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ASUS Rampage II Extreme X58 Motherboard Review

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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ASUS Rampage II Extreme X58 Motherboard Review




Price: $485+ CND Price Comparison
Manufacturer Product Page: ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
Manufacturer's Part Number: RAMPAGEIIEXTREME
TechWiki Info: ASUS Rampage II Extreme
Warranty: 3 year limited warranty



Hardware Canucks is proud to bring you a review of arguably the most lusted after motherboard in recent memory…the incomparable Rampage II Extreme. As a follow-up to the massively popular Rampage Extreme, ASUS had a considerable task on their hands and it would have been easy for them to drop the ball. However, at first sight, it looks like they have not only succeeded in creating another exceptional product, but have once again raised the bar when it comes to what enthusiasts will expect from a premium overclocking-focused motherboard.

With the new Core i7 series, Intel have made a long overdue improvement to their CPUs and moved the memory controller from the northbridge to the processor itself. Since motherboard manufacturers can no longer custom tweak chipset timings in order to greatly improve overall performance, the performance differences between X58 motherboards is essentially going to be nil. Therefore, more than ever, motherboard manufacturers have realized that unique and innovative features are going to be absolutely critical in distinguishing their models from the competition. ASUS is obviously aware of this fact, and since the Rampage II Extreme is the pinnacle of their lineup, they have decked it out with all sorts of goodies. Featuring three mechanical PCI-E x16 2.0 slots, CrossFire and much-anticipated 3-Way SLI support, six SATA II ports, eSATA and FireWire capabilities, SupremeFX X-Fi 8-channel HD audio card, two PCI-E Gigabit LAN controllers, two physical BIOSes, overclocking-friendly TweakIt and ProbeIt features, an eye-catching cooling system, a feature-rich BIOS, and an impressive bundle, the Rampage II Extreme certainly has everything that one could want in a high-end overclocking-oriented motherboards.

Quite a few Republic of Gamers (R.o.G) motherboards have passed through our labs this year, such as the Rampage Formula and Rampage Extreme, and they have left a very positive impression on the HWC staff. Consequently, although we have high expectations for this model, we will nevertheless scrutinize it with a microscope and try to find its every flaw. So can this new high-end board live up to the hype and survive our onslaught of tests? Let’s find out.

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MAC

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Specifications

Specifications


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As a necessary companion to the Core i7 processors, Intel recently launched the X58 Tylersburg northbridge, now known as the IO Hub (IOH). This reclassification has occurred because of the fact that the memory controller has been integrated into the processor itself. As a result, the IO Hub is now solely responsible for implementing PCI Express lanes and linking to the I/O Controller Hub (ICH) southbridge. Since the front side bus is no more, the X58 communicates with the processor via the new high-speed QuickPath Interfarce (QPI), and it is connected to the southbridge (ICH) via the traditional Direct Media Interface (DMI). The southbridge is the venerable ICH10 found on all P45 Express motherboards, and it supports six SATA II ports, AHCI, and Matrix RAID technology.

The X58 features 36 PCI-Express 2.0 lanes, which signifies that it supports two proper PCI-E x16 slots. However, depending on the motherboard manufacturer's design, those 32 PCI-E 2.0 lanes can also be utilized in a triple PCI-E x16 (x16/x8/x8) and quad PCI-E x16 (x8/x8/x8/x8) configuration. Clearly, all X58 motherboards have full CrossFireX support, but some motherboards such as the Rampage II Extreme that we are testing today have been certified for NVIDIA SLI as well, which is something that enthusiasts the world over have been waiting for with great anticipation.

Officially, memory speeds are limited to DDR3-1066. However, all motherboard manufacturers are marketing their models as DDR3-1600+ capable via overclocking, and some are even ambitiously claiming support for DDR3-2100 and above!

Now that we have examined some of the specifications inherent to the new platform, let's see what kind of motherboard ASUS have built around this new chipset:

