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ASUS ROG Rampage III Extreme LGA1366 Motherboard Preview

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3oh6

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<p style="text-align: justify;">Like the reviewers here at Hardware Canucks, the ASUS ROG team is hard at work, and we are having trouble keeping up to them. Most recently, Mike posted a preview of two new ASUS video cards based on the 5870 series including a ROG 5870 Matrix. A lunar cycle or two before the 5870 Matrix, SKYMTL introduced the brand new ASUS Maximus III Extreme, yet another high-end piece of hardware from the shelves of the ROG department at ASUS. Then, just the other night, Mike posted another preview of the Crosshair IV AMD motherboard. I wanted to get in on the action so today I present, the yet to be released, ASUS Rampage III Extreme. And you guessed it, the Republic Of Gamers strike again.

The Rampage Extreme lineage goes back to mid 2008 when the now legend "REX" hit the streets and became THE LGA775 motherboard for benching. In fact, the original Rampage Extreme is still a highly pursued motherboard for C2D benching. The legend was born, but arguments can be made that the ball was dropped with the second coming. There is no point in hiding the fact that atop the HWBot.org rankings, the results were not dominated by the Rampage II Extreme. The first round of the X58 motherboard battle royal went to the Classified, the ROG team did not accept that. In steps the Rampage III Extreme.

At this point in time, the ASUS Rampage III Extreme is still in beta stages with only engineering samples roaming the wild. As such, the BIOS is also still in the beta stage and thus, the results shown here today are officially labeled...you guessed it, beta. We were quite surprised when we first received our engineering sample that the board was already very polished, and the BIOS updates have been coming in at a steady pace with improvements coming with every iteration. The latest BIOS has answered a number of our requests including updated RTL control and full compatibility with CPU-Tweaker in Windows. This preview is not intended to be a review, simply an early look to whet the appetite at what appears to be a very promising new offering from within the Republic Of Gamers lab.</p><center><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/3oh6/asus/r3ep/index-2.jpg" alt="ASUS Rampage III Extreme"></center>
 
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3oh6

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Rampage III Extreme Overview

Rampage III Extreme Overview

<p style="text-align: justify;">We will dive right in with a very brief look at the layout of this voluptuous new Rampage III Extreme. Be aware that this R3E is not standard ATX size, this becomes immediately apparent once seeing the motherboard in person, but something we wanted to mention in case the photos do not convey the width of this board.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The most obvious component of the Rampage III Extreme pictured above is the lack of heat sinks. This is simply due to the fact that the final heat sink design has just finally been decided. For a photo of the final board design, our impatient readers can scroll down. In the second photo above we have the impressive VTT and CPU PWM circuits. Now we won't go digging into the specs of components used, but as SKYMTL's Maximus III Extreme Preview explained, the CPU PWM is comprised of two main parts that combine the best features of an analog PWM - cool operation and efficiency - with the benefits of the a digital design - high switching frequency and a higher level of stability under extreme load.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The two busiest locations on the motherboard are shown above. To the left, the major information providing area which includes voltage test probe locations, on-board power and reset buttons, Q LED for identifying POST success, switches that I have no information on, and of course the Go Button that takes you back to the 1950's in a Delorean. In the above photo to the right is South Beach...err, south bridge corner. A pair of BIOS chips are the key to this section as ASUS has added some very nice BIOS recovery abilities to their latest high end boards. We also want to highlight the OC Station on-board header identifying the R3E to be compatible with ASUS's OC Station peripheral as well as three more 4-pin fan headers. We are not sure if you have been counting but there are a total of 7 fan connectors and they are all in great locations.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">Another unique connector on this motherboard is a 4-pin molex connection along the bottom edge. We assume this connector is to add voltage stability to the PCI-E slots, but we haven't confirmed that with ASUS just yet. What we can say for sure, is that it is not alone.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">Just to the left of the top PCI-E 16X slot is another 4-pin molex connector, again, assumed to add stability to a weighted down PCI-E slot area. Speaking of which, there are a total of four PCI-E 16X slots, a PCI-E 4X slot (with open back), and a single PCI slot. The slot layout looks great, but just what we are capable of running with this board is a bit of a mystery. There is no NF200 chipset so just how all four PCI-E 16X slots work is something we will be investigating.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The rear I/O panel offers a lot of juicy information, as well as some insight to even more impressive features of this motherboard. In addition to standard on-board audio powered by the Realtek ALC889 codec, we can clearly see a PS2 keyboard port, 9 total USB ports; two of which are USB3.0 ports controlled by a NEC 720200F1. Another one of the USB ports is actually the location for the ROG Connect cable to attach. ROG Connect is a nifty little feature that allows the R3E to be controlled and monitored from a second computer at a completely hardware level. There are a few other connections as well as a CMOS clear button.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">These last two photos depict how we have outfitted our Rampage III Extreme sample with cooling. Our weapons of choice are Swiftech MC14's on the CPU PWM, which have done a fabulous job keeping this PWM cool, but between you and I...they aren't even necessary, this is one cool PWM. Then we have Enzotech MOS C1's on the VTT PWM and vDIMM PWM MOSFETs, along with Swiftech MC21's. For the X58 IOH, also known as the north bridge, is a very old but still solid Noctua NC-U6. And finally on the south bridge is another piece of Enzotech hardware, the SLF-1. We went a bit overkill with the heat sinks but their installation will not interfere in anyway with other hardware yet to be installed and you can never have too much cooling.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">Like we said, the retail cooling solution appears to have been finalized hours before posting this so consider this the first look. Without actually having a sample in our hands, the heat sink design certainly captures the essence of a cutting edge board with its sharp anti-uniform angles. It will be interesting to see how it fits in with the aesthetics once we have a complete sample in front of us.</p>
 
