First look review: New Asus Republic of Gamers GPUs and motherboards

Asus Crosshair IV Extreme

First look review: New Asus Republic of Gamers GPUs and motherboards

Asus’ latest showcase highlighted a quartet of new products from its enthusiast-level Republic of Gamers range and, as usual, we didn’t come away disappointed – after all, the Taiwanese firm showed us the heaviest graphics card we’ve ever seen.

It’s called the Ares, is named after the Greek god of war and features two ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics chips strapped to one PCB. The choice of ATI graphics is certainly interesting: the last card in this range, the Mars, was named after the Roman god of war and included a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 cards. We’re assuming that the heat generated by Nvidia’s latest graphics cards is part of the reason for Asus’ switch of allegiances.

Asus AresThe list of specifications is mouth-watering. The combined GPUs boast 3,200 stream processors, each runs at 850MHz, and four gigabytes of GDDR5 memory is crammed onto the packed PCB. Asus’ own benchmarks, run in 3DMark Vantage, show a 25% increase in speed over a Radeon HD 5970.

Asus also promised a 600% improvement in airflow over a stock HD 5970 thanks to its design, which places a large fan in between two hefty copper heatsinks. While it works well to keep the card cool, it may require some scaffolding in your PC if you’d actually like to use the Ares: the card weighs more than 2kg and is one of the bulkiest we’ve ever laid hands on.

This type of power doesn’t come cheap, either. Asus couldn’t confirm a price just yet, but Josh Wu, product manager for the motherboard business unit, said that the firm was aiming for a similar price to the Mars, which launched at around £851 exc VAT and was made in limited numbers. An impressive piece of kit, then, but one that’s possibly for those with more money than sense.

Crosshair IV Extreme

AsusAsus also unveiled two new motherboards alongside its weighty new graphics card. Like the Ares, both carry the Republic of Gamers brand, and both include some interesting features.

Taking pride of place is Lucid, which is the small green chip at the bottom-left of this picture. It’s a tiny chip that does a remarkable job: take Nvidia and ATI graphics cards and combine them into one multi-GPU setup. It’s activated by a driver install, and there’s none of the throttling that we’ve seen with ATI Hybrid Graphics, where the more powerful card is limited by the capabilities of the weaker chip – Lucid simply takes both cards and pools their resources. We’ve not seen it in action yet but, if it works, it’ll be extremely impressive.

Asus has installed five PCI-Express x16 slots on the board so, if you’re feeling flush, you could combine a pair of GeForce GTX 480s with ATI’s latest cards – and we’ve even been told that the dual-GPU Ares and Mars cards work with Lucid.

That’s not the end to the innovative features. A Bluetooth 2.1 reciever on the Crosshair IV Extreme’s backplate enables you to overclock your motherboard from the comfort of your smartphone as well as checking your system’s various voltages and clock speeds. Apps are currently available for Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile, with an iPhone version on the way.

Asus RoG XpanderAsus also showed off an accessory that, we’re sure, will only appeal to the keenest of graphics cards fans. It’s called the ROG Xpander and fits into the Crosshair IV Extreme’s first and third PCI Express x16 slots. The PCB is kitted out with four PCI-Express x16 slots, all of which run at x16 speed thanks to a pair of Nvidia NF200 chips – so it’s possible to get faster speeds than with the four slots on the board, two of which are limited to x8 speed when four graphics cards are used.

Asus was keen to stress that the Xpander is for the most enthusiastic of tinkerers and, given the sheer amount of heat generated by Nvidia’s latest graphics cards, we wouldn’t want to put four GTX 480s in such close proximity. Size is an issue, too, with Wu confirming that “you cannot use [the Xpander] in a chassis” because of its bulk.

On a more prosaic level, the socket AM3 board serves up four DIMM sockets for DDR3 memory running at speeds of up to 2,000MHz, a single PCI slot, two SATA/600 and six SATA/300 sockets and a pair of USB 3 ports on the backplate. Asus hasn’t confirmed a price for the Crosshair IV Extreme, but we’d bet everything we owned on it being higher than £200 exc VAT.

Rampage III Gene

Asus Rampage III GeneThe second Republic of Gamers board on show, the Rampage III Gene, is an Intel X58 board with an LGA 1366 processor socket. It’s also micro-ATX, and could prove ideal if you’re building a powerful system in a tight space.

Asus has crammed an impressive number of features onto the small PCB. Two PCI-Express x16 slots and single PCI-Express x1 and PCI slots sit beside six DDR3 DIMMs and two SATA/600 sockets. It’s not got the luxury features of it’s bigger brother, but it’s still got power and reset buttons on-board, a triangular heatsink, and a pair of SATA/600 sockets.

Luckily, the Rampage III Gene should be relatively affordable, too: Asus has confirmed that it’ll be priced similar to the preceding board in this range, which costs around £140 exc VAT.

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