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MAC

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Features

Features


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With the relocation of the memory controller from the northbridge to the CPU the performance differences between two competing X58 motherboards are now going to be infinitesimally small. This is a phenomenon that we have observed on the AMD platform since they made the switch to an integrated memory controller, and it is undoubtedly going to apply to Intel from now on. As a result, manufacturer-specific features and overclocking capabilities are going to be the deciding factors when choosing between two similarly-priced X58 motherboards. ASUS is obviously aware of this reality, and since the Rampage II Extreme is currently their most high-end model, they have truly outfitted it with everything and the kitchen sink.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these standout features:
<table align="center" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="1" width="90%"><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>SLI/CrossFire On-Demand</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features1c.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />By far, bar none, the most anticipated feature in the Rampage II Extreme's arsenal is its CrossFireX <b>AND</b> 3-Way SLI capabilities. For years, enthusiasts have been drooling at the thought of SLI on an Intel chipset and that time has finally arrived. In order to support SLI, X58 motherboards must first be certified by NVIDIA, and ASUS have wisely chosen to do so with this Top-of-the-Line model.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Triple-Channel, DDR3 1800(O.C.) MHz </b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features2c.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />This motherboard blows past the official DDR3-1066 limit and features support for DDR3-1600 and DDR3-1800 via overclocking. While the Core i7 architecture is not particularly memory bandwidth limited, these higher memory speeds will undoubtedly help in setting impressive new benchmarking records. Furthermore, there is a very strong possibility that the DDR3 memory support will be increased up to DDR3-2000 and above sometime in the future via BIOS update.
</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>TweakIT</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features3.jpg" style="float: right; margin: 4px 0 0 5px;" />First seen on the original Rampage Extreme, the TweakIt feature allows on-the-fly optimizations of nearly every overclocking option with an easy-to-use joystick control. With the external LCD Poster, we can also monitor fan speeds, voltages, temperatures, and system frequency without any required software. </td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>ProbeIt</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features4.jpg" style="float: right; margin: 4px 0 0 5px;" />Second only to SLI in anticipation, the ProbeIt feature is an absolute godsend when it comes to simplifying a previously time-consuming and occasionally precarious task. ASUS have provided enthusiasts with a eight clearly labelled, easily accessible voltage read points where enthusiasts can get quick and accurate readings using a digital multi-meter.
</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Extreme Engine with ML Cap Design</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features5.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The RIIE has a new dynamic multi-phase power management system featuring 16 phases for the CPU, and 3 phases each for the QPI/DRAM, IOH, and DRAM. It also features new low Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) multilayer-type polymer capacitors.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b> iROG </b></center><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features6.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The iROG is a special IC which enables several Republic of Gamers (ROG) features to be processed at a hardware level and therefore accessible at any time. This allows advanced users to control and manage their systems in a more efficient and flexible manner.</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>BIOS FlashBack</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features7.jpg" style="float: right; margin: 4px 0 0 5px;" />The new BIOS Flashback feature gives overclockers the ability to save two versions of the BIOS simultaneously. For example, while overclocking, one BIOS can store your currently stable settings, while you keep tweaking & pushing higher with the other BIOS. This ensures that you will never lose your previous BIOS settings.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>CPU Level Up</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features8.jpg" style="float: right; margin: 4px 0 0 5px;" />CPU Level Up allows the novice user to have their entire system overclocked automatically according to presets determined by ASUS' engineers. It is simply a BIOS-level automatic overclocking feature instead of the more common and often malfunctioning software-level automatic overclocking methods.</td></tr><tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Voltiminder LED</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features9.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The Voltiminder LEDs display the voltage status for CPU, NB, SB, and memory voltages in a color-coded fashion indicating normal, high, and crazy voltage levels. They mainly serve as a simple reminder during hardcore overclocking sessions, and they <b>can</b> be turned off.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>Loadline Calibration</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features10.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The Loadline Calibration feature helps ensure stable CPU voltage under full load scenarios. It effectively eliminates the dreaded vDroop and ultimately helps achieve superior overclocking results. </td></tr>
<tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>External LCD Poster</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features13.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The new LCD Poster now posts critical POST information in an ever friendly and flexible external display. When system malfunction occurs, the LCD Poster automatically detects device failure and translates the errors on the LCD during POST.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>EL I/O</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features15.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The EL I/O feature is an innovative idea in which the rear I/O panel has a built-in light, thereby helping users to connect devices into the right connectors when it is dark. </td></tr>
<tr><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>ASUS Q-Connector</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features17.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The Q-Connector allows you to connect or disconnect chassis front panel cables in one easy step with one complete module. This unique adapter eliminates the trouble of plugging in one cable at a time, making connection quick and accurate.</td><td align="justify" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%"><center><b>ASUS EPU-6 Engine</b></center>
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/mac/reviews/asus/rampageIIextreme/features18.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 4px 5px 0 0;" />The Rampage II Extreme features the new EPU - 6 engine, which provides improved power savings by detecting load status and dynamically moderating power to the CPU, VGA card, memory, chipset, hard drives and CPU cooler/system fans. </td></tr>
</table>

As you can see, ASUS have gone to great lengths to outfit the Rampage II Extreme with some new and innovative features, and in doing so they have likely designed a motherboard that will reign above all others for quite some time. However, the essential question is, do all these features work as they should, and do they help improve the general computing experience? That is what we are determined to find out today.
 
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MAC

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Package & Accessories

Package & Accessories


Now that we have examined the Rampage II Extreme's standout features, it is time to take a look at the packaging and the included accessories. Since the RIIE is part of the Republic of Gamers (ROG) product line, and it is currently the Top-of-the-Line model in ASUS's considerable roster, we are expecting big things...

