SAS support and additional SATA 6G ports, native USB 3.0 support were all squashed. What we’ve basically got is functionally about the same as P67 which has very little over X58. We now have 40 PCIe lanes instead of 36. We did get PCIe 3.0 support but as of yet we’ve no devices to take advantage of it. But SAS support, additional SATA 6G support, etc. were all dropped for whatever reason. The chipset itself is a single unified chipset like P67 and Z68 which is a welcome change as X58 took up a lot of room on the motherboard PCB. Given the high level of integration on motherboards today, PCB space is at a premium and when you can combine parts and cut costs, it’s a win-win for everyone. Aside from being compatible with LGA 2011, it differentiates itself from P67 in two important ways. It allows for 4-channels of DDR3 RAM, and extends memory support up to 64GB of RAM. There are some minor improvements as well as X79 also actually adds official support for DDR3 1600MHz speeds. This would be a bigger deal if we weren’t able to do that already on older platforms like X58 and P55.

The Rampage IV Extreme itself is a high end Republic of Gamers’ solution and therefore is a no frills, no compromise performance platform. There is no integrated video. The downside with that is a lack of QuickSync support, but you also get to use Intel’s 6c/12t CPUs, so some might consider that a wash. In any case we’ve got more PCIe lanes, more memory support, and more memory bandwidth. Combined with Intel’s 6 core CPUs, we have a recipe for serious computing performance.

Feature wise the Rampage IV Extreme supports SATA 6G, USB 3.0, several levels of RAID, Bluetooth, quad-channel memory support, Intel’s Gigabit LAN, and both the latest multi-GPU technologies from NVIDIA and AMD. Everything from dual card SLI and Crossfire to 4-Way SLI, Quad-SLI and CrossFireX are all supported. The board has ample PCIe slots to make that happen. Just about everything one could need for a complete system is included save for the CPU, graphics card, power supply, memory and drives. But audio, LAN, etc. are all there. Most of it is top notch as well. Again Intel’s own Gigabit LAN is included which is pretty much top shelf for onboard networking. Unfortunately unlike the previous Rampage III Black Edition, there isn’t an included Xonar audio solution in the form of an add-in card or onboard either. We get stuck with the Realtek audio, which isn’t bad, but isn’t top shelf either.

Also included are a ton of other high end and unique features with the ASUS Rampage IV Extreme. Back are the ProbeIt feature which allows you to attach thermal probes to the board for monitoring voltages. A new feature called the OC Key has been included which is a box that attaches between your video card and the monitor to provide an on screen display for the system’s overclocking features. There is also a SubZero sense for the LN2 crowd and a VGA Hotwire feature for overvolting your video cards.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The ASUS Rampage IV Extreme come in the usual ROG style packaging. It’s definitely nicer than your run of the mill cardboard box. The board is in the usual fancy red packaging.

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Like all ROG boards the Rampage IV Extreme comes with a ton of accessories. We have the usual driver DVD, user manual, ROG Connect manual, ASUS Xonar Audio card manual, OC key USB cable, 4-Way and 3-Way SLI bridges, standard SLI bridge, OC Key, ASUS X Socket, ASUS Q-Connectors, Crossfire bridge, ROG Connect cable, I/O shield, ROG probes for the Probe It feature, and a gaggle of SATA cables. Curiously the Xonar manual doesn’t make a lot of sense as this isn’t a Xonar audio solution. The Rampage IV Extreme uses a standard Realtek ALC898 audio CODEC, so this makes little sense to me.

Board Layout

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The board features the standard red and black color theme. Revision 1.02 was marked on the PCB of our test sample. Ordinarily the layout of most ASUS boards is somewhere between good and exceptional. ROG boards are always on the exceptional end of the spectrum with rare exceptions. The cooling hardware layout next to the primary PCIe x16 slot is an exception. It makes depressing the locking / retention tab on the PCIe slot unreachable. I’m not sure how ASUS missed this during the development stages, but it’s bad. I’m really annoyed by this. Fortunately you shouldn’t need to remove your video card a lot but if you can avoid that course of action having to suck, why wouldn’t you?

My other major problem with this board is with regard to the power connectors. The 8-pin CPU power connector is fine, but for some unknown reason, they chose a 4-pin connector for the secondary power connector. This unnerves me to no end. I would have preferred to see dual 8-pin connectors, with one being able to accept a 4-pin in its place. Plenty of other boards already do this. I don’t know why ASUS did it this way. This seems a bit backwards.

(ASUS Response: In regards to comments on the decision to implement a secondary 4pin vs. another 8 pin this was made due to practical reasoning. There is no electrical reason to implement dual 8 pin in our testing we found no value even at the upper end of extreme enthusiast testing that this would be required. As such this was not implemented on the board. In addition the top of the VRM assembly as I am sure you have noticed is quite tight so any space that can be conserved is highly valuable. Additionally our entirely new Extreme Engine Digi+ VRM design has a very high level of efficiency allowing us to maximize power delivery.)

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The CPU socket area is fairly clear. The socket itself is large but the mounting holes for the heat sink and fan are basically the same as LGA1366 socket. The MOSFET heat sinks have heat pipes running through these, and are pretty beefy. These are however low enough to make installation of larger heat sinks and fans relatively easy. However given that the board’s 8 memory slots flank both sides of the CPU socket, you may run into issues with some cooling solutions. Fortunately I’m water cooling so this isn’t an issue.

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ASUS color coded the 8 DIMM slots red and black as usual. The front most bank of DIMM slots is located directly behind the onboard power and reset buttons, PCIe lane enable / disable dip switches, ProbeIt measurement plugs, and 24-pin ATX power. ASUS stuck with its one sided locking tabs as has become standard on all its enthusiast boards at this point. Good thing too as clearance in some areas make traditional locking tabs problematic. The second bank of DIMM slots is located behind the CPU socket. Behind those DIMM slots and to the left is supplementary PCIe power using a standard 6-pin PCI-Express power plug.

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The X79 chipset is a unified chipset so there is no north bridge. The "north bridge" is actually where you’d expect the south bridge to be. It uses an active cooling solution in a very large and flat heat sink. There are heat pipes running all over the board which connect to it. Directly in front of the heat sink there are 8 SATA ports. Red for SATA 6G and black for SATA 3G.

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The expansion slot area is a thing of beauty. It is ideal for multi-GPU configurations. We have 4 PCIe Gen 3.0 x16 slots and 1 PCIe 3.0 x8 slot (x16 form factor) and finally 1 PCIe x1 slot. There are no legacy PCI slots. The spacing of the PCIe x16 slots gives you enough room for even 4-Way SLI. This makes the Rampage IV Extreme ideal for the highest end gaming machines and workstations.

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The rear I/O panel is packed with ports. There are 12 USB ports, 4 of which are USB 3.0 ports. Dual eSATA ports, 1 PS/2 keyboard / mouse combination port, 1 RJ-45 port, 5 mini-stereo jacks and one optical out port. Also there is a Bluetooth adapter located here and two buttons. One is the ROG Connect enable/disable button, the other is a clear CMOS button.