ASUS ROG Rampage IV GENE Motherboard Review

gene ASUS' Republic of Gamers (ROG) series of products has been designed, built, and marketed from the ground-up to stand out from the crowd.  The aggressive red and black color scheme screams attention to detail and creates a notion that the ROG lineup isn't a product to get lost in the crowd.  The ROG lineup is meant to cater to a higher tier of enthusiasts with products in the lineup for the small form factor gamer (Gene), the gaming enthusiast (Formula), and the hardcore overclocker (Extreme).  ASUS has selectively chosen the genetics (pun intended) for the Rampage IV Gene so that it will earn the title as the "Super Badass mATX King," a small motherboard which will reign supreme(FXIII).  With the lame puns out of my system (for now), let's dig in!

Overview

The arrival of Intel® LGA 2011/X79 CPUs has been met with great joy among gamers, and ROG has the most powerful micro ATX X79 gaming board ready, designed to make the most of new Intel® tech while offering perfect features for your compact gaming PC. This is the board of choice for anyone wanting the power yet mindful of conserving space and weight.

 

SupremeFX III™ audio hardware comes standard on the new GENE, with a custom board layout that isolates it from the rest of the PCB to eliminate interference. The sound component’s power circuitry uses a 1500uF capacitor to reduce power ripple and guarantee stability for the clear and precise sound you demand in gaming, giving you the edge in every move.

 

Intel® Ethernet and ROG GameFirst technology reduce CPU latency for netcode processing and optimize bandwidth management with multiplayer gaming put in first priority. They assure you a faster, cleaner, less prone to latency, and far smoother connection.

 

Play on and overclock with superior confidence – Rampage IV GENE ships with exclusive ROG Extreme Engine Digi+ II digital power conversion for more efficient delivery and easier overvolting. It’s backed up by Black Metallic solid state capacitors capable of 10K-hour endurance (even when operating at 105°C), and NexFET™ Power Block MOSFETs, which can take five times more punishment than generic parts.

 

*Courtesy of ASUS

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Specifications


CPU Intel® Socket 2011 for 2nd Generation Core™ i7 Processors
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list
Chipset Intel® X79
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 2400(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Quad Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
Multi-GPU SUpport Supports NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (dual x16, red)
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x8 mode, red)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
Storage Intel® X79 chipset :
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
3 x SATA 3Gb/s port(s), black
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port(s), red
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller : *1
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
LAN Intel®, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Audio SupremeFX III built-in 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
USB Ports ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
4 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® X79 chipset :
12 x USB 2.0 port(s) (8 at back panel, black+white, 4 at mid-board)
Overclocking Features ROG Connect
Extreme Engine Digi+ II :
Mem TweakIt
ProbeIt
UEFI BIOS
GameFirst
iROG
Extreme Tweaker
Loadline Calibration
USB BIOS Flashback
Overclocking Protection
Special Features ASUS TurboV EVO
ASUS EPU
ASUS Exclusive Features
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution
ASUS EZ DIY
ASUS Q-Design
Back I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
2 x USB 3.0
8 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to ROG Connect)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x ROG Connect On/ Off switch(es)
Internal I/O Ports 1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
3 x SATA 3Gb/s connector(s)
2 x CPU Fan connector(s)
3 x Chassis Fan connector(s)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s)
11 x ProbeIt Measurement Points
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x Go Button(s)
Accessories User's manual
I/O Shield
2 x SATA 3Gb/s cable(s)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
1 x ROG Connect cable(s)
1 x ROG theme label(s)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
1 x ROG Door Hanger(s)
BIOS 64Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI2.0a Multi-Language BIOS
Manageability WfM2.0, DMI2.0, WOL by PME, WOR by PME, PXE
Support Disc Support DVD:
- Drivers and applications
* ASUS AI Suite II
* ROG CPU-Z
* ROG GameFirst Utility
* Sound Blaster X-Fi MB2 Utility
* ROG Mem TweakIt Utility
* ASUS AI Charger+
* WinZip
* ASUS USB 3.0 Boost
* ASUS Webstorage
* DAEMON Tools Pro Standard
* Kaspersky® Anti-Virus 1-year license
Form Factor uATX Form Factor
9.6 inch x 9.6 inch ( 24.4 cm x 24.4 cm )
Note *1: These SATA ports are for data hard drivers only. ATAPI device is not supported.

*Courtesy of ASUS

**More detailed specifications available at the ROG Rampage IV GENE product page

 

Unboxing and Included Accessories

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ASUS' ROG Rampage IV Gene's stark red box gives a bit of foreshadow into what's in store inside, as the box will no doubt stand out from the others on store shelves.  The box opens up to a fairly standard payload including a healthy 6 SATA cables, a USB header extension, the infinitely-useful case header extension, an SLI bridge, a ROG connect cable and manual, an in-depth user guide, and possilby the most important accessory, an "I'm Gaming DO NOT DISTURB" door knob placard, you know, so your mom/roommate/girlfriend/wife knows that you'll be out in "just a minute."


Meet The Family - ROG Rampage IV Series

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ASUS ROG motherboards come designed for who they define as the “general enthusiast.” This is the do-it-yourselfer with a high degree of want and need for all the features found in a channel board such as the P8Z77-V Pro or P9X79, plus a host of unique and innovative capabilities with a strong focus on uncompromised gaming and reliable overclocking performance. ASUS places a strong emphasis on a well-rounded and versatile end-user experience rather than a small handful of over-the-top specifications. In other words, you shouldn’t have to tell the customer to purchase Board X to get X result. Every board in the ASUS lineup comes ready to extract the most potential from their respective chipsets, all while retaining its own sort of character and identity that the enthusiast wants in a build. In the case of a ROG motherboard, that character is loud, proud, and ready to frag.

