ASUS M5A97, M5A99X, and Crosshair V Motherboard Review Roundup
Hello, Big Daddy! Asus has a new top of the line motherboard for the AMD market, and it does not fail to impress. Kitchen sink, meet your new best friend. While this board is packed, Asus did not just throw everything on haphazardly. No, the board is a marvel of design and integration. Not only does it have an amazing feature set, it still retains the same overclocking prowess we have come to expect from Asus as well as keeping competitive in performance to more pared down and focused motherboards. This board can be found for around $239 US, but is often on sale for $219 and below.
The first area we look at is the power circuitry. Asus categorizes this as the Extreme Engine Digi+, and it is a very robust 8+2 phase unit. If you take a good look you notice some specialty caps that can handle a lot of current being pushed through it. There is a big, silver “super cap” in place, which is not found on any board outside the ROG products from Asus. The same TPU and EPU processor as on the previous boards are present. Just off the CPU socket is the Pro-Belt voltage monitoring plugs. This allows users to directly plug in with a volt-meter and get accurate readings off of all the major components on the board.
The board still features 4 DIMM slots, but due to the AM3+ socket these are rated officially to DDR-3 1866 speeds. Asus does increase this rating on the board, so with some mild overclocking DDR-3 2100 speeds are attainable with the proper CPU and memory configuration. Next to the memory is the Memory OK button, which retards the memory timings and speed to the most basic levels for improved compatibility in case memory timings and speeds exceed that of which the DIMMS can handle.
The board is very well laid out with four 16X PEG slots, one PCI-E 1X slot, and a single PCI slot. The board can handle up to triple SLI or CrossFire, and if a dual GPU card is used then quad GPU performance is supported. With most dual slot cooling cards, it is quite likely that a user will lose the use of the 1X slot. In dual card SLI or CF, the PCI slot is exposed, so most sound cards that utilize that connection are still supported easily.
There are a total of seven SATA-6G ports on the motherboard, with a single e-SATA 6G port as well. Six of the ports are supported by the SB950 southbridge, while the other two are powered by a ASMedia ASM1061 SATA-6G two port controller. The SB950 is a huge upgrade from the previous SB750 chip from AMD, and while it is not as fast overall as the competing Intel SATA-6G solution, it does offer a total of 6 ports running at that speed. It also supports multiple RAID configurations. This is still a mostly software driven RAID controller, the prevalence of quad core and six core processors in the AMD market make that point somewhat moot. There will be more CPU loading, but very few applications today max out modern processors anyway.
USB 3.0 support on this board is nothing short of tremendous. Asus integrates three ASMedia USB 3.0 controllers to power a total of six USB 3.0 ports. Four of these ports are located on the back of the board while two more are supported through a USB 3.0 header on the motherboard. The SB950 natively supports 12 USB 2.0 ports, with eight of these on the back panel and four more through headers on the motherboard. USB connectivity should not be an issue with this board.
Asus stepped away from the Realtek Ethernet controllers and went with an Intel product. This Gig-E controller has all of the QOS and manageability functionality that higher end Ethernet cards can expose. It is a big step up from the Realtek units in overall speed and functionality, and is a nice extra for those who really want to dig in and tweak their network connection.
The audio portion also gets a good ROGering from Asus. While the actual CODEC is a Realtek unit, included with the bundle is the SupremeFX X-Fi 2 functionality. This gives true EAX 5.0 support, though it is all software based. Again, with how common multi-core processors are, the extra CPU load this requires should not negatively impact the vast majority of games out there. Asus also bundles in the THX TruStudio Pro software which allows a finer control over the audio properties of the speakers and the environment that the computer is placed into.
There are three buttons at the bottom. The first is the CPU LevelUp! which automatically overclocks the CPU, as well as a power and reset button. The automatic CPU overclocking can also be achieved in BIOS, so the button is almost superfluous, but some people like the “Turbo Button” functionality that it affords.
The BIOS on this board is significantly different from the previous boards. It is custom made UEFI BIOS for the ROG boards. Every major system setting is present and has the ability to be tweaked. It also shares the O.C.M.P. functionality which can read the XMP EPROMs from DIMMS that support this functionality. The low level functionality is further enhanced by the Ai-Suite II. This suite contains the Turbo-V, EPU, and Digi+ functionality that provides a very granular control of all BIOS functions, voltages, and settings. This is a very powerful set of tools that are definitely not for beginners. A loss of stability or the potential permanent damage of components could occur with the misuse of these programs.
Finally the board features the ROG Connect functionality, which allows users to tweak the motherboard in realtime with an external device. This is used through a USB connection on the back of the board, rather than the standalone connector that was previously employed on other ROG units.
This board is really unique in the AMD market. While competitors have products that approach it in terms of features, the overall build and functionality of this motherboard eclipses all others. It is also relatively affordable as compared to the Intel based ROG boards, and this can be purchased for around $239 US.
The documentation, included software, and bundle for this board are all outstanding again. The manual is well written and covers everything of import. The software CD has everything that is needed, plus all of the extra tuning programs that expose the enhanced functionality of this motherboard. There are enough SATA cables to choke an elephant, as well as extra header blocks for case pins, the padded backplate, triple and single SLI connectors, CrossFire connectors, Q-connectors, ROG connector, all kinds of labels and stickers, and cable ties. This is not a weak bundle.