You'd need a heart of stone to avoid being won over by the looks of the Asus Rampage II Gene. This X58 motherboard uses a MicroATX form factor and is packaged in a square box. Lift the lid and the Gene is displayed under a plastic clear cover with the manual, cables and other extras all tucked out of sight underneath. The initial impression is of a smaller, cuter version of the Rampage II Extreme.
As you can see from the photos the PCB is dark brown and the coolers are matt black with a red Republic of Gamers logo and the incredibly funky micro buttons that we first saw on Rampage II Extreme are also present.
Being a MicroATX board, it measures 244mm x 244mm which is 61mm shorter than a regular ATX motherboard at 305mm x 244mm. To put it another way the change in form factor has given Asus a 20 percent reduction in the surface area of the board so you might expect that the list of features has been cut to the bone. Not so.
The Rampage II Extreme has triple graphics slots (16x8x8x) which are reduced to a pair of x16 slots on the Gene but you get full support for CrossFireX and SLI. The other change is a move from dual Gigabit LAN on the Extreme and a single Gigabit port on the Gene. In terms of ports and connectors the two models of Rampage II are very similar with six USB 2.0 ports and one Firewire ports. The Gene doesn't include a bracket with extra ports whereas the Rampage II Extreme has two more USB and a second Firewire on a bracket.
Very few people have a need for three graphics cards and a second Gigabit LAN port is similarly unnecessary for most, so it is highly likely that the Gene offers a list of features that will be perfectly adequate for your new Core i7 PC despite the small size of the board. The question is why anyone would choose a MicroATX motherboard over a cheaper full size board. Well you might simply want to use a smaller PC case but all of the MicroATX cases we are aware of are designed for Media Centre duties with the possible exception of the Antec Solo Quiet Mini Tower.
We asked Asus about the thinking behind a MicroATX X58 motherboard and were told that mini towers are very popular among LAN party gamers in South East Asia. That may well be true but they seem to be completely unknown in the UK so the odds are that you will be installing the Gene in a regular tower case.
One obvious benefit of the smaller motherboard is the question of cost. The Gene is very reasonable compared to the Extreme as it is a full £100 cheaper however it is £50 more expensive than the MSI X58 Pro, and sits between the EVGA X58 SLI and Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4P in terms of cost.