Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7612/asus-rivbe



When Ivy Bridge-E arrived, there was discontent at the lack of a new chipset.  Users who wanted to migrate to the high performance end of the spectrum received a relatively small bump in performance over Sandy Bridge-E and Haswell on the mainstream was offering better IPC.  To compound all this, the X79 chipset looks dated, with no native USB 3.0 and only two SATA 6 Gbps.  ASUS have tried to address this balance somewhat by releasing an upgrade to the bestselling X79 motherboard: the Rampage IV Black Edition is an evolution of the Rampage IV Extreme, incorporating as many aspects of the Maximus Z87 series as possible into an antiquated chipset.

ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Overview

Back when we reviewed the ASUS ROG X79 range in August 2012, the ROG range itself received our best award at the time and the Rampage IV Extreme achieved our second highest award on our scale.  Since then ASUS were put hard to work at the Maximus VI range, which expanded the ROG platform from three to five motherboards and placed extra features in the hands of the user (updated BIOS, Sonic Radar, AI Suite III, the OC Panel, and SupremeFX).  Once those were complete, the teams were set to task on the motherboard we have in today – the Rampage IV Black Edition.

The biggest difference in the RIVBE (Rampage IV Black Edition) against the RIVE (Rampage IV Extreme), aside from the color scheme, would be the lack of features present on the motherboard directly.  The OC Key is gone, VGA Hotwire is gone, the Slow Mode switch is gone, the LN2 mode switch is gone, Sub-Zero Sense is gone, and the motherboard is physically smaller in width.  These features have not disappeared, but migrated – into the ROG OC Panel.

The ROG OC Panel comes with the RIVBE (and Maximus VI Extreme), but uses a proprietary connector onboard to talk to the system.  All the models in the Maximus VI range have this system, although only the high end model comes with the OC Panel.  The OC Panel itself represents almost a tick-tock of the ROG range, given that the Rampage II Extreme had an additional upgrade in the OC Station which then those features migrated back onto the motherboard.  The OC Panel this time around looks like a permanent (and future compatible) addition to the range, and allows users to adjust voltages, BCLK and multipliers on the fly, as well as all the features listed above that were on the RIVE motherboard, and extra fan headers as required.  For users that do not want to overclock, ASUS have engineered the panel to fold away into a 3.5” bay in a case and double up as a temperature and fan monitor for the system, which can be used to apply a basic overclock at the touch of a button.

The motherboard itself is, as the name suggests, styled in black.  With this being one of our few X79 refresh reviews, we have to return to the time of eight memory slots, limited space for power delivery and heatsinks, as well as extra controllers for SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0.  The RIVBE comes with 10 SATA ports total, along with onboard power/reset buttons, features like MemOK, DirectKey, USB BIOS Flashback, ROG Connect, and a total of eight four-pin fan headers for any prosumer setup.  The PCIe lane layout from Ivy Bridge-E CPUs allows for an x16/x1x/x8/x8 PCIe 3.0 setup, and ASUS uses two PCIe 2.0 lanes from the chipset for open-ended x1 slots.  I prefer these open ended x1 slots compared to the traditional open slots, purely due to the fact that you are no longer limited to x1 cards for them.  On the audio codec side, ASUS use their SupremeFX technology from the Maximus VI range, which implements an enhanced codec (in this case, the Cirrus Logic CS4398) with additional filters, EMI shields, support for 600 ohm headphones and PCB separation of digital and analog signals.  The RIVBE is also bundled with a dual band 802.11ac 2T2R WiFi module on the rear IO.

The software side of ROG is similarly styled differently to the channel range, and the RIVBE follows the trend of ASUS Z87-style BIOS, as well as features like My Favorites and SSD Secure Erase used on Z87 ROG.  In the OS we also get the updated AI Suite III, featuring the DIP4 auto overclock setting as well as ROG RAMDisk and GameFirst II.  Fan Xpert II, TPU and EPU all make appearances, as well as ROG themes and backgrounds.

From the benchmark perspective, dual GPU boot times under 15 seconds gives the RIVBE an advantage over the RIVE due to the movement of features off the motherboard and onto the OC Panel.  We saw some single thread performance issues in one of our benchmarks – despite implementing MultiCore Turbo to 40x on all cores, our 3DPM benchmark saw 36x performance.  As our only comparison point for most of the benchmarks is the EVGA X79 Dark, which had issues of its own implementing any form of Intel Turbo Boost + XMP let alone MultiCore Turbo, ASUS definitely provides a stock benchmark result above the EVGA.

The issue, as always, will come down to price.  At $450, the RIVE was one of the most expensive X79 motherboards available (X79 Extreme11 was more), and the RIVBE builds on this with a $500 price tag.  Despite the RIVE price, it was one of the best-selling X79 motherboards, and the RIVBE has the potential, despite the extra $50, giving the user all the Maximus VI ROG range enhancements.  The problem ASUS has, as mentioned before, is that Ivy Bridge-E is not as exciting as Sandy Bridge-E was, especially from a chipset perspective.

Visual Inspection

Motherboards bigger than ATX are always worth a double take if you ever see one.  The extra dimensions on the motherboard have to be there for a reason – extra controllers, buttons, and so on.  On the Rampage IV Extreme this was populated with VGA Hotwire and Sub-Zero Sense as listed above – the logic for these components still has to be initiated on the motherboard, and as we can see below the extra space is still very busy.

