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ASUS Blitz Extreme & Formula Motherboards

Date: July 30, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams

There are numerous P35 boards available, so what does a company have to do to have an edge? Well, as far as ASUS is concerned, they should produce feature-packed boards that also come with many extras, including a game and 3D Mark 06. Oh… not to mention a water-cooled northbridge!



Introduction


When Intel first launched their P35 chipset, it took little time before the market became saturated with many offerings from motherboard manufacturers. ASUS themselves had seven right off the bat, two of which we’ve already taken a look at. Both boards impressed us. They offered superb performance compared to the competition and came feature-packed. Being of the Deluxe variety, they also included WiFi capabilities, which is nice to see on a consumer motherboard.

One area where the board performed well was with overclocking. Though not incredible, both the P5K and P5K3 hit 475FSB with relative ease, though could go no further. Enthusiast overclockers have hit well over 500FSB on other boards, so 475FSB is considered modest by some, although it’s far from it. Personally, I’m happy with anything in the ~450FSB area, especially for a 24/7 rig.

All of that doesn’t matter though, because ASUS has come along and released two new motherboards geared towards the enthusiast overclockers, Blitz Extreme and Blitz Formula, both of which we will be taking a look at today.

Both boards look identical, the only difference is that the Extreme uses DDR3 while the Formula utilizes DDR2. Other than that, finding physical differences between the two boards is difficult. This is different from how ASUS handled their own P5K3 and P5K boards, which used slightly different passive heatsinks and DIMM colors. I am glad to see that they kept things similar here.

The Blitz boards use Intel’s P35 chipset and pack more features than you can shake a stick at. I am not remotely kidding. The boards should both be called Bling Extreme. But what exactly is here that makes me say such a thing?

Well first, we have better Crossfire capabilities, thanks to the usage of a special chipset called CrossLinx, which effectively makes each PCI-E slot function as 8x, instead of the 16x 4x combination that we saw with the ASUS Commando. Sadly, I do not have any ATI cards on hand, so I will be unable to test out the feature. However, I don’t have any reason to believe that the feature will not function as promised. I am unsure who creates the chipset to pull this off, but it’s not ASUS. From what I understand, I believe they currently have exclusive rights to it for now.

That aside, we also have a northbridge with heatsink ready for water, Voltiminder LEDs, Extreme Tweaking ability, external LCD Poster, Supreme FX II sound card, on-board power on/off and reset, in addition to a quick BIOS reset, Q-Connector, spare chipset fans, feet for an external install, temperature diodes, STALKER and 3D Mark 06. Bling Extreme, indeed.

Before we jump into all of the available features, let’s look at the motherboards themselves. Because the boards are both identical for the most part, we will be only taking a close look at the Extreme version.

The Blitz boxes are similar in size to most motherboard offerings, although it’s slightly higher because it includes a whack of accessories. For some reason, the Formula version of the board includes a sticker noting the water-block feature, but both include the same feature-sets. The front of the box has a flap which lifts up to show off all the features of the product.

 

 

Once opened, you will find the motherboard itself inside a safe plastic shell, and then an accessory box which includes everything else. Along with the Blitz manual and software, the first things taken out were the two optional chipset fans and the LCD poster. This ‘poster’ connects to a port on the motherboard and can sit on your computer or desk. Whenever the BIOS makes a query, it will display on this poster. When nothing is going on, a digital clock is displayed instead. This is all done on a very bright blue backlit screen.

 

 

Shown in the picture below are all the required peripheral connectors, I/O panel, water-block stuffs, Q-Connector, diodes and a PCI-slot panel that offers access to two USB ports and one firewire. The black feet shown here are for those who don’t wish to install the board in a chassis. Stick them to a table and set the board on top for great airflow.

 

 

With the initial look out of the way, let’s move right into a look at the board itself.


Closer Look

At first glance, the layout is admirable. It’s actually quite similar to other ASUS boards we’ve taken a look at lately. All of the available S-ATA ports are kept towards the bottom-right of the board, which point outward in order to aide in better airflow. I consider this to be a great feature, although it’s more difficult to plug in the connectors unless you have a very large case.

