Introduction

I select my equipment based on specific need and I’m not brand loyal.  When I select a piece of equipment I look first at what I’m trying to accomplish, and then review the market for the item best suited to my needs.  Once I find it, I thoroughly investigate this product to ensure its value, reliability, and performance are all the best possible before making my purchase.

This time I was building a small form factor PC which I’ll soon review.  I wanted a small highly portable case, as much performance for image processing as possible, and I had a list of desirable features such as USB 3.0 compatibility, SATA III/6gbs support, a large number of USB ports, 1366 CPU socket, and 6 RAM slots.  This required the motherboard be at the largest, a Micro-ATX (244mmx244mm (9.6x9.6 inches)) model.  You’ll notice I wasn’t asking for much.. ;o)  

I could find only three motherboards offering the 1366 CPU socket, and only one offering all of my requirements.  The Asus Rampage III Gene.  After researching and confirming the board performed as advertised and enjoyed a great reputation for reliability, compatibility, and customer support the choice was easy.  I placed it on order.

You might be asking why the 1366 CPU socket when there’s a plethora of Micro-ATX motherboards out there with the 1156 socket which takes the lower prices i3/i5/i7 CPU’s?  This is easy.  The 1366 boards are designed to support Intels most powerful processors including the upcoming i9 series.  These boards have a significantly greater PCIe channel depth which basically means you can transfer more information at a time, faster, over a 1366 socket motherboard than an 1156 socket motherboard.  This becomes very important if you’ll be running powerful video cards, PCIe SSD’s, and/or accessing USB3.0 devices at the same time.  Simply put they can handle more data at once, and are more future proof.

 

Asus Rampage III Gene

 

This motherboard is a high-end motherboard built for gamers and over clockers and carries their “Republic of Gamers” (ROG) moniker.  This means the board is chock full of quality and features which are also beneficial to run of the mill users.  Like imaging professionals.

 

This motherboard is a high-end motherboard built for gamers and over clockers and carries their “Republic of Gamers” (ROG) moniker.  This means the board is chock full of quality and features which are also beneficial to run of the mill users.  Like imaging professionals.  

This board features Intels x58 chipset, SLI/Crossfire support, USB 3.0 support, SATA III/6gbps support, and a host of features which support over clocking which I’ll explain below.  It also hosts the SupremeFX X-fi 2 build in audio which is very important to home theater enthusiasts.  This audio supports the latest DTS, THX, and other leading audio formats. 

 

  It also hosts the SupremeFX X-fi 2 build in audio which is very important to home theater enthusiasts.  This audio supports the latest DTS, THX, and other leading audio formats.

 

For a full list of specifications, drivers, downloads, and more see here.

 

Over Clocking Features

ROG Connect

 

This is a rear panel access port which allows you to connect your computer to another computer, such as a laptop, bring up the ROG connect program, and tweak your PC’s performance in real time similar to the way a car tuner can now connect their PC to a F1 car to adjust the cars computer system.  You just connect the cable between the two PC’s, bring up the ROG connect Software, and push the ROG connect button to initiate the link.

 

This is a rear panel access port which allows you to connect your computer to another computer, such as a laptop, bring up the ROG connect program, and tweak your PC’s performance in real time similar to the way a car tuner can now connect their PC to a F1 car to adjust the cars computer system.  You just connect the cable between the two PC’s, bring up the ROG connect Software, and push the ROG connect button to initiate the link.

 

Probelt

 

This is simply a row of very convenient test points where you can measure eight sets of detection points for the proper voltages.  Instead of trying to find these points on a regular motherboard, on this one they’re organized and laid out for easy access.

 

This is simply a row of very convenient test points where you can measure eight sets of detection points for the proper voltages.  Instead of trying to find these points on a regular motherboard, on this one they’re organized and laid out for easy access.

 

CPU Level Up

 

This is basically a one touch over clocking access feature which you can operate with ease.  No need to enter numbers or parameters to over clock. I’m not sold on it’s usefulness, but it’s an included feature.

 

This is basically a one touch over clocking access feature which you can operate with ease.  No need to enter numbers or parameters to over clock. I’m not sold on it’s usefulness, but it’s an included feature.

 

Go Button

 

This is simple a set of motherboard mounted operating switches like you’d find on a computer case.  Start, reset, off.  This allows you to mount the Asus Rampage III Gene in a testing rig without a case and more easily adjust over clocking.

