Crosshair Formula IV
A big part of Asus’ Crosshair series of motherboards is the Republic of Gamers branding. It seems like nothing more than a marketing tag upon first glance – something to have a set of products stand out as being for gamers. Asus is trying to go beyond what Abit tried to do with Fatal1ty branding though, and are offering a bit more than just a fancy sticker on the box. There are several community sites for ROG, where Asus users can participate and share discussions, as well as contests and information directly from Asus’ ROG division. No, you don’t need to own an ROG product to participate, but it’s interesting to see them do something more when branding a product. There are also quite a few features that are exclusive to this product lineup.
Let’s take a trip around the Crosshair Formula IV, to see if this Republic of Gamers product has any substance to go with all that flash (click any image for full res). Starting with the bottom corner, we have four PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots. Thanks to the 890FX chipset, there are a total of 42 lanes available. That means that these slots will auto-adjust depending on usage. Default setting is 16/1/16/4, but when three video cards are used, it switches to 16/8/8/4. Although we think that 8+8 is enough for today’s SLI setups, it’s nice to know that you have absolutely full bandwidth available with this board.
Along with nice large power and reset buttons are two more buttons which serve special functions. The Turbo Key II Switch, and the Core Unlocker Switch, which we’ll get to later. Mixed in with the PCI-E slots are three fan headers (there are a total of eight fan headers on this board), and two extra thermal sensor cable connectors, which can be used to control some of the fans connected to the board. There are also headers for 1394a, and front panel audio in this area. In this busy section of the board, we have headers for USB 2.0, and a proprietary header for the Asus OC Station product. The front panel header is not colour-coded, but Asus do include a matching “Q Connector” which allows you to connect all your front panel cables into one plug, and attach that into the board itself. This is probably the best way I have seen the non-standard front panel header ‘issue’ handled.
Along the edge of the board are six SATA connectors, going to the SB850 southbridge. These all give SATA 6.0 Gbps connectivity, while the single black SATA port goes to the onboard Jmicron JMB363 SATA 3.0 Gbps controller. This controller is included solely for the purpose of adding eSATA, and should only be used for external drives, or optical drives (as you’ll see later in the review). You may also notice the “Go Button” in the top right corner of this section. The BIOS allows you to set custom voltages for various components to a single temporary slot that will only be loaded when this button is pressed during boot. This is just one of the many features we’re going to come across that sets this board apart from the rest. Next up, we have the DIMM section, and as you can see, the DIMM slots are spaced pretty well away from the top video card. To make our lives even easier, AMD has employed a single-tab design for the DIMMs, meaning you will no longer have to fight with the tabs when installing or uninstalling RAM if the video card’s heatsink is blocking them from being opened. Along the bottom edge of this area of the board is the “ProbeIt” section. These little tabs give direct access with a multimeter to various components’ voltages on the board. Even the rear panel stands out from most boards you come across! First of all, there are six USB 2.0 ports, to go along with a pair of NEC-controlled USB 3.0 ports. The single vertical USB port you see is actually an OUTPUT for the ROG Connect function, which we’ll look at in detail later. Along with the standard ports (LAN, 1394a, eSATA, audio, SPDIF, and oddly a PS/2 mouse port) are more buttons. The first one is a Clear CMOS switch, for easy clearing when an overclock goes bad (the jumper method is still available). The second is the switch for ROG Connect. As you can see, the Crosshair IV Formula is a gorgeous board, with a ton of fascinating features added that we’ll dig into on the following pages.