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Foregoing the over-used black and grey theme, ASUS have spiced things up a bit with the RIIE's packaging. Featuring multiple eye-catching shades of red, this new packaging would certainly standout on any retail shelf. If colours don't draw you in, then the sheer size might, since the packaging is a sizeable 13" wide, 14.5" tall, and 3.5" thick.

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It is in fact so big and hefty that ASUS have wisely opted to include a built-in handle; how's that for convenience?!

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The back of the box lists the specifications and a highlights a few of this product's unique features. However, the back is boring compared to the front, since as you can see, the packaging comes with a top flap and window revealing the Rampage II Extreme in all its glory.

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The flap itself contains more detailed information regarding the standout features listed on the back of the box. The window is quite substantial, no attempt at coyness here.

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When you open the box, you are greeted with two seperate inner sections. The first obviously holds the motherboard itself, while the bottom half contains all the accessories.

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The motherboard is protected by a plastic shield, and it is fitted quite snuggly in its protective cardboard packaging.

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The bottom section opens like window shutters to reveal a plethora of accessories and doodads.

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As you can see, the selection of accessories will not leave you wanting, and you will find things that you never even knew you wanted, the LED-lit rear I/O panel for example.

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Here we have the LCD poster which is used in coordination with the TweakIt feature to display information on voltages, temperatures, fan speeds, etc. To the right is the optional fan that can be installed on one of the MOSFET coolers. However, ASUS warns to only install the fan if you are using a passive CPU cooler or water cooling, otherwise this optional fan will likely interfere with the airflow in the CPU socket area and lead to higher CPU temperatures.

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ASUS have also conveniently provided a 3-Way SLI connector and standard CrossFireX connector. There is also the SupremeFX X-Fi audio card, which is based on the ADI AD2000B 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC, and which supports EAX versions up to 4.0.

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Of the six SATA cables, three are of the angled variety that we are so fond of here at HWC, while the rest have flat connectors, but are still high-quality cables. The PCI Expansion bracket contains two additional USB ports and a FireWire port.

Just to recap, here is a list of <b>everything</b> that is included:

  • ProbeIT Cables
  • 3-Way SLI Connector
  • CrossFireX Connector
  • ASUS Optional Fan
  • SupremeFX X-Fi Audio Card
  • External LCD Poster
  • 3-in-1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
  • 1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 Cable
  • 6 x Serial ATA Signal Cables
  • Serial ATA Power Cables
  • 2-port USB 2.0 & FireWire PCI Expansion Bracket
  • EL I/O Shield
  • 3 x Thermal Sensor Cables
  • Cable Ties
  • User's Manual
  • Support DVD

We don't think anyone will be left waiting with the RIIE's abundant accessories package. We will be revisiting these accessories throughout the article, so keep an eye out!
 
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MAC

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A Closer Look at the ASUS Rampage II Extreme

A Closer Look at the ASUS Rampage II Extreme


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At first glance you may not be able to tell, but the Rampage II Extreme is larger than a regular ATX motherboard. The RIIE is 10.5" X 12" whereas most ATX motherboards are 9.5" x 12". This extra inch of width was undoubtedly a result of adding the Tweak-It and Probe-It features on the right edge of the motherboard. That being said, the size should not cause any compatibility issues with the majority of PC cases, but it may not be suitable for smaller cases...not that you would want to install this type of motherboard in an inaccessible enclosure anyways.

Size issues aside, the overall layout of this board is excellent. The ATX power connector, the 8-pin CPU power connector, the floppy connector, the IDE connector and six SATA ports are all placed at the edge of the motherboard, which is where they always should be. The Tweak-It and Probe-It feature is located on the middle-right section, which is ideal for those who use their systems on a tech station. Even for those who use a standard case, this new location is distinctly better than the very bottom of the motherboard like on the Rampage Extreme.

Now that we have done a very quick overview, let’s take a closer look at the individual sections:

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As you can see, the general CPU socket area looks like a bit cramped compared to what we have grown accustomed to on Core 2 motherboards. However, the general mounting area is free from obstructions and the motherboard's heatsinks are all low profile, so CPU cooler installation is trouble-free. Those utilizing more extreme sub-zero forms of cooling, LN2 for example, will find it somewhat difficult to properly insulate this model due to the numerous solid capacitors that surround the socket area. Having said that, this is an issue that seems prevalent on all current X58 motherboards and it is a necessary evil related to the Core i7's high power requirements.

When it comes to power delivery, ASUS went all-out with an impressive sixteen-phase power design, which is cooled by attractive heatpipe-equipped heatsinks. To the left of the CPU socket, you may spot a shiny rectangular component, this is a high quality and high capacity Fujitsu 3V-1000uF capacitor, one of two that are outfitted on this particular model.

