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So far, ASUS has released two motherboards based on the new AMD 990FX chipset, the Crosshair V Formula and the Sabertooth 990FX. Both have similar specifications and feature four PCI Express x16 slots, but the Crosshair V Formula comes with a better audio codec, two additional USB 3.0 ports, better networking chip, and more overclocking options. Let’s check out the top-of-the-line socket AM3+ motherboard from ASUS.
The AMD 990FX chipset is basically an AMD 890FX chipset with a new name. There are no new features. The AMD 990FX chipset, however, is targeted to the new socket AM3+ platform, while the 890FX chipset is targeted to the socket AM3 platform. This way, AMD is providing an easy way to identify the platform through the chipset name. Socket AM3+ motherboards support the forthcoming AMD CPUs based on the new “Bulldozer” architecture. So, even though the chipset is the same, 890FX motherboards won’t support this new generation of AMD processors.
The ASUS Crosshair V Formula comes with four PCI Express x16 slots, one PCI Express x1 slot, and one standard PCI slot.
The first PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE_X16_1) always runs at x16 speed; the second PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE_X8/X1_2) always runs at x8 speed; the third PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE_X16/X8_3) runs at x16 speed when the second PCI Express x16 slot is empty or at x8 speed when this other slot is used; and the fourth PCI Express x16 slot (PCIE_X4_4) always runs at x4 speed. This way, in order to achieve the best performance if you are installing two video cards, you should install them in the first and third slots, not in the first and second slots as it would appear more logical.
The PCI Express x1 slot is located between the first and the second PCI Express x16 slot, so you will “kill” it when installing a dual-slot video card in the first PCI Express x16 slot. The standard PCI slot is located between the second and the third PCI Express x16 slot, so you will “kill” it when installing a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot. And, since there is no space between the third and the fourth PCI Express x16 slots, you will “kill” the fourth PCI Express x16 slot when installing a dual-slot video card in the third PCI Express x16 slot. In order to install a dual-slot video card in the fourth PCI Express x16 slot, you will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots (cases usually have seven), and you may block the headers and buttons located at the edge of the motherboard.
All PCI Express x16 slots support both CrossFireX and SLI modes.
As you can see in the extreme left-hand side of Figure 2, there is a peripheral power plug to provide more current to the PCI Express x16 slots. The motherboard also has an additional ATX12V connector, located near the memory socket, with the same purpose. You must install these connectors.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
Currently, the integrated memory controller of AMD processors support only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but ASUS says the Crosshair V Formula supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The ASUS Crosshair V Formula has four memory sockets and, since DDR3 memory modules can now be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
The first and third sockets are red, while the second and fourth are black. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules in order to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them in the red sockets.
The Crosshair V Formula has a button called “Go” near its memory sockets. When it is pressed while you turn on your computer, the motherboard will test your memory modules for compatibility (function known as “MemOK!”). When pressed after the operating system is loaded, it will instruct the system to load an overclocking preset file you’ve created before.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
The AMD 990FX chipset is a two-chip solution. The south bridge chip is an SB950 chip, which is a renamed SB850. This chip supports six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). These ports are located on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. The Crosshair V Formula has one additional SATA-600 port and one eSATA-600 port, controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip. There is no support for a floppy disk drive controller or an ATA-133 port.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also has six USB 3.0 ports, controlled by three ASMedia ASM1042 chips. Four ports are located on the motherboard rear panel, and two are located on a front panel header.
The Crosshair V Formula doesn’t have FireWire (IEEE1394) ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is an outstanding solution, providing an impressive 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs. This means you are able to capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) with this motherboard without adding any background noise.
The portrayed motherboard comes with independent analog audio outputs with gold-plated jacks and an optical SPDIF output. You can add a coaxial SPDIF output or route digital audio to your video card to
have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “SPDIF_OUT” header.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by an Intel WG82583V chip, which is touted to present higher performance than the Realtek RTL8111 chip commonly used on competing products.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with PS/2 keyboard and mouse shared connector, four USB 3.0 ports (blue), eight USB 2.0 ports, optical SPDIF connector, one eSATA-600 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs. The white USB 2.0 port may be used by the ROG Connect feature, which we will talk about in the next page.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The ASUS Crosshair V Formula has other features. Like other members of the Republic of Gamers (ROG) series, it allows you to connect a laptop to your computer to remotely control the overclocking settings of your system. The inspiration of this feature is the racing car scene, where technicians connect a laptop to the car’s system in order to tweak the injection system and improve performance. To use this feature, you need to install the special white USB cable that comes with the product to the motherboard white USB 2.0 connector, and change the position of a switch labeled “ROG_CONNECT,” available behind the analog audio outputs, next to the additional power connector. See Figure 7.
If your computer doesn’t turn on, the product has a series of four LEDs that tell you which device (CPU, memory, first video card or boot device) failed to initialize.
The motherboard allows the installation of three thermal sensors for you to monitor the temperature of any device or spot inside your computer you want, also allowing you to control the speed of auxiliary fans based on the temperature levels read by the these sensors. These optional sensors must be installed in the “OPT_TEMP1,” “OPT_TEMP2” or “OPT_TEMP3” headers, and they are available next to the “OPT_FAN1,” “OPT_FAN2,” and “OPT_FAN3” fan headers.
In Figure 9, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Crosshair V Formula has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (VDD a.k.a. Vcore) and two for the CPU VDDNB voltage (integrated memory controller, HyperTransport bus controller, and L3 memory cache). Therefore, it uses an “8+2” configuration.