Starting with the heatsink arrangement, the power delivery has a relatively small heatsink (compared to some Z87 arrangements at least) directly above them which is connected via heatpipe to another heatsink around the rear IO, connecting to the RIVBE rear IO to hide the silver connectors usually associated with this region of the motherboard.  In other motherboard designs this motherboard is also connected to the chipset heatsink and any small heatsink between the socket and the PCIe slots, but not on the RIVBE.  The socket area features ASUS’ modified X79 socket plate – you will notice that the metal extension to the socket holes in other X79 products is not here – one would imagine this is due to the styling, but also the back plate changes such that 775 coolers with 2011 socket extensions can be used easier (such as the X-Socket arrangement with the RIVE).

The DRAM sockets are single sided in terms of latches, making it easier to remove memory with large graphics cards installed.  It is worth reminding system builders to ensure the memory is fully pushed in with these single side latch arrangements.  In the socket area for fan headers, there are six headers within easy reach – the CPU 4-pin above the power delivery, a CPU_OPT 4-pin (for closed-loop liquid coolers) header to the left of the two-digit debug on the top right, another 4-pin just below the two-digit debug, a pair of 4-pin headers next to the 24-pin ATX power connector and the sixth to the bottom left of the DRAM slots near the rear IO.  The final two fan headers on the motherboard are on the bottom of the board, both 4-pin.

Along the top on the right hand side there is the aforementioned two-digit debug, paired with start and reset buttons.  For users that do not wish to use the OC Panel, there is an LN2 mode jumper and slow mode switch in the top right corner as well.  ASUS have equipped this side of the motherboard with voltage read points for extreme overclockers (rather than relying on software readouts that may be inaccurate), along with PCIe disable switches and a MemOK! Button that resets the memory settings in the BIOS.  Moving further down is the 24-pin ATX power connector and a USB 3.0 header provided by an ASMedia controller.

The SATA ports are next, with the four SATA 3 Gbps from the chipset in a darker color, followed by the two SATA 6 Gbps from the chipset and another four SATA 6 Gbps ports powered by ASMedia.  Beneath the SATA ports are two removable BIOS chips, the rear IO, next to the ROG_EXT header.  This is the header for the OC Panel, which combines both USB power and data paths for the system.  In terms of engineering, any device that carries optional data off the main board is interesting, either wired or wireless.

The top of the OC Panel on its first setting shows the CPU temperature, CPU fan speed, the BCLK of the CPU and the CPU multiplier.  During POST the OC Panel will also show the BIOS codes as the system initializes, to match the two-digit debug.  By pressing the OC Button, the system will initiate one of two basic OC modes, and selecting the button on the top left will allow for finer tuning of OC options.

In this image we have the CPU Ratio selected, with the value currently enabled on the right and the one selected using the arrows and +/- buttons on the left.  When the OK button is pressed, the image above would implement a 41x CPU Ratio on the CPU.  The two lines of dashes are for the sub-zero sense ports on the side of the OC panel.

On the bottom of the OC Panel underneath the cover are further options – four CPU fan headers (requires the SATA power connected at the bottom), a Slow Mode switch (changes the system multiplier to 12x for screenshots), a Pause switch (freezes the system mid-workflow), and two VGA hotwire connectors with voltage read points for applicable graphics cards.

Back to the motherboard itself, and along the bottom of the board are the regular array of headers and connectors – from left to right, the front panel audio header, a four-pin molex power connector for VGA, a Trusted Platform Module header, two USB 2.0 headers, two 4-pin fan headers, DirectKey and BIOS_Switch buttons and then the front panel header arrangement.

The PCIe slots are arranged for full four-way GPU setups, for x16, x16/-/x16/-, x16/x8/x16/- and x16/x8/x8/x8 arrangements.  There are two open ended PCIe 2.0 x1 slots from the chipset, suitable for sound/WiFi/PhysX cards as required.

The sound system on the RIVBE is designed to mirror that on several Z87 ROG models.  We analyzed the Maximus VI Impact SupremeFX implementation, which used a daughter board due to space restrictions.  The full-fat ATX uses the similar method of an enhanced audio codec (Cirrus Logic CS4398 here) within an EMI shield, high quality filter caps in both directions (front panel and rear IO), a 600 ohm headphone amplifier, and PCB separation of the digital and analog signals.

The rear panel is covered by the RIVBE cover to ensure the silver color does not show through when the board is in a case.  From left to right we have a combination PS/2 port, four USB 2.0 ports, an ROG Connect Button, a USB BIOS Flashback button, six USB 3.0 ports (from ASMedia controllers/hubs), two eSATA ports (again, ASMedia), an Intel Gigabit Ethernet port, the 802.11ac dual band 2T2R module with BT4.0 and audio jacks.

