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X48 Roundup: ASUS, ECS & Intel

Date: July 7, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams

With so much X48 selection on the market, choosing the right board can be tough. To help make the choice easier, we are taking a look at three such boards all at once, ASUS’ DDR2 Rampage Formula and also the DDR3 ECS X48T-A and Intel’s DX48BT2.



Introduction, ASUS Rampage Formula

Although Intel’s P45 chipset may be taking most of the limelight lately, the enthusiast side of things still belongs to X48. Since we had a few boards hanging around waiting to get benchmarked, we’ve decided to include them all in this single article.

The three boards include ASUS’ DDR2 offering, the Rampage Formula, along with ECS’ “gamers” board, the X48T-A. Lastly, we’ll also be taking on Intel’s official X48 board, the DX48BT2.

X48 is Intel’s latest top-end enthusiast chipset, offering the entire gamut of features that overclockers and enthusiasts are looking for. Though it was a somewhat lackluster update to X38, with the main support added being support for the 1600MHz FSB, most X48 boards are priced right along with X38, making them very worthy of consideration.

The fact that X48 supports a 1600MHz FSB might seem a little odd, since there is only a single processor model available to support it, but it’s likely that we may see updated models later in the year that also support the higher FSB, unless Nehalem hogs so much of the limelight that Intel deems it an unwise choice.

Add to the fact that X48 is not at all required to run a CPU with a 1600MHz FSB. In fact, I’ve been running a QX9770 in a higher-end P35 board for around a month now and it’s been running perfect. So while X48 is not a necessity, what sells the boards are the features that the manufacturers tack on. But do the three on our bench today offer enough to grab your attention?

ASUS Rampage Formula

ASUS is no stranger to the site, for the reason that we can’t help but want to get their products into our labs. We’ve never been truly let down with an ASUS product, whether it be a motherboard, GPU or notebook, so it’s always a joy to get one of their new models in.

Of course, all good companies tend to have their downfalls, and in the case of ASUS, that’s with their customer service. It’s something they need to work on, and they are aware of it, so hopefully we can see some things improve sooner than later. But I digress…

The Rampage Formula is unique to our X48 line-up as it’s the only one that supports DDR2 memory. Although the benefits of DDR3 can be debated, DDR2 still remains a fantastic choice due to both the density and price. You can now get 4GB of RAM for under $100, and that’s hard to ignore. In that regard, it’s not such a difficult predicament. DDR3 is constantly decreasing in price, but it will take a while longer before it will overshadow DDR2.

From a design standpoint, ASUS usually does a fair job with their board layouts, and the Rampage Formula doesn’t change a thing. Everything is positioned in a convenient location, and even with the robust copper heatsink, there should still be sufficient room for most coolers on the market.

The board design might be great, but for some reason the color scheme doesn’t do much to impress. Blue and white for the DIMM slots? What would it take to see a perfectly-coordinated board from ASUS?

Moving on downwards, the corner of the board is where most of the peripheral connectivity can be found. The S-ATA ports are located in a very convenient location, and because they are side-mounted, there will be no graphics card on the market that can get in your way. The front panel connectors are also in an ideal location. Note also the two fan connectors, adding to the overall appeal of the board. It’s truly designed with enthusiasts and gamers in mind.

Like most higher-end ASUS boards, this one features a whole lot of copper, enough to make overclocking a breeze. Although most CPU coolers on the market should be mounted without issue, please note that Zalman coolers may be a problem. In our recent CPU cooler roundup, Bill found that neither of the three Zalman coolers on hand would fit on our ASUS P5E3 Premium. So it’s something to bear in mind.

Given that X48 offers support for two GPUs in Crossfire mode, it’s no surprise to see two PCI-E 16x slots here for the taking. Besides those, there are three PCI-E 1x slots among two ‘old-school’ PCI. The top black PCI-E 1x connector is meant to be used with the included external audio card.

Finally taking a look at the back panel, we can see a total of six USB ports, one Firewire, S/PDIF audio, PS/2 keyboard and also two LAN. The lack of audio is due to the external audio card being included. Also note the ‘Clr CMOS’ button, which does exactly as you’d expect.

In way of included accessories, you can expect to find a copy of STALKER, a heatsink fan, back I/O panel, LED readout and of course, the audio card. The LED readout plugs into the motherboard and reports on various information, such as CPU temperature and fan speeds.

That’s of course not all, however. Also included is a variety of HDD/ODD cables, Q-Connector (makes light work of the ATX chassis cables) and also an accessory to fill up one of the back slots in your PC, adding the ability to use another two USB ports and one single Firewire.

