Every once in awhile, something comes along that is simply brilliant in its simplicity. For ASUS, that time could be now. ASUS plans to continue in their tradition of early adoption of new chipsets with a mid-February release of their upcoming Rampage Formula motherboard, a board that will make use of Intel's recently announced X48 Express chipset and DDR2 memory. Although DDR3 has been available for purchase for many months now, exceedingly low DDR2 prices have made purchasing 4GB or even 8GB of memory quite affordable - the latter still costing less than 2GB of good DDR3 memory. Coupled with the fact that the Rampage Formula provides a relatively easy upgrade path for current DDR2 owners, we can see why this board will be an attractive choice for anyone looking to build their next high-performance gaming system.

Like other recent offerings from ASUS, the Rampage Formula is part of the Republic of Gamers (ROG) line of motherboards, aimed squarely at the enthusiast looking to tune all levels of system control in order to extract every ounce of possible performance. We were a little surprised to see that ASUS seems to have needed very little engineering work in order to make use of Intel's higher-binned X48 chipset - the Rampage Formula and the currently available Maximus Formula (which uses the X38) share almost everything in common with the exception of the Northbridge. On one hand this makes sense, as the X48 is little more than an X38 binned for ultimate performance; on the other hand we would have liked to see a few additional improvements in component choices and layout.

Because of this, those that already own an X38 ASUS motherboard may find no compelling reason to upgrade. However, gamers ready for a complete system overhaul looking to build with the absolute best quality board should strongly consider the Rampage Formula. Compatibility was excellent with no real gripes to speak of - the board flawlessly made use of every CPU and memory kit we installed for testing. Coupled with one of Intel's new 45nm quad-core or dual-core CPUs and a pair of ATI 3000-series Radeon cards in CrossFire, this board provides a solid centerpiece for a formidable gaming rig.



We would be delinquent in not noting the impending release of the Rampage Formula's DDR3-based companion, the Rampage Extreme. We anxiously await our chance to bring you an early first-look at what it has to offer. We fully expect that it will best even the most refined X48/DDR2 board. Our experience has always been that the X38/X48 chipsets simply work better when teamed with DDR3 memory. For whatever reason, we find that for absolute ease of overclock and rock-solid stability nothing beats an X38/X48 DDR3 board. Unfortunately, DDR3 prices can be a rather large obstacle for some, especially when dealing with the higher speed bins.

For now, we are happy to report that our early dealings with the ASUS Rampage Formula have been extremely satisfying, especially considering the relatively short amount of time given to BIOS maturity. In fact, we feel there are no significant obstacles impeding the release of this board. Additionally, we must applaud ASUS for the industry-leading effort they have put forth in incorporating a few new settings into the BIOS that give the user the ability to easily unlock otherwise hidden memory performance with just a quick finger twitch.

What are these settings you ask? Simply put, the ability to select a MCH Read Delay (tRD) from within the BIOS, as well as a means for adjusting the timing of each individual memory phase associated with the selected memory divider. You may know this setting by its more common name, often referred to as "Performance Level". While some motherboard makers have been making use of these settings for quite some time, never before has it been as de-obfuscated as it is today.

Hopefully we can finally say goodbye to the frustration of blindly adjusting these settings with the hopes of achieving the desired end goal - an accomplishment we can all appreciate. Our hopes are that other vendors follow suit and work quickly to update their offerings to provide this level of control in a similar manner. For those that are interested, we will touch on the performance improvements that can be seen as well as the other implications involved with making use of these settings a little later on.

With X48, the tier one giants - ASUS included - are gearing up for another round of lightning-fast motherboard releases. It appears as though they are now simply waiting on the green flag from Intel before they release these boards to the world. The fickle-free operation and high probability of success when overclocking that comes with teaming an Intel processor with an Intel chipset makes picking up an ASUS Rampage Formula an easy choice. One thing's for sure, ASUS is on a roll, and they don't appear to be slowing down for anyone.