Board Features

ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition
Price Link
Size E-ATX (12" x 10.7")
CPU Interface LGA-2011
Chipset Intel X79
Memory Slots Eight DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB
Up to Quad Channel, 1333-2800+ MHz
Video Outputs None
Onboard LAN Intel 82579
2T2R Dual Band 802.11ac WiFi
Onboard Audio SupremeFX (Cirrus Logic CS4398)
- TI 6120A2 headphone amplifier
- ELNA capacitors
- WIMA film capacitors
- Differential Circuit design
Expansion Slots 4 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16, x16/x16, x16/x8/x16. x16/x8/x8/x8)
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Onboard SATA/RAID 2 x SATA 6 Gbps (X79), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
4 x SATA 3 Gbps (X79), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
4 x SATA 6 Gbps (ASMedia ASM1061)
2 x eSATA 6 Gbps (ASMeida ASM1061)
USB 3.0 8 x USB 3.0 (ASMedia ASM1042) [1 header, 6 back panel]
10 x USB 2.0 (PCH) [4 back panel, 3 headers]
Onboard 6 x SATA 6 Gbps
4 x SATA 3 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
3 x USB 2.0 Headers
8 x Fan Headers
DirectKey Button
MemOK! Button
Slow Mode Switch
LN2 Mode Header
Voltage Measuring Points
Thermal Sensor Connectors
Power/Reset Buttons
Two Digit Debug
BIOS Switch Button
ROG OC Panel Header
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
2 x 8-pin CPU Power Connectors
1 x 4-pin CPU Power Connector
1 x 4-pin Molex PCIe Power Connector
Fan Headers 2 x CPU (4-pin)
3 x CHA (4-pin)
3 x OPT (4-pin)
IO Panel 4 x USB 2.0
6 x USB 3.0 (ASMedia ASM1042)
2 x eSATA 6 Gbps (ASMedia)
1 x PS/2 Combination Port
1 x Intel NIC
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button
1 x ROG Connect
1 x ASUS WiFi Go! (802.11ac) module
Audio Jacks
Warranty Period 3 Years, APS in North America
Product Page Link

With the Black Edition aiming to be the best X79 motherboard available, the specification sheet shows that ASUS aimed to go all out with USB 3.0, dual band 802.11ac WiFi and the OC Panel.  One minor objection I might add is the 4-pin molex VGA power connector at the bottom of the motherboard (I prefer 6-pin PCIe or SATA power), and ultimately if the Black Edition wanted to be future proof, we might have seen some Thunderbolt connectivity as well.



ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition BIOS

The jump in the ASUS BIOS from X79 RIVE to X79 RIVBE comes by virtue of the Maximus VI Z87 range of improvements.  The main additions, as we saw with the Maximus VI Impact review, come from the My Favorites list, allowing users to select certain options and create a menu of their own, SSD Secure Erase to pass the ATA Secure Erase command to compatible SSDs, the Last Modified popup that lets overclockers know exactly what has changed between BIOS saves and, for the RIVBE, the black theme to go along with the black edition. 

The big one is SSD Secure Erase:

ASUS would like me to point out that SSD Secure Erase is best used for SSDs that pass ASUS’ quality control list; any SSDs not on that list could exhibit non-standard behavior and be rendered unusable by SSD Secure Erase.  This mainly relates to older models or those that use uncommon controllers – all modern Sandforce, LAMD, Samsung and JMicron drives should be covered, and modern drives from major consumer manufacturers in the future are likely to work (with latest BIOS updates of course). 

Alongside SSD Secure Erase, ASUS’ new features include a customizable options menu, allowing users to select any option for the BIOS into a ‘my favorites’ menu:

On the right of this image we see two further options: Quick Note and Last Modified.  Quick Note is essentially Notepad in the BIOS, where you can save a message or overclock suggestions for later.  Last Modified (which is also activated when you exit the BIOS) shows all the changes made since the BIOS was first entered, allowing users to dissect any overclock options that were selected.

For the ROG range, ASUS is including a few overclocking presets to help the extreme overclockers:

ASUS over generations still keep opening up various options in the BIOS for tweakers to go nuts, as shown by pages and pages of options.  Even as a motherboard reviewer and an overclocker, I have no idea what half of this stuff does, but ASUS regularly provide extreme tweakers with memory presets to overclock some of the high end kits:

Other manufacturers are coming around to this way of thinking, with each setting requiring extensive knowledge and QVL.

By default, ASUS ROG motherboards go into advanced mode, but there is an easy mode to access:

To put the ASUS BIOS into perspective: a modern graphical BIOS has around 20-30 different screens for me to screenshot, whereas an ASUS BIOS continually requires 50+ to organize.  Ultimately what each of the screens say is more important than how many there are, but ASUS like to offer a lot of control to those that understand the system underneath them.

ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Software

The software from ASUS has taken a jump from flash based version of AI Suite of Z77 into a Java based design.  This means that on loading the software, you might be asked (if connected online) to update Java to the latest version, which is usually recommended.  As mentioned in our initial ASUS Z87 Pro review, the new version of AI Suite centers on their DIP4 interface:

From this simple screen users can see the CPU details, temperatures, voltages, fan settings, current overclocks, power usage, and preselect one of several power modes.  Users might also notice that the CPU reported in this software is around ten degrees lower than the BIOS/CPU reports, due to an internal sensor calibration by the software to more accurately portray what is happening.  However, from this menu, users can select any of the overclocking tools; first up is TPU, which organizes CPU overclocks and voltages:

EPU for energy monitoring and performance:

DIGI+ Power Control to customize the power delivery and Fan Xpert 2 which tests each fan plugged into the motherboard to test for true power/fan speed ratios:

The 4-Way Optimization method on the front screen uses each of these in turn to find a batch of settings to help with both overclocking, fan speed and power usage.  Our quick blast with 4WO gave a simple 4.1 GHz overclock, which pretty much covers all i7-4960X CPUs sold.