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Here we see the top-right corner of the motherboard, which is literally the only area of the PCB that is not overflowing with components and traces. To the left we have one of the fan headers and to the right the CPU fan header. Next we have the perfectly-situated 24-pin ATX power connector and the exciting Probe-It and Tweak-It area, which will be examined more closely in a later section.

The six blue and white memory slots are spaced closely together, but they should accommodate six of all but the most extravagantly-adorned memory modules.

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The bottom-right corner is one of the more densely-occupied areas of the motherboard. Starting from the top-left, we have the two blue onboard USB headers. Under them are the two BIOS chips, and the blue BIOS selection and BIOS clearing jumpers. The black upright SATA port is managed by the JMicron JMB363 controller, which also supplies the ubiquitous IDE port. Next we have the six blue angled SATA ports, which are supplied by the ICH10R southbridge and support RAID 0/1/5/10. You may notice the two iROG-labelled chips, one allows for the monitoring and controlling of hardware settings on-the-fly, while the other provides the ability to switch between the two BIOSes. Lastly, we have the impressive passive southbridge cooler, which sports an integrated heatpipe design. The effectiveness of this huge cooler will be tested in a later section. As a novelty feature, ASUS have included an area on the southbridge cooler for users to personalize their motherboard with their signature...or perhaps the signature of their favourite overclocker.

The overall expansion slot layout and assortment is very good. There are three full-sized PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots, two PCI-E x1 slots, and one legacy PCI slot. There is an acceptable amount of room between each slot, but if you install dual-slot graphics cards in any of the PCI-E x16 slots, you automatically lose access to the slot directly under it, be it a PCI-E x1 slot, legacy PCI slot or even the floppy connector. Having said that, dual-slot graphics cards inevitably cause accessibility issues on every motherboard, so this is not truly a design flaw. It should be noted that only the two blue PCI-E x16 slots support a full 16 electrical PCI-E lanes each, while the white PCI-E x16 slot is limited to x8.

As you all know by now, the Rampage II Extreme is one of the first motherboards to support both 3-Way SLI and CrossFireX, which obviously makes it highly desirable among those chasing benchmarking records or just seeking maximum framerates. When utilizing multiple graphics cards, the PCI-E x16 slots can operate in a x16/x8/x8 or x16/x16/x1 configuration. If ASUS outfitted the RIIE with one additional PCI-E x16 slot, then four-way CrossFireX would have been an option via the X58's x8/x8/x8/x8 configuration capabilities.

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Starting from left to right, we have the two Marvell 88E8056-NNC1 Gigabit LAN controllers, the VIA VT6308P IEEE1394/FireWire controller, the Winbond W83667HG-A Super I/O controller, and lastly the tiny ASUS EPU (Energy Processing Unit) chip.

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The passive "northbridge" cooler may look somewhat plain, but it is connected to the central heatpipe and it does have a very thick base. Due to its reduced complexity, the 45nm low-voltage IO Hub (IOH) really doesn't get as hot as conventional northbridges, so even this heatsink is overkill.

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The weird contraption attached to the left of the IOH cooler is the VTT CPU Power Card, which is simply an additional PCB that contains the VTT regulation components. The reason that ASUS have added this daughterboard is simply because they ran out of PCB room on the motherboard itself. By the way, the Republic of Gamers logo has an LED under it, and it glows a soft white while the system is operating.

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The rear I/O panel is surprisingly empty for a motherboard of this caliber, but nothing is missing. There are two Gigabit LAN ports, six USB ports, a FireWire port, an eSATA port, and a PS/2 keyboard port. That's right...the ancient PS/2 mouse port is no more! So if you are buying this Top-of-the-Line motherboard you will need to get rid of your crusty beige ball mouse from the 1990's. We feel your pain, honestly. ASUS have also included a handy Clear CMOS switch, no more opening your case and playing with jumpers.

The reason the rear I/O panel looks so barren is because the six audio jacks, optical and coaxial S/PDIF connectors are on the SupremeFX audio card. Also, there are two additional USB ports and one FireWire port on the PCI expansion bracket.

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As you can see, there are no plastic push-pins on this motherboard, every heatsink is fastened via metal bolts. You will also notice the large metal backplate behind the CPU socket area. This is a new design feature specified by Intel to ensure that heavy cooling solutions would not bend and potentially damage the PCB or even the CPU socket itself. This was obviously a wise choice since the Core i7's high Thermal Design Power (TDP) requires hefty heatsinks to keep temperatures in check, particularly when overclocking.
 
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MAC

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Messages
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Location
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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether the motherboard has adequate clearance levels in all critical areas.