As I mentioned before, ASUS usually does a good job with both the design and feature set of their motherboards, and the Rampage Formula doesn’t disappoint. Everything from the board layout to included accessories cater directly to the people its built for, enthusiasts and overclockers.

Next we’ll take a brief look at the BIOS, then move onto a look at our ECS board.

ASUS Rampage Formula BIOS

As I’ve mentioned in previous ASUS motherboard reviews, the BIOS’ that they put together tend to be well-designed and easy to follow. In all of the various ASUS motherboards I’ve used in the past, I’ve found theirs to be the easiest BIOS’ to work with, by far. Add the fact that overclocking your system too high will not result in a broken board, working with the BIOS is almost… enjoyable.

One of the reasons ASUS have made a name for themselves with enthusiasts is thanks to the insane overclocking-abilities of their boards. They not only offer truly asinine voltage levels, but offer plenty of options as well. Since the chipset used is designed with the enthusiast in mind, we can only expect amazing things from our overclocking reports.

Below are three shots from the tweaking section of the board, offering many more options than most people will ever even think of touching… a good thing.

Here are the remainder of the various BIOS screens, all non-overclocking-related:

With that out of the way, let’s jump right into our look at ECS’ X48T-A.

ECS X48T-A

The second board we are taking a look at is ECS’ X48T-A. This is the first ECS product to ever hit our labs, so I was looking forward to seeing just how it stacks up against the competition. ECS is no stranger to motherboard development, but as we all know, the enthusiast side of things is far different than anything else. Just like a performance car manufacturer, it’s hard to make a huge impact right away.

Well so far, so good. The color scheme is quite nice, but I personally tend to be drawn towards a darker color scheme. The passive-cooled design is also a nice touch, but expected. A few things strike me as odd, however, and we’ll cover them all throughout this page.

Most of the peripheral connectivity is located in the bottom right-hand corner, including S-ATA ports, three USB connections (for six ports total) and also the front panel headers. Those are located a little differently than on most of the other boards we’ve seen, as they are positioned vertically. You can also see the CLR_CMOS toggle to the left of the USB ports, which allows you to clear the CMOS if any instability occurs.

As previously mentioned, the ECS X48T-A features a passive-cooled design, with modest heatsinks on the Southbridge, northbridge and PWM.

Similar to most other X48 boards, this one features support for DDR3. To the right is the lone IDE port and also the 24-port power connector.

For Crossfire support, two PCI-E 16x slots are here, in addition to dual PCI-E 1x slots and also dual PCI slots for ‘legacy’ support.

Moving upwards, we can see where the first real oddities come into play. Located here is both a 4-pin Molex power connector and also the 8-pin motherboard connector. Both of these are in an insanely inconvenient location, as it means you will need to run the cables across the inside of the chassis in order to reach. In my case (pun intended), I had to take the back door off of our Antec P182, just so I could rearrange the cables to get them to reach.

The 4-pin connector doesn’t need to be used, though, as its main purpose is to provide enhanced stability, only beneficial with overclocking. But as we’ll find out later, overclocking is not much fun on this board, so using this power connection will not be of a huge concern for many.

Moving along to the CPU socket, we can see a 6-phase power solution and a very clean surface area. This picture provides a view into yet another strange design feature. Note the 3-pin fan connector here. Get used to looking at it, because aside from the 4-pin CPU fan connector, it’s the only one on the board.

No, I’m not kidding.

The back panel offers a lot more functionality than the board might immediately suggest. Here we have a healthy amount of USB ports, in addition to an e-SATA, dual NICs, S/PDIF audio along with regular audio ports, PS/2 keyboard and mouse and also a serial port. Wait, a serial port? Yes, a serial port.

Accessories include an IDE cable, four S-ATA cables, internal S-ATA connector and also an I/O panel. The driver CD will not function in 64-bit Windows, so the drivers will need to be fished for manually through the various folders.

Overall, the X48T-A is far from the worst board I’ve touched, but it’s not the best, nor does it come close. Certain aspects of the board push me to the verge of frustration, because I cannot comprehend how ECS’ R&D department would purposely design the board with certain blatant drawbacks.

The largest issue, is the fact that the six S-ATA ports are positioned to be in the way of any installed graphics card of reasonable length. I installed an NVIDIA 9800 GTX and it covered four of the available ports. If you had two large ATI cards to use in Crossfire mode, you’d likely still have two ports available, but it would be cutting it close.