The all new AI Suite also comes with standard features we have covered in previous reviews:

- USB 3.0 Boost:Replaces the Windows 7 driver for better USB 3.0 performance
- EZ Update: Connect to the ASUS servers to update the software and drivers; I still have trouble getting this to work to be honest.
- USB BIOS Flashback: Allows users to set up a USB stick to flash the latest BIOS to the motherboard without needing a CPU, DRAM or a GPU installed.
- USB Charger+: Allocates a set of USB ports for high power mode, offering quick charging to all BC1.1 compatible devices.  In this mode, the devices are not able to transmit data, and the port acts just like a charger.
- WiFi Go!/WiFi Engine: The WiFi tools allow users to set the PC up as an access point if they are connected via Ethernet, and also with a mobile device provides a direct screen link for mobile connection/file transfer between devices.

Designed for gaming is the GameFirst II network management software, which is actually our old friend cFosSpeed with a nice wrapper.  ASUS have written their wrapper/interaction screen to help users quickly prioritize the type of traffic through the network port.  Note that as this is general software, we are still working with the Windows Network Stack, unlike the Killer E2100 which likes to bypass the stack with priority demands.  This is more like a secondary buffer that sends commands to the Windows stack.

Like other cFos software derivatives, the options and menus allow for a wide array of customization and stat tracking:

One of ASUS’ new tools for ROG motherboards is their RAMDisk software.  Despite the price of DRAM fluctuating in recent months, at one point it was cheap and did not harm a build much to pick up larger kit than originally needed.  Even my brother, who runs a single GPU gaming machine at 1080p, went with 16 GB just because it was not much harm in overall build cost.  With so much excess memory, there are several choices to use it: Multi monitor setups, a RAMCache, or a RAMDisk.  The latter partitions some of the memory off as a hard-disk with comparatively lightning fast read/write/latency.  Useful for game installs or temporary file allocation.

Users can select up to three quarters of their available free RAM for a RAMDisk, and the software comes free with the motherboard.  This makes me wonder, on a rather large scale, why companies like AMD have a staggered pricing plan for their RAMDisk software for different sizes of RAMDisk when it is just a skinned version of DataRAM’s software.  It would make much more sense to bundle it with their CPUs.

ASUS’s other software comes in forms we have already seen on other motherboards: an ROG themed CPU-Z:

Also MemTweakIt makes a showing:

 

The only issue I had with the software overall was that my Driver DVD had some issues being read, and I sourced the latest version of AI Suite from the ASUS website.  The EZ Update tool should be able to pull this for us, but as usual it has never suggested an update to me even if one is available directly on the website.  This small section of the software still has issues, especially to beat MSI’s implementation.



ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition In The Box

One of the big plus points of expensive motherboards is usually the in-box contents.  The appeal of the Rampage IV Black Edition will be the OC Panel, as mentioned earlier in the review.  To add to this, ASUS also want to push the ROG Black Edition branding, hence the black SATA cables, the black rear IO plate, the black WiFi antenna and so on.

In the box, we get:

Manual
Driver Disk
Rear IO Shield
OC Panel + Cable
OC Panel Front Converter
WiFi Antenna
ROG Connect Cable
Ten SATA Cables
Q-Connect
X-Socket
Allen Key
2x/3x/4x SLI Bridges

For any box, that is quite a haul: the OC Panel bulks it out a bit, but we also get a full complement of SATA cables and SLI bridges, along with staples of the ROG platform such as the ROG Connect.  The WiFi antenna is the new design we saw in the Maximus VI Impact.

ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Overclocking

Experience with ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition

ASUS work heavily on the DIP4 automatic overclocking in the operating system, where previously we either had options to select the overclock speed (e.g. 4.1 GHz, 4.3 GHz, and 4.5 GHz) or a Fast/Extreme overclock.  However it does leave a little to the imagination – on our test CPU it did not push it that far.  Even in the BIOS, the range of OC options (aside from the extreme settings for liquid nitrogen overclockers) is limited at Gamer’s Air and Gamer’s Water OC.  Personally I would prefer a list of MHz overclocks to select from – it might come across that ASUS is reducing the number of options of automatic overclocks but increasing the options for manual overclocking.  I want plenty of automatic overclock options too!

Methodology:

Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows.  We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with PovRay and OCCT to simulate high-end workloads.  These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.

For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from previous testing, starts off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed.  The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed, and the process repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (100ºC+).  Our test bed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air. 

Automatic Overclock:

In the operating system, our sole automatic overclocking option is the Dual Intelligent Processors 4 option in AI Suite:

Using this option the system was set at 4.1 GHz for all cores, a relatively small 100 MHz boost over standard settings (where MultiCore Turbo is enabled for 4.0 GHz on all cores).  The system was set to 1.250 volts on the CPU, which read as 1.264 volts during OCCT load.  This setting scored 2203.54 in PovRay (compared to 2132.22 with no overclock) and a peak OCCT temperature of 59C.