This motherboard uses solid ferrite-core coils, which present less energy loss than iron-core coils (i.e., they improve efficiency), and solid capacitors, using a digital design.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
The ASUS Crosshair V Formula offers several overclocking options. There is an overclocking button next to the power and reset buttons, which allows you to load overclocking presets.
The motherboard allows you to monitor the CPU main voltage, CPU PLL (VDDA) voltage, memory voltage, north bridge, HyperTransport, south bridge, and VDDNB voltages using a voltmeter. See Figure 13. ASUS calls this feature “ProbeIt.”
There are four sets of LEDs with a green, a yellow, and a red LED on the motherboard. The first set, labeled “CPU,” allows you to monitor either the CPU main voltage, the CPU VDDNB voltage, or the CPU PLL (VDDA) voltage. The second set, labeled “DDR,” can monitor either the memory voltage or the memory bus (VDDR) voltage. The third set, labeled “NB,” monitors either the north bridge chip voltage or the PCI Express voltage. And the fourth set, labeled “SB,” monitors either the south bridge chip voltage or the HyperTransport voltage. You configure which voltage the LEDs will monitor inside the motherboard setup.
The green LEDs mean voltages are around their normal range, the yellow LEDs mean voltages are high, and the red LEDs mean voltages are very high, or “crazy,” as ASUS calls it. The colors will change depending on the voltages you configure, and on page 2-15 of the product manual, there is a table showing the ranges that each color represents.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options (Cont’d)”]
Below we list the main overclocking options available in the motherboard setup program (0404 BIOS). Pay attention to how you can configure the CPU voltages starting from zero volt. This is the first time we’ve seen such an option.
- CPU base clock: From 100 MHz to 600 MHz in
1 MHz increments
- PCI Express clock: From 100 MHz to 150 MHz in 1 MHz increments
- CPU core (VDD) voltage: From 0.0000 V to 1.7500 V in 0.00625 V increments
- Memory controller (VDDNB) voltage: From 0.0000 V to 1.55000 V in 0.00625 V increments
- CPU PLL (VDDA) voltage: From 2.20000 V to 3.18750 V in 0.00625 V increments
- North bridge (NB) voltage: From 0.80000 V to 2.00000 V in 0.00625 V increments
- North bridge (NB) 1.8 V voltage: From 1.80200 V to 3.00775 V in 0.01325 V increments
- South bridge (SB) voltage: From 1.11300 V to 1.80200 V in 0.01325 V increments
- HyperTransport voltage: From 0.80000 V to 2.00000 V in 0.00625 V increments
- PCI Express voltage: From 1.11300 V to 2.00075 V in 0.01325 V increments
- Memory voltage: From 1.20000 V to 2.90000 V in 0.00625 V increments
- Memory bus (VDDR) voltage: From 1.20575 V to 1.80200 V in 0.01325 V increments
- Memory reference voltage: From 0.5900 V to 0.9750 V in 0.0625 V increments
For a better understanding of what these options do, please read our Understanding All Voltage Configurations from the Motherboard tutorial.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASUS Crosshair V Formula motherboard include:
- Socket: AM3+
- Chipset: AMD 990FX
- Super I/O: ITE8721F
- Parallel ATA: None
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10) and one SATA-600 port controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- External SATA: One eSATA-600 port controlled by the same ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- USB 2.0: 12 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: Six ports, four soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through one header on the motherboard, controlled by three ASMedia ASM1042 chips
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): None
- On-board video: No
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 KHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by an Intel WG82583V chip
- Buzzer: No
- Infrared interface: No
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Four PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (x16/x1/x16/x4 or x16/x8/x8/x4, supporting CrossFireX and SLI), one PCI Express x1 slot, and one standard PCI slot
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-2133, 32 GB maximum)
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and seven four-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra Features: Support for three temperature sensors controlling three fans, voltage measuring points, POST diagnostics LEDs, ROG Connect, Go button, overclocking button
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
- Programs included: Kaspersky anti-virus, Daemon Tools Pro Standard, and motherboard utilities
- More Information: https://www.asus.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 240.00
* Researched at Google Shopping on the day we published this First Look article.[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]
The ASUS Crosshair V Formula is clearly targeted to the serious overclocking enthusiast, providing a series of options and fine-tuning adjustments not available on competing products (you can lower the CPU voltage down to zero volt, for example). Some of the features clearly targeted to the enthusiast include the support for seven four-pin fans (three of them adjustable through three optional thermal sensors), voltage measuring points, voltage monitoring LEDs, and the ROG Connect feature.
As expected, it comes with a series of high-end options, such as four PCI Express x16 slots (working at x16/x1/x16/x4 or x16/x8/x8/x4), six USB 3.0 ports, seven SATA-600 ports, a professional-grade audio quality with optical SPDIF output, Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a high-end chip, and gold-plated analog audio connectors.
The Crosshair V Formula is more expensive than the other motherboards based on the AMD 990FX chipset we’ve seen so far. So, if you are not into overclocking and still want a motherboard full of features, you will be better off with other motherboards in the USD 200 range, including the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX. However, if you are a serious overclocker, paying an extra USD 40 to get the Crosshair V Formula and its extra overclocking features may be a good deal.
Even though the ASUS Crosshair V Formula is mainly targeted to the forthcoming CPUs based on the AMD “Bulldozer” architecture, it is already available on the market, supporting current-generation CPUs.