 

ASUS summarizes their target audience of earch of the ROG series boards as shown in the super-awesome table shown below:

ROG Extreme
  • Extreme Overclocker (with maximum tuning / tweaking potential)
  • Power User
  • People who simply want the best
  • Form Factor: E-ATX / ATX
  • Multi-GPU Users
ROG Formula
  • Hardcore Gamer
  • Overclocker
  • People who demand top-notch performance
  • Form Factor:  ATX
  • Multi-GPU Users
  • Superior Integrated Audio w/ Gaming Optimized Networking
ROG Gene
  • Gamer / Overclocker
  • LAN Party-Goer
  • Case Modder
  • People who demand high-end performance in a small package (mATX)
  • Superior Integrated Audio w/ Gaming Optimized Networking

 

Rampage IV Gene

The relativistic “entry-level” of the ROG series (you’re getting the budget board of a high-end series) is occupied by the Micro ATX form-factor Rampage IV Gene. While it might be small, the Gene comes packed with the same key technologies as its larger cousins, with the only caveat being reduced room for PCIe expansion. You still get two x16 slots, and considering that a vast majority of gamers make-do with a single GPU, the Gene has all you really need. By reducing the size of the PCB, ASUS was able to shave a $70 chunk off the price of the next higher Formula board and give gamers on a tighter budget access to several great features exclusive to the ROG series, or LAN-goers the ability to slim down their machine for portability while still rocking kickass features.  It's really hard to throw high-end parts into an affordable package, but its smaller size helps it do that, it's not just smaller for the sake of being smaller.  If you want X79, and you want mATX, here's a fun exercise; go to Newegg with these filters.  As of the day of writing, you have two options, and ASUS' renowned ROG series will take the cake for the best mATX solution you can buy today.

Rampage IV Formula

The mid-range Formula is targeted at the hardcore gamer and boasts a host of key technologies needed to give them the best performance possible.  Throw in up to 4-way SLI / CrossFire graphics capability and power users will find themselves well at home.

Rampage IV Extreme

If you’re looking to push your rig to the absolute limits with an outlandish liquid nitrogen cooling setup and demand precise real-time monitoring of temps and stats, then you know that only the Extreme will do. With exclusive features like Subzero Sense, VGA Hotwire, and real-time overclocking via the included OC Key, achieving world record status is not out of reach. This flagship may be nearly twice the cost of the low-end Gene, but one look at the incredibly dense PCB and you’ll know that you are getting what you paid for.

 

Rampage IV GENE
Rampage IV Formula
Rampage IV Extreme
CPU    Intel® Socket 2011 for 2nd Generation Core™ i7 Processors
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2
Chipset    Intel® X79
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 2400(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory   8 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 2400(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Expansion Slot  2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (dual x16, red)
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x8 mode, red)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
 4 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x16 or x16/x8/x16 or x16/x8/x8/x8, red) *2
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
 2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (dual x16, red)
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x8 mode, red)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
Multi-GPU / VGA  2-way SLI / CrossFireX   4-way SLI / CrossFireX
Storage  Intel® X79 chipset :
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
3 x SATA 3Gb/s port(s), black
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port(s), red
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller : *1
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
 Intel® X79 chipset :
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
4 x SATA 3Gb/s port(s), black
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller :
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s port(s), red 
LAN
   Intel®, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller
Wireless   N/A  Bluetooth V2.1+EDR
USB  ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
4 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® X79 chipset :
12 x USB 2.0 port(s) (8 at back panel, black+white, 4 at mid-board)
 ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
6 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® X79 chipset :
12 x USB 2.0 port(s) (6 at back panel, black+white, 6 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller:
8 x USB 3.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 4 at mid-board)
Intel® X79 chipset :
12 x USB 2.0 port(s) (8 at back panel, black+red, 4 at mid-board)
Audio   SupremeFX III built-in 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): 110 dB
- Output THD+N at 1kHz: 95 dB
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
- 1500 uF Audio Power Capacitor
- Gold-plated jacks
- X-Fi® Xtreme Fidelity™ 
- EAX® Advanced™ HD 5.0 
- THX® TruStudio PRO™
- Creative ALchemy 
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection 
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
Realtek® ALC898 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection 
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
Form Factor  mATX  ATX  Extended ATX

 

We are big fans of the way ASUS lays out their board families. Instead of a typical board heirarchy of varying features and components, ASUS uses the same components in their budget boards as the flagship models. The mentality here is that you shouldn't have to shell out for the higher-end motherboards to be able to maximize the potential of your overclocking headroom.  Instead, ASUS uses a high-performance foundation in the budget motherboards, and each successive model adds a tangible set of features which correspond to the pricing tier. One can see ASUS' ROG Rampage IV Series basic hardware breakdown in the table above. We see the primary performance drivers are the same with every board.  Each board will allow outsanding memory performance and power delivery, keys to making the most of overclocking headroom.  There are tiers of features you receive with each upgrade, making it easy to see what you're getting for your money.  They all have the same core features and utilities available, and you don't see any handicapping of software or hardware features on the budget motherboards. This is a very friendly structure for the end-user, whereas other approaches can be downright confusing.  A budget board might have quad-SLI capability, but limited overclocking features. A step up yields only standard Crossfire/SLI capability, but opens up more overclocking headroom. These features are conflicting, and it makes choosing the right board a bit more difficult.  With ASUS, it is as simple as choosing the features you care about, but no matter which way you go, you're hardware is not going to be handicapped.


