Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Great Trans-Siberian PC Build - part 3

This is a part of a series on a computer that I am building. For links to all of the articles in the series, click here.

Asus Crosshair V Formula 990FX

The Asus Crosshar V Formula is the latest incarnation of the popular enthusiasts board from Asus' Republic of Gamers department. It is designed with the serious overclocker in mind and it comes with a whole heap of features to help those in pursuit of faster clock speeds. In fact, whilst researching and writing this piece, it has come to my attention that the current world record for an overclocked personal computer runs on this board at a whopping 8.4GHz across all 8 cores on an AMD FX octa-core processor!

The motherboard taken out of its packaging.
First off, let me run over some of the specification of the motherboard:

CPU: The motherboard claims to be AM3+ meaning that it supports Athlon II, Sempron, Phenom II and the newest FX series of processors. Which means it has support for up to 8 core processors with up to a 140W of  power drawn through it safely.

Chipset: The chipset on the motherboard is the AMD 990FX/SB950, which I apologise doesn't hold much meaning to me, except that it is a newer design and is faster and better than the older chipsets.

Memory: The motherboard has a total of 4 DIMM slots that accept DDR3 RAM, up to 8GB each for a total of 32GB. Which is plenty of upgrade-ability, should future versions of windows or firefox start hogging up huge amounts of RAM. (In their defence, the newer versions of Firefox, 7 and 8 that is, have focused on speeding up Firefox and fixing memory leaks; Mozilla have done a great job so far and I am now slowly shifting back to Firefox from Chrome). The RAM slots support a variety of default speeds and overclocked speeds and voltages, which is great for people wanting to overclock their RAM modules to get their system a few nanoseconds faster.

Expansion cards/GPU: The board supports a variety of PCIe type expansion cards. And also allows for up to 3 graphics cards to work in tandem. The terminology for this is SLI (for Nvidia cards) and CrossfireX (for ATI based cards).

Storage: For those of us who have a lot of files and require large amounts of storage, this motherboard provides ample storage ports in the form of 6GB SATA and 2 eSATA ports (one external on the back). The 6 SATA ports could effectively be hooked up to 2TB hard drives for a massive 12TB of storage :O otherwise, they could also be used for a RAID setup of your choosing. Being price conscious, I don't intend to fill up my case with lots of hard drives and I may make do with 2 hard drives and possibly one SSD for the OS installation.

This also gives me an idea to run a test to see if I can beat the 14 second Debian boot time that some people claim to be able to do. An operating system booting in less than 14 seconds, now that is true art.

USB: The motherboard has 6 USB 3.0 ports (4 at the back, and 2 on the motherboard, which require additional cables to reroute to the front of the case). USB 3.0 is a massive increase on USB 2.0 speeds and devices touting the USB 3.0 labels are springing up on websites that sell these products. The high price point and low availability is probably holding back these products and as prices become lower, we should see sale figures go up as well as general usage of USB 3.0. As I dont have any USB 3.0 compatible hardware yet (yes I know, shame on me), this is a great addition for future-proofing my PC.

The amount of effort put into the motherboard shows
Audio:  Asus have built into the motherboard, what they call the SupremeFX X-Fi 2 audio controller. It features improved sound quality over default on-board sound chipsets, but the labelling and marketing strategy hides away the fact that most of the complex audio encoding/decoding is done with an audio codec via the device driver. This may cause issues for people considering running Linux or Hackintosh projects - as I'm unsure about driver availability for this motherboard for other platforms. The sound is indeed brilliant compared to a default sound card on my old motherboard. And for audiophiles and people craving better sound for their games this will suffice. For the more serious music makers, perhaps you should consider purchasing a high end discrete sound card - this is not a replacement.

The thunderbolt add-on card (if you purchase that with the motherboard (I don't think it is sold separately)) provides better sound quality and also bundles a dedicated networking card, that supposedly performs some sort of magic to enable faster and better gaming in a LAN environment. This may be due to throttling bandwidth or performing hardware based packet QOS in realtime. Eitherway if sound and LAN are an absolute necessity, this is a great add-on to purchase. For me, I didnt bother with it, as the motherboard already performs great out of the box.

Overclocking: The motherboard has a tonne of overclocking features built in, such as an advanced UEFI BIOS that allows saving multiple profiles and an automatic recovery mode should your last overclock shut the PC down. Since I've never used the board before I wont comment on these features here, but as I do build my PC, I will comment on what overclocking features are included and how effective they are.

The motherboard comes with enough basic support for the BIOS and OS install, the DVD that comes along with the PC includes windows drivers (and a nice Asus InstALL feature - that installs all the required drivers for the chipset). The DVD also seems to include linux drivers (yay - for dual booters), but as of yet, I haven't tested them and cannot comment further.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. The motherboard comes with plenty more features and I suggest you go over to the Asus site or the ROG site to check out all of the features.

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