ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z AM3+ Motherboard Review

ASUS updates its Republic of Gamers lineup with a new version of the Crosshair V Formula. This time adding a Z to the name and a few other improvements as well. Is this board worthy of the Republic of Gamers brand or has ASUS left us with a sub-par version of its original Crosshair V Formula?

Introduction

ASUS is one of the most well known of all motherboard manufacturers on the planet. Though ASUS is hardly confined to that business alone as it also manufactures video cards, monitors, peripherals, laptops, and more. Still it's generally motherboards that people think of when they hear the name "ASUS." Of course ASUS has a large range of motherboard products ranging from budget oriented solutions, to enthusiast boards, to workstation boards. However not all ASUS boards are created equal. Boards crafted under the Republic of Gamers brand are quite a bit different than its standard products. These do not share the same PCB designs or components as normal production boards do. These ROG products tend to be the "sports car" of the ASUS line.

Powerful, flashy, feature rich, and designed with one purpose in mind; performance. Whether you are a hardcore gaming enthusiast looking for a few extra frames per second or a benchmarking fanatic trying to power your way to overclocking records the Republic of Gamers boards represent one of the best options money can buy. And money is what you'll generally need as these don't come cheap. But those who pony up the cash to buy one of these things will get a board a cut above the rest with features standard production boards just don't give you. Things like Probe It monitoring points, OC Key, and Supreme FX audio are just a few of the examples of what you can expect from these boards.

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The Crosshair V Formula-Z is based on the AMD 990FX chipset and uses the AMD SB950 south bridge. It is the fifth board to use the name "Crosshair Formula" and represents the latest in motherboard design. What's interesting about this board is that it is actually an update to the existing Crosshair V Formula. The "Z" version has some differences compared to the earlier model. While I have no personal experience with the original version I have done some checking into some of the differences. The original board used an 8+2 power phase solution and the Formula-Z uses an 8+2+2 setup. Essentially this is the DIGI+ Engine II feature that ASUS refers to in the marketing literature that we are talking about. Basically it's the same type of digital control over the memory power phases that we are used to seeing available for the CPU. So you can run one or more phases, adjust the power response frequency, thermal protection, and load-line calibration for the RAM just as you do for the CPU.

The Formula-Z also relocates the onboard power and reset buttons from the board's bottom edge to the lower right hand corner where the memory slots are. The south bridge cooling has been slightly altered as well with an updated heat sink design. There are some components which have been rearranged on the PCB. The audio solution was updated to the "Supreme FX III" vs. the FX II used in the previous model. SATA ports have been shuffled around as well with all of this model's being right angled and in the same place. The number has increased from 7 ports to 8. The legacy PCI slot has also been removed from the new model.

As with most chipsets these days many of the traditional chipset functions have been integrated into the CPU leaving the chipset less and less important. Like its predecessor, the 990FX chipset supports 32GB of DDR3 RAM, 6 SATA III 6Gb/s ports, PCI-Express 2.0, USB 2.0 and even NVIDIA's SLI technology. It does feature a couple minor updates such as support for additional power savings in Zambezi and Vishera based CPUs as well as an updated HyperTransport specification. Unfortunately this chipset is little more than an incremental update to the older 890FX chipset and as a little long in the tooth. There is no native USB 3.0 support, PCI-Express 3.0, or Thunderbolt support. However USB 3.0 is at least supported thanks to the inclusion of the ASMedia ASM1042 controllers. Additionally ASUS added an Intel network controller, ROG connect feature, BIOS Flashback, Directkey, 3-Way SLI and CrossfireX support.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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Like everything else related to ROG boards, even the box is premium in nature. It has very nice construction and uses a coating on the cardboard that makes it feel like a leather bound book or something similar. The bundle is rich as well offering the following accessories: User's manual, I/O shield, driver disc, do not disturb sign, SATA cable labels, ROG Connect cable, Crossfire and SLI bridges, 3-Way SLI bridge, and several SATA cables. Our board arrived damage free with all accessories. So evidently the box is adequate protection during shipping.

Board Layout

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The Crosshair V Formula-Z is masterfully laid out with no areas that annoy me or inconvenience me significantly. It features 8-pin and 4-pin CPU power connectors for optimal power delivery, onboard power, reset and clear CMOS buttons, and a 4-pin Molex connector for auxiliary power when using multiple graphics cards. This supplements PCI-Express power as the PCIe 2.0 spec is often insufficient for today's higher end cards.

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As usual I'm going to complain about the proximity of the memory slots to the CPU socket. There isn't much that can be done about that as it's just the nature of the beast. The CPU socket area is nice and clean and shouldn't cause you too many issues. And these days there are plenty of low profile memory options as well as self-contained closed loop water cooling systems which would also solve clearance issues between the cooling and the system RAM.

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There are 4 color coded DDR3 DIMM slots. ASUS once again went with their single sided locking mechanism for DIMM retention. This was a wise choice as there is insufficient clearance between the memory slots and the first PCI-Express x16 slot. With these single sided retention mechanisms this isn't a problem.

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Due to the age of the 990FX / SB950 designs this is one of the few offerings out there that hasn't become a unified chipset. The north bridge is located behind the CPU socket with the power phases offset slightly to make room for it. The south bridge is located in front of the PCI-Express slots. In front of those are all the SATA ports. Most are handled by the AMD SB950 but the two on the far left are attached to the ASMedia ASM1061 controller.

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The expansion slot area is virtually perfect. The configuration lends itself well to 3-Way SLI. The PCI-Express x16 slots operate either in a 16x16x0 or 16x8x8 configuration for multiple GPUs. In this area you'll also find the new DirectKey button on the PCB. This is a pretty neat button as it avoids the whole reboot and keep pressing delete until you get into the BIOS ritual that so many of us engage in regularly. From the OS you can hit this button which will force a graceful shutdown and restart of the system and automatically put you in the BIOS after that. I wish this button was located with the rest of them but it's a minor complaint.

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The I/O panel area is chalk full of ports. 8 USB 2.0 ports (one of which is also reserved for ROG Connect), 2 eSATA ports, 1 legacy PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 1 RJ-45 LAN port, 6 mini-stereo jacks, an ROG Connect button, BIOS Flashback button, and an optical output.