The X58 Rampage

Asus Rampage III Extreme

Finally! Years ago, well 17 months ago, I reviewed the Asus X48 Rampage Extreme and promptly fell in love with the board. I then proceeded to solely use that board for the next 9 months, it was that good. Roughly a year ago Brian Wallace reviewed the Asus X58 Rampage II Extreme. In my opinion the Rampage II Extreme felt like it had lost the magic contained within the affectionately nicknamed REX. But don't worry, with this third REX the magic is back and stronger than ever.

Asus Rampage III Extreme

Like those awesome custom heatsinks? You want a matching pair and board? Well tough, they are a combination of old RAM and chipset heatsinks as the retail heatsink for the Rampage III Extreme isn't available. In fact the board we have today is considered a pre-production sample with a work-in-progress BIOS. That however doesn't mean that this is a half-working board. If anything you could consider it a sleeper board and in the short time I've had it on my bench I've constantly raised an eyebrow in shock.

Asus Rampage III Extreme

So, I mentioned that I felt the Rampage II Extreme had lost the magic. This was most likely due to the guys at EVGA absolutely knocking one out of the park with their X58 E759 Classified and taking the enthusiast overclocking scene by storm. Without the Classified I suspect the Rampage II Extreme may have been THE board to have. That hopefully will all change this March when the Rampage III Extreme hits retail. Let's now take a visual tour of the new REX.

Board Images

Asus Rampage III Extreme

Here is how the board arrived at my door. I tore open the package, pulled the board out, and laughed hard.

Asus Rampage III Extreme with makeshift heatsinks

A few hours spent digging through my shelves and piles of junk and I found a cooling solution that kept all the precious bits from roasting. The heatsinks on the ICH10R keep the chip around 45C with no airflow while the X58 IOH hovers around 40C with a ~30cfm 60mm fan blowing on that heatsink. Since I couldn't fit a heatsink over the vtt PWM sitting above the X58 IOH I have a second fan blowing over those fets. The PWM heatsinks seem to do the trick also with the backside of the PCB sitting around 40-45C meaning enough heat is being dissipated through the sinks to keep the fets from roasting.

Asus Rampage III Extreme

Since there aren't many details regarding this board I will presume it is like every other LGA1366 board in that it supports 24GB of DDR3 and the common dividers for DDR3-1066, DDR3-1333, DDR3-1600, DDR3-1866, and DDR3-2133. The memory slots are powered with a 3-phase PWM that sits off-screen to the left of the slots. Hiding above the 24-pin connector are 3 LEDs that indicate the DDR voltage. Below the 24-pin connector are 4 status LEDs that indicate the BOOT process of the board.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Power Button and Voltage Read Points

Here you've got that persistent Start button that has been around since the first REX. Sitting to the right of it is the "LN2 Switch". Since the board came with no manual I can only guess but I'd wager it tricks the temp diode on the processor in an attempt to alleviate cold-boot and cold-bug temperatures when benching with liquid nitrogen. To the left of the Reset button are four jumpers that disable the four PCIe slots. This can be used to quickly switch between one, two, three, or four graphic cards for benching especially if you have a complex cooling apparatus attached to them such as waterblocks or liquid nitrogen pots. Last up are the highly useful multimeter probe points lined up in a row at the edge of the board. There are points for every voltage on the board and the white connectors I believe are for cables to easily insert multimeter probes into.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Southbridge

Here you can see the ICH10R southbridge in addition to the PWM feeding the DDR3 slots and the X58 IOH. Above and to the right of the red SATA connector is the Marvel SATA6 controller that provides connectivity for those red connectors.

Asus rampage III Extreme SATA Ports

The SATA connectors are thoughtfully angled for those of you who run multi-GPU configurations. The red connectors provide SATA 6Gbps connectivity while they black connectors provide SATA 3Gbps connectivity.

Asus rampage III Extreme BIOS Chips and BIOS Switch

You can see the two BIOS chips that provide a comfortable level of redundancy. The red switch on the far right switches which BIOS chip is active while LEDs that are hidden above the BIOS chips indicate which chip is active.

Asus Rampage III Extreme PCIe Slots

The Rampage III Extreme has the perfect PCIe layout for an ATX form factor. Well not exactly ATX, the board is the standard 12" tall but 10.6" wide instead of 9.6". Anyway, since there are not NF200 or related PCIe switches the slots are wired for x8/x8/x8/x8 when four cards are used or x16/x16 when two cards are used in the red slots.

Asus Rampage III Extreme PCIe Auxillary Power

Situated below the PCIe slots is a PCIe auxiliary power connector that is used to provide enough +12v to the PCIe sub-system to prevent current overdraw on the +12v pins on the 24-pin ATX connector. This will hopefully prevent this board from burning out the 24-pin connector like we saw on the EVGA Classified with 4 GPU configurations.

