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Asus Rampage IV Black Edition (X79) Motherboard Review

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As previously mentioned, Asus uses an all-black colour scheme for the Rampage IV Black Edition motherboard. Ports, connectors, DIMM slots and even the heatsinks are coloured black or grey, with the only exceptions being red accents for audio components, the ROG logo and the onboard power button.

Measuring 12″ x 10.7″, the Rampage IV Black Edition conforms to the Extended-ATX form factor. We had no problems fitting the motherboard inside our NZXT Phantom 630 test chassis.

Quickly noticeable is the fact that the Rampage IV Black Edition’s cooling configuration is substantially less beefy than the system used on the Extreme. Is this a testament to the power efficiency of IVB-E processors, even when pushed to the limits, perhaps?

motherboard-rear

A large metal sheet is used to provide structural rigidity and a sturdy mounting point for the chipset heatsink. By default, the RIVBE is equipped with its LGA 2011 socket backplate, but a little tweaking should allow Asus’ LGA 1366-supporting X-Socket to fit without issues.

CPU-areaVRM-2

A set of DIMM banks lies either side of the LGA 2011 CPU socket. The two four-way memory channels are differentiated by the use of a subtly different shade of black. Up to 64GB of memory can be installed in the eight DIMM slots and while Asus claims support for DDR3 2800MHz, the actual useful frequency will be heavily tied to an individual CPU’s memory controller.

To accommodate the company’s interchangeable cooling hardware compatibility feature (X-Socket) and over-sized LN2 pots, the Rampage IV Black Edition is fitted with a more concise socket support system than we typically see on X79 motherboards. This adjustment is unlikely to make a significant difference to CPU heatsink stability; a large proportion of the cooler’s weight is distributed through the mounting backplate.

Asus equips the Rampage IV Black Edition with the same 8+3+2+2 phase power delivery system used on the Extreme. 8 phases feed the CPU VCore, 3 power the CPU’s integrated memory controller (VCCSA), and a further 2 phases are used for each set of four DIMM slots (2+2 for the DRAM, in total).

power-connectors OC-zone

Located in close proximity to the 24-pin power connector are an outwards-facing internal USB 3.0 header (operating from an ASMedia ASM1042 chipset) and two 4-pin fan connections. I would typically comment on the USB 3.0 header’s less-than-convenient orientation, but given the likelihood of the Rampage IV Black Edition being outside of a chassis, the decision is unlikely to cause inconvenience.

Situated in the OC Zone are onboard power and reset buttons, a PCI-E lane switch, the slow mode toggle, the MemOK button, additional 4-pin fan headers, and a two-digit diagnostic display. ProbeIt voltage readout points are located along the board’s outside-edge (as well as inside the OC Panel).

The OC Zone’s board position is not ideal; when sub-zero cooling equipment is used for an extended period of time, the buttons are likely to freeze and become unusable. Luckily, Asus’ unique OC Panel solves this issue by taking overclocking control away from the motherboard’s cold areas.

top-edge

8-pin and 4-pin CPU power connectors are nestled above the VRM heatsink, along the RIVBE’s top edge. The CPU fan header is also hidden behind the same heatsink.

Intentional or not, the CPU power connectors and fan header are, to an extent, protected from sub-zero vapours and condensation effects by virtue of their position behind the VRM heatsink. How much of an effect this has on their ability to stay dry and thawed is yet to be discovered, though.

Expansion-slots

Asus splits the LGA 2011 CPU’s 40 PCI-E lanes in a manner that provides support for 4-way SLI and CrossFire configurations. For two-card users, Asus provides a 2-slot cooling gap (when using dual-slot cards) between the pair of connectors receiving full sixteen-lane PCI-E bandwidth (the top and third full-length slots). Other multi-GPU lane splits will be PCI-E 3.0 x16/x8/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8.

With the uppermost PCI-E x16-length slot probing the DIMM slots’ bottom edges, Asus wisely opts for the increasingly-popular single-latch method of securing memory modules.

Given the close-packed nature of multi-GPU-capable X79 motherboards, interference with a large CPU cooler is an area for concern. Water-cooling users are unlikely to suffer interference problems, but a large air cooler could possibly be fouled by the PCB of a graphics card positioned in the upper slot. One workaround would be to use one of the lower PCI-E slots.

Both of the chipset-fed PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots utilise an open-ended design that allows them to accept long cards that don’t require a faster connection.

front-panel-connectors

The Rampage IV Black Edition’s bottom-edge is the typical affair, with the audio header located to the left and front panel connections situated towards the right. Asus outfits the RIVBE with a pair of internal USB 2.0 headers and an additional one that doubles-up as the ROG_EXT connection for OC Panel.

Orientating the multi-GPU molex power connector to face downwards allows quad-VGA configurations to be powered without physical interference occurring.

Given that the bottom-edge is likely to be covered by a dual-slot graphics card when using quad-GPU configurations, Asus does well to keep the location free of important or obtrusive headers that cannot be moulded against a VGA cooler.

SATA

Storage connectivity comes in the form of ten SATA ports. The X79 chipset provides six connections, four of which operate at 3Gb/s speeds with the remaining two providing 6Gb/s bandwidth. A pair of ASMedia’s ASM1061 controllers provides the remaining two SATA 6Gb/s ports which, as we will inevitably find out later in the review, will be crippled in terms of raw throughput.

