It's been six months since I reviewed the Asus Maximus Formula Extreme. The Extreme was one of three related Asus X38 motherboards with the water cooled Extreme at the top of the tree, the Fusion block SE in the middle and the basic Maximus Formula at the bottom of the scale.
Today we've got an X48 chipped Rampage Formula to review and it's the spitting image of the Maximus Formula. That makes sense as the difference between the X38 and X48 chipsets is non-existent apart from the addition of official support for a 1,600MHz front side bus and faster system memory. The surprise is that Asus still lists the X38 Maximus on its Republic Of Gamers website, as we fully expect the Maximus range to be phased out as the Rampage line supercedes it.
The Rampage Formula supports Intel's Penryn processors with the full range of front side bus speeds and just like the Maximus Formula it uses DDR2 memory rather than Intel's preferred DDR3. We understand there will be a Rampage Extreme model that uses DDR3, which is something that would have set the alarm bells ringing a couple of months ago as the DDR3 premium was enormous. At present 2GB of DDR3 costs just over £100 compared to £50 for 2GB of fast DDR2 so the gap is closing, and fast.
The passive cooling system on the chipset and power hardware is extensive and has been carried over wholesale from the Maximus. While it looks as though the cooling system may intrude on the CPU cooler or your graphics cards, appearances are deceptive. Asus has kept the series of coolers and heatpipes low in profile and that combines with the laid down SATA and IDE connections to make this one of the easiest motherboards to install and tinker with.
Asus supplies an audio riser card that sits above the top-most PCI slot and even if you pack in a pair of double slot graphics cards in CrossFire you'll find that you have at least one PCI slot and one PCI Express x1 slot available for adding in additional expansion cards, like RAID controllers, or Wi-Fi adapters. Also, both of the graphics slots have 16 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 so you won't have any bandwidth problems even when running two top-end graphics cards like the 3870 X2, in Crossfire.
The I/O panel carries a modest array of ports and connectors as it is largely taken up by a chunk of the chipset cooling system. There's a single PS/2 connection for your keyboard, six USB ports arranged in three pairs, one Firewire, optical and coaxial outputs for the audio, dual Gigabit LAN and a button to clear the BIOS settings. There is a risk that you might press the CMOS button in error so the switch can be enabled and disabled with a flick switch that is next to the Southbridge. The sensible approach is to enable the button when you are overclocking your system then once you have it stable you can disable the button to avoid problems. If you need more ports there's a bracket in the box with two more USB and a second Firewire.