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3oh6

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Feature Spotlight: ROG Connect

Feature Spotlight: ROG Connect

<p style="text-align: justify;">There are a plethora of features on this motherboard. We have pointed out a couple in the layout section, things like the on-board voltage probe points and the mystery "Go Button" (which is actually a sort of safety boot configuration). What we are going to briefly look at right now, however, is the ROG Connect software package. The reason for this is that it is actually pretty cool and we have found it surprisingly useful.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">We have used the RC Poster, and RC Remote software the most out of the whole package. Pretty much the entire time we have been testing with the motherboard, we have had these two programs open on another machine. These two pieces of software offer diagnostic help by identifying where POST failed, and also assist in keeping us lazy as we can remotely turn on or off the machine.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The real heart of the whole RC movement is RC TweakIt, a relic from the original Rampage Extreme that introduced TweakIt. From here we have full access to the system. BCLK, PCI-E frequency, and almost every voltage option that we have in the BIOS. In addition to the controls, we also have fan speed, temperature, and voltage readouts for monitoring motherboard vitals. From the RC TweakIt program, we can basically control the system, including changing BCLK and voltages on the fly through hardware. That means running CPU clocks higher during the first two game tests in 3DMark 06, dropping BCLK/voltage for the CPU tests, then back up for the SM3.0 tests; the entire time, we are not using system resources with software as this is done at the hardware level through the ROG chips on the motherboard.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">RC Diagram is another component that doesn't just monitor, but graphs that which it is monitoring. We can set it to monitor any voltage, temperature, and also CPU Current. The above graph shows the CPU getting hammered during an 06 CPU test at 5.4GHz.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The last of the software package is the RC BIOS Flashback which provides us with remote BIOS control.

Now, I have finished outlining the good aspects of the RC software, time for the bad. I personally have been tremendously hard on ASUS software included with motherboards in the past. The ROG Connect software is by far the best effort ASUS has put forth thus far, but we do have some notes. First off, with the RC Remote, please allow us to bypass the prompt that wants to confirm every button push...or remove the confirmation prompt all together as it gets annoying. We had some issues connecting to RC TweakIt on occasion as it took several tries at times, but once we were connected, the link was solid as a rock. Our final complaint is the limitation of RC Diagram to only handle three options at a time. Despite a few small annoyances, and even after the novelty of turning a system on from another computer wears off, the RC Tweak It and subsequent programs work well and we found them very useful.

Now to finish this section off, since we didn't have the bluetooth module handy to show the feature ourselves, is a video from ASUS Tech In Style outlining the ROG Connect through a bluetooth enabled cell phone...

