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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.

March 17, 2013 | 10:51 PM - Posted by Holyneo (not verified)

Im still using the Crosshair III. Best investment ever. Very good read. Thank you for the review.

March 17, 2013 | 11:15 PM - Posted by PapaDragon

I had the Crosshair IV Extreme with the 970, It was a great board and a good chip. The CHV-Z is definitely awesome. What I like most is the amount of native Sata III ports, the audio and the great design. A lot of great features aswell. Also, the 8350 sometimes is on sale for $179 which is cool.

Good read, Great review Josh!

March 17, 2013 | 11:26 PM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Don't spend any money on ANY AMD boards or AMD CPU's. They're complete and total garbage.

Even if you are going to, get the Gigabyte with the UEFI. It is a better board than this.

March 17, 2013 | 11:43 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

So, compare and contrast the Asus UEFI implementation vs. the Gigabyte one.  I have worked with both, and I have my opinions about what seems to work better for me.

March 18, 2013 | 12:27 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

ASUS UEFI is EASILY better however the Gigabyte is a better board.

The 990FX-UD7 packs much more PCI-E slots, has a more capable mem power phase section, and and overall more robustly put built.

This board is made by ECS. The old Asus factory, Pegatron is now owned my AsRock, which is why AsRock boards are so good and Asus boards are not as much as they used to be.

That said, this indeed is a very nice board however, I WOULD NOT spend ANY money on an AMD setup period.

As far as gaming is concerned, you can just get ANY 2500K with a P67 Fatal1ty and it WILL blow the snort out of ANY AMD setup out of the water once you start pushing it.

March 18, 2013 | 12:57 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I had seen that the UD7 had some serious growing pains, I'm glad they figured out those issues.  I see it uses the DrMOS setup for the PWMs.  Not a whole lot different from MSI, but the actual differences between implementations seem pretty minimal.  The latest Gigabyte board I tested with the IR PowIRstage chips was impressive from an efficiency standpoint.  Still, lots of interesting features between both boards to differentiate.

March 18, 2013 | 01:15 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Asus still use those old Taiwanese TRIO chokes. Just painted or different models. They aren't as good as the high current chokes used on the MSI boards, also, the caps are also STILL made by Apaq. Sub par Chinese-Taiwanese caps.

The Giga boards use high quality Japanese Nippon Chemi-Con's. The MSI's even go as far as donating the CPU area ENTIRELY to TANTALUMs and NO old cylindirical caps.

As far as built quality is concerned, the 990FX GD-80 and the Giga are easily better built.

Besides, this board looks like it came out of some pre-school project.

Nothing alike the proper, no-BS looks of say Asus WS boards.

March 18, 2013 | 08:37 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

That's reasonable reasoning.  Tantalum has always been an interesting topic since the old Tom's Hardware/Tyan/tantalum days.  I think for the power that we are talking for most boards, tantalum is overkill.  The "all Japanese" caps is again reasonable, especially considering the track record of the Chinese/Taiwanese companies.

When I tested the GD80 I had my fair share of issues with it, but I think a lot of those were fixed by updated BIOS releases.  I would be interested in the UD7, I guess we shall see.  Not entirely sold on all the full length PCI-E slots, as more than half of them are either x8, x4, or x1 electrically.

At least we have some interesting choices and variety there.  Just wish we had better CPUs to drop in them.

June 5, 2013 | 06:14 PM - Posted by Watson S (not verified)

I had a Gigabyte 990FX-UD7. The cheap Realtek Ethernet controller quit, and the Power Management died to the point that it would not properly shutdown (you had to switch the power off on the PSU). It was a great board up to that point, but I have never had an ASUS board die after only a year. I got it switched for free to a Crosshair V- Formula Z. So far so good.

I did prefer the PCI-Express layout...but not worth it given the issues.

March 19, 2013 | 09:44 AM - Posted by 63jax

dumb troll! you know nothing...

March 19, 2013 | 09:46 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Who the fuck are you talking about and what the fuck are you referring to?

April 19, 2013 | 10:59 PM - Posted by Devildog83 (not verified)

He is talking about you. There is no way on earth a 2500k beats an FX 8350 on any board mostly not this board. I think you need to do some more research. If you don't like AMD that's OK but good lord you could not be more wrong. The caps are 5k japs, look it up. Any Gigagyte is a budget board compared to this board. AMD never said it was going to beat the 3770k or the 3900 series from intel. I fyou want to spend that $ then fine but don't let your bias lead you to beleive that you can even compare any gigabyte board to this. The Asrock is a good board but still takes a big back seat to this, that's why it's way cheaper. From the audio to the OCability this board is the best AMD board made. Since you are not an AMD fan maybe you should stick to what you know.

July 12, 2013 | 10:39 PM - Posted by teiva (not verified)

Nicely put devildog83. I'm in the process of buying the ASUS CROSSHAIR V-FORMULA-Z, 8350, 256GB Samsung 840 Pro and 16GB 2133 DDR3 11C to replace my aging Phenom setup. I think JD just blankedly saying don't buy AMD anything etc. is very single minded. I like both Intel and AMD, just as I like both NVidia and AMD. The AMD setup I'm getting will suit my gaming requirements just fine.

December 12, 2014 | 11:16 PM - Posted by RockinRobbie (not verified)

I just built this very same system. It totally rocks!

