Date: Tuesday , December 26, 2017
ASUS is one of the world’s largest and most influential brands. The company has been around since the 1980s and is known for reliability, innovation, and even being a pioneer in the computing industry. In recent years, ASUS has diversified its branding somewhat to target specific markets more aggressively. This led to the creation of the Republic of Gamers Brand over 10 years ago. These motherboards are built with less cost cutting, more innovation, and are almost a no-holds-barred product line that pushes the technological envelope. Indeed, many designs elements and features that are on ROG motherboards become the industry standard and have an obvious trickle-down effect in the industry.
When you see as many motherboards as we do at HardOCP, you can generate a data set and establish a quantifiable track record for each manufacturer. I won’t get into all my opinions here but suffice it to say, I think ASUS probably has the best hit rate and the most consistent behavior across the industry. I have often used many of its boards in my own builds and my experiences with ASUS motherboards are generally as good or better than experiences with other brands. That said, ASUS has still released the occasional lemon. Another way to put it is that ASUS has occasionally put out models which have an odor no amount of polish can eliminate. This isn’t a stab at ASUS. In fact, it’s almost refreshing that it can fail. I’ve often wondered how long they could go before tossing us a board that we just couldn’t like for one reason or another. Now, ASUS isn’t unique in that every manufacturer has good boards and bad boards. However, ASUS has only failed to deliver twice with its ROG brand in our experiences. The Striker Extreme and the Crosshair VI Hero are two such motherboards.
You might be wondering why I’m giving the readers a history lesson on ASUS and the ROG brand. It’s simple. The very recent ASUS Crosshair VI Hero was not only the worst ASUS motherboard I’ve ever worked with, but the worst socket AM4 motherboard I’ve tested to date. I have to say that seeing another one with a similar name gave me some anxiety over throwing it on the test bench. What you guys don’t see, and words fail to describe is the difficulty in making some of these motherboards run. Socket AM4 motherboards are particularly bad because their memory compatibility has been terrible. Even when Kyle took the guesswork out of that by telling me precisely what modules in my inventory would work, the Crosshair VI Hero was still floundering. The motherboard was problematic under the best of circumstances and we went through several of them to get the review done. The last one died while overclocking and we gave up on it. We try to do our due diligence but at some point, you have finite time and resources to allocate and we had to move on. ASUS contacted us to try and get us a third or fourth sample, but we didn’t care at that point. It was time to put that thing to bed.
Honestly, it’s not a big deal that ASUS produced a bad motherboard, or even a bad board with the ROG name on it. It happened once before, and we got over it. The thing is, the board we are looking at today bears a very similar name as the Crosshair VI Hero and it’s from the same generation and same series. The Crosshair VI Extreme is the top of the Crosshair line rather than the bottom, so that might make a huge difference here. We will see as we get through the testing.
The ASUS ROG Crosshair VI Extreme is the 6th family of Crosshair motherboards and is based on the AMD AX370 chipset. This chipset competes with Intel’s Z270 and Z370 Express chipsets and has a similar name for reasons only AMD’s marketing department can understand. The chipset supports the modern features users generally care about. Features such as NVMe device support, SATA III 6Gb/s support, USB 3.1 Gen 1 & 2, GbE ethernet, 7.1 channel HD audio, and of course, Crossfire and SLI support. SLI is only supported in a 2-Way or Quad-SLI configuration.
The motherboard is geared heavily towards overclocking of all types including air, water, and liquid nitrogen. An LN2 slow mode is present along-side water block flow sensors, temperature sensors, and a plethora of fan headers to help aid in performance tuning. The fan headers are interesting as they are divided by zone. There is a water cooling zone, which concentrates the W_Pump, AIO_Pump, water flow sensors, and water temperature sensors in the same zone. While not marked as such, I suppose that makes the other fan headers part of the air cooling zone. To further push the envelope, ASUS uses its Pro Clock technology. Roughly translated from marketing speak to English, this equates to an external clock generator which can run the base clock upwards of 150MHz or more.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging for this motherboard is the same, elegant box used on other motherboards in the ASUS Republic of Gamers produce line. The box is thick, and the artwork is basic yet aesthetically appealing. The back of the box shows some photos of the product and written information tells you a little about the motherboard itself and what features it offers. The box opens like a clamshell and reveals the motherboard. The motherboard is protected by a clear plastic cover that has indentations which help hold the motherboard in place and protect it during shipping. Inside the box you will find an impressive array of accessories. This includes the following items: User's manual, ROG logo plate sticker, 8x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), M.2 Screw Package, Supporting DVD, Fan Extension Card (3 x 4-pin fan out), Fan Extension card screw pack, Fan Extension card cable, ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n compliant), SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-M), ROG big sticker, Q-Connector, 10-in-1 ROG cable label, Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm), Extension cable for Addressable LED, Thermistor cable(s) and an ROG coaster.
The ASUS ROG Crosshair VI Extreme is an extended ATX motherboard which utilizes a digital, 8+4 phase power design. This number is achieved through phase doubling, which is a common practice. IR3599 phase doublers are used to do this. As a result, it’s a native 4+2 phase design. Again, this isn’t a bad thing and it’s something GIGABYTE, MSI, and ASRock all do as well. The power stages use International Rectifier’s IR3599 PowerIRStage IC’s which are capable of 60 amps. All the capacitors are rated for 10,000 hours. Alloy inductors round out the power system. These are premium grade components which are commonplace on ROG motherboards.