A Closer Look - Design Highlights

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Scant in size, but dense in features, we'll attempt to touch on the major external design features without inundating you with mounds of text (we don't want you to TL;DR us).  First, we'll start with the most obvious, the aesthetics.  ASUS' ROG boards cater to me because my favorite color scheme is red and black, always had and probably always will be (my closet clearly demonstrates this).  The RAM, PCI-e, and 6GB/s slots provide a red contrast against the rest of the black components and the matte black PCB.  The matte/satin PCB finish looks much better than the super-glossy black PCBs, in my opinion, and I'm happy to see that here as well. 

 

The ASUS ROG logo and branding is neatly raised from the PCH heatsink, with the Rampage IV Gene branding just below the PCI-e x16 slot.  Even the PCH heatsink, which is usually the more outlandishly-colored portion of the motherboard, has been throttled back to blend into the overall aesthetic, rather than dominate it.  Along the bottom we've got the case connection headers in the lower right with two USB 2.0 headers to the left of the bottom 3 GB/s SATA port.  A removable BIOS chip, a 4-pin chassis fan header, the "GO" button, which functions as the MemOK! button during POST and as the "GO" button after POST.  On-board power and reset buttons are also included along with Audio and SPDIF out headers.  The lower left corner houses the SupremeFXIII chip which we'll discuss more in a bit.

 

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Intel X79's quad-channel memory is supported by four DIMM slots with two DIMMs on each side of the processor.  This helps alleviate PCB trace congestion of having all four slots clustered to one side and gives overall better balance ot the board layout.  The VRM heatsinks have a rugged and "military" look about them, and they're also finished to a matte black color which appears to be anodized as opposed to powder coated.  A neat heatpipe wraps around the inner DIMM slots and connects the two VRM heatsinks together, neatly framing the LGA 2011 CPU socket. Tucked between one of the USB hubs and the heatsink is a conveniently-place 4-pin chassis fan header.

 

The CMOS battery is also tucked neatly in-between PCI-e slots next to the PWM.  While the mATX form factor obviously presents a challenge with board layout, there are two small issues here that we'll touch on.  First, the graphics card will obviously have to come out in order to remove or replace the battery, which really isn't that much of a nuisance in that situation.  The one I run into more often, however, is that the graphics card slot release paddle is tucked in-between the graphics card and the PCH heatsink, so if you have larger hands, you'll find yourself jamming tools trying to snag the release paddle, which is a bit unnerving.  Otherwise patience and a bit of dexterity can allow you to reach it with your finger, and we can hand it to ASUS for putting in much larger latch paddles to try to combat this as best as it can.

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In the upper right hand corner is the two diagnostic code LEDs which are vastly useful to pointing to a particular POST error code, so you know where you might look first to solve any problems that might arise.  On either side of the diagnostic / status LED are the 4-pin CPU and CPU_OPT fan headers, and another chassis fan header can be seen just behind the 24-pin motherboard ATX power connector.  And just below the 24-pin ATX connector is the USB 3.0 header for a USB 3.0 hub on your case or rear I/O expansion slots.  The Q-LEDs next to the ATX power connector also allow you to quickly reference the problem components during a failed POST as a quick diagnostic without looking up the debug LED code, although this can be obscured by the 24-pin power cable, depending upon how you've routed it.  The Q-LEDs light up for CPU, DRAM, Graphics, and BOOT so you can see which stage has stalled.

 

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Here we get a good look at the three 3 GB/s SATA ports (black) (note the one along the bottom edge), the two 6 GB/s Intel SATA ports, and along the bottom, the two 6 GB/s ASMedia SATA ports.  A pretty good loadout for a mATX board.  Again we get a good look at the PCH headsink, and along the middle-left we can just make out the removable BIOS chip.  ASUS has been including removable BIOS chips in most of their new X79 and Z77 boards, and while this adds some cost to the motherboard, is hugely-beneficial in the event you corrupt your BIOS and cannot recover it.  Instead of you having to find a suitable box, get a shipping label, and wait for replacement, ASUS can fire off a new BIOS chip and have you both on your way quicker, cheaper, and with less hassle.

 

design6

The SupremeFXIII chip is included to give gamers an added featureset and a performance advantage for those who want or need high-fidelity sound quality.  The chip is place in a "standalone" package from the rest of the motherboard.  The idea here is to dispell the notion that onboard audio is crap, and while it's almost always worse than a dedicated audio card, ASUS has gone to great lengths here to deliver dedicated-level performance with an onboard chip.  We should also differentiate "onboard" from the term "integrated," because these say two different things.  While the SupremeFXIII audio is onboard in the ASUS ROG series, it's not integrated, it's entirely isolated from the rest of the motherboard PCB, which has a number of important implications. 

 

The separation can be seen by the yellow-ish lin squiggling in-between the board components, which glows red (and can be toggled off) when your system is running.  What can't be seen is a shielding layer within the PCB that rejects analog EMI issues and the steel audio processor acts as a Faraday cage to further block EMI.  This allows drastically-reduced EMI problems associated with the audio hardware's proximitiy to other board components.  One method of combating electromagnetic interference is through the use of "soothing capacitors" which act like a reservoir to absorb pulses and ripples in circuit voltage/current and maintain a smooth flow of power to the audio processor.  ASUS has not only added more soothing caps, but they've adeded the "big cap," which is a specialized, higher capacity capcitor to go to extra lenght to ensure a cleaner audio signal.

