Motherboard: Asus Rampage IV Extreme
For those who want to give the very best this season (or are lucky enough to receive it), the processor to beat is Intel’s Sandy Bridge-E-based Core i7-3930K. Which motherboard belongs under this powerhouse of a processor? One of the best (and most expensive) candidates around is Asus’ Rampage IV Extreme.
Of course, the Rampage series stands as one of the premier choices for top-end enthusiasts. For five years, Asus has been working to position its Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand as the de facto product family for cutting-edge features and top-end performance. The Rampage IV Extreme takes this tradition to new heights, introducing three new features: OC Key, Subzero Sense, and VGA Hotwire. OC Key is a clever nod to those who want control over their performance tweaks and need to see the results of those tweaks during benchmarking, but don’t want a tweaking client app sucking up CPU cycles and skewing results. The “key” looks like an oversized DVI adapter and simply plugs into a graphics output port, acting as a signal pass-through. OC data shows up on-screen as an overlay.
Subzero Sense dovetails with a switch on the board called “LN2 Mode.” This is for users who crank their cooling to 11 with liquid nitrogen. Subzero Sense simply (and accurately) reports the motherboard’s true temperature (a tricky proposition if you don’t otherwise have proper temperature sensing gear). For those who enjoy GPU overvolting but aren’t crazy about some of the technical headaches, VGA Hotwire entails a series of six integrated variable resistors and voltage sensors. Simply plug the included two-wire cable into the motherboard, solder two wires onto the graphics card’s voltage regulator, and start monkeying with your voltage.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve sunk a grip of green into your LGA 1366-compatible heatsink, Asus’ X-Socket adapts the new LGA 2011 interface for your old cooler. The board supports four-way SLI and CrossFire, is PCIe 3.0-ready, and sports no less than eight DIMM slots supporting up to DDR3-2400 in quad-channel mode. Naturally, you’re not likely to need 32 GB for any of your individual apps, but all of that capacity can be applied to having a RAM disk, which is essentially like having an SSD on steroids, only the data vanishes when you power cycle.
On the I/O panel, you’ll find a full 7.1-channel audio riser with optical S/PDIF. There are eight USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, and even two 6Gb/s eSATA ports. This is in addition to the four 6 Gb/s SATA (and another four 3 Gb/s SATA) headers already on the board. With so much here, features such as BIOS Flashback, an LED diagnostic readout, and the inclusion of Kapersky anti-virus almost seem like afterthoughts. This may be one of the most expensive motherboards you’ll ever consider, but can you think of another that’s ever offered more enthusiast insanity?