 

 

Another thing that stands out is the fact that the board is entirely passively cooled, as has been the norm with ASUS lately. One single piece of heatsink covers the CrossLinx chipset, south and northbridge and also the PWM. The PWM is the hottest point on the motherboard most often.

Below is a comparison between both the Extreme (left) and Formula (right). Good luck in finding differences.

 

 

First stop is the CrossLinx chipset, found directly in between each PCI-E 16x slot. In Crossfire mode, each slot will function as 8x, which will effectively remove all bottlenecks found in other motherboards, including the ASUS Commando.

 

 

The Blitz is a part of ASUS’ own Republic of Gamers branding, meaning it’s designed specifically with gamers in mind. That fact is helped when you find a copy of ASUS-sponsored STALKER in the box, alongside 3D Mark 06.

 

 

Alongside the two PCI-E slots are two regular PCI slots and also three PCI-E 4x. Miscellaneous chipsets line the left-hand side of the board, which take care of the network devices, S-ATA and I/O.

 

 

One great feature of the Blitz is that it’s perfectly suited to be used outside of a case, proof that ASUS really does have overclockers in mind with the design. Thanks to this, power on/off and reset buttons are available at the bottom.

 

 

Further down you will find the ATX connectors and the six S-ATA ports. I love where these ports are located, but without having a massive case to work with, I found it a little tedious plugging in all three S-ATA connectors that I needed. The good thing for most people is that this will need to be done only once, not a few times in the same day as I did with writing this review.

 

 

At the top-right of the board are the DIMM slots, 24-Pin power connector and a floppy drive connector. Towards the bottom of the image is the IDE connector. No special DIMM slot colors were used to differentiate the Extreme from the Formula, as was the case with the P5K and P5K3.

 

 

Here is the waterblock that sits atop the northbridge, called “Fusion”. It accepts 3/8″ tubing, although adapters are included for 1/2″. The rubber guards used here can stay on the chipset if you don’t plan to watercool… they will not melt. Chances are good that the board will not be able to hit temperatures at which point that could happen.

 

 

The usual copper heatsink can be found around the CPU socket. One single heatsink covers all the major chipsets on the board, in addition to the PWM. If you use water and keep fans to a minimum, this board is great for a quiet overclocking machine.

 

 

Finally, the side panel offers you a keyboard PS/2 port, six USB, the clear CMOS button, two e-SATA ports, two NIC ports, S/PDIF and finally, a firewire. Where the heck is the audio, you might be asking?

 

 

Right here, of course. Instead of having the card pre-installed and welded onto the motherboard, ASUS offers a separate card with a SoundMax AD1988B chipset, offering 7.1 surround sound support. I am no audiophile, so I cannot comment on the card itself, but for those curious, you can read more about it here.

 

 

 

 

Before we jump into the performance reports, a look at the comprehensive BIOS is next.


The BIOS

The Blitz boards are designed with enthusiasts in mind, so we should only expect the best with the BIOS. Luckily, it proved just as overclocking-friendly as we had hoped and even exceeded some expectations. First up though, the first few screens that will be familiar to most everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The overclocking section is so large on the Blitz boards, that it deserves it’s own menu. What you expect is here… FSB/Memory/Ratios and voltages. All of the important memory timings are here as well, except for tRC which seems to be more of limit on the P35 chipset and not the board itself. No P35 board I’ve used yet has had that option.

 

 

Once you take a look at the voltage options, you will understand why the this section is called “Extreme Tweaker”. Extreme is appropriate, and maybe “overkill” should be thrown in there as well. The options most will pay attention to will be the CPU and Memory voltage, but PLL, FSB termination, Northbridge and Southbridge is here as well. There’s also DDR Channel REF voltage, but it’s usefulness is not known to me.

You are reading this right… 1.90V on the CPU and 3.40V for DDR2 memory. “Insane” is one way to put it, “!!!!!!” is another. There is absolutely no reason to ever go that high even for suicide runs… you will reach a point of no return. Bear in mind that JEDEC standard for DDR2 is 1.8v and DDR3 is 1.5v, yet the options are here to literally double each. On one hand, I think it’s great that ASUS offers such broad tweaking abilities, but on the other, I think they went a little overboard.

