Date: Wednesday, December 27, 2017
ASUS is a name you should know unless you a newly minted computer enthusiast. The company was started in the mid-1980s and now flourishes is one of the most successful and influential computer hardware vendors in the world. ASUS is known for a vast array of products. This includes graphics cards, motherboards, cases, mobile devices, network equipment, servers and workstations, monitors, keyboards, mice, and some other products I’ve probably forgotten about. Despite their success and obvious product diversity it’s primarily motherboards of the company remains known for. Not unlike an automobile manufacturer, ASUS has diversified its brand somewhat to better target certain market segments. The Republic of Gamers brand represents an upper echelon in the ASUS product portfolio. These products, are not built with the same budget considerations as standard retail channel products are. Like anything else they are still built to hit a certain price point. However, motherboards in this brand tend to be more expensive than boards in a similar class or with similar features. The reason for this usually comes down to small things. As they say the devil's in the details and that’s true when you’re talking about ROG motherboards.
Just like movie, it’s a time for sequels. ASUS launched its sixth generation Rampage motherboards. A while back we reviewed the Rampage VI Extreme. This motherboard had some growing pains but was generally a good product. The Rampage VI APEX is a purpose-built motherboard designed solely for overclocking. The "APEX" moniker is a new one for this generation. The name APEX would typically imply at the top and offering and from a certain perspective that’s true in this case. However, APEX motherboards lack some of the extra features found on the Extreme series. The Extreme offered a 10Gbit ethernet controller and support 128GB of DDR4 memory. The Extreme version also had an integrated I/O shroud. Extreme motherboards usually have a high degree of connectivity options and while these support overclocking, and have features designed to promote extreme overclocking, these motherboards are still built to appeal to a wide audience. Like the Extreme version, the Rampage VI APEX is based on the Intel X299 Express chipset and as such, it supports the features provided by that chipset. These include USB 3.1 Gen 1, PCI-Express 3.0, SATA III 6Gb/s, and support for technologies including but not limited to: NVMe, NVMe RAID, VROC support, Intel Smart Response Technology, Intel Optane, and more.
The APEX is a different animal. It is designed for performance and nothing more. Well I say nothing more, but the reality is it’s also designed to look good. These days it seems you can’t have function without an aesthetically pleasing form to go with it. But I will talk more about that in a bit. When we talk about overclocking features many people think were simply talking about bias options. Or they think we are talking about cooling solutions. That is what constituted at overclocking motherboard in the past. It’s not an inaccurate term. However, the APEX is built for extreme overclocking. This includes water and LN2 or liquid nitrogen overclocking. For LN2 guys, you will find an LN2 slow mode, and even condensation detection. This is a new feature I have not seen before but then again, I have not had a chance to use liquid nitrogen on any of these motherboards.
For water cooling, you will find features specifically geared toward that overclocking method. This includes input and output flow speed sensors as well as dedicated water pump and AIO headers. There are many internal and external temperature sensors located throughout the motherboard. The design incorporates several small design elements that are found on other ROG motherboards as well. Other notable features include things like bios flashback, SupremeFX audio, ProbeIT, PCIe switches, 3D printing mount, MemOK! Button, ReTry, button, Q-Code LED readout, onboard power and reset buttons. One of my favorite features is DIMM.2. If you’ve missed what that is, I will talk more about that in the storage section.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The package for the ASUS ROG Rampage VI APEX is the same as the packaging I’ve seen for all the current Republic of Gamers motherboards. The artwork is basic, yet elegant. The motherboard is packed with cardboard and a clear plastic cover that has spacers designed to hold the motherboard in place during shipping. This worked well and our sample arrived intact and with the following accessories: User's manual, Accessory Guide, I/O Shield, 4x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 4x M.2 screws, 1x Supporting DVD, 1x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant), 1x R6A MOS Fan bracket pack, 2x ROG DIMM.2 Fan Stand Pack (s), 1x 3-Way SLI bridge(s), 1x 4-Way SLI bridge(s), 1x SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-L), 1x ROG big sticker, 1x Q-Connector, 1x 10 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s), and 1x ROG coaster(s).
The general layout of the Rampage VI APEX is excellent. I don’t even have my usual complaint concerning the CMOS battery. It is located just behind the chipset out of the way. The only people who will have issues with this are going to be people using multi-GPUs. I especially like the way the DIMM sockets have visually distinctive keying. While there are lots of things to like about this motherboard aesthetically speaking, the most striking thing about it is what ASUS calls its "X shaped" PCB. It doesn’t really look like an X to me. I suppose the sections that are cut out sort of resemble an X or at least that’s what it looks like they were going for. That said, the cutouts look good to me. I especially like the setup ports being angled to match the cut. This motherboard sports a black and gray color scheme. Which is one of the few color schemes I don’t think I will ever get tired of.