A dual BIOS implementation provides overclockers with redundancy protection against dodgy settings causing corruption.

audio SupremeFX-Lighting

Asus is clearly very impressed with the audio setup the company implements on its Rampage IV Black Edition. Called SupremeFX Black, the equipment used consists of SupremeFX shielding and EMI cover (including an isolated PCB, as highlighted by the red colouring), ELNA audio and WIMA film capacitors, differential circuit with operational amplifiers, a 120dB SNR Cirrus Logic CS4398 digital to analogue converter, and Texas Instruments’ TPA6120A2 600 Ohm headphone amplifier.

Underneath the SupremeFX-branded cover is a Realtek ALC1150 audio chip. Installing the Realtek audio drivers will also provide access to the Sonic Radar software.

The Rampage IV Black Edition motherboard’s SupremeFX Black audio setup seems to be very similar, if not identical, to the SupremeFX Formula system used on Asus’ Maximus VI Formula. This is most certainly a strong positive as the configuration is widely regarded as the best onboard audio system currently available.

The Sonic Radar gaming overlay indicates the direction of enemy footsteps, gunfire, and explosions. Some of Sonic Radar’s initial teething problems, as we outlined in our review of Asus’ Maximus VI Hero, are still present five months after its launch. The software’s directional awareness seems to be malfunctioning; almost all enemy gunfire was shown to take place in front of our player, irrelevant of its true direction.

rear-IO

You’d be forgiven for thinking the above image showed the rear IO of a motherboard on the feature-heavy Z87 platform. Asus outfits the Rampage IV Black Edition with a multitude of onboard controllers to provide rear IO connectivity for six USB 3.0 connections, a pair of eSATA 6Gb/s ports, and 802.11ac WiFi (with Bluetooth 4.0). To provide enough PCI-E lanes for the large quantity of onboard devices, Asus uses an ASMedia ASM1184e switch which converts a single PCI-E 2.0 x1 lane (provided by the X79 chipset) to four x1 lanes that can feed the controllers.

Three ASMedia ASM1042 host controllers and one ASM1074 hub provide USB 3.0 connectivity. Three pairs of ports are provided by the ASM1042 chipsets, while the ASM1074 takes one of those pairs and splits it into two pairs, hence providing a total of eight USB 3.0 ports throughout the board. The same company’s ASM1061 controllers provide the Rampage IV Black Edition’s eSATA 6Gb/s connections.

Two gold-plated antenna ports connect to the separate aerial to provide dual-band, two-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi with transfer speeds of up to 867Mb/s. Bluetooth 4.0 is also packaged in with the same pre-fitted Wi-Fi GO! card. Intel’s 82579V chip provides Gigabit Ethernet capability.

A feature which is often overlooked is Asus’ BIOS flashback tool. While the feature is arguably less useful on this particular SKU (as it should ship with the relevant BIOS for IVB-E CPU support), it is undeniably helpful to those who buy an older Asus motherboard to use with a brand new CPU (think: Rampage IV Extreme with an old BIOS version and the newest IVB-E chip, which may not be supported without an update).

Another small but thoughtful detail of the Rampage IV Black Edition is its light-up clear CMOS button. The toggle features an unobtrusive green light which makes it easier to locate when rooting around the rear of your system.

Motherboard rear ports:

  • 1x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port.
  • 4x USB 2.0 ports (1 can be used for ROG Connect).
  • 1x Clear CMOS button.
  • 1x ROG Connect button.
  • 1x Asus Wi-Fi Go! module
  • 6x USB 3.0 ports.
  • 2x eSATA 6Gb/s ports.
  • 1x LAN port.
  • 8-channel audio + S/PDIF out.

fan headers

Circled above are the fan header locations. Asus evenly distributes eight 4-pin fan headers around the Rampage IV Black Edition motherboard. We have no complaints regarding the headers’ positioning; side panel and rear fan users are covered equally as well as those with multiple front panel or roof fans.

IO-panel-cover heatsink

Adding to the Black Edition appeal, Asus uses an attractive grey and black heatsink for the X79 chipset, as well as an IO covering which sports the Rampage IV Black Edition product name.

VRM-sink LED-sink

Connected via a heatpipe to the VRM heatsink, the IO covering serves as additional surface area to assist with the cooling of heavily-loaded MOSFETs. The additional surface area can be used to earn back some the cooling potential that will be lost, in comparison to the Rampage IV Extreme, by the omitted chipset cooling fan.

One of the most striking points to sub-zero users will be the awkwardly-positioned ‘northbridge’ heatsink. It doesn’t seem to cool any components of particular importance, therefore, sub-zero vapours from extreme cooling are likely to do a comparably effective job. The structure can be removed with ease – freeing up additional space for LN2 and DICE pots on the CPU or memory.

ROG-lighting

Asus sits the ‘northbridge’ heatsink on top of a series of red LEDs which help to give it a pulsing glow.

VRM

Utilising Asus’ new-and-improved Extreme Engine Digi+ III components (also found on many of the company’s Z87 boards), the power delivery system comprises NexFET MOSFETs, 60 Amp BlackWing chokes, 10K Black Metallic Capacitors, and a digital controller.

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