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X58 To The Max: Three New Flagship LGA 1366 Motherboards

Today’s tested motherboards offer some of the best features we’ve seen, which should come as no surprise, since many of those features have only recently been introduced. Yet, features aren’t the primary motivation behind the design of these parts.

Instead, we find dual-CPU power connectors on each board that are designed to provide the higher amperage extreme overclockers need to reach CPU limits at extreme voltage levels. Liquid nitrogen is only typical at the competition levels these motherboards were designed to tolerate.

While performance and air-cooled overclock results were a dead-heat for all three boards, MSI’s Big Bang-XPower led in efficiency. If extreme overclockers aren’t impressed by that feat of engineering, then they probably won’t be too impressed by the fact that the board isn’t able to effectively support high-performance SLI or CrossFire configurations in excess of two cards. Though it has six x16-length expansion cards, going even to three cards drops all three slots to x8 mode.

Gigabyte’s X58A-UD9 might be a better choice for overclocking competitions where 3D performance is important, as its seven x16-length slots support up to four-way CrossFireX and SLI configurations at 16 lanes per card. However, buyers do pay for those extra PCIe 2.0 lanes, as the X58A-UD9 costs over twice as much as MSI’s Big Bang-XPower and nearly twice as much as Asus’ Rampage III Extreme. Buyers who want to use this in a PC continue paying for those extra PCIe pathways, as the extended size of the X58A-UD9 requires a 10-slot case to hold four high-end graphics cards.

Four perfectly placed and split slots put Asus’ Rampage III Extreme right in the middle of the PCIe-vs.-price battle. Two-way solutions get the full 16 lanes per card, while the eight-pathway handicap in three- and four-way graphics configurations still beats MSI’s strange eight-four-eight configuration by a wide margin. This board is also designed for overclockers, and that’s where it shines.

The idea of keeping around an extra PC, even a notebook, to access the Rampage III Extreme’s overclocking features at a low level might sound cumbersome, but it works so well that many competitive tuners will likely be drawn to this solution for its convenience. Anyone who still finds the idea a little far fetched might instead be happy with the board’s smart phone interface, something most people carry with them all the time anyway. Builders who already own an OC Station module are also welcome to use it with the Rampage III Extreme, though the fact that it’s not included with this product detracts from the added value of its interface.

The Rampage III Extreme doesn’t have the PCIe multiplication of Gigabyte’s X58A-UD9, but it at least supports four graphics cards at lower cost. Gamers will be happy to see that it fits into a standard case, while overclockers will be thrilled with its added features. That combination makes the Rampage III Extreme a winner in our opinion.

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