Then we have the single fan connector (ignoring the CPU fan), which is purely asinine for a ‘gamers’ motherboard. Do I even have to bring up the ridiculous placements of the 4-pin Molex (which isn’t even really needed) or the 8-pin motherboard connector? Whew. I really hope to see more common-sense designs from ECS on their enthusiast boards in the future.

ECS X48T-A BIOS

Similar to many other manufacturers on the market (such as Gigabyte), ECS uses an American Megatrends BIOS on their boards. Though the same make, depending on the board manufacturer, the enjoyment gained from using them can vary wildly. On Gigabyte’s boards, their options become confusing, but nothing on the ECS board became too much of an issue to deal with.

Sadly, though, like their actual motherboard design, the BIOS acts in certain ways that I just cannot comprehend. First and foremost, the biggest issue is that ‘defaults’ are chosen for everything when first entering the tweaking section. Our QX9650 had a 60x multiplier and all of the memory timings were set to their lowest values.

All of this results in a board that’s not at all fun to overclock. Most overclockers don’t care about secondary memory timings, but in order to get anywhere here, you need to. If you choose to alter memory timings and leave them as they are, you will no doubt have an unstable system, requiring a switch of the Clr_CMOS toggle.

On top of the lackluster tweaker options, the voltages do not go near as high as they do on other boards, with the top DDR3 voltage being 2.1V. Most real enthusiast boards out there go to at least 2.6V and higher, so don’t plan on doing much heavy overclocking here.

Here are the remainder of the BIOS options:

Before we get into our performance results, let’s wrap up our look at the boards themselves with Intel’s DX48BT2.

Intel DX48BT2

While it’s hard to come by an Intel processor that’s unimpressive, the company’s motherboards have never given me a ‘wow’ impression. The best thing their offerings offer is stability. If you want to run stock speeds on your processor and RAM, you are set. Their boards are some of the best out there for stability, hands down.

Overclocking is a little different, but I’ll touch up on that later. For now, let’s take a trip around the board and see what it’s made of.

If I were in charge of creating motherboards, I would choose a black PCB every, single, time. I’m sure many will agree that the color of the PCB does add to the overall appeal of a PC, especially one suited for gaming. While the color scheme could have been made better with darker component colors, I’m not that fussy.

Out of the three boards here today, Intel’s is the only one to offer less than six slots. In fact, Intel’s configuration is about as odd as ECS’ placement of the 8-pin power connector. No PCI-E 1x slots are present, but instead two PCI-E 16x and one PCI-E 8x are, along with two PCI. For those with a PCI-E 1x card, it will still work in the bottom PCI-E 8x slot, however.

Take note of the 4-pin Molex connector, which is added to increase stability with overclocking. Like the ECS board though, this won’t need to be touched, as overclocking was in all regards lackluster. One last gripe I have is the location of the front panel connectors… they are located much further away than they are on most boards. This isn’t a large problem, but it would have been more convenient had they been located closer to the bottom right-hand corner.

The CPU socket area is open, just like the ECS, so installing any CPU cooler on the market shouldn’t be a problem. The black heatsinks around the PWM are fantastic-looking.

On the bottom right-hand corner are six S-ATA ports, the BIOS battery, Southbridge heatsink and also the Clear CMOS toggle (beige switch to the middle-left). If your installed GPU is long, you can expect to lose the top two S-ATA ports, and two more if you plan to use two identical GPUs in Crossfire mode.

Finally, on the back panel we have dual e-SATA, eight USB ports, one Firewire, one NIC and a various audio, including S/PDIF.

Although I appreciate the color scheme and stability that Intel enthusiast boards offer, I am not overly impressed entirely with the design and layout of the DX48BT2. Certain things could be located differently in order to make installation easier and cleaner, but overall, nothing is severe. Unlike the ECS board, this one locates the 8-pin motherboard connector conveniently and also offers more than one fan connector.

Time to see what the BIOS is made of.

Intel DX48BT2 BIOS

Out of all the BIOS’ out there, Intel’s is definitely the cleanest-looking. The first page delivers all of the relevant CPU and memory information, while the other tabs will handle everything else. I have never particularly enjoyed the BIOS’ that Intel uses on their boards, but they work and are kept simple.

Where overclocking is concerned, the DX48BT2 offers all of the usual options we’ve come to expect from X48, including voltage control for both the north and Southbridge. The entire process is a little clunkier than some other boards (like ASUS, for example), but I have no real complaints.