The motherboard is aesthetically pleasing as it uses the same visual style we’ve seen on the more recent Republic of Gamers motherboards. I like the color scheme although pretty much every color scheme I’ve seen is starting to feel a bit worn out to me. That said, basic black and gray for contrast is probably the color scheme that will wear on me the least as time passes.
The motherboard layout is reasonably good. I’m not a big fan of the CMOS battery location as usual. I’ve been told by quite a few people that I’m a little too critical of this given how rare CMOS battery replacements are required. As far as I’m concerned this is an issue that shouldn’t exist in the first place. This battery can be placed vertically and moved to almost any location on the PCB. Having to remove a graphics card to replace it either for premature failure, or at the end of its service life is BS in my book. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal and for most people I don’t think it is. However, as someone who’s had to deal with this on boards that wouldn’t clear the CMOS through any other means than battery removal, I can tell you that this design can try your patience at times. If you’ve got water blocks on your graphics cards this design will feel like a colossal blunder instead of a minor annoyance.
One peculiar oddity with the Crosshair VI Extreme is the fact that it uses a right angled 24-Pin ATX power connector. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a right-angled version of this connector. It might make cabling easier or better looking in some cases. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about this. This is either one of those things I’ll find a reason to hate, or embrace somewhere down the line. For now, it’s simply interesting to note.
The CPU socket area is relatively free of major obstructions. The DIMM slots are a little closer to the CPU socket than I’d like, but that’s par for the course. It’s unavoidable. The CPU socket comes with mounting hardware preinstalled for AMD air coolers. As we all know, if you plan on doing any overclocking, you should discard these in favor of water cooling at the very least. Ryzen isn’t as demanding as Threadripper, but air coolers that use this clip system aren’t likely to be capable solutions for this CPU. What’s interesting is that ASUS has provided mounting holes that can handle both AM3 and AM4 cooling solutions.
There are four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total of 64GB of RAM at speeds up to DDR4 3200MHz using two modules and 2400MHz using four modules. This limitation is due in part to AMD’s AGESA code. The memory slots use single sided locking tabs for module retention. These slots are reinforced with steel brackets for strength. You can see what appears to be part of the bracket on the short side of the memory slot’s pin arrangement. This is a nice visual indicator which helps with memory orientation at a glance. I doubt this was intentional, but it’s kind of nice. We’ve seen this same type of bracket on the M.2 DIMM slots ASUS uses on some of its other ROG offerings.
Just below the RAM slots, you will find onboard power, reset, clear CMOS, and MemOK controls which are available for bench testers and overclockers alike. These are sometimes thrown out for cost savings, but that’s not what ROG motherboards are generally about. The inclusion of these is always welcome as far as I’m concerned. While you don’t normally need these in a chassis, I have found they come in handy when troubleshooting your hardware.
The chipset is cooled with a very small heat sink underneath a plastic shroud. As we’ve seen on some other motherboards recently, the Crosshair VI Extreme’s heat sink has speed holes in it. The shroud has some areas for RGB LED lighting to pass through it. There are also a couple of M.2 slots that flank the chipset cooler, one of which is covered by the plastic shroud. That is part of the chipset cooler assembly. Part of the shroud does have metal in it so that it can act as a heat sink. When using Ryzen series processors, you have access to both M.2 slots, however the second one shares bandwidth with the second PCI-Express x16 slot.
The expansion slot area is largely well designed. There are 3x PCI-Express x16 slots. The first two slots are PCI-Express 3.0 compliant. These are easily identifiable by their reinforced steel bracketing. The last one is only PCIe 2.0 compliant as this one gets its lanes from the chipset. This slot doesn’t have the steel bracket on it and is a different color. Aesthetically, I don’t like this a whole lot. I wish these slots all looked the same. There are also three PCI-Express 2.0 x1 slots. These match the third PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slot which physically only has four lanes in it. A 4-pin MOLEX connector can be found just off the left of the expansion area to provide additional power for the PCI-Express slots.
The Crosshair VI Extreme supports PCIe lane configurations of x16/x0/x4, or x8/x8/x4 which means it can support 2-Way and Quad-SLI. AMD’s Crossfire technology is supported as well, but allows for up to 3-Way configurations where as SLI only allows 2-Way or Quad-SLI. Some people may find that statement confusing, so I will clarify. Quad-SLI is defined as using two graphics cards with more than one GPU on each card. At present, there aren’t any high end dual-GPU cards that I can think of, so this is really a non-issue unless you are using legacy GPU’s like the Radeon HD 5970 or something like that. Quad-SLI and Quad-Fire as it was generally known, have fallen out of fashion by the GPU manufacturers and game developers. These were always somewhat hit and miss for performance anyway, as some generations of GPU were better at scaling than others. In any case, you can still use this on the Crosshair VI Extreme, although I’m not sure why you would want to. 4-Way SLI uses four separate graphics cards, and is not supported here.
The I/O shield is masterfully done here. This is one of ASUS’ built-in I/O shields. The only thing you install in the case is a frame to cover the gaps and make the fit look right. Building the I/O panel in allows for backlighting ports, labels, and buttons. This allows you to find ports when the machine is in a dark area or you are using the system at night or something. In addition to the aesthetic improvement the built-in I/O panel has, there are some practical benefits. The color coding for the audio jacks for example is exquisite. The ports have an LED inside them which tells you what each is used for. You will also find a ton of connectivity options here. This includes 6x USB 3.1 gen 1 ports, 2x USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (1x Type-C, 1x Type-A), 1x RJ-45 GbE port, dual WiFi antenna ports, Clear CMOS button and a BIOS flashback button. For audio, there is an optical output and 5x mini-stereo jacks which are gold plated and color coded via LEDs.