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The 24-pin ATX power connector is in a wide open section of the motherboard and there are zero problems accessing it. On the other hand, the 8-pin CPU power connector is easy to plug in, but when unplugging it your finger(s) will come in contact with the MOSFET heatsink. This is obviously only relevant for those who are constantly swamping motherboards in and out of their systems.

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The Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme LGA-1366 cooler easily clears all three heatsinks, regardless of which way it is oriented. However, a wide heatsink will overhang the first DIMM slot when installed in the unusual East-West orientation. This does not prevent access to the affected memory module, but it does make the installation and removal process a bit more tricky than it otherwise should be.

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As you can see, there is absolutely no clearance issue between the memory clips and the back of the first graphics card. Thankfully, long graphics cards do not block any of the RAID-capable blue SATA ports or the IDE connector. However, the lone black SATA port becomes inaccessible when you install a dual-slot graphics cards in the third PCI-E x16 slot.

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When you install dual-slot graphics cards in the first and third PCI-E x16 slots, you can fit another dual-slot card in second PCI-E x16 slot, but obviously the space is <b>tight</b>. As a result, we recommend that you direct one or two fans at the cards to increase airflow and improve cooling. There are no issues installing the SupremeFX X-Fi audio card in the first PCI-E x1 slot.

It should be noted that when you install multiple GPUs, expansion slots start disappearing at an alarming rate. When you install dual-slot graphics cards in the two blue PCI-E x16 slots, you are left with the bottom white PCI-E x16 slot (which can fit any type of PCI-E expansion card) and the top PCI-E x1 slot, which is effectively reserved for the audio module, since there is no space for a longer card. In a 3-way configuration, all slots but the top PCI-E x1 are blocked, so you had better not need to install a RAID, WiFi, or other card.

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When a dual-slot graphics card is installed in the third PCI-E x16 slot, it does overhang all the connectors and headers at the bottom of the motherboard, but they are all still usable. There is nothing on the back of the motherboard that interferes with the Thermalright's backplate.
 
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MAC

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


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The Rampage II Extreme is a high-end overclocking-oriented motherboard, and as such we are expecting a BIOS that is feature-rich but functional, and which puts an emphasis on its enthusiast roots. Let's see if ASUS can meet our expectations...

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Upon entering the BIOS we are automatically presented with the Extreme Tweaker section, which is obviously a great start. From this section, we can tweak all essential system frequencies: CPU, memory, BLCK, PCI-E, UCLK, QPI Link, etc. As you will see, aside from with the CPU ratio, ASUS have foregone the four types of multipliers and instead list the actual frequencies which definitely simplifies the overclocking process.

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The CPU Level Up and Memory Level Up menus allow novice users to automatically overclock those components without having to mess around with clocks speeds, multipliers, and voltages. Much to our surprise, this feature did successfully overclock our Core i7-965 processor to 4.0Ghz, although the set voltages were quite a bit higher than we would otherwise need to run at this level.

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The Ai Overclock Tuner menu offers various automatic memory overclocking options, such as X.M.P, the aforementioned Memory Level Up, and the ROG Memory Profile. As you can see, when combined with the unlocked Core i7 965 XE processor, the RIIE has an impressive array of selectable memory multipliers. The 920 and 940 models only have two available memory multipliers, but a future BIOS release <b>should</b> provide unlocked memory multipliers. It should be noted that the memory speeds are related to the base clock, so as you increase the BLCK the memory frequency options increase as well.

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The UCLK Frequency options are plentiful and what you see here is just half of the available frequencies. The QPI Link Data Rate option lists the three selectable rates: 4800 MT/s (2400Mhz), 5600 MT/s (2600Mhz), and 6400 MT/s (3200Mhz).

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The DRAM Timing Control option leads to the memory timings sub-menu, and ASUS have dutifully included every possible memory setting that an enthusiast user could ever need. It may appear quite complex and overwhelming, but thankfully all the options can be left on auto if you are so inclined.

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As you scroll down, the motherboard voltage options are revealed, and every voltage setting that a serious overclocker could ever want is present and accounted for. There are no drop-down lists for the voltage options, but you can select up/down or manually insert the voltage settings which is our favourite method. The more perceptive among you will have noticed in the above screenshots that this model also features Load-Line Calibration (LLC), which is a terrific feature that eliminates droopage on the CPU vCORE, and which we will take a closer look at in our Voltage Regulation section. We are also pleased to see that the POST codes can be displayed on the LCD Poster, which makes up for the lack of onboard debug LED display.

