Asus – Crosshair IV Exteme review

mix and match graphics and and a whole lot more
Photo of Asus – Crosshair IV Exteme
£250

It’s taken a while for Asus to launch a motherboard that has hybrid mix and match graphics card support, thanks to having Lucid’s HydraLogix 200 chip onboard, to counter arch rival’s MSI two recently released mainstream Hydra equipped Fuzion boards. But as is nearly always the case, Asus doesn’t do things by half and has bypassed the mainstream market and gone straight for the high-end with the Crosshair IV Extreme.

The Crosshair range of motherboards are the AMD supporting members of Asus RoG (Republic of Gamers) product line, the Crosshair IV Extreme is the latest flagship of the range, and anybody familiar with the RoG product knows what to expect. But for those unfamiliar with it, all you need to know is that they are the Asus high-end boards, built to a high quality and absolutely crammed with hardware both on the board itself and in the box bundle.

Once you get past the first tray in the box that’s full to bursting with extra bits and pieces you are confronted by the board and in a word, it’s stunning. Just like the all the latest boards in the RoG range, both AMD and Intel, the passive heatsinks look like a work of art. Well they look like they are passive but on closer inspection the huge one that covers the AMD 890FX Northbridge and the MOSFETs is in fact actively cooled by a small 40mm fan. The Lucid LT24102 chip and the SB850 sit under a passive heatsink that’s connected to the other one by a sturdy looking heatpipe.

The other thing that catches your eye is the PCI-E graphics slots, all five of them; and this explains why the Crosshair IV Extreme uses the LT24102 version of the HydraLogix 200, as this supports one x16 upstream ports and two x16 or four x8 downstream ports, hence the five slots. For straightforward dual card Crossfire setups (it doesn’t support SLI natively) you use slots one and three, which are full x16 speed and are controlled by the 890FX. The board also supports Quad Crossfire but not at full speed. The Lucid chip controls slots 2, 4 and 5 and supports dual or triple card setups only at present, although Quad support in the Lucid chip is due to arrive in Q4 2010.

When it comes to graphics performance using two cards in Crossfire mode via the 890FX chipset, the Crosshair IV Extreme holds its own against any other board using this chipset. But when it comes to using the board in a mix and match graphics mode, i.e. AMD and Nvidia cards working together, the results appear to be quite game dependent. The most important thing is that the technology works and by using the Lucid chip you get SLI support on an AMD board, something that’s been missing for quite some time.

As it’s a top-end board you’d expect the Crosshair IV Extreme to support both SATA 6Gbps and USB3.0. AMD’s SB850 Southbridge supports SATA 6Gbps natively and the board shows that to perfection with no fewer than six ports (coloured red). Not only that but it also supports them with RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, so you could build some amazingly fast high capacity storage with this board.

You also get a couple of SATA 3Gbps ports (coloured black) which, like the SATA 6Gbps, are edge mounted at ninety degrees. A third SATA 3Gbps port is mounted vertically next to them, and is probably best used for an optical drive. The ubiquitous NEC USB3.0 controller looks after the two ports on the rear I/O panel.

The Crosshair IV Extreme wouldn’t be a RoG board without some interesting “goodies” added to the board somewhere. Sitting just behind the rear I/O panel is the header for the RoG Connect Bluetooth module (supplied in the box). RoG Connect lets you tweak and overclock the board from the comfort of your chair using a Bluetooth enabled laptop or, even funkier, your mobile phone. Alternatively you can use another PC by using the RoG connect cable which plugs into a port on the rear panel.

Along side the four DDR3 DIMM slots is an interesting group of buttons, dominated by a very large red Start button which also glows so you can’t miss it in the dark, together with a reset button and buttons for the O.C, Core Unlocker and MemOK! technologies. Also hanging out in this group is a very useful button if you want to do some extreme overclocking and worry that you might fry the BIOS. It’s a small red button which reveals another trick the board has up its sleeve: it has two BIOS chips, the button letting you switch between the two.

Also in this busy part of the board is a group of five switches which control the PCI-E graphics slots, allowing you to switch them on and off, handy if you have a multiple card setup and want to turn certain cards off. Just under these switches are the points for the Probelt feature which allows you to measure accurately via a meter (either directly or via the extension leads bundled in the box) the voltage going to the CPU, memory, chipset bridges, etc.

Company: Asus

Contact: 01442 202 700


Verdict
The Crosshair IV Extreme is a worthy addition to the RoG family of boards and although its price tag limits it to a niche market, it's worth taking a peek at if only to see what's possible in current motherboard design. Lucid's HydraLogix 200 chip certainly works better the second time around, allowing for a mix and match of graphics cards, and at the very least it offers SLI support on an AMD platform.