Republic Of Gamers motherboards sit at the top of the Asus product tree, and this was amply demonstrated by the recent IT Reviews coverage of the ROG Rampage III Extreme Core i7 that weighs in at a hefty £330.
It takes a few moments to figure out exactly where the Crosshair IV Formula fits into the ROG family as the model codes and chipsets are constantly evolving. Rampage III motherboards use an Intel X58 chipset to support LGA1366 Core i7, Maximus III uses P55 chipset for LGA1156 Core i5/i7 and Crosshair IV has the latest AMD 890FX + SB850 chipset for Socket AM3 CPUs.
The final part of the model names defines the list of features so a Formula is a regular ATX board with ‘standard’ ROG features for overclocking and support for multiple graphics cards. A Gene model is a Micro-ATX design that is aimed at LAN gamers who fancy a portable PC, while Extreme models come with every last feature that the Asus engineers can muster. We understand that Asus has a Crosshair IV Extreme in the works that uses a Lucid chip to add SLI support alongside the CrossFireX support that is provided by the 890FX chipset.
The pricing of the three groups of motherboards follows the pricing of the corresponding CPUs so Rampage III is the most expensive followed by Maximus III, which means that this £170 Crosshair IV Formula is a budget product compared to other ROG motherboards.
Crosshair IV Formula is clearly based on Crosshair III but Asus has added a stack of features to create the new model. At the heart of things we have a change from AMD 790FX + SB750 chipset to the new 890FX + SB850 which adds SATA 3.0 native support. This means that the six laid down red SATA connectors have a maximum bandwidth connection of 6Gb/second compared to the 3Gb/second of the black SATA 2.0 connector that is attached to the JMicron chip that also controls the eSATA port on the I/O panel.
Unfortunately the new chipset doesn’t support USB 3.0 so Asus has employed an NEC chip to provide two USB 3.0 ports on the I/O panel alongside seven native USB 2.0 ports and mid-board headers for another five USB 2.0 ports.
Asus has increased PCI Express graphics support on Crosshair IV so where you ‘only’ got two graphics slots on Crosshair III, the new motherboard has four long slots. They provide two slots with 16 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 or one slot with 16 lanes and two with eight lanes each. The fourth slot delivers four lanes of PCI Express 2.0. We put that ‘only’ in inverted commas as the appeal of dual graphics cards seems limited, while the need for triple cards is highly questionable. You also get two PCI slots.
Our sample of Crosshair IV Formula came to us from AMD rather than Asus as it was supplied with the hexa-core AMD Phenom II X6 1090T that we recently reviewed. That covers the question of whether Crosshair IV supports the latest versions of Phenom II, as it does, all the way up to a TDP of 140W. AMD has some new models of Phenom II that are due for release in the near future. Although the CPUs have two, three or four cores they are apparently based on Phenom II X6 silicon.
With previous chipsets AMD allowed motherboards manufacturers to include an option in the BIOS called ACC that could be used to unlock extra CPU cores but this has changed with the 890FX chipset. Manufacturers are no longer allowed to use AMD’s ACC feature but instead have to develop their own technology, so Asus has come up with a BIOS option that looks very similar to ACC. Asus has also added a Core Unlocker button at the foot of the motherboard that performs the task instantly, but clearly you can only unlock cores if AMD has disabled them in firmware, rather than by fusing them completely at the fabrication plant. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
The Core Unlocker button sits alongside three other buttons. In addition to the usual Power and Reset buttons, Asus has fitted a Turbo Key II button that automatically overclocks your CPU. We used this feature to overclock our Phenom II X6 1090T from 3.2GHz to 3.73GHz with a system power draw of 215W.
Manual overclocking using the BIOS allowed us to get to 3.8GHz quite easily but the power draw shot up to 280W, so we feel that Turbo Key II did a fine job.
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