When it comes to creating custom, eye poppingly powerful graphics cards not many companies can compete with ASUS. They will be remembered for the ARES and MARS video cards, as they outperformed anything on the market at the time while costing as much as an inexpensive car. They also granted wealthy enthusiast users plenty of bragging rights on the forums.
Today we are looking at the Republic Of Gamers Mars II video card, which is a custom design comprising two powerful GTX580's onto a single PCB. Asus are only making 999 of these cards, and we received number 518 for review. Our time with the sample hasn't been as long as we would have liked, but we will try and ensure you have enough information to help with a potential buying decision.
Oh yes, just in case you were already wondering, ensure you have a healthy bank balance before even contemplating a purchase as they are expected to retail for £1,149.99 each. No, seriously, that isn't a typo. Rest assured, if you are the kind of person who shops around for bargain basement deals, you are on the wrong page.
The Republic Of Gamers Mars II continues the legacy of insanely powerful graphics cards for the hardcore audience with insanely deep pockets. This limited edition card is a custom GTX580 design with dual GPU onboard paired up with a whopping 3GB of GDDR5 memory.
I have always had a soft spot for the GTX580. I feel it has been one of Nvidia's highest points in a long and successful history of creating class leading video cards. A single GTX580 isn't easy to cool however, so trying to design a card with two of these GPU's on board was clearly going to be a challenge for Asus.
We have looked at several Asus cards in recent months which have came equipped with the new Direct CU II cooler. The specific cooler included on the Mars II is a metal design which is claimed to offer 600% greater airflow than the reference design, while running 20% cooler. Not only is the cooler a custom design, but ASUS aren't taking any chances, as they have installed dual 120mm fans to cover the width of the PCB. Underneath are all copper pipes with separate heatsinks for each core.
|ASUS MARS II|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 580 x2|
|System Bus||PCIE 2.0 x 16|
|Video Memory||3GB GDDR5|
|Memory Clock||4008 mhz (1002mhz GDDR5)|
|Memory Interface||384bit x2|
|Maximum Digital Resolution||2560×1600|
|Maximum VGA Resolution||2048×1536|
|Output I/O||2x Dual Link DVI / 1x HDMI / 1x Display Port/ 1x D-sub|
|Microsoft Direct X||11|
|Adaptor/Cable Bundled||2x 8 pin Power Cable/ 1x DVI to DSub Adapter / 1x Extended SLI bridge|
The Mars II arrives in a box adorned with the traditional Republic Of Gamers colours. Along the bottom is a list of features with the wording ‘GTX 580 SLI'. Just in case anyone was in doubt that this is two cards in one.
The box is an attractive gatefold design which folds open to reveal a list of selling points and technical data.
The card is shipped protected within a foam surround, with a metal plaque inserted above. Asus are only producing 999 of these cards and each card is numbered as a ‘special edition'.
Collectors are going to love this – a certification on the rear of the metal plaque which reads ‘This document certifies that the limited edition MARS II is a unique work of art designed by the ASUS ROG team. This aluminum plate is individually laser carved and sequentially numbered to certify limited edition status, making it a collector's item.'
The bundle includes a ROG sticker, a software disc, power converter cables and a video adapter. They also include an SLI cable, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on two of them (yes, some people will spend £2,300 on video cards). We noticed on the back of the box that there is a disclaimer note which reads “If you are planning to use two MARS II for QUAD Sli then Rampage III Extreme or Rampage III Extreme Black Edition is required. This is recommended for the best performance via dual x16 PCIE and best cooling operation.”
The card itself is a beast, and weighs easily as much as two standard reference cards. The whole outer cover is made from metal, with a backplate for added protection and strength. Asus have incorporated a 21 phase power architecture for this card to ensure stability and to prevent power loss under heavy load situations. Asus also discuss the patented PCI-E anti-shock sustainer that keeps the card firmly in its slot, preventing deformation as a result of heat exposure and resisting vibration if the PC case is moved.
There are dual 120mm fans at the top, each of which are branded with the Republic Of Gamers sticker. Underneath we can see the heavy duty aluminum heatsinks with copper pipes.
The card has a single SLI connector, for QUAD SLI configurations.