For a complete list of voltage ranges, see the chart below:

<table border="0" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="1" width="735px"><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="100"> </td><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="100"><b>Minimum</b></td><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="100"><b>Maximum</b></td><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="100"><b>Increment</b></td><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="335"><b>Notes</b></td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">CPU vCORE</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.85v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">2.50v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.00625v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Normal sets the VID for the CPU</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">CPU PLL</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.81592v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">3.08792v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.01325v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.80v</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">QPI/DRAM</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.20v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">2.50v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.00625v</td> <td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.20v</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">IOH</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.11341v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">2.19991v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.01325v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.10v</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">IOH PCIE</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.51106v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">2.78306v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.01325v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.50v</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">ICH</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.11341v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">2.00116v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.01325v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.10v</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">ICH PCIE</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.51106v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">2.05431v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.01325v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.50v</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">DRAM Bus</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">1.51106v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">3.00831v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="100">0.01325v</td><td align="center" bgcolor="#ececec" width="335">Standard 1.50v</td></tr></table>

As you can see, ASUS have been very liberal with the voltage options, and they have provided high enough maximums to not only satisfy the most hardcore overclockers, but to also instantly fry any & all components.

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The Main menu is next, and it features the standard storage device list, and even a basic System Information section which lists some rudementary information about the system itself, including the bios version, the type of processor, the amount of memory installed, and which of the two BIOSes is in use.

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The Advanced menu contains options for CPU configuration, chipset settings, onboard devices, USB configuration, LCD Poster and LED control, and iROG configuration. This is where you can enable or disable HyperThreading, the number of cores in use, all the Intel-specific energy saving features, the onboard audio, the various storage and network controllers, etc. The LCD Poster and LED control provides a level of control over the LCD Poster and its functions, as well the ability to enable/disable the multiple LEDs strewn throughout the motherboard. The iROG Configuration allows you set how the motherboard will react to a BIOS crash, namely switch to the second BIOS or automatically copy one BIOS to the other.

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The PC Health Status or Power menus are usually a big disappointment on most motherboards, and we consistently chastise manufacturers for skimping on this important section. Thankfully, this one put a big smile on our faces. The Rampage II Extreme has top-notch temperature and voltage monitoring capabilities, everything you need to know about your system's vital stats is right there for your viewing pleasure. ASUS have even provided three additional thermal sensor cables, so you can monitor temperatures at three other areas of your own choosing. ASUS has also provided an abundance of fan monitoring and fan controlling functionality, which is great to see as well.

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The Boot menu is essentially where you set storage device priority and select the boot drive. The only noteworthy addition to this page is the BIOS Boot Priority section, where you can select which individual BIOS chip the motherboard will boot from (once the onboard jumper is set to menu select). This is a feature that we first saw on the Rampage Extreme and a true dual BIOS design remains a rarity.

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ASUS EZ-Flash 2 is a built-in utility that greatly simplies the BIOS updating process. You can easily update your BIOS from a ROM file located on your hard drive(s), USB flash drive(s), or even a CD. It's quick, painless, and it takes the worry out of BIOS flashing.

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The ASUS O.C Profile feature gives users the option to save and switch between BIOS profiles, for example an everyday profile and a benchmarking profile. Not only is this infinitely quicker than manually inserting every setting, but the profiles can be saved and shared among other Rampage II Extreme owners. We are glad to see that ASUS have listened to our recommendations, and increased the number of profiles from a meager 2 to a more reasonable 8 profiles.

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In similar fashion to the ASUS O.C Profile feature, you can also create custom TweakIt batch files which can be conveniently saved and shared. Lastly, there is the BIOS Flashback feature which allows you to backup or restore BIOS content from one BIOS chip to the other, as well as edit their descriptions.

In summary, this BIOS has everything that we have come to expect from a Republic of Gamers model and then some! The level of tweakability and functionality is far-above anything we have experienced thus far, and it is ideal for a motherboard of this caliber.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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Included Software

Included Software


Now that we have gotten the motherboard unpacked and installed, it is time to take a look at some of the software utilities that ASUS have included with the Rampage II Extreme.


PC Probe II

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PC Probe II is a system monitoring utility that displays information regarding fan speeds, component temperatures, and voltages, as well as alerting users once preset thresholds have been surpassed. In coordination with the RIIE's abundant temperature and voltage readouts, PC Probe II is a joy to use and it is easily the best piece of manufacturer-provided monitoring software that we have encountered.


AI Suite

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The AI Suite provides basic system information, but its main function is to host shortcuts to five other ASUS utilities and features, namely the EPU-6 Engine, AI NAP, CPU Level Up, Fan Xpert, and TurboV. The AI NAP is an advanced sleep feature that allows users to put their computers to sleep without terminating any tasks. Fan Xpert allows users to select from 7 fan speed profiles that can be individually applied to any fan.


TurboV

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TurboV is an overclocking utility that allows users to alter all essential system parameters, such as the BLCK frequency, CPU voltage, memory voltage, QPI/DRAM voltage, IOH & ICH voltage, all without the need to reboot. One of the coolest aspects of this application is that the settings that you apply in TurboV are actually saved to the BIOS. As a result, once you find your stable settings with TurboV, you no longer have to go into the BIOS to manually insert them. This innovative functionality is courtesy of the onboard iROG controller.


