Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

ASUS Rampage III Black Edition Motherboard Review

While P67 and Z68 is all the rage, if you are looking for the most powerful computing system money can buy, then X58 is still it. ASUS promises to deliver everything you expect out of X58 and then some with its latest Republic of Gamers branded board. If you are looking for the ultimate X58 motherboard, it's the Rampage III Black Edition.

Introduction

ASUS is the biggest name in motherboard manufacturers there has ever been. Its boards grace many systems from the cheapest OEM boxes to the most expensive DIY and enthusiast systems around. In order to diversify its product line even more, it spun off a sub-brand called the "Republic of Gamers." These boards tend to have features more in tune with the gamer and overclockers' needs rather than that of corporate builders or OEMs. ASUS has even gone so far as to create a separate Republic of Gamers website which offers the same information as the normal corporate product pages, but again, is geared toward the gamer. It only features information about ROG branded motherboards. The page for the Rampage III Black Edition can be viewed here.

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The Rampage III Black Edition is based on Intel’s long-in-the-tooth X58 Express chipset. This is not all bad as the chipset is extremely mature, offers more PCI-Express bandwidth, supports 6 core CPUs, and of course, offers more memory bandwidth than P67 and Z68 Express do. Unfortunately the X58 chipset lacks native SATA 6G support forcing motherboard manufacturers to integrate another controller such as those offered by Marvell and JMicron in order to support that standard. USB 3.0 support is also provided via another controller, but that’s no different on any other Intel chipset based board. ASUS has also included numerous features in the design of the Rampage III Black Edition. Not the least of which are WiFi support, Bluetooth, ROG Connect, MEM OK, dual BIOS ROMs, and more.

Being built for overclocking and long term durability, the Rampage III Black Edition features an 8-phase digital power design with 3 phases each for the memory, north bridge, and QPI. All solid electrolytic capacitors are used throughout the board’s construction. Like other top overclocking solutions the Rampage III Black Edition features dual CPU power connections to provide the CPU with all the current you need to reach your overclocking goals no matter what those might be.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

Beyond getting a great motherboard, albeit an expensive one, ROG branded boards are all about presentation. To that end ASUS has crafted its most exquisite package design yet for the Rampage III Black Edition. The box is well constructed and provides tons of information about what you are plunking down your hard earned cash for. The box is somewhat flashy, yet elegant at the same time. Inside the bundle continues to impress with tons of welcome accessories. The I/O shield is nicer than most, the manual is highly polished and attractive, and more unique accessories follow. ASUS provides SLI bridges for all possible SLI configurations which are supported, ASUS Quick Connects, USB 3 bracket, right angled SATA cables, a USB header cable for the included ThunderBolt LAN/Audio combo card, and of course, dual Bluetooth and WiFi antennas. A small chipset fan, zip ties, thermal probes, and a 2-channel headphone cable are also provided with the bundle.

Of course even more interesting than all that is the inclusion of the ASUS ThunderBolt card. This features a version of ASUS’ Xonar combined with the Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC E2100 network processing unit or NPU.

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Board Layout

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The layout of the Rampage III Black Edition is superb. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to find any flaws with the board’s layout.

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The CPU socket area is clear of obstructions allowing the installation of large CPU cooling solutions. The MOSFETs are cooled using a heat pipe based heat sink which connects to the north bridge which is typical on high end motherboards. My test fit of the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme 1366RT and Koolance CPU-350AT waterblock both went perfectly and I observed no problems with these installations.

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ASUS chose to color code its DIMM slots grey and black. The grey is subtle, which doesn’t detract from the black on black theme of the motherboard. The single sided locking tab mechanism used to secure memory modules allows for more latitude when placing the DIMM slots on the PCB. In this case, conventional dual locking tab style DIMM slots would create a situation where the video card would need to be removed in order to install additional memory modules. With the single locking tabs, despite close proximity, this is not true.

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ASUS chose to depart from its normal red and black scheme for the most part aside from some crimson accents in the north bridge cooling fins. The chipset is also adorned with crimson colored accents on the north bridge cooling fins and a Republic of Gamers logo which illuminates when powered on.

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ASUS used a flat heat sink on the south bridge for cooling. The ICH10R never has required much cooling and as a result it isn’t connected to the rest of the cooling system as one might expect. The heat sink is flat enough to avoid clearance issues with any expansion cards. Directly ahead of the heat sink you’ll find the motherboards 8 SATA headers. Two of which are served by a Marvell 9182 controller which is also integrated into the board’s design. The rest are served by the ICH10R south bridge.

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In my opinion, ASUS sometimes misses the boat when it comes to expansion slot areas on some boards. This is of course highly subjective, but its layouts have often bothered me. This is not so with the Rampage III Black Edition. There are no legacy slots taking up space on this board. The slots are spaced adequately to allow the use of up to four dual slot video cards so long as your case can handle the last card hanging off the PBC’s edge. There are two PCI-Express x1 slots which of course in 4-Way SLI based systems would end up being useless. One of these must be free for use of the ThunderBolt card. Perhaps a flaw or perhaps an oversight I’ll agree, but without going to a longer board which would create case compatibility issues, this seems to have been largely unavoidable due to the form factor.

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The rear I/O panel is full of ports. ASUS has for the most part made good use of the space. Some hard core gamers still prefer PS/2 ports for either their keyboard or mouse and ASUS has retained this port as a result. There are 9 USB ports on the back panel, although one is reserved for the ROG connect feature. There are two which are color coded blue. These are your USB 3.0 ports. The rest are served by the ICH10R controller. There is a clear CMOS button and an ROG connect enable / disable switch. There is a single RJ-45 LAN jack here which is served by the Integrated Intel NIC. You’ll also find connections for the WiFi and Bluetooth antennas included in the box. There are also dual eSATA ports should you need these. Finally we have six-mini-stereo jacks for audio output and these are gold plated with color coded plastic housings around them providing the ease of color coding, and the quality of gold plated contacts which are structurally better. Audiophiles of course prefer gold for its conductive qualities.