In the BIOS, we actually get several automatic overclock options – two of them are clearly marked at the top, but the other three are found in the ‘CPU Level Up’ option, from 4.1 GHz to 4.3 GHz and 4.5 GHz.  This might mean that the DIP4 BIOS setting actually only activates the CPU Level Up 4.1 GHz setting – in fact the similar voltage and CPU performance results would indicate this is the case.  The results for the BIOS settings are as follows:

The Gamer’s Air/Water settings were very aggressive on the voltage – 1.500 volts and 1.550 volts respectively.  Getting 83C for peak OCCT load while on the Air setting and using a closed-loop liquid cooler is extremely aggressive by ASUS.  All three CPU Level Up options worked on our CPU sample, which struggles beyond 4.5 GHz on all cores.

Manual Overclock:

Using the automatic overclock options as a guide, we start manual OC testing at 4.0 GHz on all cores with a CPU voltage of 1.100 volts, combined with a load-line calibration setting of Ultra-High to ensure limited voltage drop across the CPU.  The results are as follows:

Using the OC Panel allowed me to adjust more of this on the fly – in fact our CPU reached a comfortable 190 MHz on the BCLK using the OC Panel, putting it at the time #6 in the HWBot league for X79 BCLK frequencies.



Many thanks to...

We must thank the following companies for kindly providing hardware for our test bed:

Thank you to OCZ for providing us with 1250W Gold Power Supplies.
Thank you to G.Skill for providing us with memory kits.
Thank you to Corsair for providing us with an AX1200i PSU, Corsair H80i CLC and 16GB 2400C10 memory.
Thank you to ASUS for providing us with the AMD GPUs and some IO Testing kit.
Thank you to ECS for providing us with the NVIDIA GPUs.
Thank you to Rosewill for providing us with the 500W Platinum Power Supply for mITX testing, BlackHawk Ultra, and 1600W Hercules PSU for extreme dual CPU + quad GPU testing, and RK-9100 keyboards.
Thank you to ASRock for providing us with the 802.11ac wireless router for testing.

Test Setup

Test Setup
Processor Intel Core i7-4960X ES
6 Cores, 12 Threads, 3.6 GHz (4.0 GHz Turbo)
Motherboards EVGA X79 Dark
ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition
Cooling Corsair H80i
Thermalright TRUE Copper
Power Supply OCZ 1250W Gold ZX Series
Corsair AX1200i Platinum PSU
Memory 2 x Corsair Vengeance Pro 2x8 GB DDR3 2400 10-12-12 Kit
Memory Settings XMP (2400 10-12-12)
Video Cards ASUS HD7970 3GB
ECS GTX 580 1536MB
Video Drivers Catalyst 13.1
NVIDIA Drivers 310.90 WHQL
Hard Drive OCZ Vertex 3 256GB
Optical Drive LG GH22NS50
Case Open Test Bed
Operating System Windows 7 64-bit
USB 2/3 Testing OCZ Vertex 3 240GB with SATA->USB Adaptor
WiFi Testing D-Link DIR-865L 802.11ac Dual Band Router

Power Consumption

Power consumption was tested on the system as a whole with a wall meter connected to the OCZ 1250W power supply, while in a dual 7970 GPU configuration.  This power supply is Gold rated, and as I am in the UK on a 230-240 V supply, leads to ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, which is suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading.  This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency.  These are the real world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.

While this method for power measurement may not be ideal, and you feel these numbers are not representative due to the high wattage power supply being used (we use the same PSU to remain consistent over a series of reviews, and the fact that some boards on our test bed get tested with three or four high powered GPUs), the important point to take away is the relationship between the numbers.  These boards are all under the same conditions, and thus the differences between them should be easy to spot.

Power Consumption - Idle

X79 always loses out on idle power usage compared to the newer platforms.  The RIVBE, with the movement of functionality onto the OC Panel, actually does reasonably well in our power measurements.

Windows 7 POST Time

Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized.  A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized).  As part of our testing, we are now going to look at the POST Boot Time - this is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows 7 starts loading.  (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows specific features.)  These results are subject to human error, so please allow +/- 1 second in these results.

POST (Power-On Self-Test) Time

By moving overclocking controllers and features onto the OC Panel, ASUS is able to speed up our Windows 7 POST time test.  15 seconds is a lot faster than the RIVE, for example.



Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5

In part due to reader requests, we are pleased to include Rightmark Audio Analyzer results in our benchmark suite.  The premise behind Rightmark:AA is to test the input and output of the audio system to determine noise levels, range, harmonic distortion, stereo crosstalk and so forth.  Rightmark:AA should indicate how well the sound system is built and isolated from electrical interference (either internally or externally).  For this test we connect the Line Out to the Line In using a short six inch 3.5mm to 3.5mm high-quality jack, turn the OS speaker volume to 100%, and run the Rightmark default test suite at 192 kHz, 24-bit.  The OS is tuned to 192 kHz/24-bit input and output, and the Line-In volume is adjusted until we have the best RMAA value in the mini-pretest.  We look specifically at the Dynamic Range of the audio codec used on board, as well as the Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise.

