The Overclocking DNA - ASUS Rampage II Gene (Intel X58)


A Lean Mean Board

A Lean Mean Board

If you have seen the ASUS Rampage II Extreme, you have seen the Rampage II Gene. With the exception of a few small but thoughtful touches that recognizes the limitations of a microATX board, the design and appearance of the Gene very much takes after its ATX compatriot.

The Gene may not have as many ports and connectors at the rear panel as larger motherboards but we have no complaints about the mix of ports chosen, with eSATA, USB 2.0, FireWire and even a Clear CMOS button included.

The color scheme and labels for instance look to be wholly transplanted from the Extreme. And when we glanced through the manual, most of the ROG overclocking features are intact. Some of the more extravagant features on the Extreme of course did not make the cut, like the TweakIT panel which allowed users to change their overclocked settings on the fly, without exiting an application or even going into the BIOS. This feature took up too much valuable PCB space.

The LCD Poster module, the LED display that shows important board settings remain, along with the ROG integrated chip that manages all these overclocking features. The other overclocking features are not as obvious, being BIOS related settings or utilities that are launched in Windows. There is a new feature though, MemOK!, which ASUS claims to help reduce memory compatibility issues by checking current settings and making sure that they work.

Besides the Power and Reset buttons, the new feature on the Gene is the small red circular button that is the MemOK! switch, a memory rescue tool from ASUS that claims to patch memory issues by ensuring that the memory settings are correct.

Features are reduced accordingly from the Extreme. The microATX Gene has only a pair of PCIe 2.0 x16 graphics slots, down from the three on the Extreme, though they support both CrossFire and SLI in a full, dual x16 configuration. ASUS has fortunately decided not to reduce the number of DIMM slots, though extraneous features like the floppy drive has been removed. The expansion slots too take a cut, with only one PCIe x4 and a PCI slot to complement the dual x16 slots.

The six blue SATA ports come from the ICH10R hub with the sole black SATA port from the JMB363 controller. You can also get a glimpse of the ASUS iROG chip here that enables the overclocking features on this board.

It may bear all the Creative trademark technologies but despite its EAX 4.0 support, this is not a Creative product at heart. What's on the Gene is actually Analog Devices' AD200B audio CODEC. We have seen it as an add-on card on the Rampage II Extreme but ASUS has apparently put it onboard for the Gene.

The Gigabit LAN controller too has been reduced from a pair to a single while the separate SupremeFX audio riser card is now integrated onboard. Optical S/PDIF and the usual audio jacks are present in case you're worried. Even the extra two BIOS chip on the Extreme are halved to just one.

The DIMM slots on the Gene only have the usual latches on one end. The other end, shown here has no latches, making it easier to remove in a space constrained environment like a microATX board. Notice too how close the IDE and power connectors are placed.

Another concession to the lack of space on a microATX board is the design of the PCIe x16 slots on the Gene. These slots have latches that make the add-on cards easy to remove, unlike those that require one to press a button or push a lever, which may be difficult in a confined area.

As we mentioned earlier, ASUS has added in small touches to alleviate the expected limited confines of a microATX form factor. This has resulted in an unusual design of DIMM and PCIe x16 slots that make the memory modules and expansion cards easier to install and remove. It's a good move, as the DIMM slots are indeed much too close to the leftmost PCIe 2.0 x16 slot and this ensures that there are no issues when swapping these components.

Other design considerations include the outwardly aligned SATA ports and the location of the onboard battery right at the edge of the board for easy removal. Except for a fan header that's in the middle of the board, ASUS has pushed all its connectors and ports onboard to the edges for easy access.

Board layout and design is paramount for a smaller form factor and ASUS seems to have this aspect well and truly covered. All in all, ASUS has managed to keep a healthy selection of features, with FireWire and eSATA retained while cutting out the flab.

ASUS has implemented an 8-phase CPU power design on the Rampage II Gene, with additional (not shown here) 2-phase power for the QPI/DRAM, NB and memory.