Yes, not one, not two, but three 8 pin power connectors. Not bad actually considering this card is basically two GTX580's in a single PCB design. There is a 100% fan speed button next to the power connectors, to manually bypass any fan related software installation and settings.
The Mars II is a triple slot design, and has 2x Dual Link DVI / 1x HDMI / 1x Display Port/ 1x VGA output capabilities.
Removing the cooler takes a little time as there are a plethora of screws to remove from all corners of the cooler and backplate. The card is split into two sections, with two separate coolers on either side of the PCB, each of which is a thick quad heatpipe design. Super Alloy power components are in place to deliver improved lifespan (up to 2.5x according to ASUS) and '35c cooler' operation.
ASUS bundle a special version of GPUz with the card which not only gives all the detailed information, but is branded with a special Republic Of Gamers colour scheme. Very sexy.
We wanted to present some super high resolution images of the Asus ROG Mars II graphics card taken with the 24.5MP Nikon D3X camera and 24-70mm ED lens. These will take much longer to open due to the dimensions, especially on slower connections. If you use these pictures on another site or publication, please credit Kitguru.net as the owner/source.
To review the Asus ROG Mars II we have built a system around an overclocked 6 core Intel processor – liquid cooled to 4.33ghz. We only had a very limited time with the ASUS ROG MARS II, so we didn't get time to perform all the testing we wanted. We had to omit multiple screen testing due to time constraints.
We will be splitting the review up into several sections, first showing the Mars against leading solutions available on the market, then later focusing on the Mars II with ultra high image quality settings.
Processor: Core i7 970 @ 4.33ghz
Graphics: Asus ROG Mars II
Cooling: Coolit Vantage
Motherboard: MSI X58A-GD65
Chassis: Thermaltake Level 10
Power Supply: Corsair Ax1200
Memory: 6GB GSkill Performance Gaming ram @ 902.9 MHz (2:10) @ 7-8-7-24
Storage: Kingston SSDNow V+ 512GB Gen 2 SSD (Storage) / Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (OS boot)
Monitors: Dell U2410 UltraSharp, LaCie 730.
Validation is available over here
Other graphics cards for comparisons:
Windows 7 Enterprise 64 bit
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
HQV 2.0 Software
Nvidia Driver: 280.26
AMD Driver: 11.8
Technical Monitoring and Test Equipment:
Keithley Integra unit
Raytek Laser Temp Gun 3i LSRC/MT4 Mini Temp
Extech digital sound level meter & SkyTronic DSL 2 Digital Sound Level Meter
Resident Evil 5
Far Cry 2
Alien V Predator
Lost Planet 2
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Total War: Shogun 2
Tom Clancy HAWX 2
All the latest BIOS updates and drivers are used during testing. We perform under real world conditions, meaning KitGuru tests all games across five closely matched runs and average out the results to get an accurate median figure.
Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset. A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand.
Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk.
Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:
- Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
- Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
- Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
- Multicore CPU support
- Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
- Powerful C++ API
- Comprehensive performance profiling system
- Flexible XML-based data structures
We use the following settings: 1920×1080 resolution. Anti Aliasing off. Anisotrophy 4, Tessellation normal. Shaders High. Stereo 3D disabled. API: Direct X 11.
The Asus ROG Mars II slots in behind two HD6990's in CrossfireX, trailing by just over 30 frames per second. A single HD6990 is outperformed by around 10 fps however.
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.
Stellar results from the ASUS ROG Mars II graphics card, scoring 41,482 points, outperforming the GTX590 by around 5,000 points.
We wanted to include a video of test 2, two HD6990's can break 20,000 rendered frames in this test. The ASUS MARS II falls a little behind. Still an incredible result however. You can skip to the last 20 seconds of the video to see the rendered frames.
3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.
After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.
If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.
The Asus ROG Mars II achieved a final score of 11,571 points in this intensive Direct X 11 test, which is considerably more than the HD6990, which scores around 9,700 points.
HQV Benchmark 2.0 is an updated version of the original tool and it consists of various video clips and test patterns which are designed to evalute motion correction, de-interlacing, decoding, noise reduction, detail enhancement and film cadence detection.
There are two versions of the program, standard definition on DVD and high definition on Bluray. As our audience will be concentrating on HD content so will we.