 

ASUS-ROG-SupremeFXIII

 

The best headsets or audio equipement in the world will only be as good as your audio source, and the same goes with the results from using better codecs.  Games like Battlefield 3 have absolutely pheonomenal sound engines, and with properly matched hardware, delivers not only a more immersive experience, but a competitive advantage.  Ask any of my gaming buddies how frustrating it can be when playing in small games as a "listener."  I know where they are any time they're in proximity.  The sound card I've long been using is a Creative X-Fi ExtremeGamer, and I can say it's hard to tell a difference without hooking up studio monitors.  T his also makes sense since it uses Creative's X-Fi 2 hardware and associated software suites.

 

The "big cap" also helps prevent audio "capping," which is particularly common when going from a low-volume "lull" to a high-volume explosion or when all hell starts to break loose.  What will happen if you don't have enough capacitance available is that the sudden draw of power will get capped and you'll lose fidelity in your audio response until the power system can catch up or the calamity tapers.  Your lossless performance and peak volumes are also boosted and are capable of a full 110dB of full-range operation, whereas most integrated sound systems tend to be capped at about 100dB.  We did notice the louder volumes, as I was able to overextend several headsets that hadn't come close to that when using on other integrated audio solutions. 

 

A great example of this was summarized by our editor Brandon Carey when he wrote:

"For those of you who have seen the latest 007 film "Skyfall," there is a particular scene where Bond encounters an assassin battle on the top floors of a skyscraper in Shanghai. Things quickly turn from calm to hectic, and the ensuing battle is filled with sounds of beating drums, rushing wind, punches, kicks, and bullets impacting concrete and glass. It's difficult to convey the intensity of the situation in words, but I was impressed to find that all the impacts of the fist fight weren't drowned out by the heavy percussion track. That's something that wouldn't be possible if I was watching at the same volume on a PC lacking a dedicated card with the same speakers . The drums would have overpowered the whole scene. Enhancements to musical tracks are also better detected at high volumes where quality begins to deteriorate on mainstream audio implementations. Chaotic chorouses using a variety of instruments manage to remain balanced, with lead vocals still coming through loud and clear. While you can still expect to get better quality out of a premium card like the Xonar STX, word on the street says that Supreme FX IV isn't that far off. It's hard to not be impressed by how much this on-board implementation does to boost the quality of listening for all forms of audio in general. "  Quite simply, I've had a similar overall experience, and couldn't agree more.  It essentially adds a $30-40 value of the cost of an equivalent video card, and important consideration in the overall value equation.


A Closer Look - Topology and I/O

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The back of the board has the same matte black finish, and we can see that the solder points are very clean and uniform.  We can also see the separating line dancing in between solder points for the SupremeFXIII audio in the lower right corner, showing that ASUS wasn't trying to dupe you about it being completely isolated on the PCB.  The VRM heatsink has a robust backplate which likely also has the benefit of providing a little extra cooling on the back side of the PCB.

 

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Especially with such a small board and the connection requirements for quad-channel memory, laying out the PCB traces is both extremely difficult and immensely important.  The layouts look very clean, and this image gives you a better look at the clean solder points on the back side of the DIMM slots.

 

IO

The I/O options of the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Gene are pretty well-stocked and certainly don't leave you wishing you had a bigger board.  In total there are 8 USB 2.0 ports (the white one is for ROG Connect), a PS/2 port for those who want N-Key Rollover (NKRO), an Intel Gigabit LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, an optical SPDIF port, an e-SATA port which is tied directly to the PCH for hot-swap capability, and gold-plated audio connections to complement the SupremeFXIII audio.  Additionally there are external buttons for CLR CMOS (the "refresh" arrow) and ROG connect (the button with the links).  A big-boy loadout of I/O options for the myriad of accessories a the typical gamer would expect to work on a gaming-grade product.

 

Super Alloy Power and Extreme Engine Digi+ II


ASUS proudly touts its power delivery system, comprised of their Digital VRM design, Digi+, and their " Super Alloy Power," components abbreviated as "SAP." The VRM, which stands for "Voltage Regulator Module," is present on every motherboard and is responsible for converting the  +12V provided by the power supply to the lower voltages needed by the CPU.  This step down in voltage has a side effect of producing heat, and since the performance of capacitors and inductors which are responsible for providing clean voltage to the CPU are heavily dependent upon temperature, these components (and their associated cooling) can be critical to stability and overclocking headroom.

 

The VRM  consists of a PWM, capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs which steps down and stabilizes the +12V DC power from the PSU to the ~1V DC power neeeded by the CPU. The PWM (Pulse Width Modulator) is the controller which controls power delivery, and can be digital (more recent implementions) or analog (now becoming uncommon).  ASUS' Digi+ design refers to the digital PWM which allows for greater control over power delivery options for both the CPU and DRAM, lower power response latency, and greater precision with voltage adjustments.  Digi+ allows for almost complete control over the settings of the power delivery system, including phase frequency, load line calibration (LLC), finer frequency interval spacing, and presents a wide open playground for the tweaker (this kind of tweaker may or may not be into drugs) who wants to squeeze every last drop of performance out of their system.  The Digital PWM is also what enables OS-side adjustments through a more intuitive and less-intimidatig UI (or even automatic overclocking), such as ASUS' MemTweak and TurboVEvo which has really brought overclocking to the masses.

 

The SAP chokes, capacitors, and MOSFETs are made from metals which are especially magnetic, heat-resistant, and anti-corrosive - translating into longer lifetimes and more reliable operation across the board.  The MOSFETs are essentially the "transformers" which step down the voltage, and the inductors (chokes) and capacitors act as reservoirs/compensators to smooth out ripple or fluctuations to provide the CPU with "cleaner/filtered" voltage.  The more efficient components also allow them to be downsized, which enables ASUS greater capability to optimize trace layouts on the PCB.

