ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z Review: Cream of the Crop for AM3+
More Digging on the Crosshair V Formula-Z
ROG Connect is still featured with this board, as with previous generations. This allows the user to tweak the board while not actually on it. A USB cable is connected to an external computer/notebook and the ROG software installed. Theoretically this allows the user to tweak the machine and view the results externally, so in case a change does crash the system the user can more easily identify what all went on from the external, stable station.
Asus does not skimp when it comes to ROG products. The board is packed with accessories and goodies.
While the power delivery and memory redesign are important, there is one other area that received the lion’s share of attention. The audio portion of this board puts it above nearly every other integrated option out there. The SupremeFX III audio setup is very impressive from a design aspect. First off Asus drops the Creative X-Fi software functionality and goes with a DTS based software stack. Asus utilizes what looks to be one of the top end Realtek audio codecs which features up to a 110 db SNR. I was unable to get a model number as it is covered by a metal shield. That shield is supposed to protect the chip from any EMI interference.
The primary goal appears to be getting as clean of a signal to the outputs as possible. The “Redline” feature of the PCB does a couple of things. First off it glows when power is turned on. This is a neat effect. Secondly it separates the portion of the PCB that passes audio to the outputs from the rest of the board. This keeps interference from the connected layers of the PCB minimized as compared to a traditional board. Next Asus routes the lines through the middle of what is a multi-layer PCB board. The extra layers of plastics and copper again shields these connections from external sources of EMI. Asus claims that in lab tests they are seeing a true 110db SNR. This may not hold up under all conditions, but this is what they have documented in their testing.
The last big feature of the audio subsystem is that of high quality capacitors combined with a single, large 1500 uF capacitor. Most caps that are used for audio purposes supplies 10 to 22 uF of power. In certain circumstances with high output audio, these capacitors can totally drain, and this can lead to clipping and lower quality audio in these high power settings. Think large explosions, lots of action, and multiple streams all going at once. By utilizing the large capacitor, it is less likely that it will be drained and it will keep the audio outputs consistent at high levels.
The design, for being so feature packed, still has somewhat uncluttered feel to it.
I asked JJ Guerero of Asus why they decided to skip on using Creative for this generation of board. As is well known, the previous Crosshair boards utilized the X-Fi software stack to provide EAX support as well as effects. JJ was able to get back to me with this information.
The better question is why go with Creative when no current game has been developed with EAX support, or has been in some time. The perception that Creative cards are better for gaming is just perception, in our opinion and that of many others as well. We take our design implementations seriously and process a great deal of feedback when considering how and with what to proceed for the new Supreme FX design. We spent considerable time internally and with the community gauging and evaluating quality and performance measurements and their opinions. Overall the feedback internally and from the community confirmed our findings in that audio is driven by total design not just a singular choice on the codec or controller used. In addition over the years we have continued to see game developers base their audio engines on Dolby or DTS audio technologies. In this respect our experience with onboard codecs and discrete calls controllers under our Xonar line have given us years of experience at making great sounding sound cards. When combined with our innovative ROG development team, time and patience, and a lot of trial and error we were able to maximize full performance of the HD Audio codec and bring Supreme FX III to our ROG series motherboards. We did feel though Creative’s excellent software could still be leveraged to offer more customization and audio processing for end users. This design for software choice varies as we have also utilized the outstanding DTS Ultra II PC audio software suite.
The goal with Supreme FX as we discussed on the call we had…. is total sound quality ( music, movies and games ) and to upgrade the listening experience and improve immersion. We feel we understand this market and user base quite well as we are the only component vendor who has a dedicated audio division to leverage insight and real world experience from. The benefit is we can leverage this experience and insight when we first phased in SupremeFX III and RedLine/Isolated design.In addition we felt this was an area that could be improved upon considerably as integrated audio designs have considerable influencing factors that reduce their operating metrics/performance and effect the total experience and immersion. In the end the goal of achieving fully rated operating specifications was difficult but achieved.
We felt the performance which translates to tonality, soundstage, clarity, response and even volume range of the onboard solution when fully maximized would really allow for a clear improvement when compared to a standard onboard experience. At the end of the day spec is not what matters but the actual experience of playing games, listening to music and watching movies. Outside of the minimum guarantees like increase in VRMSS driving strength (which will have our solution operate at louder volume level ). Aligning with the spec a true 110db level of operation with a solid performing SnR level and 24bit support is impressive.
Additionally Creative’s move to Sound Core caused us to re evaluate the design implemented to see if our focus on our design was still sensible. Changes in the design of Sound Core to XFI were considerable including the integrationof a HD Codec similar to the Codec solutions already on motherboard, this is a simplification as there are number of advanced other functions present in their design. With that noted our focus was audio experience not audio processing, effects or features that were present in Sound Core. We felt through comparative testing Sound Core sound wise is inferior to X-Fi. It just did not sound as good to us, additionally we felt from a cost to performance ratio we could offer a solid discrete class audio experience comparable to a $30 to 40 dollar sound card onboard. This will still keep our BOM cost in the right place to introduce/maintain other key innovative technologies like Intel Lan with Game First, Full AV License, Daemon Tools Pro, USB Bios Flashback, Advanced fan controls and super I/O controller, USB 3 Boost etc.
In the end sound is about a balanced design offering isolation, improvement in fidelity and flexibility in management of the audio ( profiles, processing etc ). We feel with Supreme FX III we are offering the full operating performance of the integrated codec but with additional design work that also provides a better experience as a whole.
Interesting stuff, I think JJ should be a novelist.
The audio portion has received a tremendous amount of attention. Note that white line on the PCB that separates it from the rest of the board? Keep watch for it later.
I also asked JJ as to why with so many low level changes to the board did they not brand it the Crosshair VI? The answer to that one is the chipset. They are still utilizing the 990FX/SB950 that the previous CHV did. If we remember, going with the 890FX Asus branded the board the Crosshair IV. I guess this makes sense, but it almost does a disservice to this board. The Crosshair V Formula-Z is a very different beast from the previous iteration.