If you're in the market for an X58 motherboard, there are plenty of options available. A quick search fetches countless results that fill a wide range of price points. Budget conscious enthusiasts looking to save some scratch will be happy to find that almost every motherboard maker offers an X58 model under $200. On the other end of the spectrum, companies offer performance enthusiasts and overclockers a number of products that cater to pushing the performance envelope that often manifests itself while attempting to break world records.
Asus provides serious hardware enthusiasts an excellent shot of achieving their goals with the Rampage III Extreme X58 motherboard. As the flagship model from the Republic of Gamers product line, it comes with almost every possible feature you could ask for. With an LGA1366 socket, it supports the latest Core i7 processors, providing six DIMM slots that can house up to 24GB of memory. Enough PCI Express 2.0 expansion slots are available for Tri-SLI or Quad-CrossFire configurations, allowing you the capability to maximize your system's pixel pushing power. Note the RIIE has an extended ATX form factor (12" x 10.6") which makes it about an inch wider than standard ATX.
We agree $379 is a lot to pay for a motherboard. Interestingly enough, the Rampage III Extreme isn't even close to being the most expensive board on the market. Gigabyte's X58A-UD9 sells for a whopping $699, while EVGA's dual socket SR-2 retails at $599. Looking at those prices makes Rampage III Extreme's asking price just a bit easier to swallow. But if you're the type of consumer who has never spent hours tweaking your BIOS settings or even thought about insulating your motherboard to prevent condensation from subzero cooling, perhaps these products aren't designed for you. Yes, the performance capability offered by the Rampage III Extreme comes at a cost, but its nothing new for benchmark junkies that are willing to pay extra for top of the line parts.
Before we get to the performance numbers, let's take a closer look at the features of RIIE on the following page.
True enthusiasts can appreciate a good looking motherboard. Here, we find the Rampage III Extreme sports a familiar black and red theme found in the Republic of Gamers family. But as sexy as it looks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say. After installing the board in a case, adding a memory kit, CPU cooler, and videocards, the motherboard is covered up from top to bottom.
For the uninitiated, overclockers require constant access to their components in order to make modifications during benchmarking runs. This can sometimes lead to the use of open air test benches or bypassing the use of a case altogether. The layout found on the Rampage III Extreme definitely lends itself to this use model, derived from a long history of enthusiast level motherboards and listening to the needs of their customers.
The board features several onboard switches that allow fine tuning in an open case environment. Here we find a power switch, reset switch, GO button, PCIe x16 lane switches, and Probelt connections. The GO button enables the MemOK! feature and loads a preset overclocking profile. In addition, the PCIe x16 lane switches allow you to turn expansion slots on and off for easier troubleshooting. Also, the Probelt feature gives overclockers a valuable advantage as it offers a central location for voltage readings without the requirement of additional modifications.
There are four red PCI Express x16 slots on the Rampage III Extreme. They are double spaced in order to support the installation of large videocards that take up two slots each. Dual card setups should make use of the first and third PCIe x16 slot, leaving the second slot empty to allow for increased airflow. Additionally, the board can handle up to three NVIDIA videocards in Tri-SLI, or up to four ATI cards for Quad-CrossFire.
Along the edge of the
board, we find a total of nine SATA ports. The six gray ports go through the Intel ICH10R, while the black port connects to the JMicron JMB363. The pair of red SATA ports are Marvell 6Gb/s connectors.
|Test System and BIOS Options|
How we configured our test systems: Before testing, we visited the motherboard's support page to download the latest BIOS available.
Then we flashed the BIOS to the latest revision and moved to the next
step. When configuring our test systems for this article, we set each board to its
optimized defaults. After saving the settings, we re-entered the BIOS
and set the memory for DDR3-1866 with 7-8-7-20 timings. The hard drive
was formatted, and Windows 7 Pro 64bit installed. Once
Win 7 installation completed, we updated the OS and installed the
drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows
Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking
software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.
In order to find out where the Rampage III Extreme stood in comparison to other high end boards, we tested it along with the Classified X58 motherboard from EVGA, and with the product its replacing, the Rampage II Extreme. We used a single Gigabyte Super Overclock HD 5870 during most of the tests, but added an additional card for dual GPU gaming benchmarks.
Just like any article comparing boards of the same chipset, we expect the scores to be very close. For most users, the biggest difference between these boards will come in the form of looks, connectivity options, BIOS settings, and accessory bundle. It should be interesting to see how much of an improvement the Rampage III is over the older model.
The RIIIE features an American Megatrends BIOS with plenty of options for performance tuning. We updated the board with version 0901, which was released July 2010. Upon start-up, we are greeted with the Extreme Tweaker menu, which presents the most important settings used by overclocking enthusiasts. From here, you can adjust CPU frequency, memory timings, and voltages with ease, then save up to eight different profiles.
|SiSoft SANDRA 2010 and Cinebench R11.5|
We started off our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2010, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2010 suite on the test motherboards (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multi-Media, and Memory).
