ASUS Rampage III Extreme Motherboard
By Rafael Otto Coelho on May 25, 2010


Introduction

ASUS Rampage III Extreme is a socket LGA1366 motherboard based on Intel X58 chipset and ICH10R southbridge, bringing all features dreamed by the most fanatic users: four PCI Express x16 slots, two SATA-600 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, Japanese solid capacitors, among other fatures. Is is part of "Republic of Gamers" (ROG) line, the high-performance series from ASUS with a unique visual identity.

In Figure 1 you have an overall look at ASUS Rampage III Extreme motherboard.

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Figure 1: ASUS Rampage III Extreme motherboard.

In the next pages we will analyse this motherboard in detail.

Slots

Intel X58 chipset has 36 PCI Express x1 lanes (just for comparation, AMD 890FX used on Crosshair IV Formula has 42 lanes) and on Rampage III Extreme ASUS arranged these lanes on four PCI Express x16 slots.

The first PCI Express x16 slot works at x16 if the second slot is empty. If there is a video card on the second slot, both the first and the second slot will work at x8. The third and fourth PCI Express x16 slots work the same way: the third one works at x16 or x8, depending whether the fourth slot is empty or not. So if you have two video cards it is really important to use the first and the third (and not the second) PCI Express x16 slots in order to get the best performance possible. Using the manufacturer nomenclature, this motherboard supports the following configurations: x16; x16/x16; x16/x8/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8. The slots are compatible with SLI and CrossFireX arrays.

The motherboard also comes with one PCI Express x4 slot and one standard PCI slots.

Keep in mind that the absence of PCI Express x1 slots is not a problem, because PCI Express x1 expansion cards can be installed on any type of PCI Express slot (x16, x8, x4 and x1).

The fourth PCI Express x16 slot is located at the edge of the motherboard, so if you install a two-slot video card you will need a case with eight or more expansion slots.

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Figure 2: Slots.

Near the first and the fourth PCI Express x16 slot you can see two standard peripheral power connectors, which can be used to help to power high-consumption PCI Express cards.

Memory Support

Intel socket LGA1366 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1366 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,066 MHz under triple-channel architecture, however ASUS says Rampage III Extreme supports DDR3 memories up to 2,200 MHz through overclocking. This motherboard has six DDR3 sockets and since, at the moment, each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 24 GB with it.

Here you will find one of the biggest advantages of Rampage III Extreme compared to most socket LGA1366 motherboards: the presence of six memory sockets. Some socket LGA1366 motherboard have four memory sockets, turning memory upgrade an expensive procedure: in order to achieve the best performance with only four sockets, you have to remove the old three modules and install three new ones, with greater capacity. With six sockets you can keep the old modules and simply install three more modules on the empty sockets.

The first, the third and the fifth sockets are black, while the second, the fourth and the sixth are red. In order to achieve the maximum performance you should install three or six memory modules in order to enable triple-channel architecture. When only three modules are used, install them on sockets with the same color in order to enable this feature.

Near the memory modules you can see two big buttons, power and reset.

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Figure 3: Memory modules. Install three or six modules for the best performance.

On-Board Peripherals

The south bridge chip used by Rampage III Extreme is Intel ICH10R, which supports six SATA-300 ports (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10) and all these ports (black connectors) are placed on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them, as you can see in Figure 4.

The red connectors are SATA-600 ports, controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip, since the chipset does not natively support SATA-600 ports.

In Figure 4, you can see the SATA ports and a red button that switches which BIOS chip (there are two) is active. One LED near each chip shows which one is in use at the moment.

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Figure 4: SATA ports.

A JMicron JMB363 chip provides two additional SATA-300 ports, one near the SATA ports (mounted vertically on the board) and one as an eSATA-300 port on the motherboard rear panel.

No parallel ATA (PATA, a.k.a. IDE) port and no floppy disk drive controller are present.

This motherboard has nine USB 2.0 ports, seven soldered at the rear panel (one exclusive for "ROG Connect" feature, which allows you to control overclocking settings using another computer in real time) and two available through one header. This product also has two USB 3.0 ports on its rear panel (the blue ones) controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip.

Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are provided, one standard-sized on the rear panel and one through a header on the motherboard. They are controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing two USB ports and one FireWire port.

Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is a professional-grade component, allowing you to professionally work with this motherboard for audio editing and conversion (e.g., converting LPs and VHS tapes to digital format) without the need of an add-on audio card. The audio section provides 7.1 audio with 24-bit resolution, 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs. This motherboard comes with an on-board optical SPDIF connect. Analog audio outputs use completely independent jacks, so you can hook-up an analog surround speaker system up to 7.1 without needing to “kill” the line in and/or mic in jacks. You can also add a coaxial SPDIF output by installing an adapter (not provided) on the SPDIF_OUT header available on the motherboard.

ASUS Rampage III Extreme has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Marvell 88E8059 chip, which is connected to the system using a PCI Express x1 lane and thus not presenting any potential performance issues. This particular controller incorporates features to off-load some tasks from the system CPU and thus improve networking practical performance (for example, TCP/IP and UDP checksum calculation and check and TCP segmentation, and support for IEEE 802.1QAV standard for audio video bridging, AVB, for better quality of service on real-time audio and video transmissions). It is curious that this board comes with "only" one Gigabit Ethernet port, since most high end motherboard so far come with two Ethernet ports.