 

The capacitors use high-end Nichicon GT Black 10K capacitors which have better low-temperature endurance which ASUS claims will yield lifetimes 5 times longer than a standard capacitor.  Many standard boards will use 2K caps, whereas the P9X79 channel boards use 5K caps.  The chokes (inductors) have a higher current rating at 50A, which is 20A higher than a typical inductor.  NexFET™ MOSFETs are rated for the same power rating as a standard MOSFET, but due to higher efficiency with better materials and productions processes, allows them to be literally half the size.  The overall VRM design enables reduced thermal sensistivity, which can be especially important for a SFF build which may suffer from less-than-optimal airflow.

 

Another important factor is the number of phases used by the power delivery system.  You can think of phases as parallel "rails" for delivering power to the various graphics card components, and the more rails you have, the more the power demand is spread out amongst the comonents, which means you have less demand on any given phase.  The PWM controls power delivery across the phases by staggering power pulse peaks between the phases.  ASUS uses an  8 Phase design for the CPU and a 2+2 Phase for the DRAM along with a 3 Phase VCCSA which is important for overclocking your BCLK which X79 still heavily-utilizes for overclocking.  However, it's not as simple as "ye' board which hath the most phases doth be the noblest."  Too many phases can have packed power circuitry and lead to thermal issues.  ASUS uses a true 8-phase design, and the higher-amperage inductors allow a total of a whopping 400A (8 Phases * 50A).  You could have a 12 or 16 phase design with 25A inductors which will be a consideration.


Features - UEFI BIOS

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shortcut1ASUS boards have adopted a reputation for being wonderfully easy to configure thanks to the mouse friendly UEFI BIOS. The UEFI BIOS of the Rampage IV Gene varies from those on other ASUS boards only in its color scheme, and there is no part of the interface that leaves us wanting. The visual appeal and ease of navigation makes scrubbing through menus a breeze. Rather than spending valuable time digging through layer upon layer of system settings, users can press F3 to call up a set of shortcuts to access commonly adjusted performance metrics. One major update to the BIOS as a whole is that it is now CAP based rather than ROM based. This ensures the best performance, interoperability and compatibility for the UEFI specification and Windows 8. The BIOS is presented in an ‘EZ Mode’ upon first booting up the system. The EZ mode acts as a simple dashboard for viewing basic system information and allows users to set the display language, performance mode, and boot device priority.  One of my favorite things about ASUS' UEFI is that is by far the smoothest, most polished, and most usable UEFI BIOS we've used.  Ontop of that, it's the most usable, as using a keyboard will make it feel like a legacy BIOS, yet almost everything is used just as smoothly with a mouse.

 

Those wanting to get at the real meat of the interface can dive into the ‘Advanced Mode.’ Placed at the forefront of the Advanced Mode is the 'Extreme Tweaker.' This menu acts as a hub for overclocking, allowing the user to set CPU ratios manually, select the desired Level Up setting, enable X.M.P. mode, or even load a tailored Gamers' OC Profile for day-to-day gaming. One can also manually adjust a bevy of voltage settings including CPU voltage, DRAM voltage, and the CPU I/O skew to increase overclocking potential. Modifications to memory frequency are just a click away, and users can find a great deal of powerful options within the DIGI+ Power Control menu, such as Phase frequency and Load Line Calibration settings. Those who are diligent about getting their systems just right will appreciate the ability to press F12 to send a screen capture to an attached flash drive. An easy way to show your buddies your master-tweakin' skills.

 

 

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The "Advanced" tab has everything you'd expect for addtional tweaking options, including SATA and USB configuration as well as CPU power options and C-States.

 

For a quick look at system voltages, temps, and fan speed thresholds, there is the aptly named ‘Monitor’ tab. Only the Fan Speed Control menu offers any adjustability, but the options found there can prove quite useful. Minimum allowable fan RPMs and maximum temperature ranges can help keep your fans operating at a speed that provides a healthy amount of airflow for your overall system.

 

One of our favorite features of the ‘Tool’ tab is the SPD menu. It helps to diagnose DIMMs that aren't operating properly, which could be either due to faulty hardware or a failed overclock. It is especially helpful to determine which stick or slot isn't being properly detected without having to attempt a boot into the OS, only to be turned away by a blue screen. Other available functions include labeling, saving, and/or loading overclocking profiles, in addition to password protecting the BIOS itself. One can also set the overclocking preferences to be loaded at a push of the ‘Go Button’ mounted on the front of the board.

 

Corrupted BIOS got you down? It can happen to anyone, even if they are using an ASUS motherboard without soldered ROM chips. Providing a plug-and-play solution for the ROM is a good first line of defense against surges, as are the ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) diodes sprinkled around the board. If a UEFI update is in order, it's time to break out the EZ Flash 2 Utility. You can download the latest version of your board's BIOS to a flash drive and update over USB. The utility will go the extra mile to compare the old and new version of the BIOS to confirm that you are flashing the correct file, it'll go through the update process, and reboot.  Simple and easy to use, what more do you want?

 

4boot

The boot menu gives you your typical boot and drive priorities as well as POST delay and "fast boot" settings, which are super-convenient when you're not tweaking and you just want to get playing.


Features - Software and Utilities

We loved the graphical touches and modularity of AI Suite II when we first laid eyes on it during our review of the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro. From the looks of it, not a single thing about the interface is different, which is a very good thing. Having the same class of adjusment and tuning from within the OS as from within the UEFI BIOS is a serious boon for those unfamiliar with advanced system settings and overclocking. Navigation and tweaking of all manner of system settings is intuitive and the various statistics are presented in an easy to understand manner. Perhaps the most, shall we say, ‘dumbed down’ feature of AI Suite II is the ‘CPU Level Up’ function found under the TuboV EVO overclocking pane. The program presents you with three levels of overclocking, which are pre-determined by the CPU that you have installed in your system. Our rig happened to be running on Intel’s 6-Core i7-3930K LGA 2011 CPU, resulting in small, moderate, and high OC levels of 4.017, 4.125, and 4.250 GHz respectively. This is where countless hours of stability testing in the ASUS labs have really paid off, as it takes some of the nervous edge off of noobie overclockers who might not be sure how hard they can push their systems without giving themselves a little margin for extra stability and safety.