Our SANDRA results were consistent. The Rampage III Extreme maintained a small performance lead in every test, with the exception of memory bandwidth, where it tied the Rampage II.
R11.5 is real world cross platform test suite that evaluates PC performance capabilities. It is based on Maxon's animation software, Cinema 4D. The CPU test scenario uses all of the system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene, and makes use of various algorithms to stress available processor cores. Results are given in points.
Again, we find both Rampage boards end up with identical scores, while providing a very small edge over the Classified 760.
We then ran our test motherboards through PCMark Vantage, Futuremark’s latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads, including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so they can exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core CPUs.
Although the benchmark takes almost an hour to complete, we like PCMark Vantage because it performs a full suite of real world testing and spits out individual scores for each task. Here we find the Rampage III Extreme did not do much to set itself apart from the other two comparison boards. Granted, it led the way in the Music and HDD benchmarks, but consistently trailed the older Rampage II Extreme by just a hair. As you can see, performance between all boards tested is pretty comparable and the field remains tight.
For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game
benchmarking with FarCry2, GTA IV, and Mafia II. Following the motherboard's instructions for graphics card placement, we ran out tests in both single and dual card configurations to test PCIe efficiency.
Our gaming tests confirm what we've seen in previous benchmarks. While both Asus boards hold a slight performance edge over the EVGA Classified at stock settings, the new Rampage III is not able to distance itself from the Rampage II. While it took the top spot in 3DMark Vantage and GTA IV testing, during FarCry2 and Mafia 2, the older board actually scored higher frame rates.
|Overclocking and Power Consumption|
is not an exact science. For example, every processor is different and
just because your friend's Core i7 processor hit 4GHz on air doesn't
mean that yours will, even if using the same settings and hardware.
Many factors can influence what a processor is capable of. These
factors include complementary components like the motherboard, memory,
power supply and cooling. In addition, user experience definitely comes
into play as there is an abundance of modifiable settings within the
We achieved a higher base clock with the Rampage III Extreme than the other two boards we tested. With additional tweaking, we're certain the Classified could produce similar results as the Rampage III Extreme, but its clear the automatic BIOS settings are superior on the Asus boards.
And finally, throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.
Even though the RIIIE was not able to produce a significant increase in performance over the Rampage II, it still showed a higher power consumption. In an idle state, the Rampage III Extreme based test system used 254W, and 445W during load.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: A general consensus among hardware sites finds that the new wave of enthusiast level X58 motherboards offer very little (if any) performance benefit over the products they're supplanting. That's exactly what we saw when we compared the Rampage III to the previous version, which is almost two years old. The boards turned in similar results throughout testing, often trading the top two spots in our comparison group, which included the EVGA Classified. Of course, the quality of the boards we used for testing was already top notch, so achieving status quo in this particular case isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Looking at the high end motherboard market, we find a broad spectrum of price points. We previously mentioned Gigabyte's $699 UD9, and the $599 SR-2 from EVGA. If we look past those two models, the choices are priced in the $299 to $399. We recently reviewed the Big Bang X-Power from MSI, and were impressed with its overclocking ability and power consumption. At $299, it is the most affordable flagship X58 motherboard available from any company. The $339 X58A-UD7 is the board from Gigabyte's line up that competes directly with the RIIIE, from a cost and features standpoint. Note the UD7 only supports 3-way CrossFire but comes with a pre-installed chipset water block. EVGA's 4-way SLI Classified 762 motherboard costs exactly the same as the RIIIE, at $379. Although it has been on the market for awhile, the 762 does provide support for the super small niche' of those who run four NVIDIA cards. Just remember that SATA 6G and USB 3.0 are missing from this particular board.
If you're buying new, and
trying to decide between this model and the Rampage II, we feel its
worth paying the extra $20 for the latest version. But if you already own a high end X58
mainboard, it would be wise to stick with it for a bit longer as you
would only see minimal improvement in the majority of use cases. Anyone looking to buy a new
motherboard should keep SATA 6G and USB 3.0 high on their requirements
list. You may not need them now, but they will be essential soon enough.
This becomes especially true for high end motherboards, as it doesn't
make sense to drop $300 on a product that doesn't support the latest
I/O technologies right out of the box.
The Recommendation: The Rampage III Extreme is an excellent board. As expected, it offers the performance and quality one would expect from an ROG product. While we weren't blown away by the results when compared to the Rampage II, it's encouraging to find there was no drop off by adding several new features. The board's redesigned heatsinks and fantastic BIOS were nice improvements, while the addition of USB 3.0 and SATA 6G should keep it current for the next few years. With that said, if you're in the market for a high end X58 motherboard that holds nothing back, we recommend taking a look at the Rampage III Extreme from Asus.