On-Board Peripherals (Cont’d)

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with keyboard PS/2 connector, seven USB 2.0 ports (black ones), clear CMOS button, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), optical SPDIF output, FireWire port, eSATA-300 port (green one), one Gigabit Ethernet port, ROG Connect button and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.

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Figure 5: Motherboard rear panel.

No mouse PS/2 connector is available, thus you have to use a USB mouse with this motherboard.

The ROG Connect feature is quite interesting. It allows you to use the seventh USB 2.0 port from the rear panel (the one near the ROG Connect button) to connect your PC to another computer (a laptop, for example) through a cable that comes with the motherboard for overclocking and diagnosing your computer from the second computer.

Rampage III Extreme also comes with a Bluetooth module, which is installed on the rear panel and can be used for overclocking usign a compatible PDA or mobile phone.

There are several other smaller features targeted to enthusiasts. For example, all the connectors for auxiliary fans support PWM technology in order to automatically control the speed of each fan, and on three of them the motherboard supports the installation of a thermal sensor in order to control the fan speed according to the temperature on where you installed the corresponding thermal sensor.

In Figure 6, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard. Besides the standard accessories (manual, driver DVD, case backplate, cables), it comes with the SLI and CrossFireX bridges, a sticker, a USB cable for the ROG function, Bluetooth module and an alternative active heatsink for the north bridge chip.

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Figure 6: Accessories.

Voltage Regulator

ASUS Crosshair IV Formula comes with an 11-phase voltage regulator circuit. From the 11 available phases, eight are used to generate the CPU main voltage (VCC) while the other two are used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller and L3 memory cache (VTT). Thus this motherboard has a “8+3” configuration. It also comes with a three-phase circuit for north bridge chip and another three-phase one for the memory modules.

This motherboard comes with a passive heatsink installed on top of the transistors of the voltage regulator circuit, connected to the passive heatsink that is installed on top of the north bridge chip using a heatpipe, which is also connected to the heatsink of the south bridge chip. In Figure 7, you can see the voltage regulator circuit.

The reviewed motherboard has holes that makes it compatible with socket LGA775 coolers.

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Figure 7: Voltage regulator circuit.

As mentioned earlier, all capacitors used on this motherboard are solid made in Japan and the voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes, which are better than iron chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.

Overclocking Options

Keeping their tradition on the high-end market, ASUS added a myriad of overclocking features on Rampage III Extreme. Let's first talk about the hardware-based overclocking features present on this product.

ASUS Rampage III Extreme has four LED sets to indicate at which range the voltages from the CPU, north bridge, south bridge and memory are at the moment. They can be in three different colors: green (normal), yellow (high) or red (crazy). On page 2-2 from the manual there are several tables showing the voltage ranges that triggers each color. On the motherboard setup you can configure which voltage each LED will be displaying. For example, you can change the CPU voltage LED to display either the CPU voltage (VCC), the memory controller voltage (VTT) or the CPU embedded clock generator (VCCPLL).

In Figure 8, you can see also the "Go Button", which has two functions: pressed before POST it starts an automatic memory test. If pressed after the operating system is loaded, it executes an overclocking based on a pre-configured profile.

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Figure 8: Buttons and points for monitoring voltages.

Another feature seen on this Figure is the presence of four switches marked ON and OFF, which can independently disable each PCI Express x16 slot. So if your computer is not booting and you suspect that the problem is with one specific video card you won't need to remove it: simply disable the whole slot by moving the corresponding switch.

Rampage III Extreme also has points where you can check the voltages using a multimeter. You just need to put the black probe on the GND spot and the red probe on the point corresponding to the voltage you want to measure. The board also comes with a small adapter that you can connect to one of the white headers close to the points, so you can keep the probes connected permanently to the spot you want to monitor.

Let’s see now the overclocking options present on the motherboard setup.

Overclocking Options (Cont’d)

ASUS Rampage III Extreme provides a myriad of overclocking options. Below we list only the main ones available on 0402 BIOS.

Memory timings can also be tweaked.

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Figure 9: Overclocking menu.

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Figure 10: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

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Figure 11: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

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Figure 12: Memory timing options.

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Figure 13: More options.

Main Specifications

ASUS Rampage III Extreme motherboard main features are:

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

Conclusions

ASUS Rampage III Extreme is a top-notch motherboard for Intel socket LGA1366 CPUs, targeted to enthusiasts that want a motherboard with the latest technologies (such as SATA-600 and USB 3.0), a huge range of overclocking features, support for eight fans (three of them can be controlled by optional temperature sensors), among other pluses.

For extreme gamers it will probably also satisfy, with its four PCI Express x16 slots supporting SLI and CrossFireX arrays.

The only drawback of this motherboard is its price: it is very expensive. Consumers, besides being gaming and overclocking freaks, must also have a stuffed wallet.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ASUS-Rampage-III-Extreme-Motherboard/1006


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