<center><object style="height: 360px; width: 640px"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/fkP9Ns-9YZ0"><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/fkP9Ns-9YZ0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always" width="640" height="360"></object></center></p>
 
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3oh6

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Test Setup

Test Setup

<p style="text-align: justify;">Every bench session needs a setup, and this is the breakdown of the hardware we have used thus far with the Rampage III Extreme. This preview is all about overclocking which is made obvious from the cooling listed below. A lot of pre-testing has been done on a single stage phase change unit and we will also present some results of a session with LN2 for cooling. Here is how our hardware shakes out:</p><center><table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="735px"><tr><td align="left">
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</a></td></tr></table><br /><table border="0" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="1" width="735px"><tr><td colspan="4"><b><font color="#ffffff">Test Platform:</font></b></td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Motherboard:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">ASUS Rampage III Extreme</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Processor:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Intel i7 980X ES</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Processor Cooling:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Chilly1 SS Phae Change<br>KingpinCooling.com F1EE w/LN2</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Thermal Paste:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Arctic Silver Ceramique</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>IOH Cooling:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Noctua NC-U6</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>PWM Cooling:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Swiftech MC14's / Enzotech MOS C1's</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>SB Cooling:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Enzotech SLF-1</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Memory:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Corsair Dominator GTX2 PC3-18000 CL8 (CMGTX2)</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Video Card:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">XFX XXX HD5870 (CCC 10.2)</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Video Card Cooling:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Thermalright HR-03 Rev.A</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Power Supply:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Antec TPQ1200<br>Silverstone Zeus ST56F / Ultra X-Pro 750W</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Additional Fans:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Scythe Ultra Kaze 120MM 2000RPM 87.6CFM (DFS123812L-2000)</td></tr><tr><td align="center" bgcolor="#cc9999" width="25%"><b>Hard Drive:</b></td><td align="left" bgcolor="#ececec" width="75%">Seagate 7200.9 80GB SATAII 8MB cache</td></tr></table></center><p style="text-align: justify;">The item to note is the Power Supply Choice above as it looks a little strange. You can see in the photos with the phase change that we are using an Antec TPQ1200, but with LN2 we are using a combo of the Zeus and the X-Pro. Apparently the TPQ1200 didn't like a CPU on LN2 as literally two minutes after bringing temperatures down, the Antec power supply packed it in. Now, this shouldn't have an effect on the performance results but is certainly something to keep in mind. The Zeus power supply will be running the HD5870 with the X-Pro powering the motherboard and CPU. This of course means we will also have a single EPS connector powering the CPU. Again, it shouldn't be a factor but something we figured worth mentioning given the nature of benching under high loads with LN2.

Let's quit talking though, and get to some bench results!</p>
 
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3oh6

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Single Stage Phase Change Results

Single Stage Phase Change Results

<p style="text-align: justify;">This section will consist of a few results we pulled with our setup under single stage phase change cooling. Temperatures at the evap are around -30C to -20C with this cooling option. Before we get to the results, however, we want to show the insulation method we use as people are always asking about it with new motherboards.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">To prevent condensation around the CPU we have to insulate the socket and surrounding area. We start off by taping the area around the socket to prevent the kneaded rubber eraser from getting into the socket pins. Then it is a matter of pressing the eraser around the socket and re-installing the CPU hold down bracket. At this point, we are almost ready to go, we just have to finish applying the kneaded rubber eraser.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The proximity of the capacitors to the right of the socket don't pose a hassle at all with the use of kneaded rubber eraser. We simply pack the eraser around the capacitors giving absolutely no place for condensation to form. If we were to use a traditional neoprene insulation layer those capacitors would be a different story. Once we have all of the eraser in place, we place a layer of paper towel down and are ready to mount the evaporator.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">It looks like everything is in place and ready to rock.</p><center>
<table align="center" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="10" cellspacing="1" width="90%"><tr><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">AM3
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</td><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">01
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</td></tr><tr><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">05
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</td><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">06
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</td></tr></table></center><p style="text-align: justify;">Our 3D numbers look bang on for a single HD5870, and quite impressive to say the least. At these early stages of testing a motherboard there is usually some kind of performance holes to plug or wrinkles to iron out, but the Rampage III Extreme is up to snuff. So far, we have been quite pleased with the board both in performance and usability. The BIOS feels very solid and actually quite mature.</p>
 