Below are the remainder of the screens from the BIOS:

With a look at all three of our boards done, we can now push right into our testing results. First, we’ll explore our testing methodology, which we recommend reading if you haven’t before.

Test Machine Specs & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous, and sometimes exhaustive, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to throw off recommendations or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

No hardware during our performance reviews is changed during testing, except for the product-type being reviewed, of course. Our current configuration is as follows:

For our testing, we use Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. We chose to stick to a 64-bit Windows because throughout the past year of usage, we find it to be much more stable than the 32-bit counterpart.

Once we set up our OS’, nothing changes unless we revamp our entire methodology, which doesn’t happen too often.

Gaming

In an attempt to deliver accurate results, games that we test with are played through manually, with the average FPS recorded with the help of FRAPS 2.9.4. In our personal tests, we have found that manually benchmarking games is the best way to deliver accurate results, since time demos rely heavily on the CPU.

In order to deliver the best results, each title we choose is explored to find the best possible level for our benchmarking. Once a level is chosen, we play through in order to find the best route, and then in future runs, we stick to that route as close as possible. We are not robots, so we cannot make sure that each run is identical, but they will never be far off from each other. As we see in our results, scaling is good, so we are confident that our methodology is a good one.

Because performance between motherboards shouldn’t vary by much to begin with, we choose to run a single game for our tests, along with Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage.

Half Life 2: Episode Two

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On the next page, we’ll kick off our results with SYSmark 2007 Preview.

SYSmark 2007 Preview

There is no better way to evaluate a system and its components than to run a suite of real-world benchmarks. To begin our testing, we will a popular benchmarking suite that emulates real-world scenarios and stresses the machine the way it should be… by emulating tasks that people actually perform on a day to day basis.

SYSmark 2007 Preview

SYSmark, from Bapco is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios, such as video editing and image manipulation. Each one of these suites output easy-to-understand scores once completed.

SYSmark grades the overall performance of your system based off of different criteria, but mostly it will depend on how fast it could complete certain tasks and handle multi-tasking. Once the suite is completed, five scores will be delivered, one being the overall. We dedicate an OS and hard drive to this test in order to keep the environment as clean as possible.

 

 

 

 

Most of the boards performed quite well here, although both the ECS and Intel boards were almost a full 10 points behind the remaining models. SYSmark isn’t the definitive result, however, so let’s move onto our real-world testing.

Multi-Media: DivX, Adobe Lightroom & 3DS Max 9

DivX 6.7

For our video-conversion testing, we are using a 0.99GB high-quality DivX .AVI of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay. The video is just under 4 minutes in length and is in 720p resolution, which equates to a video bit rate of ~45Mbps, not dissimilar to standard 720p movies. We converted the video two different ways.

 

 

First, we encoded the video at the same resolution but a lower quality, so as to achieve a far more acceptable file size (~150MB). The second method is encoding of the same video, but to a 480×272 resolution, similar to what some mobile devices use.

 

 

 

Adobe Lightroom 1.4

Years ago, you’d have to fork over a roll of Benjamin’s in order to get a piece of great technology, but that’s not the case anymore. For a modest fee, you can set yourself up with some absolutely killer hardware. Luckily, one area where that’s definitely the case is with digital cameras. It’s cheaper than ever to own a Digital-SLR, which is the reason why they are growing in popularity so quickly. As a result, RAW photo editing is also becoming more popular, hence the topic of our next benchmark.

 

 

Adobe Lightroom is an excellent RAW photo editor/organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic. For our test, we take 100 RAW files (Nikon .NEF) which are 10 Megapixel in resolution and then export them as JPEGs in 1000×669 resolution… a result that could be easily passed around online or saved elsewhere on your machine as a low-resolution backup.

 

 

 

3DS Max 9

As an industry-leading 3D graphics application, Autodesk’s 3DS Max is one of our more important benchmarks. If there are people who will benefit from faster CPUs with lots of cores, it’s designers of 3D models, environments and animators. Some of these projects are so comprehensive that they can take days to render. At this time, the application does not support SSE4 and will likely not in the future due to irrelevant instructions.

 

 

For our test, we are taking a dragon model which is included with the application, Dragon_Character_Rig.max, and rendering it to 1080p resolution (1920×1080). For a second test, we render the same model, but all 60 frames, to a 490×270 resolution .AVI.

 

 

Between all three tests here, no board comes out a true winner. Results are flip-flopped between each one in each test, which is a good thing. It means any higher-end board you pick up today should offer roughly the same performance as anything else out there. It all comes down to features.

