ASUS ROG Rampage IV GENE Motherboard Review

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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