This has a total of 39 video tests which is increased from 23 in the original and the scoring is also up from a total of 130 to 210. As hardware and software gets more complicated, the software has been tuned to make sure we can thoroughly maximise our analysis.
Read our initial analysis over here.
|Asus ROG Mars II|
|Dial with static pattern||5|
|Horizontal Text Scroll||3|
|Vertical Text Scroll||5|
|Transition to 3:2 Lock||5|
|Transition to 2:2 Lock||0|
2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCAM Video
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video
3:2:3:2:2 24 FOS Vari-Speed
5:5 FPS Animation
6:4 12 FPS Animation
8:7 8 FPS Animation
Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP)
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE)
Random Noise: Sailboat
Random Noise: Flower
Random Noise: Sunrise
Random Noise: Harbour Night
Text Pattern/ Scrolling Text
Luminance Frequency Bands
Chrominance Frequency Bands
The hardware scores 192 points out of a possible 210. The Asus Mars II delivers a very high level of image quality.
Resident Evil 5, known in Japan as Biohazard 5, is a survival horror third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on March 5, 2009 in Japan and on March 13, 2009 in North America and Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A Windows version of the game was released on September 15, 2009 in North America, September 17 in Japan and September 18 in Europe. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.
Within its first three weeks of release, the game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise in the United Kingdom. As of December, 2009, Resident Evil 5 has sold 5.3 million copies worldwide since launch, becoming the best selling Resident Evil game ever made.
The Asus ROG Mars II outperforms the HD6990 in Resident Evil 5, by 10 frames per second.
Aliens V Predator has proved to be a big seller since the release and Sega have taken the franchise into new territory after taking it from Sierra. AVP is a Direct X 11 supported title and delivers not only advanced shadow rendering but high quality tessellation for the cards on test today.
To test the cards we used a 1080p resolution with DX11, Texture Quality Very High, MSAA Samples 1, 16 af, ambient occulsion on, shadow complexity high, motion blur on.
This game uses a very intensive Direct X 11 engine, and we find that the Mars II slots in behind Crossfired HD6990's, losing out by 15 frames per second.
Far Cry 2 (commonly abbreviated as “FC2 or “fc2″) is an open-ended first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It was released on October 21, 2008 in North America and on October 23, 2008 in Europe and Australia. It was made available on Steam on October 22, 2008. Crytek, the developers of the original game, were not involved in the development of Far Cry 2.
Ubisoft has marketed Far Cry 2 as the true sequel to Far Cry, though the sequel has very few noticeable similarities to the original game. Instead, it features completely new characters and setting, as well as a new style of gameplay that allows the player greater freedom to explore different African landscapes such as deserts, jungles, and savannas. The game takes place in a modern-day East African nation in a state of anarchy and civil war. The player takes control of a mercenary on a lengthy journey to locate and assassinate “The Jackal,” a notorious arms dealer.
Far Cry 2 is still a popular game and the open world environment can be taxing on even the latest hardware available today.
Settings: 1920×1200, D3D10, Disable Artificial Intelligence(No), Full Screen, Anti-Aliasing(8x), VSync(No), Overall Quality(Ultra High), Vegetation(Very High), Shading(Ultra High), Terrain(Ultra High), Geometry(Ultra High), Post FX(High), Texture(Ultra High), Shadow(Ultra High), Ambient(High), Hdr(Yes), Bloom(Yes), Fire(Very High), Physics(Very High), RealTrees(Very High)
At these settings, the MARS II outperforms the HD6990 by a considerable margin, falling in behind the HD6990 in CrossfireX.
Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates.
After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. Lost Planet 2 runs on the MT-Framework 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in several Capcom-developed games.
We are testing in DX11 mode with all settings on the highest. Direct X 11 features are on high.
Lost Planet 2 is a Direct X 11 game which has always performed well on Nvidia hardware. We can see that the Asus ROG MARS II manages to keep up with two HD6990's in Crossfire, actually outperforming the dual cards in minimum frames per second.
Shogun 2 is set in 16th-century feudal Japan, in the aftermath of the Ōnin War. The country is fractured into rival clans led by local warlords, each fighting for control. The player takes on the role of one of these warlords, with the goal of dominating other factions and claiming his rule over Japan. The standard edition of the game will feature a total of eight factions (plus a ninth faction for the tutorial), each with a unique starting position and different political and military strengths.