Rightmark: AA, Dynamic Range, 24-bit / 192 kHzRightmark: AA, THD+N, 24-bit / 192 kHz

Results from the RIVBE were not as impressive as I had hoped, despite the use of SupremeFX.  This may be filtered back to the chipset talking to the audio codec as required – the newer codecs always seem to work better with the latest platforms.

Edit: After retesting the audio, SNR went from 95.1 to 101.1 dB(A), suggesting an issue in the first batch of testing.  At 101.1 dB(A), we are now into the 100+ with the RIVE, although the Z87-Pro solution is fairing better in our test.

USB Backup

For this benchmark, we run CrystalDiskMark to determine the ideal sequential read and write speeds for the USB port using our 240 GB OCZ Vertex3 SSD with a SATA 6 Gbps to USB 3.0 converter.  Then we transfer a set size of files from the SSD to the USB drive using DiskBench, which monitors the time taken to transfer.  The files transferred are a 1.52 GB set of 2867 files across 320 folders – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are the videos used in the WinRAR test.  In an update to pre-Z87 testing, we also run MaxCPU to load up one of the threads during the test which improves general performance up to 15% by causing all the internal pathways to run at full speed.

USB 2.0 Peak Read Speeds

USB 3.0 Peak Read Speeds

USB speed seemed a little on the lacklustre (in terms of pure numbers) side all around.  In the USB 3.0 stakes of course we are dealing with no native ports, but even still there leaves some room to go beyond those of the X79 Dark.

DPC Latency

Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing.  In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority.  Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests, such as audio, will be further down the line.  So if the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled.  If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time, resulting in an empty audio buffer – this leads to characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks.  Having a bigger buffer and correctly implemented system drivers obviously helps in this regard.  The DPC latency checker measures how much time is processing DPCs from driver invocation – the lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes.  Results are measured in microseconds and taken as the peak latency while cycling through a series of short HD videos - under 500 microseconds usually gets the green light, but the lower the better.

DPC Latency Maximum

DPC Latency for the RIVBE surpasses any Z87 platform we have tested (not sure if there is a bug on Z87 which causes this), and 130 microseconds is in the ballpark for a good X79 based DAW.

WiFi Speeds

With the advent of 802.11ac now part of the motherboard space, it made sense to bring in hardware to test the wireless capabilities of the packages we review.  Our test scenario is as follows – the router is located five meters away from the test bed and the signal has to travel through a concrete internal wall.  The router is in a flat complex with over 25 access points within 50 meters, mostly on 2.4 GHz.  We use a LAN Speed Test server on an i3-3225 based system connected via Ethernet to the D-Link 802.11ac router and then the LAN Speed Test client on the host machine.  We set up a one hour continuous test using 10 simultaneous streams each sending then receiving 50 MB across the connection.  Results are then plotted as a histogram of the data.

Despite using a 2T2R dual band 802.11ac WiFi, the speeds we achieved using our normal setup were not as good as I had hoped.



Readers of our motherboard review section will have noted the trend in modern motherboards to implement a form of MultiCore Enhancement / Acceleration / Turbo (read our report here) on their motherboards.  This does several things – better benchmark results at stock settings (not entirely needed if overclocking is an end-user goal), at the expense of heat and temperature, but also gives in essence an automatic overclock which may be against what the user wants.  Our testing methodology is ‘out-of-the-box’, with the latest public BIOS installed and XMP enabled, and thus subject to the whims of this feature.  It is ultimately up to the motherboard manufacturer to take this risk – and manufacturers taking risks in the setup is something they do on every product (think C-state settings, USB priority, DPC Latency / monitoring priority, memory subtimings at JEDEC).  Processor speed change is part of that risk which is clearly visible, and ultimately if no overclocking is planned, some motherboards will affect how fast that shiny new processor goes and can be an important factor in the purchase.

For reference, the ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition does enable MultiCore Enhancement when XMP is enabled.

Point Calculations - 3D Movement Algorithm Test

The algorithms in 3DPM employ both uniform random number generation or normal distribution random number generation, and vary in various amounts of trigonometric operations, conditional statements, generation and rejection, fused operations, etc.  The benchmark runs through six algorithms for a specified number of particles and steps, and calculates the speed of each algorithm, then sums them all for a final score.  This is an example of a real world situation that a computational scientist may find themselves in, rather than a pure synthetic benchmark.  The benchmark is also parallel between particles simulated, and we test the single thread performance as well as the multi-threaded performance.

3D Particle Movement Single Threaded

We had some issues with the single threaded test and the RIVBE – it would perform as if the CPU was stuck at 3.6 GHz (such as when MCE is turned off) even with MCE on.  The benchmark did produce a high outlier at 125.4 points, which is more reasonable.  I was unable to track down this issue, and it did not occur on any other benchmarks.

3D Particle Movement MultiThreaded

Compression - WinRAR 4.2

With 64-bit WinRAR, we compress the set of files used in the USB speed tests. WinRAR x64 3.93 attempts to use multithreading when possible, and provides as a good test for when a system has variable threaded load.  WinRAR 4.2 does this a lot better! If a system has multiple speeds to invoke at different loading, the switching between those speeds will determine how well the system will do.