 

This is simple a set of motherboard mounted operating switches like you’d find on a computer case.  Start, reset, off.  This allows you to mount the Asus Rampage III Gene in a testing rig without a case and more easily adjust over clocking.

There are more, special jumpers, measuring points, over voltage capabilities, and included supporting software.  Enough to please even the most diehard over clocking enthusiasts. 

 

Installation

Micro-ATX boards are 244mm x 244mm, are 9.6 inches square.  Small.  When placing them in small enclosures the layout and access to ports becomes much more important than with larger boards.

 

As you can see there are two PCIe x16 slots which enables mounting two video cards in SLI or Crossfire configuration.  There are six RAM memory slots enabling up to a total of 24gb of RAM.  The back panel hosts 7 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a firewire 1394 port, ROG connect port, LAN port, PS/S connector, and a full host of audio connections including an optical SPDIF port.

 

As you can see there are two PCIe x16 slots which enables mounting two video cards in SLI or Crossfire configuration.  There are six RAM memory slots enabling up to a total of 24gb of RAM.  The back panel hosts 7 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a firewire 1394 port, ROG connect port, LAN port, PS/S connector, and a full host of audio connections including an optical SPDIF port.

SATA ports are along one side of the board where the main 20 pin ATX power connector is located.  Internal SATA, 1394, and Audio connectors are along another side of the board where the “Go buttons” are located.  There are a total of 4 fan connectors which can control the CPU, case, and other fans by temperature, CPU load, or manually.

The 1366 CPU socket is located with plenty of room and mounting points/holes for even the largest CPU coolers.  Be careful when ordering your RAM though, if your RAM includes higher heatsinks it might interfere with your choice of CPU coolers.  

Every component in a small footprint sized workstation must be selected with care to ensure proper function and fit.  This is critical in this size platform compared to a full size ATX platform.  You just can’t order standard parts and assume they’ll fit.  You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time researching and selecting the best possible parts for your system.

Overall installation went as expected.  If I had any complaints it would be to put the x4 PCIe slot currently located between the two x16 PCIe slots somewhere more useful.   Once you mount any decent video card, it will cover this slot making it unusable.  Same with the PCI legacy slot located next to the second x16 PCIe slot.    Of course on this size motherboard there is no other location.  We just have to put up with it and choose our components with more care than usual.

 

Performance

 

However, I do expect and demand top performance especially at premium prices.  For $229 USD’s (Newegg.com) this board is quite the bargain already when compared to it’s big brother the Asus Rampage III Extreme, a full size ATX motherboard which runs north of $365 USD’s for basically the same exact quality, level of features, and performance.  The full size version does offer some little used features which I won’t get into, because I don’t consider them important enough to consider.

 

I’m not the type to carefully test one motherboard against the other running different benchmarks.  I just don’t find that amount of time productively spent for our purposes here.

However, I do expect and demand top performance especially at premium prices.  For $229 USD’s (Newegg.com) this board is quite the bargain already when compared to it’s big brother the Asus Rampage III Extreme, a full size ATX motherboard which runs north of $365 USD’s for basically the same exact quality, level of features, and performance.  The full size version does offer some little used features which I won’t get into, because I don’t consider them important enough to consider.

After three weeks of thoroughly testing the board, over clocking for the fun of it, trying different CPU’s (i7-920, i7-930, and i7-950), different RAM modules (1066 OCZ RAM, and Kingston 2002 Hyper-X RAM), an ultra-fast PCIe SSD (OCZ Revodrive I reviewed previously ), a Crucial C300 SSD I reviewed here, several video cards including the ATI Radeon 5970 and the 5770’s I reviewed here , and two Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid drives I reviewed here, I can say with utmost confidence this board performs flawlessly and with no noticeable speed deficits compared to the other full size motherboards I have on hand.  In short I threw everything I had at it, and it worked perfectly with everything.

 

Summary

There’s not much to say here.  The Asus Rampage III Gene is your ONLY choice if you require the most modern up to date Micro-ATX form factor with the very latest features.  It’s a bonus it’s also a top quality board with a host of advanced over clocking features and related support.  And it’s super Asus provides some of the best customer support in the business including a full 3 year warranty.

As I’ve mentioned, you’ll need to select each component carefully with the physical fit in mind.  And you’ll need to build carefully and route your cables perfectly or you’ll end up with a real mess inside such a small case.  However, properly done the result is a work of art!

I have absolutely no issues giving the Asus Rampage III Gene my highest recommendation.  I’m sure I’ll be using it frequently when building custom workstations for clients.