System: HD Tach RW/3 & Sandra Memory Tests

HD Tach R/W 3

Simpli Software’s HD Tach RW is a superb storage benchmarking tool, that’s now free for everyone to use. It’s great for benchmarking removable storage or internal storage, such as hard drives, which is what we use it for here. Since we are testing a hard drive with an OS installed, we run read tests only, as write tests would overwrite important information.

 

 

Most of the boards offer near-identical I/O performance, with the exception of the Intel DX48BT2, which falls oddly behind in the burst mode. Even that difference wouldn’t be noticed in real-world tests, though, since the average MB/s kept consistent.

SiSoftware Sandra XII

Sandra has been in my virtual toolbox for quite some time, and the reason is simply the fact that it includes many different types of synthetic benchmarks and makes for a great all-in-one. The two tests we will be focusing on is the Arithmetic and Multi-Media, however, as they are both CPU-specific.

In the Arithmetic test, the application stresses the CPU to find the maximum ALU instructions per second and floating point operations per second, in millions. In the Multi-Media test, a similar stress is executed to find the maximum int and float instructions per second.

 

 

 

 

Both the ASUS Maximus and P5E3 Premium excel in overall memory bandwidth, while the Rampage Formula and DX48BT2 fall in last place. The Rampage Formula’s reason is due to DDR2, though, so the Intel board doesn’t have much of an excuse.

Gaming: Half-Life 2: Episode Two & Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

If there is one game in our line-up that most everyone has played at some point, it would be Half-Life 2. The most recent release is Episode Two, a game that took far too long to see the light of day. But despite that, it proved to be worth the wait as it delivered more of what fans loved.

We are using a portion of the “Our Mutual Friend” level for our testing, which is a level most people who haven’t even played the game know about, thanks to Valves inclusion of it in their Episode Two trailers during the year before its release. During our gameplay, we shoot down a total of three Striders (their locations are identical with each run, since we are running a saved game file) and a barn is blown to smithereens.

 

 

Overall it’s a great level, but the Strider’s minions can prove a pain in the rear at times – most notably when they headbutt you. Nothing a little flying log won’t solve, however! This levels graphics consist mostly of open fields and trees, although there is a few explosions in the process as well, such as when you blow the Striders apart with the help of the Magnusson Device.

Settings: High graphic settings are used throughout all three resolutions, with 4x AA and 8xAF.

 

 

As with most of our other real-world tests, gaming doesn’t prove to be much different between any of our boards.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking tool released from Futuremark, effectively making most computers cry. It doesn’t matter how high-end your machine is, this is one test that will not run smoothly, and it might be a while before we come together with components that can storm through the test like many machines are doing with 3DMark 06 now.

 

 

Yet again, there are no major differences between any of our boards here, which is to be expected. What can vary heavily is overclocking and power consumption, which we’ll take on next.

Overclocking & Power Consumption

Between our three motherboards, I expected to be able to present some great overclocking reports, but that’s not so much the case.

ECS X48T-A & Intel DX48BT2

As I mentioned in our look at the ECS board itself, there are features about it that are none-too-impressive. The same applies for the overclocking-ability, sadly. The problem isn’t so much the lack of ability to overclock, but what happens if you somehow fail one.

Many of the top-quality enthusiast motherboards have built-in protections to save you in the event of a failed overclock. Meaning, if you fail an overclock, restoring the PC should be as easy as turning the machine off and waiting a few seconds before turning it back on again. Neither the ECS and Intel board made this task that easy.

On both, failing an overclock immediately results in the requirement of needing to move the small Clr CMOS switch on the motherboard. This is a massive hassle, considering hitting failed overclocks is not exactly a rarity. The ECS board was worse, however, because when you toggle the switch, it resets the entire BIOS. The Intel board, on the other hand, at least retains all settings.

Because the ECS board became a true hassle to overclock, I didn’t even attempt to go far. Even overclocking to 400MHz, which should be stable under all circumstances, didn’t work without a fair amount of effort. It’s just not worth the time.

The Intel board gave me better luck, but I’m not sure luck is what it could be considered. I had that particular board at 400MHz, but after that point, it become a true chore very quickly, leaving me to give up and not bother. It goes without saying, if you take overclocking seriously, neither of these boards are ideal.

ASUS Rampage Formula

While the ECS and Intel boards left a lot to be desire, ASUS’ board saved me from some potential wall-smashing. Like most of the other recent ASUS boards we’ve taken a look at, the Rampage Formula overclocked like a relative dream. The best part of it all was, we never had to increase the NB voltage to unsafe levels, nor the CPU.

