ASUS Rampage II Extreme
Features and Layout
We start off with the ASUS Rampage II Extreme, which for those who have seen the first Rampage Extreme made for the X48 chipset, should look quite familiar. The exciting red and black color scheme is retained but the motherboard
cooling system on the Rampage II looks less 'extreme' with the Southbridge heatsink noticeably more modest. The water block on the original Rampage has also been removed, but ASUS has reassured water cooling enthusiasts that they would still be able to remove the current heatsink and replace it with supported water blocks, like like this one from Swiftech.
The board itself is teeming with ports, headers and those special 'Republic of Gamers' overclocking tools. We have no complaints about the layout generally, except that if you're doing 3-way GPUs with dual slot graphics cards, the floppy connector at the edge could become quite inaccessible. Few users however are keeping their floppy drives now (especially with BIOS-based flash tools) so it's a minor issue. You do get the full complement of 12 USB 2.0 ports, support for 2 FireWire devices, dual Gigabit LAN controllers and two IDE/PATA devices.
ASUS also states in its spec sheet that the Rampage II Extreme will support up to 12GB of DDR3 memory, with the usual (for X58) six DIMM slots. For those few users who would like to pile on the memory, this maximum amount pales when compared to the 24GB on the Gigabyte and MSI boards.
The presence of the TweakIt controls do mean that this ASUS board has the fewest storage options of all three X58 boards compared, with just one additional SATA 3.0Gbps and one eSATA besides the standard six ports from the ICH10R.
Solid capacitors are standard on motherboards now, so ASUS has to trump it for its Extreme series with multi-layer polymer capacitors (ML caps) to complement its 16-phase PWM, a package that ASUS dubs the Extreme Engine. These elements are touted to improve the overclocking headroom by ensuring a stable power output during overvoltage situations. With each vendor trying to sell their own unique 'features', the proof would be in the pudding (or testing).
And finally, with all the enhancements and features onboard, it's not surprising that ASUS has gone for an audio riser card that fits into the black PCIe slot near the heatsink. With optical and coaxial outputs besides the usual audio jacks, this HD audio is powered by ADI's AD2000B CODEC and is unfortunately the last we'll see from the company as ADI is withdrawing from this business. Despite the X-Fi features like Crystalizer and EAX Advanced, the SupremeFX X-Fi here does its X-Fi magic via software emulation unlike a proper Creative X-Fi soundcard. Nevertheless, it's still a very competent CODEC, if only for the Creative X-Fi features.
The OC Factor
When it comes to the tools for overclocking, the ASUS Rampage II Extreme looks heads and shoulders above the competition. At least in terms of what you can see and play with. Those who have seen the Rampage Extreme would find more of the same, with the return of the almost all the features, minus the Fusion water block mentioned earlier. That means the TweakIt control panel, the dual BIOS (BIOS Flashback), the iROG chip which allows for real-time system monitoring and tweaking and of course all the ASUS proprietary technologies, like the EPU 6-Engine.
What's new this time is the Probelt, which is seriously for the hardcore O.C enthusiasts. Basically ASUS has gathered the voltage detection points below the TweakIt controls and using the included sensor, you can connect your multimeter to it for the most accurate readings. That's convenient if you don't want to keep going into the BIOS to check them (or don't trust the BIOS readings). It only makes this Extreme go even further into the O.C niche and we really don't see ourselves or anyone we know using these tools. But if you do, it's probably another cool toy to play with.
And we haven't even talked about the BIOS, which has quite a lot more options and settings than your average motherboard. The best thing is that ASUS has made the BIOS relatively easy to use despite the number of advanced settings. Settings are organized properly and understandable while simple and effective profiles (CPU Level Up) instantly pushed our Core i7-965 XE to 4GHz, without us doing anything else. Also, with the BIOS Flashback feature, you can go crazy with your settings knowing that you always have a backup (provided you know what you're doing).
Even without looking at the rest of the two motherboards in contention here, we can safely say that this ASUS board is the most extreme when it comes to satisfying your overclocking urges and we're looking forward to a good showing in our tests.