EPU-6 Engine

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First showcased on the P5Q series, the EPU-6 Engine has been one of ASUS' most highly touted new features. This utility works in coordination with the EPU (Energy Processing Unit) controller in order to minimize your system's energy consumption. It does this by continuously monitoring and altering the speeds and voltages of the CPU, VGA card, memory, chipset, hard drives and fans. There are four manually selectable modes and an automatic mode that varies settings according to system load. Regrettably, unlike Gigabyte's Dynamic Energy Saver (DES) technology, EPU-6 will not work when your system is overclocked, which obviously makes it borderline useless on an overclocking-oriented motherboard like the Rampage II Extreme.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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Test Setup & Methodologies

Test Setup & Methodologies


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Test Platform:
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Testing will occur on a Highspeed PC Standard Top Deck Tech Station, and not in a traditional case. This allows easier access to the motherboard for the constant poking and prodding that is required during the reviewing process. The setup remained as pictured during the duration of the benchmarking and stability overclocking process.


Overclocking Methodology



Since this is a hardcore overclocking-oriented model, we expect to achieve some impressive overclocking results with this new X58 motherboard and we are definitely going to find out what it is truly capable of. The overclocking section is definitely the part of our reviews that we take the most pride in, and we spend an excruciating numbers of hours testing, tweaking, failing, and succeeding in order to give you the best possible insight into each motherboard’s overclocking capabilities. After all, if you are anything like us, the overclocking section is the first (and often last!) part that you read when checking out a motherboard review.

For the purposes of this review, our overclocking efforts will primarily focus on three main areas: highest stable BLCK overclock, highest stable memory overclock, and overall stable system overclock.

In these three overclocking tests we put an emphasis on stability. While the question “What is stable?” could be debated endlessly, we have devised a methodology that combines a wide range of programs that test the stability of the entire system.

Here is the suite of applications that will be run in order to validate each of the overclocks:

  • Eight 32MB runs of SuperPi Mod 1.5 (ran at the same time)
  • 3+ hours of dual Prime 95 v25.6 using the Stress Testing Blend
  • 2 hours of OCCT Custom 2H Mix OCCT v2.0.0a - Except for Memory Overclocking
  • 3+ hours of quad HCI MemTest in Windows using all available memory
  • Multiple loops of 3DMark 06 (30 minutes of looping the full tests each)
  • 1 hour of game play in Team Fortress 2 & Crysis @ 1680x1050

Altogether, the above suite should provide enough stress testing to ensure a completely stable overclock, however we are always up for new suggestions. As always, no two systems are ever alike, so your results may vary. Also, <b>overclock at your own risk!</b> The Core i7 platform is brand new, and although we are fairly conservative with our voltage estimates, there is always the possibility that you could damage any and all of your components. If you aren’t fully confident in what you are doing, feel free to stop by our forums and our helpful community will be glad to offer some assistance.


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Benchmark Methodology



For this review, our benchmarking section will focus solely on the ASUS Rampage II Extreme, in stock and overclocked configuration. The reasoning behind this approach is that there is a miniscule clock-for-clock performance difference between two motherboards that share an identical chipset and declaring one product a winner based on a 1% performance advantages seems futile to us.

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We have outlined the two setups in the sample graph to the right. The blue results will indicate the performance at the BIOS defaults. The only changes that will be made are to the memory in order to get it running at its rated frequency and timings. Every other setting will be at the default that the BIOS sets. The red results are going to display the overall best overclock we found for this particular setup.

These overclock results are again, the best overall overclock we could manage with this motherboard and the hardware used in the review. As was mentioned in the overclocking section, we used Everest bandwidth benchmarks and a few other performance tests to determine which settings were ultimately faster, not just higher. For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Intel Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed followed by a defragment and a reboot.

C) Programs and games are then installed followed by another defragment.

D) Windows updates are then completed installing all available updates followed by a defragment.

E) Benchmarks are each ran three times after a clean reboot for every iteration of the benchmark unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged.

We have listed the benchmark versions on each graph as results can vary between updates. That should about cover everything so let's see what kind of numbers this motherboard puts up in the suite of benchmarks we have chosen.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


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The above says it all; overclocking is why the Rampage II Extreme was created, and it is why people will consider spending top dollar on this model instead of lesser boards. Now let's see if it is truly worth the premium...

...but first, keep in mind that overclocking Core i7 processors is quite different than with the previous Core 2 architecture. There are now five clock speeds (CPU/BCLK/MEM/UCLK/QPI) and four multipliers (CPU/MEM/UCLK/QPI) to tweak, as well as eight different voltages. Put simply, there are lot of new variables and potential limitations that an overclocker must now take into consideration. At the moment, no one is an expert when it comes to Core i7 overclocking, and we are all learning new tips, tricks, and tweaks on a nearly daily basis.