All settings are pushed to ultra with hardware shadows and SSAO enabled.
A strong showing from the MARS II, averaging 85 frames per second in our intensive real world test.
We also used the built in benchmark at both 720p and 1080p settings below. Just so you can directly compare your hardware against this setup.
With the built in benchmark, the system scores around 196 fps at 720p and 93 fps at 1080p.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. After the events of the first game, the H.A.W.X squadron is sent to Middle East, where a high level of violence is being registered, and the appearance of various insurgents leaders in various hotspots. The team also has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Russian nuclear weapons. The player will be controlling three groups: one American (Hunter), one British (Munro) and one Russian (Sokov), each with its own pilots and supporting characters. There will also be references to other characters in the Tom Clancy universe.
We are testing in full DX11 mode with all settings to maximum.
The Asus ROG MARS II outperforms the reference GTX590 by 31 frames per second, claiming the top position, by a clear margin.
Dirt 3 is a rallying videogame and the third in the Dirt series of the Colin McRae Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters, although the “Colin McRae” tag has been completely removed from this iteration (having been previously been removed from American versions of previous games in the series).
We wanted to really push the ASUS MARS II card with this game, testing with the Ultra High Preset and adding 8X QCSAA.
No problems at these settings, averaging over 170 fps with the ultra high settings.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (also known as Bad Company 2 or BF: BC2) is a first-person shooter video game developed by the Swedish firm EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 systems. It is a part of the Battlefield series and was released worldwide in March 2010.
The game is primarily a squad-level online first person shooter based in a contemporary modern warfare setting. Additionally, the game includes a single player campaign, where the player reassumes the role of Preston Marlowe, the protagonist of the original game. The game’s Frostbite 1.5 engine allows for destructible environments, and multiplayer maps contain a wide selection of vehicles, aircraft and emplacements and allow for five different game modes.
We are testing in full Direct X 11 mode with 16xQCSAA. All other settings are maxed.
An online gamers wet dream, averaging 131 frames per second even at these insane image quality settings.
Asus have worked well outside the reference Nvidia specifications, by including two GTX580 cores on a single PCB, therefore cooling proficiency is critical.
To test the card, we measured temperatures while playing the Direct X 11 based Lost Planet 2 over a 30 minute time period, recording the maximum result.
We also use Furmark to stress the card beyond any current day gaming demands. This is not indicative of a real world situation, but we still feel it is interesting to include. Room temperature is maintained at 24c.
When gaming, the card peaks around 85c which is actually a really good result considering the dual GPU design. Furmark pushes the GPU cores much harder, right up to 98c. It is worth reiterating that no game on the market pushes the card close to this, but we always like to include FurMark results as a topic of interest.
We have changed our method of measuring noise levels. We have built a system inside a Lian Li chassis with no case fans and have used a fanless cooler on our CPU. We are using a heatpipe based passive power supply and an Intel SSD to keep noise levels to a minimum. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with completely passive cooling and it means we can measure noise of just the graphics card inside the system when we run looped 3dMark tests. Ambient noise in the room is around 20-25dBa. We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the chassis and 4 foot from the ground to mirror a real world situation.
Why do this? Well this means we can eliminate secondary noise pollution in the test room and concentrate on only the video card. It also brings us slightly closer to industry standards, such as DIN 45635.
KitGuru noise guide
10dBA – Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA – High Quality Computer fan
40dBA – A Bubbling Brook, or a Refridgerator
50dBA – Normal Conversation
60dBA – Laughter
70dBA – Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA – City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA – Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA – MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA – Orchestra
120dBA – Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA – Threshold of Pain
140dBA – Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA – Instant Perforation of eardrum
When idle, the card is barely audible inside a performance gaming system. When gaming, both fans spin up quickly, becoming audible under extended load. Furmark pushes the fans harder and the noise levels rise to just over 40 dBa. It certainly isn't the quietest card design on the market, but considering the thermal challenges the ASUS engineering team must have faced during development we didn't expect this to be the case.
We have to be honest, if we owned this card, we wouldn't even attempt overclocking as the ‘out of the box' performance is more than any user would need. That said, we know the Kitguru readers will be interested so we used the bundled ASUS overclocking software to try and push the card further.