Asus Rampage III Extreme PCIe PLX Switch

Sandwiched between the white and second red slot is a PCIe x4 slot that shares connectivity through the ICH10R if I understand the PCIe layout correctly. There is a PLX PEX86088 lane PCIe 2.0 switch which I believe is responsible for sharing bandwidth between this slot, the NEC USB 3.0 controller, and the SATA 6Gbps controller.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Socket and PWM

Look familiar? Dual +12v EPS connectors just like the Classified! Not that they seem to help much, but worth noting. The 8-phase PWM is controlled by a CHiL chl8318 8-phase buck controller that explicitly mentioned overclocking in its product brief.

Asus Rampage III Extreme IO Panel

There are plenty of IO options available for you to choose from. That pesky PS/2 port is still around but to counter-act it are a pair of USB 3.0 ports in blue. There are 6 normal USB 2.0 ports and then a special ROG Connect USB 2.0 port sitting next to the USB 3.0 ports. This port, when the button is disengaged, acts like a USB 2.0 port. When the button is engaged though, ROG Connect is enabled. I'll talk about ROG Connect later so all you need to know now is that it is awesome. To round things out are an eSATA port, a FireWire port, six audio jacks, and a optical audio port. Notice the single gigabit Ethernet port. I don't know anyone who used Ethernet teaming, rather glad they cut that out.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Back of PCB

The backside of the board is pretty simple. Nothing to see here except the super awesome sharpie marker 15 by the socket. Let's pretend the board was hand-signed.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Top Half

Here you can see the top-half of the board. Something interesting that I forgot to take a snapshop of is the bluetooth module that sits directly behind the ROG Connect button. The retail board will ship with a bluetooth module which is a great feature for people with bluetooth mice, keyboards, and the like.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Bottom Half

I believe I covered all the important tidbits on the bottom half of the board. One interesting thing to point out are the PCIe latches for the slots. I love these as you can disengage them with a butterknife and pull a card that is trapped between two cards without much trouble.

RC TweakIt and TurboV

Asus TurboV

Here is TurboV, the Asus bundled software for controlling voltages, frequencies, and monitoring voltages and temperatures in Windows. Compared to some of the other bundled software from competitors it isn't half bad but there are definitely better options available like Eleet.

Asus PC Probe II

PC Probe II gives you a nice little sidebar so you can quickly glance over on your desktop for voltage and temperature information. Nice large text, nice colors, what else can I say.

Rampage III Extreme ROG Connect to Laptop

I said ROG Connect is the best thing since sliced bread and here is why. You get a bundled laptop! Awesome huh?! All jokes aside ROG Connect is indeed pretty sick. That white cable connects to the ROG Connection USB port on the board and the cable connects it to your laptop so you can do the following.

Asus RC TweakIt

Everything you could do with TurboV can be done with RC TweakIt. Since ROG Connect is a hardware solution regardless of what is going on with the Rampage III Extreme outside of a disaster you can adjust frequencies and voltages to your hearts content. This opens up another world of tweaking for benchmarks. Now what they need is a more stream-lined way to quickly load profiles with a few programmable buttons on the main screen.

Asus RC TweakIt RC Poster and RC Remote

I thought the lack of a POST reader on the board was a bit lame until I saw RC Poster and RC Remote. I sat there purposely rebooting the Rampage III Extreme just to watch it go through the POST process.

Asus RC TweakIt Diagram Power Analysis

Since I am a stats/numbers junkie I found RC Diagram to be incredible. I just have the CPU vcore and amp draw shown but you can monitor EVERYTHING. I however really like the amp draw, plan on looking at a few of these charts in the near future when I do the extreme overclocking review.

Asus RC TweakIt BIOS Flash Software

For those of you that don't like flashing a BIOS from Windows there is RC BIOS Flashback which.. lets you flash the BIOS from another computer running Windows. The good news though is that in theory the computer running the flash application would be 100% stable. Time to buy an eeePC right?

Test Configuration

Asus Rampage III Extreme Test System

Today I'm using the usual set of components from my X58 test platform. I'm using a Xeon w3570 set to Core i7 920 speeds, Corsair Dominator GT 2000C7 2GB modules set to 1866 7-8-7-20-1T, an Asus HD 4890 using the 10.1 Catalyst drivers, and an HX1000 powering the entire setup. Windows 7 Professional x64 was used with the normal set of tests with comparison data from the EVGA X58 Classified and Gigabyte X58A-UD7. It should be noted that the Rampage III Extreme never had a set RTL for the memory. On each reboot it changes slightly but on this run it set to 55-57-58 which is slightly tighter and matches the EVGA Classified while the Gigabyte X58A-UD7 ran 57-59-60.