WinRAR 4.2

Image Manipulation - FastStone Image Viewer 4.2

FastStone Image Viewer is a free piece of software I have been using for quite a few years now.  It allows quick viewing of flat images, as well as resizing, changing color depth, adding simple text or simple filters.  It also has a bulk image conversion tool, which we use here.  The software currently operates only in single-thread mode, which should change in later versions of the software.  For this test, we convert a series of 170 files, of various resolutions, dimensions and types (of a total size of 163MB), all to the .gif format of 640x480 dimensions.

FastStone Image Viewer 4.2

Video Conversion - Xilisoft Video Converter 7

With XVC, users can convert any type of normal video to any compatible format for smartphones, tablets and other devices.  By default, it uses all available threads on the system, and in the presence of appropriate graphics cards, can utilize CUDA for NVIDIA GPUs as well as AMD WinAPP for AMD GPUs.  For this test, we use a set of 33 HD videos, each lasting 30 seconds, and convert them from 1080p to an iPod H.264 video format using just the CPU.  The time taken to convert these videos gives us our result.

Xilisoft Video Converter 7

Rendering – PovRay 3.7

The Persistence of Vision RayTracer, or PovRay, is a freeware package for as the name suggests, ray tracing.  It is a pure renderer, rather than modeling software, but the latest beta version contains a handy benchmark for stressing all processing threads on a platform. We have been using this test in motherboard reviews to test memory stability at various CPU speeds to good effect – if it passes the test, the IMC in the CPU is stable for a given CPU speed.  As a CPU test, it runs for approximately 2-3 minutes on high end platforms.

PovRay 3.7 Multithreaded Benchmark

Video Conversion - x264 HD Benchmark

The x264 HD Benchmark uses a common HD encoding tool to process an HD MPEG2 source at 1280x720 at 3963 Kbps.  This test represents a standardized result which can be compared across other reviews, and is dependent on both CPU power and memory speed.  The benchmark performs a 2-pass encode, and the results shown are the average of each pass performed four times.

x264 HD Benchmark Pass 1x264 HD Benchmark Pass 2

Grid Solvers - Explicit Finite Difference

For any grid of regular nodes, the simplest way to calculate the next time step is to use the values of those around it.  This makes for easy mathematics and parallel simulation, as each node calculated is only dependent on the previous time step, not the nodes around it on the current calculated time step.  By choosing a regular grid, we reduce the levels of memory access required for irregular grids.  We test both 2D and 3D explicit finite difference simulations with 2n nodes in each dimension, using OpenMP as the threading operator in single precision.  The grid is isotropic and the boundary conditions are sinks.  Values are floating point, with memory cache sizes and speeds playing a part in the overall score.

Explicit Finite Difference Grid Solver (2D)Explicit Finite Difference Grid Solver (3D)

Grid Solvers - Implicit Finite Difference + Alternating Direction Implicit Method

The implicit method takes a different approach to the explicit method – instead of considering one unknown in the new time step to be calculated from known elements in the previous time step, we consider that an old point can influence several new points by way of simultaneous equations.  This adds to the complexity of the simulation – the grid of nodes is solved as a series of rows and columns rather than points, reducing the parallel nature of the simulation by a dimension and drastically increasing the memory requirements of each thread.  The upside, as noted above, is the less stringent stability rules related to time steps and grid spacing.  For this we simulate a 2D grid of 2n nodes in each dimension, using OpenMP in single precision.  Again our grid is isotropic with the boundaries acting as sinks. Values are floating point, with memory cache sizes and speeds playing a part in the overall score.

Implicit Finite Difference Grid Solver (2D)

Point Calculations - n-Body Simulation

When a series of heavy mass elements are in space, they interact with each other through the force of gravity.  Thus when a star cluster forms, the interaction of every large mass with every other large mass defines the speed at which these elements approach each other.  When dealing with millions and billions of stars on such a large scale, the movement of each of these stars can be simulated through the physical theorems that describe the interactions. The benchmark detects whether the processor is SSE2 or SSE4 capable, and implements the relative code.  We run a simulation of 10240 particles of equal mass - the output for this code is in terms of GFLOPs, and the result recorded was the peak GFLOPs value.

n-body Simulation via C++ AMP



Gaming Benchmarks

Metro2033

Our first analysis is with the perennial reviewers’ favorite, Metro2033.  It occurs in a lot of reviews for a couple of reasons – it has a very easy to use benchmark GUI that anyone can use, and it is often very GPU limited, at least in single GPU mode.  Metro2033 is a strenuous DX11 benchmark that can challenge most systems that try to run it at any high-end settings.  Developed by 4A Games and released in March 2010, we use the inbuilt DirectX 11 Frontline benchmark to test the hardware at 1440p with full graphical settings.  Results are given as the average frame rate from a second batch of 4 runs, as Metro has a tendency to inflate the scores for the first batch by up to 5%.

