990FX Motherboard Roundup with Thuban and Bulldozer – A Second Wind for ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and Biostarby Ian Cutress on April 5, 2012 11:00 AM EST
ASUS Crosshair V Formula - Overview
Last year was a bleak year for reviewing ROG boards at AnandTech; however we intend to change that this time around, starting with the Crosshair V Formula. The ROG (Republic of Gamers) line of ASUS products come in three flavors – Extreme, Formula and Gene (ATX, ATX and mATX respectively). The boards are aimed at two primary markets – firstly gamers, and then also overclockers. These products have their own section on ASUS’ website, their own forums, and dedicated technical marketers for support. The ROG philosophy at ASUS is to provide a level of product to the gamer and the consumer beyond the standard. It is up to the user however to grasp that extra support with both hands and venture online to find overclocking guides and answers to questions.
This leaves us with the Crosshair V Formula. I will not hide anything from you – when AMD initially released the Bulldozer processor line, everyone on AMD’s list in the media business who deals with reviewing processors and motherboards gets a media kit. This usually contains a processor, a motherboard, and sometimes a CPU cooler (I received AMD’s all-in-one liquid cooler with this media kit). With Intel chipsets, this means an Intel motherboard. As AMD do not directly make in any volume a competitive motherboard, they pair with a motherboard manufacturer to provide the optimum experience. (This also explains the reason that on a new socket release why almost all the web reviews in the first week are of one certain motherboard only, e.g. the Intel DX79SI with Sandy Bridge-E.) In this case, it was ASUS, with the Crosshair V Formula.
ROG boards, as with most motherboards from ASUS, are designed to be part of a system which just works, and works well. If a user wants a solid system underneath, it has to be done with little fuss and provide the extra performance through auto-overclocking. However there also has to be a way for enthusiasts to tinker and modify as appropriate. As such, ASUS deck out the BIOS with vast arrays of options, which I am sure very few people outside the AMD chipset team or motherboard engineers know about. But if a random overclocker finds setting XYZ to boost performance 10%, then it is a win-win for ASUS.
That being said, I had relatively few issues with the Crosshair V Formula going though my test suite. It worked well out of the box, and looking at the notes I write during testing there are very few minor issues relating to application and design which I will go into later. Performance is good (as you would hope from an expensive 990FX board), and several of the enhanced features (Intel NIC, upgraded audio) are the main selling points of this product.
If you want features, out of the boards I am looking at today, the ASUS has got almost all of them. Sporting a red and black livery that is quintessential of the ROG range, ASUS has developed a low profile heatsink with a large surface area to cover the VRMs. Combined with the AM3+ socket which is so generously proportioned, there should not be much trouble fitting the beefiest of air coolers to satisfy 130W+ processors from the Thuban or Bulldozer ranges.
The board is populated with four DIMM slots meaning two per channel, and fan headers are frequent – a total of eight of them (all four-pin) on this board. That starts with two for the CPU (just above the socket) and three labeled as chassis fans (one in the top right corner, two in the bottom right). The final three are labeled as optional (one in the middle right above the 24-pin ATX connector, one on the bottom towards the left near the power/reset switches, and another to the left of the 4-pin molex connector above the PCIe slots). For anyone’s needs, that is usually more than enough, unless an enthusiast wishes to make a wind tunnel with some powerful fans.
The USB 3.0 header is situated beside the 24-pin ATX power connector, in prime position for front panel USB 3.0 ports. Underneath this, we have the six SATA 6 Gbps ports from the chipset at right angles to the board, and another SATA 6 Gbps port from an ASMedia controller. Out of the boards tested today, only the Gigabyte has more SATA 6 Gbps ports available on the board (discounting eSATA).
Along the bottom of the board are the standard front panel and USB headers. Also here are the Power/Reset buttons, next to an overclock button. This is a one button selection for a system overclock, equivalent to the ‘Fast’ overclock setting in the ASUS software. What is a little disappointing is that there is no two-digit debug on board for diagnostics – should overclockers use this board, it is often a handy tool to have. Overclockers do have other options though – the iROG and ROG Connect options are valid on this board.
In the bottom left we find one of the primary marketing features of the Crosshair V Formula – the audio solution. On around 98% of modern chipset motherboards available for consumers, we typically see a Realtek solution, varying from the ALC887 up to the ALC898. On the rare occasion, we get something more – as it is here with the Crosshair V Formula, which sports the X-Fi 2 SupremeFX audio solution. Personally, I am not an audiophile, however out of the usual marketing bumpf that comes from corporate entities; this is one which should be advertised.
