X58 Showdown: ASUS Rampage II vs. MSI Eclipse
ASUS Rampage II Extreme - BIOS & Overclocking
We had various issues with simply booting up the Rampage II Extreme, which have also been seen by other users and reported on the Asus forums. Plugging the system in for the first time caused the lights on the board to flicker on and off repeatedly, while the system itself would not boot. We tried various rebuilds and couldn't get the board to boot until we cleared the CMOS, after which all worked fine until the next time we booted. A second board we received would not boot under any circumstances. We believe we have narrowed down our issue to an incompatible PSU (an Antec Trio 650) but others have been left in the dark, even after repeatedly flashing their BIOS with new revisions.
Once we got things sorted out, we booted our system up and checked out the BIOS. ASUS wanders off of the usual path, using an Award BIOS that, at first, seems so different from almost any other board that we've tested. Its appearance, color, and section layout let you know that you're in for something outside of the norm. And, as one might expect with a board of its type, Extreme Tweaker is the first section you'll come across. Inside are all of the various tools that one needs to tweak their system down to the most minute voltages. However, for the average person this may seem to a bit overwhelming, made even more so by the lack of direction or explanation in the manual.
Running through the various screens, one by one, you'll still find all of the options to enable or disable components, set up the order of your drives to boot from, and check on the status of the CPU technologies currently enabled, such as SpeedStep or HyperThreading. Of course, there are some ASUS-only areas, such as an entire page devoted to configuring the LCD Poster and how the LEDs on the board should respond and one that checks on the status of the LAN cables using ASUS' AiNET2.
As we mentioned, the first and probably last section that we visited in the BIOS was the Extreme Tweaker. Leaving everything at <AUTO> should be enough to get the system up and running, but any overclocker worth their salt will want to get their hands dirty here. CPU Level Up and Memory Level Up are quick ways to choose a higher level of performance and leaving the dirty work of adjusting the other parameters up to the BIOS. For finer tuning, one needs to set these to <Manual> thus leaving the frequency and voltage choices open for direct manipulation.
ASUS offers plenty of voltage and other options in their BIOS, but they fail to adequately define what many of these are. As such, you're left a bit on your own when tweaking settings. We stuck with some of the main voltage options when overclocking to keep things simple. Adjusting the base clock, we only had three options to switch the DRAM ratio in order to keep speeds at or around the memory's specifications.
Since we had started testing with the Eclipse, we had an idea of what speeds we were shooting for, but the ASUS Rampage II Extreme was far more sensitive to raising the base clock frequency. Starting at 175 MHz, we had to constantly tweak the voltages here and there to get a few more MHz ahead. Where the MSI Eclipse seemed to handle this much more gracefully with CPU Voltage set to Auto (and everything else remaining at default settings), we basically had to raise almost every voltage setting we could, stopping just shy of those listed as 'crazy'.
Even with all of the tweaking, we were only to get a single MHz higher than the Eclipse. DDR3 ratios were definitely lacking, although again higher speed rated memory would be very helpful in this regard. Overall, this was a somewhat trying experience when compared to the smooth ride we had on the MSI Eclipse.