Board Layout, Features and Specifications
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  • Orthogonal - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    Just so I understand this correctly, due to the path the data and clocks must travel throughout the devices as explained on page 5, even though you can increase the bandwidth of the Memory modules, the MCH is ultimately the "bottleneck". Historically we falsely assumed higher bandwidth and lower CAS latency translated to better data throughput, but since tRD increased along with it, it was essentially wiped out or unused bandwidth. Now we try to lower tRD as low as possible to reduce MCH latency as it performs the "Clock crossing procedure", which is why the 400Mhz FSB with the lowest tRD latency gives the best data throughput.

    Also, does this mean that in your "Best Pick" DDR2 configuration summary that the two A+ choices highlighted in Green will effectively result in about the same performance since even though DDR2-1200 has more bandwidth than DDR2-1000, since the tRD=5, they will have the same Trd Delay (12.5ns).
    Reply
  • Aivas47a - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    I'm glad to see Asus implementing these new memory phase adjustment options in the bios. Now if they would provide a greater ability to fine-tune GTL reference voltages I would be a happy camper. GTL is a key setting for quad core overclocking success as Raja has helpfully explained in his DFI P35 review. The selectable percentages Asus currently provides are too crude and don't go high enough. Reply
  • mrlobber - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    FCG, your article just flat out rocks, thanks for this one, we needed it badly :)

    One question about the previous Asus boards: X38 and also P35, which lack the exact tRD manipulation, providing the Transaction Booster stuff instead. As far as I understand, your analysis about the default tRD values set by different default fsb and memory divider combinations could also be used to determine the starting tRD value at least for the X38 chipset as well in a pretty straightforward way, and from that point being able to offset the tRD with Transaction Booster up or down to control it as necessary? (P35 would have different default tRD's, but the underlying principles should stay the same?)

    And, by making appropriate changes in x values if needed, your POST / no POST inequality should stay applicable as well, right?
    Reply
  • kjboughton - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    All true, although we did talk about how these straps at one time had default tRD values associated with them, the difference has become that these default values are now usually based on the real underlying requirements, such as FSB. Now, exactly how each motherboard vendor sets up and implements this value has a lot to do with how their motherboard falls out in comparison testing. With that being said, boards that perform better generally make use of lower tRD values by default. And because X48 is a speed-binned version of X38, which is superior to P35 with it comes to MCH overclocking, it is also safe to say that the higher-end chipsets will allower the same (or lower) tRD values at FSB levels where the other chipsets may fall flat on their faces. Make sense?

    Regarding the 'Test POST Equation' - absolutely, I know those equations to be true for X38/X48 but I wouldn't doubt if they ended up being exactly the same for say, P35. A little bit of testing should validate this assumption... ;)
    Reply
  • Orthogonal - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    Can we expect a similar analysis and optimization of strappings, timings etc... when an X48 DDR3 compatible board is released? Reply
  • kjboughton - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    Yes, the will be an easy bridge to make. DDR3 is very similar to DDR2 and in a lot of respects is a simply extension of the logic already developed. In any case, we will provide this information for reference when the time comes. Reply
  • daddyo323 - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    I've overclocked a couple cpus before, and each time, I had stability problems due to memory.

    I have built many systems, but since gave up on overclocking... these new Cores and chipsets look like they were made for it...

    My question is, was that CPU stable at 4ghz, and could we have a chart on which settings to set, exactly... I wonder how far we can push this platform with the air cooling.
    Reply
  • kjboughton - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    Everything you want to know, about more, about this CPU can be seen here: http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/intel/showdoc...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/intel/showdoc...

    We used the same CPU that can be read about in the above review. The short answer is yes, we were completely stable at 4GHz with just 1.28V real under load.

    Cheers,
    Kris
    Reply
  • Quiksilver - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    Has there been an ETA on the release date of the X48 chipset? I thought they were supposed to come out in December but they never appeared and this would be the second X48 preview I've seen for AT. Also I remember seeing a flow chart somewhere that had DDR2 & DDR3 being the differences between X38 and X48 of which X38 had both but now it seems X48 has DDR2 as well but will the DDR2 boards be available at launch or are they coming later on? Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, January 25, 2008 - link

    ASUS is telling us mid-February for the X48 launch now. Gigabyte and MSI have confirmed that also, but we have had dates confirmed about a dozen times over the last two months and it always seems to change about three days before the next "official" launch. ;) Reply

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