The cool thing though, is that when you reach certain levels, the text will turn from Green to Yellow to Red, depending on the ‘severity’ of voltage. To compliment this, there are LEDs on the motherboard which represent the settings you chose. If you have a Yellow CPU voltage, the LED beside the CPU socket will be yellow. The manual states that Green = NORMAL, Yellow = HIGH and Red = CRAZY. Appropriate.

Moving along, here are a few more screens you’ve probably seen before. Nothing ground-breaking, but nothing seems to be left out, either. Unlike ASUS’ own Deluxe boards, the BIOS on the Blitz boards don’t have many lifestyle options that they do, such as music alarm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hardware Monitor is rather in-depth on these boards. If you want to protect your NB and SB, you can set the computer to shut off automatically if it reaches a certain temp. You can choose 70°C and 80°C for both. You can also watch the temps for almost everything here, and if one of the components has voltages at unacceptable levels, they will be highlighted in red.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like all other recent ASUS motherboards, the BIOS flash utility is one of the best I’ve used. If you have the BIOS on a thumb drive or an installed FAT32 partition, the BIOS will access it and you can flash it right from there. It will also read ROM files off of a CD-Rom/DVD-Rom.

 

 

Time to put both boards to the test!


Testing Methodology, SYSmark 2007

Throughout all of our benchmarks regardless of what we are reviewing, testing is done in a clean and stand-alone version of Windows XP Professional with SP2. Prior to testing, these conditions are met:

The testing rig used for todays benchmarking is as follows:

Please note that for our DDR3 motherboards, we use DDR3-1066 speeds with 6-6-6 timings, and for our DDR2 boards we use DDR2-800 4-4-4.

 

SYSmark 2007 Preview

 

SYSmark is an industry leading system benchmarking tool, which is completely automated but utilizes real-world tests. It installs common applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, Photoshop CS2, 3DS Max, SketchUp! among others.

SYSmark grades the performance of the system by how well it could handle different operations. Systems with more than one core will benefit in the tests, since there is a lot of multi-tasking throughout. Once the test is completed, it will provide you with an overall score, in addition to showing areas where the computer excelled.

 

 

Intel’s XBX2 is a great board for a workstation, as you can see. Neither of the Blitz boards could knock it from it’s throne, although the Formula came very close. The graph below shows a total breakdown of the overall scores for each board.

 

 

As far as the individual tests go, neither Blitz board outperformed another, but the results are certainly what we had expected. On the next page we will jump right into a few Futuremark benchmarks.


Futuremark 3D Mark and PC Mark

Futuremark has long offered benchmarking tools to enthusiasts that allow them to gage their systems worth. There is a lot of skepticism revolving around the importance of the overall scores, but we enjoy running them because it’s a quick fix to see differences between platforms. Real world benchmarks are by far more important, and we will cover those on the next few pages.

 

Futuremark 3D Mark 2001

 

Although old, 3D Mark 2001 proves a good benchmark to evaluate your systems overall performance. In 2000, this benchmark really stressed whatever GPU you owned, but today the GPU hardly comes into the equation. What does help you achieve a higher score is faster CPU and memory frequencies.

 

 

 

Futuremark 3D Mark 2006

 

3D Mark 2006 tests your system in a similar manner that 2001 does, except this updated version actually does bottleneck on your GPU. The faster the GPU, the better the score. Multi-core processors also help greatly improve your scores here.

 

 

 

Futuremark PC Mark 2005

 

PC Mark is somewhat similar to SYSmark, which we discussed on the previous page. The difference is that PC Mark focuses more on synthetic benchmarking schemes, such as disk access and multi-tasking. Very little of the entire test will be seen by you though, as it all goes on behind the scenes.

 

 

The Blitz Extreme is performing exceptionally so far, although the Formula isn’t falling far behind. It’s interesting to note that throughout all three of these charts, the top two boards use DDR3 memory.


Multi-Media Tests, Disk Access

Nothing can prove the performance of a PC better than real-world benchmarks. The only downside to real-world tests is that it’s difficult to compare to a friends computer, unless they happen to have the same software and media files that you are encoding/converting. We can show direct differences though, since we run the exact same tests on each board.

