Hello and welcome to the review of the ASUS CROSSHAIR III FORMULA motherboard.
I was thinking about doing a new review for a while, and it struck me that a number of us have picked up new AM3 CPU’s over the last couple of months with the 550 BE being one of the favorites.
Today, there is barely any competition for the 550 BE at that price point (especially when unlocked) and it is quickly becoming one of the best VFM processors that one can buy. Keeping this in mind, and looking at how most of us have actually looked at teaming it up with an AM2+ motherboard, specially the Biostar lineup, I decided to give Asus a call and ask them for a review piece of their top of the line AMD solution….the ASUS CROSSHAIR III FORMULA.
The ASUS Crosshair III Formula isn’t a new kid on the block but that hardly means its old news. This is the third version of ASUS’s top of the line AMD motherboards and it is a vast departure from the previous versions in that it no longer uses an Nvidia chipset to provide SLI. ASUS has jumped on the Dragon platform by using AMD’s 790FX chipset and providing two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots with CrossFire functionality. I wish we could have at least one motherboard with SLI functionality but we will leave that rant for later.
The Crosshair III comes with AMD’s 790 FX and the SB 750 combo. This has proved to be by far one of the best platforms for all AMD chips till date, with all the three top contenders for the AMD motherboard crown running the same configuration. Let’s take a look at the features and specifications first:
Whew…that’s one hell of a list. Let’s take a look at the bundle now.
UNPACKING THE DRAGON
The Crosshair III comes in a nice dark red packaging with the ROG emblem right on top. This is very different from the M4A series, which is much more somber in its choice of colors.
When we open the box, we are greeted by two more boxes, one of which holds the motherboard, and the other holds all the accessories, manuals and CD’s.
The Crosshair III, ships with a separate SupremeFX X-Fi Audio Card as well as something that I have really come to like, the LCD poster. This is one device which really makes over clocking and system monitoring a lot easier.
The other thing to really catch my eye was the rear motherboard plate, which has a nice foam lining on the inside. This makes it a whole lot easier to install. The rear panel also has one of the other noteworthy features, which is the clear CMOS button. Now a lot of the top end boards have a clear CMOS button, but you have to open up your case to access it. The button on the rear panel really makes it easier to correct mistakes in your OC settings.
Let’s take a closer look at the board now:
The board uses the heat pipe technology and connects the PWM area with the Northbridge and the Southbridge. This cooling solution makes the board run a lot cooler than the MSI GD70. The fancy ROG emblem lights up when the system is on and for all those who like BLING – this is it. Right at the bottom you have the power and reset buttons as well as the MemOK buttons. The MemOK button helps you to configure your memory without any extra effort, but I didn’t really use this feature, as I dint have any memory problems. I only wish Asus had kept the PCB black instead of the chocolate brown. It would have looked a lot better.
The motherboard comes with 2 PCIE X16 lanes, and this is a bit of a letdown as I would love to have the top end model run with a tri-fire or quad-fire solution. The MSI GD70 seems to have got it right on this front.
For today’s test I used my AMD AM3 test bed sitting in the CM 590. The graphics will be handled by the 4890. Windows Vista Ultimate with Service Pack 2 was used in testing along with the latest revisions of our testing applications. The CPU was run at 3.2GHz, with all four cores unlocked to simulate a Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition while the Northbridge was run at 2.4GHz with 1.2v and the memory was run at DDR3-1333 6-6-5-18 with 1.65v.
When it comes to over clocking, I’d say Asus delivers 9 out of 10 times. With all the inputs from overclockers around the world, Asus have really worked hard on getting the bios right. I’d rather not go into each and every setting in the bios, as thats something you can see of a google search, but will concentrate on getting the best out of the chip that I have with me.
The best over clock that I was able to achieve with this board was a stable 3.85 Ghz on three cores, which is about 50 Mhz more than what I could do with the MSI. The Load line calibration helps a lot to keep v-drop and droop to a minimum. In fact I would venture so far as to say, there is a slight v- pickup, rather than droop on load. The Northbridge was also scaling well and I am sure I could have done a lot better if I had more time.
To test the board without any benchmark would be meaningless. Therefore I benched the results with the exact same configuration setup with the MSI GD70. For the tests I looked at basically three benchmarks.
So let’s get on with the results:
Lets start with the memory.
The results as expected are very very close and can any differences can be put down to any background processes running at the time of the test, even though I did take an average of three runs for each board. The variance between the two is within 2 percent, so I would rather put that down to testing error.
3DMark 06, did give us some variance in the results, with the GD70 narrowly beating the Crosshair III. The results are as below:
As you can see the graphics performance is a bit better in the MSI, giving it the edge to beat the Asus. The Asus meanwhile takes away the CPU score round.
Finally we come to 3DMark Vantage. Once again the MSI narrowly beats the Asus, again due to the performance of the GPU.
Now, since we ran the exact same cards on both the boards, I can only deduce that the PCIE and bios implementation is better on the MSI board.
But do keep in mind that the Asus is relatively new and therefore this may improve with changes to the bios.
PRICING AND CONCLUSION
The Asus Crosshair III is now available for around USD 200. At this price it is about USD 10 more than the Gigabyte 790FXT and USD 50 more than the MSI GD70. The CPU scores in all the testing that we did proves that the Crosshair III is no slouch and out of the two boards we tested today, it has the most well implemented power management system. There is practically no v-drop or droop to speak of. The bios have gone through a couple of revisions and I was using version 0903, which is still to be officially released. This is probably the 4th or 5th bios release for the Asus compared to probably the 20th for the MSI board. I hope further bios revisions do make up for the loss in the GPU scores. The bundle which comes with the Asus, including the LCD Poster, the foam backed motherboard plate, the rear positioned clear CMOS button and the sound card, do add up to quite a bit of extras that cannot be simply ignored. The overall “Bling” on the board is also hard to resist. Overall, for a serious over clockers going the AMD route, this is the board to beat. The CPU scores in all the tests that I did were better than the MSI and the overall features and settings are better suited to over clocking. Future Bios revisions should also help with better GPU performances and take this to the top of the mountain.
Rating: A 4/5 for the bundle and the implementation. Go for it!!!