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ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z Review: Cream of the Crop for AM3+

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASUS

AM3+ Last Gasp?

 

Over the past several years I have reviewed quite a few Asus products.  The ones that typically grab my attention are the ROG based units.  These are usually the most interesting, over the top, and expensive products in their respective fields.  Ryan has reviewed the ROG graphics cards, and they have rarely disappointed.  I have typically taken a look at the Crosshair series of boards that support AMD CPUs.

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Crosshair usually entails the “best of the best” when it comes to features and power delivery.  My first brush with these boards was the Crosshair IV.  That particular model was only recently taken out of my primary work machine.  It proved itself to be an able performer and lasted for years (even overclocked).  The Crosshair IV Extreme featured the Lucid Hydra chip to allow mutli-GPU performance without going to pure SLI or Crossfire.  The Crosshair V got rid of Lucid and added official SLI support and it incorporated the Supreme FX II X-Fi audio.  All of these boards have some things in common.  They are fast, they overclock well, and they are among the most expensive motherboards ever for the AMD platform.

So what is there left to add?  The Crosshair V is a very able platform for Bulldozer and Piledriver based parts.  AMD is not updating the AM3+ chipsets, so we are left with the same 990FX northbridge and the SB950 southie (both of which are essentially the same as the 890FX/SB850).  It should be a simple refresh, right?  We had Piledriver released a few months ago and there should be some power and BIOS tweaks that can be implemented and then have a rebranded board.  Sounds logical, right?  Well, thankfully for us, Asus did not follow that path.

The Asus Crosshair V Formula Z is a fairly radical redesign of the previous generation of products.  The amount of extra features, design changes, and power characteristics make it a far different creature than the original Crosshair V.  While both share many of the same style features, under the skin this is a very different motherboard.  I am rather curious why Asus did not brand this as the “Crosshair VI”.  Let’s explore, shall we?

Click here to read the entire review on the ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z

 

Going Under the Skin

The styling decisions make the Formula Z and the previous board look nearly identical, but that is of course only skin deep.  The same red and black motif was retained, and at a quick glance it seems that only the addition of a couple SATA ports and the exchange of a PCI slot with a PCI-E are the only changes.  This is not the case, and the changes throughout the entire design are dramatic.  The PCB redesign is big, and so is the power delivery system.  The audio subsystem perhaps received the most attention out of the entire spin.

The power delivery system has two major upgrades.  The first is that it uses the newer and supposedly more powerful Extreme Engine Digi + II.  This controls the power phases to deliver the necessary power when needed, and to do so quickly with as little lag as possible.  This insures that a CPU will get the power it needs in both normal and overclocked states.  It also allows for more aggressive power throttling to keep consumption and heat production down.  The second upgrade is going from an 8-2 phase system to 8-2-2.  8 phases go to the CPU cores, 2 phases supply the memory controller and un-core features of the CPU, while an extra two phases supply the main memory.  Typically memory only utilizes one phase, but the extra phase again should allow for more even power delivery to the DIMMS, allowing them to run more reliably at higher clock speeds.

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Opening the cover reveals more information about the board.

Speaking of memory, the board actually supports the use of DDR-3 2400 DIMMS.  The native memory speed of the latest Piledriver processors is DDR-3 1866.  Through judicious overclocking the user can get that to 2400+ MHz.  Two reasons for this improvement over the previous board (2133 speeds) is that of the extra power phase and the use of the T-Topology design.  Essentially this design makes sure that the memory traces are routed in such a way so that the individual DIMM channels will see the same length of traces.  This allows for higher speeds due to signaling factors.

The board has a total of 10 SATA 6G ports, two of which are e-SATA.  The first six ports are the native units from the SB950 southbridge, while the other four are from the ASMedia controller.  This should allow a maximum amount of flexibility when installing storage solutions.  Asus also removed the last PCI slot from their design.  They have replaced it with another PCI-E x1 slot.  The board has four x16 slots, the last of which is electrically x4 compatible.  The setup allows for three way CrossFire and SLI, as well as NVIDIA Quad SLI with 2 x GTX 690s.