 

Video Encoding

 

To test video encoding capabilities, we ripped our “Lamb of God – Killadelphia” concert DVD and then used Nero Recode to convert it into something that can be burned on a normal sized DVD. The direct DVD rip is 7.7GB, and Recode compresses it into a 4.5GB frame.

 

 

 

Audio Encoding

 

Similar to our video encoding test, we originally ripped a solid FLAC file from our “Tiesto – Elements of Life” album. From there, we decompressed it using flac -d and then compressed it into a 320Kbits MP3 using lame -b 320. LAME 3.97b2 was used for testing.

 

 

 

Multi-Media Rendering

 

As mentioned earlier, I have performed numerous tests using 3DS Max 9 on multiple motherboards, to find that the end performance results hardly differed at all. My tests consisted of a 3200×2400 render, in addition to an export of 100 frames at 640×480. With both tests, the results were either exact or one second different.

 

 

 

Disk Performance

 

Different motherboards use different chipsets for SATA controllers, so these tests are a good way to see how one board will compare to another. The first test is synthetic, using HD Tach RW/3, while the File Compression is real world, which involves compressing a 4GB folder (4,809 files) using 7-Zip.

 

 

 

 

Before we jump into our overclocking experiences, let’s wrap up our performance reports with some gaming.


Gaming Performance

To pit these boards against some popular games, we chose to use Half-Life 2: Episode 1, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Need for Speed: Carbon. Each game offers its own flare to our benchmarking reviews for different reasons. HL2 is great simply because it’s one of the most popular games of all time, while STALKER has a wide open world to render and AI to churn. NFS: Carbon is included because racing games really enjoy powerful systems to push high FPS when you are driving at 200MPH.

As a reminder, we are running a 2.4GHz Intel E6600 along with an ASUS 8800GTX, which we choose because of its power and ability to rid out the GPU as being a bottleneck. All of the games were run on 1280×1024 using default options. The only options changed was to NFS: Carbon in order to select “High” detail. Results were tabulated with the help of FRAPS 2.8.2. Each play through lasted between three and five minutes, depending on the level chosen.

 

Half-Life 2: Episode 1

 

For Half-Life 2: Episode 1, I chose my favorite level, ep1_c17_02a. The level starts you off in a dimly lit hallway and you need to make it through to the roof where an airship is trying to gun you down. It’s a fun level, and really shows off HDR.

 

 

 

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

 

In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., I chose a run-through with the thumb drive mission, which occurs near the beginning of the game. Through it, there are many people who die and you get to leave with a thumb drive. Does it get much better?

 

 

 

Need for Speed: Carbon

 

In our NFS: Carbon test, we played through the first normal race when choosing one through the Quick Race mode. Two choices of car are given, an upcoming Chevrolet Camaro and a Koenigsegg CCX. I think it’s obvious which one I chose.

 

 

The Blitz Extreme performed very well here, topping 2 of the 3 charts and placing 2nd in the one it didn’t top. The Formula kept quite close though, as well. Overall, some fantastic results here.


Overclocking

When ASUS conjured up the idea for the Blitz boards, overclockers were in their minds, without question. So, there is no doubt we should expect some incredible overclocking, right? Well, yes and no, but it depends on your viewpoint of what makes a successful overclock.

Without water-cooling, the max front-side-bus I could muster was 480MHz… which proved stable over an eight hour period, though I forgot to take a desktop screenshot to prove the fact. Both the Extreme and Formula boards topped out the -exact- same. The FSB wasn’t just the same, but the temperatures as well. At that speed, the northbridge runs at 61°C and the southbridge at 54°C. Warm, but not extreme.

What happens when water comes into the picture?

 

 

Here is where I expected to see very large gains, but I did not. Even on water, I topped out at 480FSB. Running SP2004 at 485FSB at -any- voltage level would spawn errors promptly. Once again, this was the case on both boards… they were remarkably similar, which leads me to believe that this general range will be the most popular top overclock for the board.

I should also explain the above picture a little better. I am not running the Northbridge cooling off of the same water-cooling as the CPU. Instead, I am using two separate Corsair Nautilus 500s for the sake of easy un-installation when swapping motherboards.