With our Core 2 Extreme QX9650, 485MHz was deemed 100% stable. Not ultra-impressive, but we’ve never accomplished higher with this particular chip.

 

 

Throwing an E8400 into the machine blew the doors off. At a still-safe 1.65V Northbridge, we pushed the board to 555MHz and still remained entirely stable. This is the first time I’ve hit such a high stable FSB using this or any CPU, so to say I’m impressed would be an understatement.

 

 

Between our three boards, it’s apparent which one should be used for overclocking. I had higher hopes for the ECS and Intel, but their design takes all the fun out of pushing your components.

Power Consumption

To capture power consumption, we use a Kill-A-Watt which is plugged directly into the wall, with our PC plugged into it. The monitor and speakers are plugged into a different socket, so our figures here show what our entire PC draw is and nothing else.

Please note that these figures include the Corsair Nautilus 500 water-cooling system, as it feeds off of our computers power. Only one hard drive is plugged in during this testing, and the lone accessory used is a RAM fan. The network adapters are enabled, but no LAN cable is plugged in.

We test grab figures while the machine is idle, and also when the machine is utilizing half of the CPU (QX9650). We then continue to let the 50% CPU usage continue while we load up 3DMark Vantage, to grab a realistic from normal usage. In this case, it would assume playing a game that happens to utilize the CPU well.

 

 

Although X48 is still considered to be the enthusiast chipset, the power consumption of the P45 on the ASUS P5Q is fantastic. Whether or not those decreases are thanks to the chipset itself, or the EPU on that board are yet to be seen. We recently received a Gigabyte P45 board, so we’ll have a better idea once we pop it into the machine.

Between the other boards, though, not one comes out on top. All perform quite equally, which is impressive since each one offers a unique set of features onboard. The ECS did wind up being the best X48 on-hand, which isn’t that surprising as the feature-set seems a little barren when compared to the others.

Final Thoughts

With three boards in question, where do we begin? The first place might be to recognize that all three boards we took a look at here come in at a different price-range. The ECS X48T-A is the lowest of the bunch, at ~$200, becoming one of the least expensive X48 offerings on the market. This is followed by the Intel DX48BT2, which hovers around ~$250.

Then we have the robust ASUS Rampage Formula, which also carries the robust price of ~$300. The common saying is that you don’t always get what you pay for, but in the case of these three boards, that’s exactly the case.

The ECS is one of the most lackluster motherboards I’ve tested in the three years of Techgage’s existence. I wanted to like the board, but so many things frustrated me. The board’s layout has many faults and the BIOS also carries its own set of issues.

The overall lack of polish doesn’t instill the confidence that you’ve just purchased a great board either. Even the driver CD autoloads an installer that’s reminiscent of an application built with a free software application. Then add to the fact that it doesn’t even run in 64-bit Windows. There’s just so much lacking here.

The Intel board was a vast improvement over the ECS board, because it offered a more common-sense way of doing most things. Certain components on the board itself are still located in odd locations, but nothing is show-stopping.

Like other previous Intel boards I’ve tested, the overclocking here was not that ideal, and the same applies also to the ECS. So for overclocking, neither of these two should be considered. The Intel board at least has the benefit of a great-looking design and caters to the goal of ultimate stability.

Then we have the ASUS Rampage Formula, which is by far the best board out of these three. But, it’s also the most expensive, again coming back to the “pay what you get for” statement. The Formula was fun and reliable to overclock, offers the best board design of all seven tested boards and includes plentiful accessories and extras. This is one case where the extra $50 is actually going to be worth it.

All of that said, the fact of the matter is, either of these boards should offer good performance for those who want to run their machine at stock speeds. All three offer Crossfire, though the S-ATA ports might be a problem for larger cards, and all three also offer support for at least a 400MHz FSB. So for those who don’t care to overclock and would rather run their machine at stock, either of the three should serve the purpose.

It will all come down to your price-range. I doubt many would disagree that $300 is a lot for a motherboard, so the ASUS offering might be out of the reach for many. But even at the lower-end, at the $200 price-point of the ECS, better motherboards can be had if you don’t need Crossfire support, such as the P45-based ASUS P5Q Deluxe, which would personally be my first choice out of all of them. It didn’t overclock as high as we liked, but it packed in enough to make the price tag feel like a bargain.

The good thing is that right now, the choice is fantastic. There is a board at every price-point, so as long as you know what you expect from the one you have your eyes on, you shouldn’t be too disappointed.

 

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