Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

Like all “Republic of Gamers” mainboards, Asus Rampage IV Formula/Battlefield 3 is designed in series traditional black-and-red colors. However, the board has a few other interesting features besides the color scheme.

I believe I should start with the processor voltage regulator. “Extreme Engine Digi+ II” is a highly efficient, stable and long-lasting system due to the use of high-quality electronic components and adjustable pulse-width modulation frequency of the digital CPU and memory voltage regulators. The heat-dissipating components of the voltage regulator circuitry are topped with a large heatsink, which is connected to another large heatsink at the back panel with a heatpipe. All heatsinks, including the chipset one, are attached with screws. By the way, some of the processor voltage regulator components on all LGA 2011 mainboards are moved to the bottom of the PCB, but only on Asus mainboards these components have a heat-dissipating metal plate covering them.

There are a lot of additional components next to the 24-pin power connector. The ones that stand out the most are Power On and Reset buttons, POST-code indicator and a switch that allows turning off PCI Express x16 slots in random order. Besides that, there is also a set of onboard voltage read points called “Probelt”, “GO” button that allows immediate system overclocking according to previously set parameters. It may also function as “MemOK!” during system boot-up allowing to boot even if there are problems with the installed memory modules. There is a row if diodes called Q-Led that will help identify the problems during startup and a row of diodes called “Voltiminder LED II”, which will signal if any of the voltages are approaching dangerous levels. Moreover, there is also a “BIOS Switch” button, which will let you switch rapidly between two independent BIOS chips, and an entire group of components facilitating overclocking with liquid nitrogen:  “LN2” jumper, “Slow Mode” switch and “Q reset” button.

The board has two PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots and four PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, which means you can use up to four graphics cards at the same time. Although, you will need to purchase the special bridge for 4-way Nvidia SLI configurations separately, as it is not included into the accessories bundle. The graphics card slots also work in a non-conventional way. Of course, in case you only have one or two graphics cards in the system, they will work at full PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 speed, which is a feature of the Intel X79 Express chipset. The configuration with three graphics cards is unusual, however. Two cards continue working at full speed and the lanes are not distributed and the slots work as x16/x8/x16. Only with four graphics cards installed simultaneously we see the redistribution of the PCI Express lanes among the slots, though the first card will still continue working at its full speed: x16/x8/x8/x8.

The back panel of Asus Rampage IV Formula/Battlefield 3 has the following ports and connectors:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Six USB 2.0 ports, eight more are laid out as four onboard pin-connectors;
  • “Clear CMOS” button;
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC898 codec;
  • “ROG Connect” button;
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via two ASMedia ASM1042, the third controller like that provides an additional internal pin-connector for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Two eSATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via ASMedia ASM1061 controller, second controller like that provides two additional internal SATA 6 Gbps ports;
  • A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Intel 82579V network controller).

I would like to specifically stress that “ROG Connect” button and a special white USB 2.0 port not only allow controlling the system through a different computer using the technology of the same name, but also help to easily reflash the mainboard BIOS using “USB BIOS Flashback” button. Just connect the drive with the new BIOS version, press the button and wait. There is no need for any special utilities, no need to access the BIOS or load the operating system, there is even no need to completely assembly the computer system. This technology should work even without the CPU and memory installed: all you need is power.

Like other Asus mainboards, Asus Rampage IV Formula/Battlefield 3 uses very convenient wide “Q-Slot” locks on the graphics card slots and single-sided “Q-DIMM” memory slot locks. There are eight four-pin fan connectors onboard: two for processor fans, three for system fans, and three additional connectors right next to the thermal diode headers. There are a few red LEDs in the lower left corner on the back of the mainboard, which light up the clear track and the “Republic of Gamers” logo.

Despite extended functionality, numerous additional controllers, various control chips and informational components, the developers managed to keep the classical PCB layout and stay within the ATX size standards. This is obviously one of the advantages of this mainboard, especially since the developers of Asus P9X79 Deluxe and Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 had to get beyond the standard ATX dimensions. The mainboard can accommodate only four memory modules, just like the Gigabyte board, but the latter is larger than the ATX standard in all dimensions.

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