First I have to declare that I fell a little short (okay, a lot short) on adding comments in about the board. I did state up front this would not be a motherboard review and that I would try to feed usability comments in where I could. The upside is the lack of comments means the Rampage III Extreme did not have any quirks through testing, just solid Asus quality we have come to expect. BIOS was solid, Overclocking was very easy although I would like the LCD Poster or a something to show Post Codes instead of having to connect up another device. But that is pretty low on the list, stability and ease of overclocking are by far bigger feature than an LCD Poster or LED Diag (yes, I know full well there are POST LED’s in front of the ATX 24pin). Bottom line, the board just does what you tell it to, within reason of course.
Ok now, back to cooling. This is not my first endeavor into board cooling; in fact, most of the boards in my farm are water cooled. Some with individual blocks on mosfets, North Bridge and South Bridge, one with a NB/SB combo block and separate mosfet block and yes I have gone the full board route before as well. One thing I can say for certain is the full board block is a god send. No longer do we have to struggle with tube routing between the blocks or lose the ability to quickly swap GPU’s thanks to the NB to SB tube. Full board just makes everything work with a lot less hassle, and the look of a blocked up board got a little sleeker. With all of that said, there are still improvements that can be made as the full board block evolves and a lot of it comes down to the little things.
I was very happy to see all of the blocks include a back plate for the mosfets, but disappointed with that being the only back plate. Now back plates are a groaning point for many, myself included and yes I know they are not required but I always prefer a back plate for that solid feel. Back plates always assist the end user (us) with installation, and installation/mounting is the biggest factor besides performance and aesthetics. While we are on the topic of the back side of the board, part of the engineering/design process has to include verifying clearance from the screws to the motherboard tray. The EK block had a little problem in the clearance area under the VRM’s, the thicker back plate and reuse of the thick stock thermal pad is more than likely the cause. Luckily for me, my motherboard tray is acrylic but those of you with metal trays will need a small patch of non-conductive material to prevent any sort of shorting. I may be sounding the alarm prematurely here, but better safe than sorry.
Another area where things just are not quite right yet is standoffs on the block. Many of you have already heard my gripes about standoffs from the GTX480 block review, and board block (full board or chip specific) are no exception. Koolance has them machined right in, Bitspower has you screw them in and EK makes you dab them in some TIM and stick them on. Individually, none of them are quite right… EK’s are the proper thickness allowing for some over tightening to occur and not damage the board, Koolance’s are just a tad short and I do not understand why I had to screw them into Bitspower’s block. Combine the good points of all three and I think we have a winner.
The last thing I feel still needs a little improvement is in the area of thermal pads. What happened to the pre-cut thermal pads we have come to look forward to? To answer my own question with a theory, the volume of board blocks is not high enough to warrant pre-cutting thermal pads for us, so enough to cover the areas needed is cut from the sheet and that’s that. Additionally, pads are getting too thin, where the thinner the pad the less compression you can expect from the pad. This also means that the difference between too loose and too tight with the screws becomes smaller as well. Danger Den, although pre-cut pads were supplied needed a bit thicker pads, especially for the back plate on the fets. On the first mount I have contact on the two outside fets, but nothing in the middle, and even though that was my own fault a thicker pad would have meant better contact.
As I said, full board blocks are a big step forward from the individual blocks we had to muck with before X58 even though some of the little things need to be addressed yet. In the end, every one of the blocks we tested did exactly what was expected and cooled the board well. Some of you may look at the roughly 10C drop in temperature and claim it is just not worth it, but the thing you forget is how big 10C is for low wattage. If we could raise the heat output we would see a bigger gain and more separation amongst the blocks. We did not have VRM sensors to monitor, but I speculate we would have seen a much bigger drop on the fets going with water over the stock cooler. I did try to use the ROG sensors for the mosfets in pre-testing, but could not work out a method to keep the sensors in place and not interfere with the contact between the pad and the fets… I was not about to take that risk again after the result the last time I installed my own sensors.
An area of surprise for me is how active cooling is being deployed for chipset/full board blocks where prior it was simply a flat copper surface and flow across the surface was all the cooling we would get. Bitspower really stepped it up in this area compared to their previous offerings, even though we had to do some slight modification to the board in order to get the block mounted. Danger Den took a different approach from the norm with their water and heat pipe hybrid, and still performed with the rest of the pack while managing to pack in a good bit of extra flow rate compared to the rest of the contenders. Koolance confused me bit with their barb port location being below the ICH, but the placement became clear once I disassembled the block and view the water flow path, which was straight through versus snaking around to get back up to the IOH. EK continues to bring top tier products to market, even though they took a back seat this time around… and knowing EK there will be improvements to get them back to the top next time we test board blocks
After all is said and done, there is not a bad block in the bunch and once again we the enthusiasts win all around. We are in a great spot with water cooling, we have a plethora of options and a variety of looks and design approaches to choose from. Furthermore, Bitspower’s change to more active cooling certainly proves companies listen to the enthusiast community and make product changes based on our feedback, which means we will continue to see further advancement as long as we give solid feedback. Before we close this one out, a huge thank you to Asus for their gracious support by providing the Rampage III Extreme for testing and Koolance, EK, Danger Den and Bitspower for sending block samples over as well. We cannot thank these companies enough for helping us bring you the testing and reviews you feast on here at Skinnee Labs. A final thanks to you the reader for soldiering through the pages and pages of text in this review… you keep reading and we promise to continue testing.