Ethernet is the same as the last generation board, but with a couple of changes.  It still uses the Intel Gig-E controller and the ROG Gamefirst II QOS software.  Asus has done a lot of programming here to improve the user experience by including the new “EZ Mode” network administration package.  This is a simple point and click interface which controls a lot of the advanced functionality of the Ethernet controller.  People can quickly get up to speed about how it works and what advantages there are to using the functionality.

The UEFI BIOS implementation is still among the best in the business.  All settings are easy to access, most of them have a helpful description about what they do, and the integrated tools such as EPROM readers and the BIOS flash utility are very handy.  Something that we have not seen much of before is the ability of the D.O.C.P. overclocking functionality to read both XMP and AMP memory profiles.  XMP was released by Intel to optimize memory timings, while AMP is the AMD version.  There is enough space in the BIOS to support both of these implementations, so nearly any modern enthusiast memory kits will be fully utilized when this setting is enabled.

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Asus packs their boards very well, with the bottom box holding all of the accessories.

The board has full Windows 8 support by including a (relatively) massive 64mb BIOS ROM.  This gives enough space for the Win8 installation and update files.  It gives the ability to utilize the Fast Boot capabilities, Secure Boot to protect against malware boot loaders, and finally OEM Activation 3.0.  The last feature allows users to store installation information so that if they need to re-install Windows 8, they do not have to go back online or over the phone to activate the software.

There is now a TPM header for security purposes.  A “Fast Boot Switch” that disables fast booting with Windows 8.  It also includes the Directkey/DRCT header for going to the BIOS.  When pressed the Directkey will start the machine up and go directly into the BIOS.  This frees the user from waiting around and trying to hit Delete to get into the BIOS (and sometimes failing).  The DRCT header has the same functionality but is used only with cases which feature that functionality.

May 29, 2014 | 10:53 PM - Posted by Sofia (not verified)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about reggae videos.
Regards

March 21, 2013 | 10:42 PM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Who cares really?

I've sold my Crosshair 2 Formula and 980T ages ago and bought a Gibson double cutaway neck Pro, a Zakk Wylde overdrive pedal and an old Behringer tube amp from the money that came from them.

lol.

March 25, 2013 | 04:12 PM - Posted by meganerd (not verified)

"Who cares really?"

Pretty much sums up how I feel about this post.

March 27, 2013 | 02:18 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

The fact that you're a "nerd" tells me all I need to know about you.

March 23, 2013 | 01:17 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There are numerous mistakes/conclusions in this review.

1. Asus CHV Formula-Z is not the best mobo though it's OK other than being very over-priced and with many useless gimmicks and BIOS adjustments

2. Vishera is not the last AM3+ model CPU

3. Asus is all about hype without much substance and their product QC issues confirm this

4. Asus customer service is nonexistent IME

5. The technically challenged are always impressed with pretty product boxes - especially with digital T&A

March 23, 2013 | 06:18 AM - Posted by Lachigan

The Formula-Z is the product of teamwork between Asus and AMD
How much R&D has been done,
And this is how they have executed using that experience...

March 26, 2013 | 02:50 AM - Posted by One (not verified)

I own a CH F-Z and a 8350 CPU oc'ed @ 5 GHz. What can I say: is blazing fast, stable, cool... in one word amazing ! Don't listen to John Doe's BS. He is an ex-AMD employee kicked out because he was too lazy and stupid.

March 27, 2013 | 02:19 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

lol.

Cool story bro.

June 26, 2013 | 03:06 PM - Posted by Webduelist (not verified)

Cool story brah, your Intel i7 is faster than something that is meant to compete with the i5s. Wow I wouldn't have guessed that.

And let me explain why it is meant to compete with the i5s, have you ever seen a bell curve of cpu sales for enthusiast gaming builds? The i3s, low, i5s high, i7s low. Now low doesn't mean they are not selling only that the i5 is out selling them.

Now your a company who is hurting pretty bad and you need to sell the most product, you could spend money in R&D put out a cpu faster than the Intel i7 but also more expensive and in that lower section of that bell curve. So you focus on where you are going to make the most money which is the i5 range.

Ok, now your going to come back with, "the 8350 doesn't beat the i5", when in reality they are about the same, the 8350 is even better when you are doing cpu heavy game streaming.