March 18, 2013 | 12:22 AM - Posted by derz

Ahh, I'm happy to see Asus giving AMD users some love.

March 18, 2013 | 08:42 AM - Posted by Prodeous (not verified)

I'm really happy with my Sabertooth, and will most likely be the last AM3+ motherboard. R2 is not worth it as USB3 is not that important to me.

If AMD released 4 module FM2 CPU, then I would switch to FM2 platform, but that is quite doubtful untill AM3+ exists.

Unless you Josh have heard some rumours of FM2 with 4 modules? ;) And if you didn't any speculations about the fusion of AM3+ and FM2 platforms into one? Or do you think AM3+ will simply die of and FM2 will take its place?

March 18, 2013 | 09:34 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I think I saw some AMD slides that mentioned Kaveri will feature up to 3 modules on the APU.  6 cores + GCN at faster speeds and better single threaded perf than current Piledriver CPUs... yeah, I'm pretty certain AM3+ is a dead end right now.  An AMD exec at CES let slip FM2+, so I am assuming that will mean Kaveri will finally enable PCI-E 3.0.  Trinity has that functionality, but they never went for certification and stayed with PCI-E 2.0.  Apparently saved some time and money to skip that.

March 24, 2013 | 11:11 PM - Posted by meds (not verified)

Recently got annoyed with my Sabertooth 990fx when I was buying some new memory. Sure its really great overall, pushing my unlocked Phenom II 560 slightly over 4ghz on 4 core's which my previous board couldn't do. However there's no OC'ing the Memory above the 1866mhz controllers of the CPU's, somehow manged to squeeze and extra 60mhz out of them, even though they are rated at 2000mhz. Atleast I could tighten the timings quite a lot, an oversight of mine when I bought the board, and somewhat of a slight disappointment from a top-end 990fx board. Even the Rev 2.0 Gen 3 Sabertooth about to be released has the same limitation!

March 18, 2013 | 11:25 AM - Posted by Prodeous (not verified)

3 module APU.. that starts to sound interesting, if they also keep the 100W or lower TDP.

Though I am still hopeful to see a FM2 APUless 4 module unit for the work I do.

As for FM2+, totally expected this based on AMD history.

Either way, well done on the article.

March 19, 2013 | 05:33 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Get a 2600K with a good board.

HT does wonders for multi threaded apps.

A 32M WPrime on a QX9650 OC'ed to 3.6 takes 15 secs at least, while an i7 960 at 3.3 with it's Turbo at 3.45 pulls the same thing in A FEW SECONDS.

March 19, 2013 | 07:09 AM - Posted by Howie Doohan (not verified)

Looks like a decent price but really what is the point of this board this late in the game?

Seems kind of redundant at this point, much like AMD's "high end" CPU offerings which have been redundant for years.

AMD need to ditch the hapless AM3+ socket ASAP.

March 20, 2013 | 02:53 PM - Posted by L'Achigan (not verified)

Seems to me this poor Company is under criticism
Simply because its processors aren't built under a 22nm
Jig...

March 20, 2013 | 04:37 PM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

IDK WTF you are smoking but AMD isn't under criticism "simply because their processors aren't built under 22nm".

They're under critcism because their offerings are BIG TIME INFERIOR and INEFFICIENT and their board offerings also mostly suck.

It has little to do with the lithography of the chips.

March 20, 2013 | 07:50 PM - Posted by Brett from Australia (not verified)

Good write up Josh, this board really is an exciting product for enthusiasts, gamers alike with a plethora of great features. Its a shame that AM3+ socket is dying out but as you pointed out FM2+ looks like the track the are taking. FYI that board here is around $285 AUD and worth every cent.

March 20, 2013 | 10:11 PM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

Bullshit.

Let me see? How in the hell is this thing worth 285 Australian dollars?

http://www.pccasegear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=138_803...

http://www.pccasegear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=187_345...

Damn that stupid red AMD FX logo really gets me twitchy knowing how much of a piece of that that CPU is. That's your Australian AMD setup, for 450 bucks.

Let's try an Intel setup from the same site now.

http://www.pccasegear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=187_346...

http://www.pccasegear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=138_118...

$404.

Do I really need to explain how much better the second setup is over the first one?

You tell me.

March 21, 2013 | 05:49 AM - Posted by Line 1 (not verified)

Fucktard !

September 28, 2013 | 07:52 PM - Posted by Hamzilla (not verified)

John Doe (name alone makes me know your just as dumb as your posts)

So what if intel is better then AMD not everyone has richy rich parents to buy them a gold mine of a computer like you seem to have. and because your a intel freak that means you dont even know how good AMD really is. Instead of typing garbage on a site like this use your fingers and research stuff before you post crap. or use your fingers on your boyfriend instead ya knobb.

March 21, 2013 | 07:45 AM - Posted by John Doe (not verified)

LOL.

Guess I touched a bit too HARD on your AMD fanboyism? Here ya go, this one's especially for ya...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW8S58CYQqs

ole uncle Nuge always shreds that shit that AMD fanboys leave on your ear with his machine gun guitar...

March 21, 2013 | 10:28 PM - Posted by MykSilentShadow (not verified)

Isn't SteamRoller(released next year)supposed to be the EOL CPU for AM3+?

March 21, 2013 | 11:41 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Not according to publicly released roadmaps from AMD.  Vishera looks to be the last for AM3+.  Steamroller is introduced on FM2+.

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