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3oh6

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Liquid Nitrogen Results

Liquid Nitrogen Results

<p style="text-align: justify;">Next up is a look at how the board handles LN2. These results were from our first session with this particular chip under LN2 so it was a bit of an exploratory mission. First though, we needed to make a small change to the setup.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">Obviously we needed to strap our KingpinCooling.com F1EE pot and swap in appropriate insulation. The difference between our phase and LN2 insulation is simply the top layer of Armacell. Once we have the new layer in place, we can mount the pot. We begin the session with some 2D results.</p><center><table align="center" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="10" cellspacing="1" width="90%"><tr><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">Super Pi 1M
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</td><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">PiFast
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</td></tr><tr><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">Super Pi 32M
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</td><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">wPrime
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</td></tr></table></center><p style="text-align: justify;">Well the reality of extreme benching hit us hard right out of the gates...cold bug. This chip we have is particularly horrible in this regard and really is the limiting factor in the benching we are going to see today. Being limited to a -85C cold bug really restricts what one can do with a chip, in our case it didn't instill much confidence to go over 1.80v for vCORE. Now that seems high already, but B1 retail stepping Gulftown CPU's really seem to like voltage: up to 2v in some instances. Our results are quite solid for being limited to 5.7GHz or less for clocks.

At this point, the board has worked flawless. Recovery from cold bug was great, just a matter of getting the pot to the right temp and rebooting. Overall, the board felt like we have been benching at these temps for a long time. The way the board reacted was 100% what we were looking for.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;"><p style="text-align: justify;">Unfortunately the cold bug is just part of life, this is where the CPU was most happy, -130C would have better, but that is just how it works some times. We have subsequently moved this processor into the EVGA X58 Classified and found it to initiate cold bug even sooner, around the -65C mark. This definitely means it is the CPU as the culprit, and also points to the R3E actually being quite good for holding off cold bug. A colleague of ours has found the exact same thing, lower cold bug on the R3E than the Classified. It is still early to draw conclusions but the data is starting to come in and it looks good fro the R3E.</p><table align="center" bgcolor="#666666" cellpadding="10" cellspacing="1" width="90%"><tr><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">AM3
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</td><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">3DMark 03
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</td></tr><tr><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">3DMark 05
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</td><td align="center" valign="top" bgcolor="#ececec" width="50%">3DMark 06
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</td></tr></table></center><p style="text-align: justify;">The 3D numbers really are strong for the clocks we are at. I personally wanted to clip 45K in 05 but with the CPU clocks we were limited to it just wasn't going to let that happen. We have found that this board really likes the 24X uncore multi. Which drastically improved uncore clocking over the 20X multi we were working with on phase cooling. Other than that, the board all but let us run what we wanted. Like the 2D results, cold bug was the single limiting factor and the board really let us max out our results given this limitation.</p>
 
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3oh6

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Initial Impressions

Initial Impressions

<p style="text-align: justify;">This ended up turning into more than just a preview but the benching went relatively well despite the terrible chip we have, and when this type of benching environment goes well...we have learned to just let it ride. Thus far we have been very impressed with the Rampage III Extreme. As we have mentioned a couple times, the board and BIOS feel very mature for their age...and not in that "30 year old guy cruising university campuses picking up second year students" creepy kind of way. The R3E really is starting to come into its own. We have been in contact constantly with ASUS regarding the BIOS and everything we have asked for is being implemented. Needless to say, we are confident with where development is going and are really expecting a polished BIOS and board by the time it goes retail.</p><center>
</center><p style="text-align: justify;">The feature-set this board offers is quite strong. There are a couple newer features we are starting to see with the entire ROG lineup including the R3E, like the ROG Connect software that enhances remote control of the motherboard from another machine or even a bluetooth enabled smart phone. The features available aren't just for overclockers either, this motherboard really is offering some useful tools for all users including USB3.0 connections and from what we can tell, an extremely cool running motherboard.

Keep in mind that the cooling we are using for testing is obviously not the stock cooling pictured above, but we are very pleased with how cool this motherboard runs. The analog/digital hybrid PWM is most impressive capable of running completely passive for most daily setups. Our MC14's we added to the PWM were absolutely overkill.

Most importantly, the BIOS despite being still in beta is already very strong; both in performance and features. The numbers we have seen thus far in our benching show an excellent X58 motherboard on par with the rest. The R3E can also clearly handle the new six core Gulftown processor from Intel as well. Under phase and LN2 it responded exactly as we wished, despite a less than ideal PSU setup. We'll shut this preview down for now, but keep your eyes peeled on the pages of Hardware Canucks.com for updates on when this promising board will be going retail.</p>


 
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