ASUS Crossblade Ranger Review
ASUS Crossblade Ranger
AMD’s line of mainstream APUs has been on the market for some while, but ASUS didn’t think they were in need of a ROG motherboard. All through the FM1 (Llano) and FM2 (Trinity, Richland) users all over the world expressed their disappointment to ASUS about not launching a ROG motherboard for these platforms. The wait is over now because ASUS just launched its first ROG motheboard targeting AMD’s mainstream APU line: Crossblade Ranger.
The motherboard is equipped with the A88X chipset, being a FM2+ motherboard it will support all FM2 (Trinity, Richland) and FM2+ (Kaveri) APUs and CPUs. Although ROG motherboards are usually expensive and heavy overclocking oriented, the new Crossblade Ranger its designed to match the platform price and target audience. At a MSRP of $160 the mainboard adds to the market a mix of overclocking and gaming features, but without going over the edge.
Today we’ll take a look at the board itself and see what surprises we can find through the BIOS, but we’ll skip on the overclocking section because it’s really nothing new we can show you right now. Kaveri APUs are good all-arounders for their price but in terms of overclocking they are limited by the manufacturing process and silicon quality. When Kaveri will get a new revision we will show you what the ASUS Crossblade Ranger can do for sure. Richland was much better for overclocking but the architecture is last generation and it has no actual relevance for today’s market and buyers.
Packaging & bundle
The box is a little smaller than what we are used to, but we can see the same Republic of Gamers color thematic. On the front we can see that we get also a bonus ROG mouse-pad inside, while on the back we can see the specifications and some of the most important features.
The bundle is also reduced to your basic needs, meaning that you get a User Guide, DVD with drivers and utilities, I/O shield and 4 SATA cables. Yes, and the ROG mouse pad which is a nice addition for all the ASUS fans out there.
PCB & connectivity
We can see that ASUS uses on Crossblade Ranger most of the features introduced in their new Z97 ROG line-up: matte black PCB, LANGuard + GameFirst III, SupremeFX 2014 + Sonic Radar II and Keybot. The Gigabit connectivity is based on an Intel i211-AT controller which has ESD guard and Surge protection through LANGuard. Also, for better performance ASUS developed GameFirst III network-optimization software to show that using a performant controller (Intel) and a properly designed software you don’t need Killer E2200 controller.
SupremeFX 2014 is the new and improved integrated audio solution for mainstream and performance motherboards from the ROG line-up. It’s based on a Realtek ALC1150 controller with EMI cover and physical PCB separation for lower interference. Sonic SenseAmp detects your headphone impedance and adjust the headphone amp immediately to fit that. Sonic Soundstage are 4 hardware-level audio game profiles through which you can cycle pushing the soundstage button on the lower edge of the motherboard. Coupling all this features with the use of ELNA capacitors and gold-plated outputs we can say that the audio solution is good, especially taking in consideration the price of the motherboard.
If we talk about connectivity, Crossblade Ranger is pretty standard when it comes to A88X motherboards having two PCI-Express 3.0 16x slots connected to the CPU which can be configured as 16x / – or 8x / 8x. The A88X PCH is responsible for the black coloured slots: one PCI-Express 2.0 16x slot (4x electrical), two PCI-Express 2.0 1x and two legacy PCI slots.
You can connect a maximum of eight SATA 3 drives to the motherboard, using native ports provided by the A88X PCH. In the top right corner of the Crossblade Ranger we have a little OC Corner as I like to call it, a normal feature for a ROG motherboard. We have the Power and Reset buttons together with the Debug LED and MemOK button. The LN2 mode jumper together with the Slow Mode switch are also there, situated right next to the measurement points.
Backpanel & VRM
On the backpanel we can see six USB ports (four of them being USB 3.0), one RJ45 LAN port, the integrated soundcard 3.5″ jacks, TOSlink optical output, one PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse and 3 display outputs (D-SUB, DVI-I and HDMI). If you connect your keyboard through the dedicated USB 2.0 port you can enable the KeyBot feature with which we can assign macros to the F1-F10 keys.
The VRMs are built with high quality components and pretty massive for the class that this motherboard belongs to. The CPU VRM has 8 phases (6 CPU + 2 iGPU / NB), each of them being composed of a alloy choke and TI NexFET PowerPak’s (one for each CPU phase and 2 for each iGPU / NB phase).
The memory subsystem is powered by a 2 phase VRM built with the same chokes but with classical MOSFETs this time (two per phase).
The BIOS is also similar in looks and features as the one present in the Z97 ROG line, having the possibility to configure the settings in the EZ Mode or the Advanced Mode. The first mode is mostly for beginners where we can only set the boot order, fan speeds and enable / disable D.O.C.P. (DRAM OC Profile).
The Advanced Mode let us change anything we want, but we can also let the BIOS configure the best overclock for our CPU through an automated wizard named OC Tuner. If we want to do it the manual way, we have all the tools we need in terms of multipliers and voltages as you can see for yourself in the screens below.
If we activate D.O.C.P. the BIOS reads the XMP profile and tries to change your settings to match the specs. If you plan to do it manually, you have a ton of memory timings to adjust yourself. Note that there aren’t any memory profiles like those you can find in other ROG motherboards. Maybe there wasn’t enough time for those to be implemented or given the price and segment of this motherboard they considered they aren’t needed.
In the DIGI+ Power Control tab you can configure all the load line calibration, OCP’s and VRM frequency you need. In the TDP Configuration tab you can set the Target TDP. For Kaveri this is 95W but you can step it down to 65W or 45W for HTPC uses. We will discuss this subject in an upcoming article and also show you an example of such a PC.
In the Monitor section we can find Qfan Tuning option which automatically modifies you fan profiles depending on the CPU temperature in your system. You can also do this manually from the Fan Speed Control section, but this requires a a bit more knowledge. In the Voltage Monitor, Temperature Monitor and Fan Speed Monitor users can find monitoring information about the current running system.
It’s good to see that ASUS kept some features from their high-end motherboards, like overclocking profiles and SSD secure erase straight from BIOS. In case you need more info about the RAM modules installed in your PC, you can access SPD Information and you can see detailed info about their SPD. Also, in the Extreme Tweaker section accessing the GPU.DIMM Post you can see the graphic cards and RAM installed on the motherboard and the clocks and bandwidth they run.
The ASUS Crossblade Ranger comes with everything you could want at a FM2+ motherboard for a retail price of $160. It comes with nice audio and great networking gear (Intel NIC + GameFirst III software) and has also some overclocking features (LN2 mode, Slow Mode switch). If you compare this motherboard with similar offerings from ASRock (Fatal1ty Killer) and Gigabyte (G1.Killer) which cost around $100 you can say that the ASUS is better in almost every aspect but also much more expensive.
The motherboard is very nice but we are expecting also a new revision of Kaveri or maybe the new generation to see truly if this motherboard is really an overclocking game-changer for ASUS. I say this because if we look for an 24/7 light gaming PC, the $160 price tag may not be a good thing for the Crossblade Ranger because we have much cheaper options (you can find the solid ASRock FM2A88X Extreme6+ with a 10 phase VRM for $115).
Don’t get me wrong, I like the ASUS Crossblade Ranger and it’s probably the best AM2+ motherboard out there. The problem is that without some real overclocking APUs from AMD to see the difference it doesn’t really stand up from the crowd to justify it’s hefty price tag. Forgot to mention earlier, but if you have an OC Panel or a Front Base you can connect it to this motherboard as it has the necessary ROG_EXT connector… So a heavy overclocking APU would be nice…