 

It is important to keep in mind that ASUS has no way of knowing what type of cooling setup you have installed, so be sure to consider what kind of TDP you are dealing with before maxing out the CPU on a first try. We were fine with all of the settings supplied with an Antec Kuhler 920, but if you're using the stock cooler you could very well have a temperature warning in your not-so-distant future. Cooling issues aside, which is out of ASUS' hands, they certainly have done their part to deliver one of the most hassle-free OS-based overclocking interfaces that you will ever come across.

 

Of course there’s more to TurboV EVO than just the Level Up function. Those wanting to set a specific CPU ratio can enter the aptly named ‘CPU Ratio’ window. One can tune all four cores separately or as a group. Unlike the CPU Level UP, the effects here are immediate and don’t require a reboot. Users with a higher degree of background knowledge can tab into an ‘Advanced Mode where they can tweak all the voltages they desire. Be it scary or liberating, nothing seems to be off limits here.  You get all of the options you could find in the BIOS with a real-time application and a friendly UI.

 

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Those with a passion for knowing every detail about what is going on inside their system will love what they see upon clicking the ‘Tool’ button. There is a total of eleven utilities to take advantage of, including the already mentioned TurboV EVO. DIGI+ Power Control is the next item on the list. The main motivation behind the thermal, voltage, and current controls offered here is that they can increase the overclocking potential of your system.

 

Again, a digital PWM is the foundation of ASUS' Digi+ VRM design which gives users, especially overclockers, a few distinct advantages.  Digital PWM designs have lower latency response to power needs, can provide more precise frequency changes, allow precise control of a number of power delivery options such as phase frequency of the CPU, DRAM, and System Agent, Load Line Calibration, VRM Over-Temp protection, and, as we are showing here, OS-side control applied in a friendly UI.

 

If being green is more your thing, the ASUS' EPU allows you to tweak the power efficiency of your board so having the performance you want will show up less on your electricity bill.   The EPU isn’t just another chip, it’s actually a hardware chip controller that dynamically adjusts the Voltage Regulator Module (VRM) ‘load line’ for the most stable environment under overclocking or power saving modes. Three modes are available: Auto, High Performance, and Maximum Power Saving. You can configure the way the system responds to each of these modes or just stick with the stock settings. For a high level view of what these toggles do to your computer, ASUS has provided a sort of ‘mood pentagon’ to highlight the direction your system is leaning.  To give a little extra incentive, ASUS makes sure to show you how much CO2 you've reduced by being conscientious of your power usage.

 

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Everyone knows that a well-cooled gaming rig is a happy gaming rig, and ASUS' Fan Xpert utility, while not a "headliner," has been one of our favorite utilities.  As can be expected, there are three predefined modes of operation on the front page: Silent, Standard, and Turbo. Additionally, you can prescribe custom fan curves to the CPU and Chassis fans separately.  While this doesn't go as far as Fan Xpert 2 on ASUS' Z77 motherboards, it's still a very functional and versatile fan control system which we utilize heavily when fine-tuning for acoustics while ensuring adequate airflow.

 

USB 3 Boost automatically uses optimal USB protocols to boost USB 3.0 drive performance, including taking advantage of UASP-enabled hardware to give an even greater boost.  We'll show the impacts of this in our testing segment.  Probe II and the Hardware Monitor allow you to keep an eye on your system's state and to also log system temperatures and voltages.

 

ROG GameFirst II

gamefirst

Even if you claim to have the best gaming rig in the world, it all means nothing if your performance on the battlefield is hindered by a poor network connection. However, managing the speed of your connection can be an exercise in frustration as you try to hack your way through a field of networking jargon that even IT specialists have a difficult time understanding. With GameFirst, all that Greek speech happens in the background, so you can get back to focusing on the game and not how miserable your ping is. Much like the EZ Mode of the UEFI BIOS, the GameFirst EZ Mode offers an intuitive interface that reports just the information you care about. What adapter am I running on? What's my IP? What nagging programs are taking up my precious bandwidth and how can I kill them? All of these questions can be answered by a quick glance at the EZ Mode front page. The entire GameFirst system is based on cFosSpeed software, which was built from the ground up for traffic shaping and reducing latency. It can also be assigned to accelerate and tune network performance for both wired and wireless connections.

ROG Connect

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If you thought that real-time performance tuning via an externally connected laptop was something reserved for the racetrack, think again. You can monitor the "telemetry" of your very own motherboard by jacking into the ROG Connect USB port on the rear I/O. Sounds like a great opportunity for your Windows 8 tablet to serve another functional purpose. The RC TweakIt application gives you access to nearly everything you'd expect from TurboV EVO like voltages, currents, ratios, temps and fan speeds. Post codes can be viewed ini string format and the CMOS can be cleared. You can even overclock your system on the fly, so you never have to leave the action happening on the main screen. Being able to utilize an existing laptop and avoid having to purchase a dedicated 5.25" controller to monitor active temperatures and voltages is a great convenience. Additionally, ROG Connect takes no CPU resources, as it is implemented on a hardware level.