There are at least four temperature sensors on the PCB. You will also find a myriad of four pin fan headers. All of which can be controlled in software or in the UEFI. There are quite a few controls on the PCB as well. These include PCIe switches to enable or disable slots. You will also find power and reset buttons, MemOK button, and a clear CMOS button. Given that this motherboard is designed for LN2 overclocking and even competition, the onboard controls makes sense. Headers and general port placement are well thought out and leave very little room for complaint.
The CPU socket area is surprisingly clean. Components in this area include Microfine Alloy chokes, 10K rated metallic capacitors, and IR3555 PoweRstage combination MOSFET and driver IC packages. These are capable of 60A of power delivery. These are absolutely beasts when it comes to the task of providing power for a CPU. The heatsink ASUS employs here is nicely machined and extremely good looking. More importantly this is easily the best VRM cooling solution I have ever seen. Using air cooling alone I saw average temperatures in the mid-90F/32C range. Overclocked I never saw triple digit temperatures. Using a blower style fan that I sometimes used to get air across my test bench I was actually able to get temperatures in the high 80s. I’m convinced a water block is the only way you would ever get lower temperatures than what this heatsink can provide.
The DIMM slots are somewhat closer to the CPU than I would like. Fans of air coolers may find fitment of such cooling devices a bit challenging, but selection of low-profile DIMMs can eliminate or mitigate this issue entirely. There is also something near the CPU socket I hadn’t seen before is a Republic of Gamers nameplate. This is a customizable name plate with RGB LED lighting.
There are four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total of 64GB of RAM at speeds up to DDR4 4500MHz in dual channel mode and DDR4 4133MHz in quad channel mode through overclocking. The DDR4 DIMM slots use a metal bracket for reinforcement. There is a metal band which has a secondary benefit of making it easy to identify what way the slot is keyed at a glance. The DIMM slots aren’t color coded due to the fact the Rampage VI APEX only has four DIMM slots and all of these are required to support Quad-Channel memory mode operation. These slots are not laid out in the conventional alternating pattern for dual-channel operation. However, the designers optimized trace path layout to minimize noise and improve signal quality. What that translates to is potentially higher memory clocks than you might see with less optimized designs. It can be tough to separate the marketing fluff form the truth, as I think everyone is doing largely the same thing regarding memory trace path design. This is outlined in the manual, but the markings on the motherboard are poor for figuring this out. Flanking each DIMM slot are the DIMM.2 slots which are effectively proprietary daughter card slots. These daughter cards support up to two 110m M.2 devices each. These also support cooling fans and even have temperature and LED headers on them.
DIMM.2 is an innovative way to allow for more M.2 storage on the motherboard without using up your PCIe slots. It’s an elegant solution albeit a proprietary one. MSI solved the problem by using two spots on the motherboard and including a PCIe to M.2 adapter with dual slots that has an x8 interface to the motherboard. While this is a simple way to do things, there are pros and cons to each. I like DIMM.2 because it takes up very little space and removes a lot of the M.2 form factors shortcomings from the equation. I don’t like the fact that the adapter is proprietary. MSI’s solution is simple and it can be moved to other systems or be retained after upgrades.
The chipset is in the bottom left hand corner of the motherboard. The chipset is cooled by a large flat, passive heatsink. The finish is gray with the ROG logo. This logo has RGB LEDs underneath it. The design does not cause interference with the expansion slot area. As you can see from the image, the SATA ports are at an angle in line with the cut on the PCB. This is done purely for aesthetic reasons but shouldn’t cause issues with cabling. To the right of the SATA ports you will find USB 3.0 front panel headers. The VROC key port is also located in this area. To the left of the chipset there are several fan headers and the MemOK button. A BIOS toggle switch is present to switch between the BIOS ROMs.
The expansion slot area is flawlessly designed in my opinion. Nearly all the slots use the X 16 form factor. When equipped with a 48 Lane CPU, this motherboard is capable of supporting 4-Way SLI or Crossfire multi-GPU technologies. The motherboard allows lane configurations of x16/x0/x16/x0 and x8/x8/x8/x8 as well as several other possible combinations. There is also a dedicated X4 slot. Ordinarily, we see CMOS batteries or M.2 slots in the expansion area. This is less than ideal.
The I/O panel area is a multitude of ports. There are 6x USB 3.1 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, 1x USB Gen 2 Type-C port, 5x mini-stereo jacks, 1x optical output, 1x PS/2 keyboard port, 1x PS/2 mouse port, dual wireless antenna ports, a clear CMOS button and a BIOS flashback button. Additionally, the audio jacks are gold plated and feature color-coded plastic rings around the gold contact area for easy identification.