The only games I know of that the i5 pulls away is GW2, and Skyrim. Typically the i5 will get 1-5 fps better average, the minimum is typically the same.

Other than that right now the i5 and the 8350 are pretty much on par with each other. If cpus were cars your problem is your comparing, f1 cars (i7) to muscle cars (i5/8350)

June 26, 2013 | 03:06 PM - Posted by Webduelist (not verified)

Cool story brah, your Intel i7 is faster than something that is meant to compete with the i5s. Wow I wouldn't have guessed that.

And let me explain why it is meant to compete with the i5s, have you ever seen a bell curve of cpu sales for enthusiast gaming builds? The i3s, low, i5s high, i7s low. Now low doesn't mean they are not selling only that the i5 is out selling them.

Now your a company who is hurting pretty bad and you need to sell the most product, you could spend money in R&D put out a cpu faster than the Intel i7 but also more expensive and in that lower section of that bell curve. So you focus on where you are going to make the most money which is the i5 range.

Ok, now your going to come back with, "the 8350 doesn't beat the i5", when in reality they are about the same, the 8350 is even better when you are doing cpu heavy game streaming.

The only games I know of that the i5 pulls away is GW2, and Skyrim. Typically the i5 will get 1-5 fps better average, the minimum is typically the same.

Other than that right now the i5 and the 8350 are pretty much on par with each other. If cpus were cars your problem is your comparing, f1 cars (i7) to muscle cars (i5/8350)

June 26, 2013 | 03:07 PM - Posted by Webduelist (not verified)

Cool story brah, your Intel i7 is faster than something that is meant to compete with the i5s. Wow I wouldn't have guessed that.

And let me explain why it is meant to compete with the i5s, have you ever seen a bell curve of cpu sales for enthusiast gaming builds? The i3s, low, i5s high, i7s low. Now low doesn't mean they are not selling only that the i5 is out selling them.

Now your a company who is hurting pretty bad and you need to sell the most product, you could spend money in R&D put out a cpu faster than the Intel i7 but also more expensive and in that lower section of that bell curve. So you focus on where you are going to make the most money which is the i5

April 10, 2013 | 11:35 PM - Posted by yourmama (not verified)

sounds about right. he is awfully mad at amd for no apparent reason.disgruntled from the unlubricated butt fuckin

June 26, 2013 | 03:08 PM - Posted by Webduelist (not verified)

Cool story brah, your Intel i7 is faster than something that is meant to compete with the i5s. Wow I wouldn't have guessed that.

And let me explain why it is meant to compete with the i5s, have you ever seen a bell curve of cpu sales for enthusiast gaming builds? The i3s, low, i5s high, i7s low. Now low doesn't mean they are not selling only that the i5 is out selling them.

Now your a company who is hurting pretty bad and you need to sell the most product, you could spend money in R&D put out a cpu faster than the Intel i7 but also more expensive and in that lower section of that bell curve. So you focus on where you are going to make the most money which is the i5

September 18, 2013 | 04:11 PM - Posted by leester22 (not verified)

so if the AM3+ cpu line is dead how soon is it dying????? i was just watching the release of the new jackhammer processor the other day... like 3 months ago or so

September 28, 2013 | 07:54 PM - Posted by Hamzilla (not verified)

Great article Josh. I just bought one of these boards for a FX-9590 I just got for 299$ (600$ off one day sale)

July 23, 2014 | 10:27 PM - Posted by Christopher Cromwell (not verified)

Well, speaking from a true Asus/AMD fan (no not a troll), I currently love my Asus Crosshair V Formula Z board. I got it all up and running maxed out on speed & RAM. Just saving up my money to get 2 high end MSI video cards for it. But if any of you are interested to know, that I currently still run and still use the original ROG motherboard. What is the original ROG motherboard? I am talking about the original release ROG Crosshair 1 board from 2008; even though BIOS just simply calls it "Crosshair". I first saw this board on Amazon back then when I was building my new high end system, and it interested me enough to try it. It continues to run strong and fast to this day, just changed the CMOS battery earlier this year! :-) Goes to show how good ROG boards are! I am a ROG fan for as long as they make them for AMD CPU's. :-D

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