What is water good for, if not better overclocking? Well, the temperatures, and temperatures only. Whereas the northbridge topped out at 46.9°C without water, it topped out at 37.1°C with. Indeed, a full 10°C drop is nothing jaw-dropping, but it’s definitely a nice gain, especially if you already have a water-cooling setup. Temperatures were gathered with Everest 4.0 while the CPU was stressed to 100% for the period of a half-hour. Also, our 333FSB setting ran with default NB voltages while 480FSB was cranked to 1.75v.

The thing to note though, is that the Northbridge was not the only thing to benefit from the water. Significant decreases were seen with the Southbridge as well, in addition to the processor. At both 333FSB and 480FSB, the CPU dropped 10°C, like the Northbridge, which was nice to see considering our Quad-Core needs all the cooling help it can get. I should note that it seems that a Dual-Core processor would see even more significant decreases, although due to time constraints, we were unable to re-test prior to this review.

 

 

I am very confident in assuming that 480FSB – 485FSB will be the top FSB overclock that most will accomplish. If I had only one Blitz and found that to be the top overclock, I’d have some doubts, but where I have both models to compare to, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they both topped out identically.

What I did find impressive about the boards though, is that they are exceptional memory overclockers. Up until now, I’ve been using eVGA’s 680i for our memory reviews, simply because it overclocks modules far better than anything else I’ve used. No longer, as the Blitz proved to overclock just as well. For a test, I ran my OCZ Reaper 2GB 9200 kit at 642MHz for two hours, and didn’t receive a single error. Impressive.


Final Thoughts


Bling Extreme came and we are impressed. First and foremost, both boards are feature-packed. They include everything you need and a lot of things you don’t, such as the LCD Poster and 3D Mark 06, alongside STALKER. The BIOS is also packed to the brim with overclocking-related options, but still doesn’t come close to some of DFI’s boards. This is not a huge hit though, as it’s unlikely most will even use all of the overclocking potential seen here, including myself. I value time over finding a route to 5 extra MHz.

Pricing is currently not known, and we were unable to receive a response from ASUS prior to publishing. Given the prices of current ASUS motherboards though, I believe that the Blitz Formula DDR2 board will retail for around the ~$300 mark while the DDR3 Extreme will sit closer to $330 – $350.

Is the (assumed) price justified? If you enjoy unpacking a packed motherboard, then yes it certainly could be. The fact is, this is no barebones setup. The fact that it includes so many extras and also offers water-cooling abilities is why there will be a premium for the board. If the retail prices turn out to be less, then all the better.

Regarding the audio card that is included, I can’t properly comment on it as I didn’t give it proper testing. On my rather modest Edifier S2.1D set the sound was as good as other on-board cards I’ve used, in both music and gaming. Is the external card really needed? Jumping to conclusions, I would say it’s a nice addition. If it requires a much larger PCB, I assume it would deliver better quality than other motherboards. It’s a solid card, but probably wouldn’t replace your X-Fi.

As far as overclocking goes, I didn’t hit as high of a FSB as I had hoped, but don’t find a reason to be depressed over 480FSB. What is odd however, is that in the seven or eight motherboards I’ve used since ASUS’ own P5N-E, none have been able to hit the 495FSB that it had been capable of. The irony is the fact that the P5N-E costs less than $150, but it was also a less-than-ideal memory overclocker.

Speaking of memory, this is another area where the Blitz really, really impressed me. Even their P5K boards were unable to come close to clocking memory as high as the eVGA nForce 680i has been able to, but the Blitz was able to match up perfectly. So though the Blitz boards didn’t prove to be the -best- overclocking boards on the market, they don’t disappoint.

 

 

What was interesting was the fact that 480FSB was stable with 1.55v on the Northbridge. The max voltage there is 2.03v, but none of that helped with a better overclock. We are interested in knowing if others have achieved higher overclocks than us, so if you have the board or know someone who does, please jump into our review thread and let us know.

When all said and done, I am going to award both boards an eight out of ten along with our editor’s choice award. Both boards are great overclockers, feature a packed bundle and also 8x 8x CrossFire and of course it’s one of the few boards to feature water-cooling built-in. These are great boards overall and I plan to continue using them in our performance-related reviews until something better comes along.

If you don’t care about all the bling or extreme overclocking, the P5K or P5K3 are highly recommended as replacements.

 

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