Introduction and Layout
Price: ~£179 inc VAT
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The Rampage II Gene was a pint sized rocket of a board delivering all the performance and features you'd expect from a full ATX flagship in a Micro ATX format. Those looking to build a top notch gaming system in a smaller form factor suddenly had the opportunity to do so without any major compromises. With the introduction of important features like USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA, the Gene II is starting to look a little overpriced and outdated however, particularly when compared to other products available like the excellent P6X58D-E we reviewed not long ago.
Asus addresses this problem with the release of the Rampage III Gene, essentially a next generation update to its predecessor. It still uses the X58 chipset but adds the two aforementioned next-gen interface technologies as well as updated aesthetics and other new features. As part of the 'Republic of Gamers' series the Rampage III is aimed towards enthusiasts, with its inclusion of both Crossfire and SLI technologies highly impressive for such a diminutively-sized product.
Asus has certainly improved the board's aesthetics with this update. The manufacturer has limited itself to a palate of red and black this time around and the results are much more attractive the blue, black, red and white scheme of the previous iteration. The angular heat sinks also look great and should be more than substantial enough for a spot of overclocking. As you'd expect for a Micro ATX board with this many features, the Gene has a very busy PCB. This can often result in compromises in layout, but we are pleased to report that Asus has hit the nail on the head in this respect.
The main 24 pin and 8 pin auxiliary power connectors are ideally located on the right-hand edge and top-left respectively, and you get a full compliment of six RAM slots for up to 24GB of memory. So that you can remove memory modules even with a full-length video card installed Asus has cleverly made each module lockable only at the top. Moving further down the board the good news continues. Each of the board's eight SATA ports are at right angles to the plane of the board and there are power and reset buttons included that reviewers always appreciate. Gone from the Gene's predecessor is the IDE connector; a feature we doubt many users will miss. In its place are small contact points allowing you to take direct voltmeter readings for better accuracy. Whilst this is a nice touch we found the readings shown by the board's BIOS and software more than accurate enough. There are fan headers generously scattered all over the board and it is nice to see two onboard USB headers - something the Rampage III Extreme lacks. Even the battery is well placed. At the top right of the board it is easy to pop out if all else fails and you need a full system reset.
The allocation of expansion slots is generous with two SLI and Crossfire-enabled 16x PEG slots sandwiching a 4x PCIe slot. You also get a normal PCI slot at the bottom of the PCB for legacy cards.
Considering the Gene is a Micro ATX board it's rear I/O panel is brimming over with features. A sole PS2 port is the only legacy connector but you do get 7 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, Firewire, Gigabit LAN and six gold plated audio jacks. There is also an optical SPDIF port for hi-fi connectivity and a clear CMOS button if you push too far. Two important features that are missing are eSATA and digital coaxial. The former is arguably set to be usurped by USB 3.0 but the latter would be a very welcome inclusion for a lot of audiophiles, especially considering the board's X-Fi-augmented audio solution.
Inside the box you get the usual array of motherboard accessories. Six lockable SATA cables are included along with two black and white cables optimised for 6Gbps operation. Initially we were dubious as to their effectiveness, but we experienced data corruption issues with our Crucial RealSSD C300 until we used these cables in place of the regular black ones. You also get a white USB-USB "ROG Connect" cable which allows you to connect up a laptop for Formula 1 style tuning. This is a feature we first saw in the Rampage III Extreme and it makes a welcome return for this Gene variant. Finally an SLI bridge, a pack of cable ties, a manual and some gaudy stickers complete an impressively competent bundle.