PCIe layout is designed to maximize airflow and GPU lanes – from the top, an x16, an x1, an x8, a PCI, an x16 (x8 when the x8 is populated), and an x4. This gives tri-card users enough space to put three cards in and still use all the headers at the bottom of the board – but only just. Why do I say only just? Well, the user has to ideally populate these ports before plugging in the second card. My case in point is to deal with AMD’s all-in-one liquid cooler, which uses a USB port onboard to power the pump. With this connector in, I placed a second GPU in the board, which essentially locked the pump connector in place, almost impossible to remove without taking the second GPU out first. If a user has three GPUs on board, then they all need to be taken out to put anything like this connector into the USB power ports. It is an obscure issue (depending on how many people use these type of coolers or USB headers), but it is here nonetheless. Perhaps it is time for motherboard manufacturers to put a USB header next to the 24-pin ATX connector?
The IO back panel is fully featured – we start with a combination PS/2 port above a pair of USB 3.0 ports in blue. Next to this is the Clear CMOS button, alongside a pair of USB 2.0 ports above an eSATA 6 Gbps port. We also have a SPDIF output, another pair of USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, four more USB 2.0 ports (the one in white is the ROG Connect port), and a set of audio jacks.
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IanCutress - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - linkUnfortunately we don't have an infinite amount of kit to review with. We're individual reviewers here, not all working in a big office. Obviously we can't all request top end kit from manufacturers either. Plus for every time we do use new high end kit, we also get comments about testing something 'more realistic' to most users. In that circumstance, we can't win and please everyone, but we do try and be as consistent as possible.
phocean - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - linkI bought the Sabertooth a few weeks ago... and it throws an annoying buzzing sound in the speakers, especially when a USB port is used (in other words, all the time).
It is the sign of an isolation issue between chipsets and shows poor design and testing from Asus.
Needless to say that the support was of no help (and no willing to help).
So don't buy it, unless you don't plug any speaker in it.
richaron - Friday, April 6, 2012 - linkMine doesn't have this problem. You either got an unlucky board, or your psu is funky.
extide - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - linkSeem to me like you were probably using a bit too much voltage for the BD. I would assume that is why you had so many issues with thermal runaway. 1.4-1.45ish would probably be a better place to stay with an air cooler :)
extide - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - linkEDIT: Nevermind I forgot you are using the AMD kit watercooler, which is better than straight air cooling but I'd think it would take more of a fully custom built water setup to run 1.5v vCore.
Hrel - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - linkI was going to build a new computer based on Ivy Bridge this Fall, I'm still running a Core 2 Duo E8400. But I've decided I'm not building myself a new computer until the motherboard has USB 3.0 and ONLY USB 3.0. A LOT of them, EVERYWHERE!
I just built a guy a Z68 based computer with an i7 2700K but I had to order a VERY hard to find adapter card to plug in the USB 3.0 based memory card reader and the USB 3.0 on the front of the Fractal Design case. Because the Asus motherboard has ZERO USB 3.0 headers on it. It never even occurred to me that was a possibility. Not only has USB 3.0 been out for years now, but it was released WAY over-due. WTF is the hold up. Make the switch. USB 2.0 is for the 2000's decade, it's 2012. I am done with USB 2.0. I shouldn't have to buy an add-in card for BRAND NEW motherboard to support basic accesories, like a memory card reader and front usb port.
This is related to this article because I think if AMD was actually competitive with Intel AT ALL, like they were with Athlon XP/64/64 X2, then Intel would step up their game all around. Or maybe I wouldn't even have to buy Intel because they constantly make shit decisions like this, and changing the motherboard socket constantly, and charging 300 dollars for a quad core with HT. Their shit is endless and I really don't want to buy their products but AMD is simply not an option; if I wanted something that slow I'd just put a quad core Penryn based CPU in my current rig and save a bunch of money.
ggathagan - Friday, April 6, 2012 - linkThere are only two Asus Z68 boards that don't have the USB 3 header, but somehow it's *Intel's* fault that Asus didn't use a USB 3 header on the board you bought?
Maybe you should have been a little more attentive when board shopping.
IanCutress - Friday, April 6, 2012 - linkHi Hrel,
I actually like USB 2.0 on my boards. If you have solely USB 3.0 and use them all, there's a big chance of a bottleneck in the bus somewhere. Also, I install a fresh operating system on every board I test via USB as it is a lot quicker than CD. Unfortunately during the install program, it doesn't process anything through the USB 3.0 ports - mouse, keyboard, or even the USB stick with the OS on. So I ideally like to have three USB 2.0 ports for that purpose. It's more a fault of Windows7 than the chipset, but otherwise if a board only has two USB 2.0 ports, I have to disconnect the mouse and use the keyboard and USB install drive only. Saying that, I have a board in that is solely USB 3.0, so it's going to be fun to install an OS on that... :/
fic2 - Friday, April 6, 2012 - linkI have a Dell keyboard that has 2 USB ports on it. That would solve your problem with a 2 x USB 2 mb. I currently have the mouse daisy chained off the keyboard.
B - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - linkYour article should note that sound blaster provides a software overlay, but under that aluminum skin overlay lies a Realtek chip. I was fooled by this marketing and very disappointed after configuring this motherboard and discovering this fact. You don't get soudblasters hardware acceleration or the crystalizer. You should note this in any article about the asus line with x-fi2. Had I known I would have done things differently.