 

Mem TweakIt

Mem TweakIt is very similar to TurboVEvo, and is a software-side way to overclock your memory outside of the BIOS.  It offers all of the same options you'd look for in the BIOS, so Tweak away and start up your stability testing without the start-restart cycles you may have grown all too fond of.

 

Bundled Software

And while most tweakers will be re-installing their OS often enough,  ASUS has bundled Kaspersky Anti-Virus, which would cost you an extra $60 if you wanted to buy it separately.  Also, the utility we were especially excited to see included was Daemon Tools Pro Standard, which should be a welcome upgrade for everyone's Daemon Tools - Lite installs, and at another $35 per license, adds another chunk of value to the overall package.

 


Testing - Setup and Overclocking

testing

rig1

CPU Intel Core i7-3930k
Motherboard ASUS ROG Rampage IV GENE
GPU ASUS GTX 560Ti 448
RAM  Patriot Viper Xtreme 16 GB 1866 MHz
CPU Cooler
Antec Khuler 920
Thermal Paste
 Noctua NT-H1
Primary HDD (OS) OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
2nd HDD (test)
Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB SSD
PSU  Cooler Master GX 750W
Chassis Cooler Master HAF xB
OS  Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

 

 

As we have already discussed, there are numerous avenues for overclocking on the Rampage IV Gene. TurboV EVO is certainly the most convenient since it applies your changes immediately without requiring a reboot for most operations. The preset CPU Level Up to 4.25 GHz was a breeze and completely uneventful.  TurboVEvo set the vCore to 1.3V, and under load gave us system temps in the mid-50 degree Celcius range, which is pretty good for the large 6-core i7-3930K.  We then began to taper down the voltage until it became unstable, and we were only able to bring it down to about 1.248V before instability, so the preset "Level Up" is actually pretty well-optimized to account for variability without getting carried away.  We were able to cash in about an extra Degree Celcius as well, which certainly doesn't hurt.

 

The BIOS has several preset overclock settings, and firing up the "Normal OC" gives us 4.375 GHz @1.400V  and the memory to 2000 MHz which bumped our temps up to about 75°C under load.  Again, we were able to knock off about 50 mV, but being we are into the steep part of the frequency-temperature curves, we picked up an extra 4-5°C which brought our temps down to a more-pleasant 70 degrees.  The "Gamer" profile is nearly the same, setting the CPU to 4.4 GHz but the memory to 2133 MHz.  The "Extreme" setting pumps the CPU to 4.987 GHz, and throws a hearty 1.568V at it, which quickly gives us 85°C on the Kuhler 920, so we didn't stress test that setting for long.  Optimizing the voltage allowed us to bring it way down to 1.45V, which allowed us to keep the temps at about 77°C, which we are more than comfortable with, and an outstanding overclock for a 120mm AIO watercooler.

 

Memory overclocking is fairly straight forward, and unfortunately we were a bit limited by the kits we had on-hand, as 3 DIMMs were begging for more but one DIMM refused to make it above 2000 MHz at CAS 11, which is a respectable memory OC for a 1600 MHz quad-channel kit.

 

In summary, the TurboV EVO overclocking utility worked like a charm, and was fairly aggressive in maintaining lower voltages compared to most overclocking utilities which buff them well beyond where they need to be. The built-in stability testing prevents the program from defaulting on a generic voltage that it hopes will work with all chips. Such voltages usually have to be much higher than necessary to ensure that even the worst chips will remain stable. The byproducts are wasted power and excess heat. As far as beginner-friendly implementations go, TurboV EVO sets a pretty high bar, and it is great to see that even a high automatic OC can give us a balance of performance and stability that we'd be comfortable with 24/7.  Even for manual overclocks, we've loved TurboVEvo for giving us a baseline to work from, especially with the flexibility X79 provides for how to balance BCLK and the Core Multiplier.


Testing - Storage and USB

SATA - 6 GB/s

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SATA-6G-ATTO

SATA-6G-AS-SSD

6 GB/s performance is very comparable across the board, with the X79 boards tending to tick a small notch below that of Z77, and all of the X79 boards performed very similarly.  The ASMedia controller also produced consistent results, and as we've said before, these 6GB/s ports are more like 4.5 GB/s ports, since we routinely see performance almost right in the middle of Intel 3 and 6 GB/s transfer speeds.

 

SATA - 3 GB/s

SATA-3G-CDM

SATA-3G-ATTO

SATA-3G-AS-SSD

3 GB/s performance is almost flat across-the-board, even between X79 and Z77 and any differences are essentially indistinguishable.

 

USB 2.0

USB-2-CDM

Again, USB 2.0 performance (even in high queue depth transfers which we didn't show to minimize redundancy) is a similar story to 3 GB/s SATA testing, basically a wash with the ROG Rampage IV Gene performing essentially identically with the other X79 boards we've tested.

 

USB 3.0

USB-3-CDM 

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While X79 doesn't have "Intel Turbo" to take advantage of for USB 3.0 boost because X79 doesn't have native USB 3.0 like Z77, UASP protocols do a fantastic job of providing a significant boost in USB 3.0 transfer performance.  Base USB 3.0 performance on the Gene is comparable to the P9X79 boards, and the UASP mode actually bests the Z77X-UD3H in read speeds despite it using the Intel Turbo protocol that delivers an additional boost in performance on ASUS' Z77 boards.  The ATTO tests shown above exhibit high Queue Depth performance, and we see strong performance here as the speeds ramp up to full throughput at about 256 MB transfer sizes.

 

Keep in mind that while UASP protocol is faster than Intel Turbo boost, the Turbo Boost benefits from being directly linked/tied into the PCH.  We see UASP performance being slower than Intel Turbo Boost because it's handled by the ASMedia controller which is limited by a PCI-e x1 lane.  With Windows 8 and native UASP performance, you'll find UASP as the USB 3.0 protocol king.