The ASUS branded ‘GPU Tweak' software is actually very good, although we found a little interface quirk which might be missed by some customers.
If the user simply adjusts the sliders, only one of the GPU cores will be overclocked. There is a ‘hidden' menu in the software, right next to the ‘Mars II' text. When this is clicked a popdown menu appears showing GPU 1/2 and ‘sync with all card'. This needs to be highlighted in red for the clock speeds to apply to both GTX580's.
What is even more confusing is that the ASUS customised ‘built in' version of GPUz accessed via the ‘info' button doesn't update the clock speeds automatically, like the stand alone version of GPUz. It has to be closed and reloaded for the updated speeds to show. It also won't show both cores, so I had to confirm speeds with the ordinary version of the software.
We increased the core voltage a little to 1088. This allowed us to achieve a core clock of 820mhz from both GTX580's. Memory speeds could be increased to 1,100mhz which translates to 4,400mhz effective. Healthy increases for a single PCB design.
The overclocked speeds helped to push the Direct X 10 based 3DMark Vantage from 41,482 points to 42,937 points. A noticeable increase.
Another increase, this time around 500 points more than with the default clock speeds. Very impressive results.
It seems obvious, but we have to say it – The Asus Republic Of Gamers MARS II is a product designed specifically for a small, hardcore audience comprised of overclockers, modders and wealthy enthusiast users.
At £1,149 inc vat, 98% of the people reading this review will not be able to afford it. The other 2% will already be online trying to secure a pre-order for one or even two of these cards for their next high end system build. When you get into this specific sector, the price really does become irrelevant.
Asus have an rich heritage of creating some of the most desirable graphics solutions on the market and deservedly so. Their Republic Of Gamers limited edition cards are spectacular showcases of engineering and design prowess, falling well outside Nvidia or AMD's reference specifications. You might think it can't be done, but ASUS will normally find a way.
Nvidia's GTX580 is, in my opinion, the finest video card that they have ever produced. They have taken the excellent reference design and pimped it out in every possible way. The PCB is an immensely tricky custom design which highlights the resourcefulness and intelligence of the ASUS engineering team.
A few months ago I would have questioned the long term risks associated with placing two GTX580's on a single PCB at these speeds, but thanks to a proprietary 21 phase power design, hardcore heatpipe copper coolers and twin 120mm fans, the temperatures never exceeded 85c when gaming. Power delivery has been very stable and performance is much as we would expect from a dual GTX580 solution.
Awarding a score to this product is difficult, because while most of us will look at the price in horror, this card is not targeted at the mainstream high end audience. After all, for £1,149, you could pick up two HD6990's or even three GTX580's, with change left for a new kit of high performance gaming memory. You could even buy a complete new gaming system with monitor for the same price. We could score this card as a ‘5 out of 10' based just on the cost, but this is missing the point completely.
Looking at this product from the point of view as a ‘value for money' proposition is pointless. This is not why it is made, and we can't help but admire ASUS for having the balls to try such radical designs. As a lover of high end hardware, these cards always hit the spot for me, and while I would never buy one myself I can understand why people do. This is a showpiece video card, a testament to what can be achieved if you think outside the limitations of the reference designs.
The Mars II is a stunning piece of engineering and perhaps even a long term investment. A decade down the line, this will be a collectors item and potentially worth a lot more money that it costs today. It might sound like a stretch right now, but we have seen mint condition 3DFX Voodoo cards being sold on Ebay for thousands of pounds.
I am giving this the MUST HAVE award. Obviously not for the general audience reading this, but for the collectors and enthusiast users with high levels of disposable income. I would think all 999 in this limited run will sell out quickly.
- Technically, an immensely impressive showcase of ASUS engineering.
- Performance is exceptional.
- Cooler works very well.
- Overclocks well with the supplied software.
- Collectors item, only 999 will be made.
- The price.
- It isn't the quietest card you could buy.
- Did we say the price?
Kitguru says: Its fast, its furious and yes, it is also a lot of cash. It isn't as fast as two AMD HD6990's in CrossfireX and costs more, but if you want a rare collectors item and are an Nvidia fanboy, this is is a heck of a card to hang onto.