With Computex, the world's biggest PC hardware trade show, just around the corner, Asus recently invited us around for a sneak-peek at some of its hottest new Republic of Gamers (ROG) hardware that it will be showing off there. We received some in-depth info about the full-size Crosshair IV Extreme, which uses the Lucid Hydra chip to allow Nvidia and ATI cards to be used simultaneously; weighed up the heaviest graphics card we've ever held with the dual Radeon HD 5870 Ares; and drooled over the new Rampage III Gene, a micro-ATX X58 board that accepts no compromise.
Our first contender, the Crosshair IV Extreme, is one of the most feature-rich motherboards available for AMD processors. It's a step up from the Crosshair IV Formula found inside the DinoPC 6th Sense, and is based on AMD's 890FX plus SB850 chipset combo, which brings native SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III). USB 3.0 is also present courtesy of the usual NEC controller, and the Crystal Clash design is visually arresting.
Of course all the usual Asus highlights are on board. Perhaps the most desirable of these is Core Unlocker, which as its name suggests activates disabled cores so that, if you're lucky, you can turn your tri-core CPU into a quad-core and maybe even quad-core into hex-core. When we quizzed Asus about a probable success rate, it revealed that in its own testing, cores were successfully unlocked (i.e. stable under heavy load) in around 90 per cent of cases! Unlike some competing solutions, Asus' system will also automatically disable faulty cores.
Turbo Unlocker also offers a notable advantage against AMD's Turbo Core, auto-overclocking tool, in that it can maximize the performance of all cores rather than just some. It even works with CPUs that don't support Turbo Core at all and should provide a minimum 10 per cent performance boost in relevant applications.
Other overclocking features are similar to those found on the Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 we reviewed a while back, except that RC Bluetooth is now also on hand, so that you can extensively overclock your PC on the fly using your mobile phone as a controller (with support for the iPhone coming soon). It might not be an essential feature, but it's certainly cool!
The major talking point with this motherboard and what really sets it apart from Asus' Crosshair IV Formula, however, is its use of Lucid's Hydra chip. As already mentioned, this allows virtually any combination Nvidia and ATI cards to be used simultaneously in the board's four 16x PCIe slots, with the chip intelligently dividing the workload between cards so that each one is used optimally.
Though this chip has been around for a while in MSI's top-end gaming board, there were performance issues with it before, so the Crosshair IV Extreme is the first Asus board to offer it. Asus has been working closely with Lucid for two years now to ensure that these issues are overcome, and guarantees its solution will give you higher performance than standard CrossFire or SLI setups, which seems like a very impressive feat. Though the Hydra chip does require a specialized driver to work, we were told the average turnaround of Lucid versions of new graphics driver enhancements from Nvidia and ATI would be around two weeks, which is again quite remarkable.