Testing - CPU and Memory

CPU

Cinebench

PCMark7

We didn't expect to see much difference between the Formula and other X79 motherboards, as our CPU tests are more of a general validation than a competitive benchmark. Significant differences (>3%) can hint at an anomoly of some sort in the design or the board itself.  We see nearly-identical performance with none of the boards betraying any signs of weakness.

 

Memory

AIDA64-RAM 

Overall the memory performance is essentially identical to the P9X79 boards, which is a good thing.  Again, no anomolies here and these results were what we had expected.


Final Thoughts

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Based upon our experiences with ASUS' Z77 and X79 motherboards and the added focus of the Republic of Gamers brand to support gaming and overclocking-specific in a premium package, we got everyting we expected.  Understand that there is so many incredients, so many small considerations, and so much work coming together in the ROG Rampage IV series that I will forget to summarize something here, and I really recommend you comb through the previous pages if you've skipped straight to the conclusion. 

 

With ROG we get a rock-solid foundation from ASUS' channel boards with upgraded components, a premium aesthetic, the same great Intel NIC with GameFirst prioritization, on-board sound with discrete-level performance for hi-fi gaming fidelity, and a bevy of features that will please tweakers and gamers everywhere.  ROG connect provides hardware monitoring, the Digi+ PWM/VRM enables vast power control options, on-board CMOS reset, Power, and Reset buttons all cater to people who will have systems on a test bench trying to squeeze every Hert they can from their hardware.

 

The VRM uses 10K Nichicon GT-Series caps which best the regular 5K capacitors provide better thermal stability, which is especially important for mATX boards that might make their way into small LAN boxes that may not have optimal airflow.  THe NexFET MOSFET is half the size of a normal MOSFET which allows ASUS to more efficiently and effectively lay out their power components.  High-end chokes round out a high-end VRM that will allow for stable operation at high power draw up to 200W, so ROG boards may find their way in an all work no play environement with a XEON pounding out calculations or renders.

 

Certain staples from ASUS continue to deliver great value, usability, and an overall pleasurable user experience.  The AI Suite II software package, and its TurboVEvo software make overclocking a breeze, and for those who fully-intend to manually tweak their machines, TurboVEvo does a great job at giving you a solid starting point.  USB 3.0 boost delivers great overall performance, and UASP allows you SATA-like performance through a USB port.  The idea of running a game library off an external hard drive doesn't seem that crazy anymore, does it?  Fan Xpert continues to be a simple way to setup custom fan ramp curves so you can tune your aesthetics alongside your airflow needs.

 

Overclocking performance was also very good, as we were able to take our i7-3930K to 5 GHz with temperatures in the mid-70°C range, which is comfortable enough for us to use for extended gaming sessions.  And mind you, this was done on just a 120mm Antec Kuhler 920.  That's extremely efficient, and the relatively low voltages required at due at least in part to the high-end VRM components and 8-phase design ASUS has crafted.

 

The bototm line is that if you want the best today, you want X79.  If you want the best in a mATX form factor, you want the ROG Rampage IV Gene.  It's that simple. There's literally one competitor, and the price difference between it and the ASRock alternative isn't enough to keep me from getting the Rampage IV Gene.  You can't get a processor for much less than $300 on the X79 platform, and the total cost of putting together an X79 build is comparatively very high compared to the mainstream platforms like Z77, so we wouldn't really expect you to fret too much about the $70 more the Rampage IV Gene costs, and I'd go so far to say it's even a bit contradictory.  Even at its smaller stature, the Rampage IV Gene will still best many of the ATX motherboards in a +/- $20 bracket around it, and when you consider the value of ROG Connect for tweakers (and not needing extra hardware) and not needing discrete graphics for gamers, those could be worth  anywhere from a $40-100 additional acquisition cost ontop of a "typical" motherboard.

 

Kings' Ruling:

While the Gene version of the Rampage IV series is meant mostly to be a more economical way to join the ROG bandwagon, it also enables performance in a small size that you simply can't get anywhere else.  It's chock full of features that is exhaustive to list, and even more difficult to fully make sense of how well the entire package comes together.  Gamers will love the gaming features and discrete-level audio, tweakers will love the vast overclocking options delivered by the ROG features and Digi+ VRM, and builders will love its premium aesthetic.  At it's price, since I don't mind not havinga full ATX form factor since I don't plan on anything more than two-way SLI/CrossFireX, it's not a stretch to see me with a Rampage IV Gene in my shopping cart instead of a P9X79, which is probably the only other board that really competes with it at that price point.  Given the value of hardware-level monitoring connections with ROG Connect and much better audio which allows me to knock the $30+ I'd probably spend on discrete audio, the Rampage IV Gene puts you ahead of the game in almost every way.  The icing on the cake is a nice spread of a Kaspersky AV licesnse with a dash of Daemon Tools Pro Standard, which combine to add just shy of $100 if purchased separately.

 

The Good

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The Bad

  • Great aesthetic
  • Intuitive, smooth, and polished UEFI
  • Excellent bundled software
  • Great OC Performance
  • Hardware-level monitoring built-in
  • Intel NIC and GameFirst Prioritization
  • Discrete-level audio on-board
  • Kaspersky AV and Daemon Tools Pro Standard Included
  • Hard to reach GPU release paddles
  • CMOS battery is underneath GPU

 

Did we miss something or have you found any inaccuracies?  Suggestions and corrections can be sent by commenting below or the "Contact" button at the top of the page.  Your feedback helps us improve!

 

 

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