Metro 2033 - One 7970, 1440p, Max Settings

Metro 2033 1 GPU 2 GPU 3 GPU
AMD
NVIDIA  

Dirt 3

Dirt 3 is a rallying video game and the third in the Dirt series of the Colin McRae Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters.  Dirt 3 also falls under the list of ‘games with a handy benchmark mode’.  In previous testing, Dirt 3 has always seemed to love cores, memory, GPUs, PCIe lane bandwidth, everything.  The small issue with Dirt 3 is that depending on the benchmark mode tested, the benchmark launcher is not indicative of game play per se, citing numbers higher than actually observed.  Despite this, the benchmark mode also includes an element of uncertainty, by actually driving a race, rather than a predetermined sequence of events such as Metro 2033.  This in essence should make the benchmark more variable, but we take repeated in order to smooth this out.  Using the benchmark mode, Dirt 3 is run at 1440p with Ultra graphical settings.  Results are reported as the average frame rate across four runs.

Dirt 3 - One 7970, 1440p, Max Settings

Dirt 3 1 GPU 2 GPU 3 GPU
AMD
NVIDIA  

Having access to full native lanes in tri-crossfire helps get that extra 10-30 FPS in Dirt3, although moving from 200 to 230 FPS is actually not that noticeable.

Civilization V

A game that has plagued my testing over the past twelve months is Civilization V.  Being on the older 12.3 Catalyst drivers were somewhat of a nightmare, giving no scaling, and as a result I dropped it from my test suite after only a couple of reviews.  With the later drivers used for this review, the situation has improved but only slightly, as you will see below.  Civilization V seems to run into a scaling bottleneck very early on, and any additional GPU allocation only causes worse performance.

Our Civilization V testing uses Ryan’s GPU benchmark test all wrapped up in a neat batch file.  We test at 1080p, and report the average frame rate of a 5 minute test.

Civilization V - One 7970, 1440p, Max Settings

Civilization V 1 GPU 2 GPU 3 GPU
AMD
NVIDIA  

Sleeping Dogs

While not necessarily a game on everybody’s lips, Sleeping Dogs is a strenuous game with a pretty hardcore benchmark that scales well with additional GPU power due to its SSAA implementation.  The team over at Adrenaline.com.br is supreme for making an easy to use benchmark GUI, allowing a numpty like me to charge ahead with a set of four 1440p runs with maximum graphical settings.

Sleeping Dogs - One 7970, 1440p, Max Settings

Sleeping Dogs 1 GPU 2 GPU 3 GPU
AMD
NVIDIA  

 



ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition Conclusion

High end products position themselves in a precarious place – they have to live up to their price point, but also not price themselves out of the market.  When dealing with the X79 platform, where the six core processors cost $560-$999, price can still be an issue.  The Rampage IV Black Edition is more expensive than the Rampage IV Extreme – moving from a $450 to a $500 price point.  That equates the motherboard to almost the same price as the i7-4930K processor: this regime is not unheard of in the mainstream Z87 platform, where motherboards can easily out-price the i7-4770K.  So when a user makes the jump to X79, it might not only be the expense of the CPU to be taken into account – ASUS has done well in making the RIVE one of the bestselling motherboards of X79.

Aside from the color scheme, the Rampage IV Black Edition brings some of the Z87 platform enhancements that ASUS has been working on to the antiquated X79 ecosystem.  Some of the ones that get the most attention is the SSD Secure Erase feature in the BIOS and the updated BIOS itself, allowing for a My Favorites menu for extreme overclockers to easily adjust their overclock settings.  Another big feature is the OC Panel, providing overclockers with adjustments on the fly as well as moving some features off the motherboard (VGA Hotwire, Sub-zero Sense, Slow Mode/Pause buttons) and as a direct result increasing POST time into older operating systems.  The OC Panel works with the Z87 ROG range as well.

The motherboard is also filled to the brim with USB 3.0 ports (eight) and SATA ports (ten, four SATA 6 Gbps) due to additional controllers, and one additional feature I like on motherboards is the included 802.11ac WiFi.  Given that this last feature is now on some $150 motherboards, the only restriction to having it on the high end products is implementation and routing.  ASUS also equip the motherboard with their SupremeFX audio setup, although to be honest it did not perform well in our test as hoped.  The motherboard might also be considered lacking in some areas (Thunderbolt, dual Intel NIC) for users with specific needs – there are other products on the market to cater for these prosumers.

There are two main issues ASUS will have to contend with in terms of the RIVBE, one of which they have no control over: the appeal of Ivy Bridge-E.  Users who migrated to Sandy Bridge-E have done so already, so one could argue that upgrading the motherboard is not necessarily a regular thing to do unless the original is limiting.  Users who waited for Ivy Bridge-E might not have been impressed by the performance gain and choose to wait until Haswell-E.  The chipset is also a factor – X79 is now old and a certain part of me wonders why Intel did not release an X89 update with full SATA 6 Gbps/native USB 3.0 while still keeping the chipset.  The last factor, as mentioned already, is pricing.  The ASUS Rampage IV Black Edition is certainly in the prosumer bracket, and users saving for a six-core processor might have to fall back on cheaper motherboards to implement their CPU choice.

Performance wise, the Black Edition performs as well as any other MultiCore Turbo enabled motherboard on the market at stock speeds, and it took our DDR3-2400 C10 memory kit in its stride.  The automatic overclock in the OS was a little underwhelming, although there are plenty of overclock options in the BIOS to get your teeth into.  No other motherboard manufacturer plays in this high end space (Extreme11 being a technological showcase), and for users with the budget, it is the board that should keep you going – until the next socket change at least, and the Rampage V series.

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