Intel X58 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core i7 920

Motherboard

Check Review

Memory

Corsair Dominator GT DDR3-2000 C7 3x2GB

Video Card

Asus HD 4890 1GB

Hard Drive

Seagate 7200.10 320GB

Case

Dimastech Bench Table Hard V2

Cooling

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus

Power Supply

Corsair HX1000

Operating System

Windows 7 Professional x64


Test Results

Asus Rampage III Extreme Results

Click on the image to see the full-sized chart.

I'm not too surprised here considering how everyone has mentioned that the Rampage II Extreme is typically more efficient than the EVGA Classified in benchmarking. By this statement it would then make sense that the Rampage III Extreme would have a similarly massaged BIOS to make it as efficient as possible. Something important to note as I mentioned on the previous page was the varying RTL values on each reboot. Without even changing a setting I could reboot a dozen times and get a different combination of RTL values which can dramatically affect performance. The first value was typically 55, the second value between 56-58, and the third value between 58-60. I'm not sure how the board calculates which RTL value to set but it would be nice to be able to lock in a specific RTL. Hopefully by retail we'll have an answer for this and results I can stand behind 100%. Until then take these results with a grain of salt. Sandra's Memory test alone would fluctuate between 31GB/s and 28GB/s between boots which is roughly a 10% deviation. I'll re-run the tests with the launch BIOS in the future.

Air Overclocking

Asus Rampage III Extreme Overclocking Super Pi 1M

After confirming that I had set 1.35vcpu, 1.30vtt, 1.65vdimm, and I had dropped the multiplier to 12x I proceeded to run the Super Pi 1M baseclock test. With 100MHz PCIe the board walled at 221MHz baseclock while setting PCIe to 112MHz enabled overclocking up to 227.5MHz base clock. One click higher in baseclock resulted in a bluescreen.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Overclocking Super Pi 32M

Switching to Super Pi 32M witnessed the same stability issue at 228MHz baseclock. 227MHz baseclock was rock solid though.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Overclocking 24/7

Switching over to the 24/7 test I was only able to run at 4210MHz without suffering an error through Intel Burn Test. I think this may have been due to the warmer ambient temperatures than in recent tests, with better cooling and/or more voltages higher frequencies would have been possible.

I will be testing this board again in the near future with liquid nitrogen and possibly dry ice so don't think I'm completely skipping over those options. For the sake of getting this review completed in a timely manner they were dropped for a later date.

Conclusion

Asus Rampage III Extreme

I'm rather glad Asus stuck with the Rampage Extreme branding as it lets me say stuff like EEEEXXXXTRRREEEEMMMMMEEE in daily conversation. I know in just writing this article I've mumbled that to myself a half-dozen times with a grin on my face. I have a feeling the Rampage III Extreme will be another board that goes down in the history books for high performance. This board though won't be limited in appreciation to just those people who benchmark with liquid nitrogen and dry ice. A lot of thought was put into the layout and the fact that it has an ATX form factor height means it'll enable 4-way CrossFire in a normal ATX case unlike the EVGA X58 Classified 4-Way SLI which fits in only a handful of cases.

Asus Rampage III Extreme

Since this isn't a retail board and we haven't got much information regarding availability and such I can only estimate that it'll be available for the upcoming Intel Gulftown launch in March. Pricing is sort of an educated guess around $400 to $450 considering the price of the P6T7 Supercomputer and the EVGA Classified. Like all Asus motherboards the Asus Rampage III Extreme will carry their 3 year warranty which is an acceptable time period given the pace at which computer components are rendered obsolete.

Since we currently have not got the retail heatsink for this board it is impossible to take that into consideration. However, since the McGyver style heatsinks that I put in place were very effective I cannot imagine their thermal solution being a limiting factor. Considering how excessively built the PWM is on this board, anything outside of a Gulftown at excessive speeds will stress it and generate lots of heat. That being said I look forward to seeing what the retail heatsink solution will look like, it could make or break the aesthetic appearance of this board.

Asus Rampage III Extreme Power Button and Voltage Read Points

The Asus Rampage III Extreme is definitely a board for the gadget fiend. It has so many little features implemented in it that it should keep anyone busy for a while. I rather like the inclusion of a BlueTooth module which is a nice step in the right direction for connectivity. The Rampage III Extreme is as tricked out as they come and should be near the top if not at the top of your short list of flagship boards. Without trying to sound like an obsessive fanboy, I'd say it is fair to say the Rampage Extreme magic is back.

Legit Bottom Line: The Asus Rampage III Extreme is chock full of features and brings back that overclocking magic that has appeared to have been lost.