Before beginning, you should enter the CPU Configuration menu in the BIOS and disable the CPU TM Function. This will circumvent the "Overspeed Protection" mechanism that limits current draw and CPU power consumption to 100 A and 130 watts, respectively. You are unlikely to ever encounter these limits, but we might as well remove any potential obstacles right off the bat. Secondly, after selecting your BCLK and memory frequency, always set the UCLK and QPI speeds as close to default as possible, in order to prevent them from becoming overclocking bottlenecks. This is particularly important because at the moment it appears that the QPI frequency is the single greatest limitation to Core i7 overclocking (perhaps second only to temperatures), since anything above the 7600-7800MT/s (3800Mhz-3900Mhz) range is nearly impossible to accomplish with any stability. Thankfully, Intel are well aware of this fact, and they are working on providing lower QPI multipliers as we speak.

On similar note, as stated in the BIOS the UCLK must be at least twice the DRAM frequency. Some have argued that the UCLK should be lower than the QPI frequency, but we have had no stability issues when running the UCLK equal to or even above the QPI rate.

Some people will argue that HyperThreading should be disabled since it uses more power and causes higher temperatures, but we will leave it enabled in all our tests since we believe it is a central element of the Core i7's appeal.

Please note that CPU-Z misreports the memory timings, therefore rely on Everest instead. Also, don't pay attention to the HyperPI times, when running 8 processes the gap between the fastest and slowest run is huge (3-6 minutes), so it is simply used for stability testing purposes.


Highest Stable BCLK Overclock


As you can see, our high expectations were not misplaced, the Rampage II Extreme allowed us to increase the base clock (BCLK) from 133Mhz to 211Mhz, which is almost a 58% increase. Quite impressive for a first-generation motherboard. At the moment, it is generally accepted that the stable BCLK range is between 180Mhz and 210Mhz, so the fact that we were able to achieve the high-end mark reflects very positively on the RIIE.

In order to achieve this result, we had to increase the QPI/DRAM voltage from 1.20V up to 1.50V, which is tentatively the highest setting that we would recommend for extended benchmarking use. In order to consistently load Windows, we did have to increase IOH and ICH voltages a few increments.

Although CPU overclocking is not the focus of this section, we were able to overclock our Core i7-965 XE to 4.0Ghz, a respectable 25% increase. This overclock required approximately 1.40V, which is once again the highest setting that we would recommend for 24/7 use, if only because it was extremely difficult to keep CPU temperatures below 80C at full load. Having said that, our chip is an engineering sample, and we have seen some retail Core i7 processors with the C0/C1 stepping that not only overclock better than our E.S sample but with much less voltage as well.

By the way, just to demonstrate how truly fast this CPU Clock/BLCK combination is, click here to see a proper single SuperPI Mod 1.5 run.


Highest Stable Memory Overclock


As you can see, our 6GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 memory kit was able to achieve 1758Mhz 9-9-9-24 (remember CPU-Z is misreporting the memory timings). While this result will not impress those used to the DDR3-2000+ speeds achieved on the Core 2 platform, it is nevertheless a decent result for a first-generation low-voltage triple channel memory kit. Although we did achieve this overclock with the "recommended maximum" 1.65vDimm, this was simply because the kit did not respond to higher voltage at these timings.

With respect to the much publicized voltage limit, we can confidently state that all the hype was for nothing. Yes, very early engineering samples were susceptible to damage when high Vdimm was used, but the retail chips are much more robust. What matters the most with respect to this issue is the voltage differential between the QPI/DRAM voltage and the DRAM voltage, the general consensus is that it should not be larger than 0.5V. The QPI/DRAM voltage feeds the integrated memory controller, so it is obviously one of the key elements in memory overclocking on this new platform. For example, in order to run our memory kit at its default DDR3-1600, the QPI/DRAM voltage had to be increased from 1.20V to 1.35V (the RIIE will do it automatically as well), tweaking the DRAM voltage made no difference in stabilizing this memory frequency.


Overall Stable System Overclock


For our overall stable system overclock, we selected a 4.0Ghz core clock, 200Mhz BCLK, and DDR3-1600 memory speeds.This effectively mimics the clock speeds of a Core i7-920 overclocked to 4.0Ghz, which is what we would run on a 24/7 basis, and it will serve as the overclocked configuration in our subsequent benchmarking section. Before anyone asks, we did not bother overclocking our memory kit because triple-channel DDR3-1600 already provides a huge amount of memory bandwidth, much more than our overclocked Core i7 needs, and higher memory speeds simply did not result in worthwhile performance improvements.
 
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