Rampage III Extreme Layout
Price: £329 inc VAT
Best Price: http://pricebomb.co.uk
The Rampage series has included Asus' flagship Intel motherboards for the past three generations, pushing the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to overclocking and innovation. Today we have the latest iteration in the ITShootout labs; the Rampage III Extreme.
The first thing to strike you about the Rampage III, monolithic box aside, is the board's aesthetics. In our opinion this is the most gorgeous looking motherboard yet released with stylistically shaped heat sinks, a lovely red and black colour scheme and a larger-than-ATX layout. This oversized footprint will cause some users problems during installation. We were unable to fit the board in the Silverstone Fortress FT01 case though in all likelihood the kind of user to buy a Rampage will probably have a top notch full-tower chassis as well.
As well as the board Asus provides a generous bundle. You get two flavours of SLI bridge, a Crossfire connector, 8 SATA cables, a USB/eSATA bracket, cable ties, an optional bolt-on Northbridge cooler, a temperature probe, a driver disk and a detailed manual - phew! Asus also includes its usual handy Q-connectors for easy case switch and LED installation and a "ROG Connect" cable, as well as a Bluetooth RG connecto module that doubles as a conventional Bluetooth dongle.
In terms of layout the Rampage III Extreme does little wrong. The single-sided memory slots mean that Asus can increase the spacing between the two primary video cards without impeding memory upgrades and there is enough space around the socket to accommodate the largest of CPU heat sinks - our colossal Danamics LMX included. No fewer than four PCI Express slots are included for quad SLI or Crossfire X support and you also get a single legacy PCI as well as a 4x slot for other goodies. Some people may bemoan the lack of any 1x slots but remember these can easily be fitted into 16x or 4x slots without any problem.
The board's eight SATA ports are all placed at the bottom-right hand side of the board and are installed at right angles to the plane of the PCB. This prevents interference with video card placement but also means you'll have to allow even more space to install this board in your case. Two of these SATA connectors are of the latest 6Gbps variety and are driven by a Marvell controller.
Eagle eyed readers will notice that the Asus ships with not one but two eight-pin 12V Aux connectors. If you have a suitable power supply this allows you to improve the voltage being supplied to the CPU.opo If that still isn't enough power for your overclocking exploits you can add even more via two further 4 pin Molex connectors; one above the primary PCIe slot and one right at the bottom of the board. Whilst these are appreciated their placement doesn’t exactly lend itself to tidy cable routing.
To the right of the memory modules are some interesting gizmos. There are four switches which are used to disable the expansion cards in each the four 16x PCIe slots. We can't see this being useful on a day to day basis, but for the benchmark addict it certainly beats having to physically remove the cards. To the right of these are reading points for various system voltages using your voltmeter. This will allow you to measure droops and rises without the need to load up a monitoring application. Next to this is the ubiquitous power and reset buttons which are joined by a "Q reset" button on the opposite side of the board. This allows you to clear the CMOS then power up in a flash. Lastly in this area of the board you will find an 'LN2 mode' jumper which is specifically designed to avoid cold-boot bugs when playing with liquid nitrogen. In case you were wondering there are no fewer than eight PWM-controlled fan headers on the Rampage III Extreme.
The Rampage III ships with dual BIOS chips. These allow you to keep one BIOS chip for normal or low-noise use whilst the second can be kept for performance-critical applications. Switching from one to the other is done by pressing a small red button on the bottom-right hand corner, or via the ROG Connect feature (more on this later). Those planning to water cool the Rampage will be pleased to hear that the heat sink assemblies can be easily unscrewed - no more of those pesky plastic push pins to worry about.
Moving to the rear I/O panel we find a single PS2 keyboard port, 9 USB ports, Firewire, Gigabit LAN and an ESATA port. Two of the USBs are of the 3.0 variety and are delivered via an NEC chipset. Home Theatre fans also get an optical SPDIF output and six analogue audio jacks. There are also three buttons on the I/O panel. The first clears the CMOS, the second activates ROG connect mode and the final one activates ROG Connect Bluetooth. We were a little surprised that the Rampage III omits the X-Fi audio found on other boards in the Republic of Gamers series, but frankly this is no major loss. Most of us would rather not have Creative-branded applications on our PCs after all, and previous experience tells us that the benefits of the licenced X-Fi software is limited at best.