TechARX Tech Report : Asus Crossblade Ranger

Asus Crossblade Ranger Review

Off late, while other manufacturers have produced gaming-centric boards for AMD platform, ASUS has mostly shied away. The Crosshair V Formula Z came out over a year ago, and since then ROG on AMD has been a no-show. Until now. In this year’s Computex ASUS announced the Crossblade Ranger, a ROG motherboard based on the FM2+ platform and A88X chipset. The Ranger moniker is entirely new to the ROG line, introduced first with Intel’s latest Z97/Devil’s Canyon platform, and basically is an entry level offering with ROG red-and-black styling, enhanced audio and VRM circuitry, ROG front base support, voltage checkpoints and other ROG-centric features like KeyBot/Sonic Radar/SSD SecureErase etc. The introduction of Ranger in AMD platform is interesting, and while most power users may have a gripe or two about not getting another Formula/top-end board, with the current crop of AMD processors, it doesn’t make sense to make a 25k+ motherboard for processors which often cost half the price. AMD’s FM2+ platform is of incredible value, and caters to budget conscious customers. ASUS is trying to get best of both worlds here: ROG features without breaking the bank. But how does it perform? Let’s take a look at what’s offered before we dive in to the performance numbers.

Specifications and Board overview

Lets have a quick look at the specification then we will dive into a short overview along with notable features and then conclude with some benchmark data.

CPU AMD Socket FM2+ Athlon™/A- Series Processors Supports CPU up to 4,cores Supports AMD® Turbo Core 3.0,Technology
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR3 2666(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2250(O.C.)/2200(O.C.)/2133/1866/1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Graphic Integrated AMD Radeon™ R/HD8000/HD7000 Series Graphics in the A-Series,APU
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB ports,
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096,x 2160,@ 24 Hz / 1920,x 1200,@ 60 Hz*1
– Supports DVI-D with max. resolution 2560,x 1600,@ 60 Hz
– Supports RGB with max. resolution 1920,x 1600,@ 60,HzMaximum shared memory of 2048,MB
AMD® Dual Graphics technology support
Multi-GPU Support Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (Single at x16, dual at x8/x8, red)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode, black)
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1,
2 x PCI
Storage AMD A88X FCH(Bolton D4) chipset :
8 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s),
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10, JBOD
LAN Intel® I211-AT, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Audio ROG SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– SupremeFX Shielding Technology
– ELNA® premium audio capacitors
Audio Feature :-
– DTS Connect
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic SoundStage
– Sonic SenseAmp
– Sonic Studio
– Sonic Radar II
ROG Exclusive Features Extreme Engine Digi+ III :
– Full Digital CPU/DRAM Power
– NexFET™ Power Block MOSFET
– New Alloy Chokes
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
ROG Extreme OC kit :
– Slow Mode
– LN2 Mode
ProbeIt
KeyBot
– CPU Level Up
– XMP
– Direct Key
UEFI BIOS features :
– GPU.DIMM Post
– Tweakers’ Paradise
– ROG SSD Secure Erase
– Graphic Card Information Preview
ROG RAMDisk
GameFirst III
Extreme Tweaker
USB BIOS Flashback
Back I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x DVI-D1 x D-Sub
1 x HDMI1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0,
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
Form Factor ATX Form Factor
12,inch x 9.6,inch ( 30.5,cm x 24.4,cm )
Product Link

 

Now lets take a look at the motherboard itself.

Crossbladeranger_overview

Since the Ranger is part of ASUS’ ROG series, the motherboard follows the black and red design, the black being a matte, subtle part which adds to the appeal. As usual, for the description of the motherboard we will start with the top left corner and go clockwise.

The 8 pin CPU power connector sits snug between the two VRM Heatsinks. The VRM Heatsinks are quite huge for a FM2+ board, and covers the full digital power delivery components that ASUS is using in the Ranger. The power delivery system is split 6+2+2, and uses ASUS’ Extreme Engine Digi+ III, which is basically a marketing moniker for the PWM controller (possibly a rebranded IR3567B). The NexFET Power Block MOSFETs and their newer allow chokes are there as well, as well as 10K Black Metallic Capacitors, as part of ASUS’ upgraded PWM design, but like I continue to harp on the need for such a beefy power delivery for a platform such as the FM2+. But they are there if anyone needs them.

Crossblade Ranger-product photo-VRM3_678x452

The socket area is clean and there is sufficient clearance to accommodate most air and closed loop liquid coolers. The DRAM slots are properly color coded and supports speeds of up to 2666MHz. Four DRAM slots mean memory support is maxed out at 64GB, in dual channel configuration. Between the first DRAM slot and the top VRM heatsink we have the CPU_OPT and CPU_FAN headers. Next to the CPU_FAN header one can see the little Digi+ chip, and then at the right hand top corner we have the two digit LED debug display. Immediate south are the Power/Reset buttons, the voltage checkpoints, the LN2 mode jumper and the slow mode switch, the MemOK! Button, the 24 pin EATX power connector, internal USB3.0 header, and another fan header, CHA_FAN3.

DSC_0237

 

Coming further down, the southbridge heatsink design continues ASUS’ evolved design that we saw earlier with the Z97 boards, and on the right hand side, we see the storage connector array. The Ranger has eight SATA 6GB/s ports, all fed from the A88X FCH chipset, and supports RAID 0/1/5/10/JBOD.

Crossblade Ranger-product photo-2D

The bottom of the motherboard is filled with connectors. From right to left, we have the front panel power/reset/led connectors, two USB2.0 internal headers, a clear CMOS button, CHA_FAN2 header, the ROG_EXT header (to be used with ROG Front Base), Trusted Platform Module header, the SoundStage button, and the front panel audio header.

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Since this is an ROG board, the audio gets the SupremeFX treatment, which is basically an upgraded RealTek ALC1150 codec with LED-lit audio path separation, 115dB SNR/192KHz sampling rate, ELNA premium audio capacitors and supports jack detection and multi-streaming.

KNbeV4gpnRv0ueIC_setting_000_1_90_end_500

For PCIe expansion, we have three PCIe x16 slots, two red and one black. The red ones are full fat x16 electrically, and support both PCIe 3.0/2.0 standard (depending on CPU installed), while the black one is wired x4 and is not advisable to be used for GPUs. There are two PCIe x1 slots, as well as two legacy PCI slots for further expansion options.  The slot spacing is pretty good for a dual-GPU setup, and since most cards these days are dual-slot, there will be enough breathing space between the cards when installed.

There is another fan header (CHA_FAN1) between the first PCIe x1 slot and the VRM heatsink.

Crossblade Ranger-product photo-IO 2

As for the I/O, the Ranger has a PS/2 combo port for mouse/keyboard, two USB2.0 ports, four USB3.0 ports (two USB3.0 ports from ASMedia controller, rest from A88X FCH). For the iGPU outputs we get a DVI-D, a D-Sub and a HDMI port. Apart from the display cluster there are six audio jacks and the Ethernet port (via an Intel I211 controller), and between these two sections there is the USB BIOS Flashback button.

Setup and Benchmarks.

As always we tested using AIDA 64 which is by far the most comprehensive synthetic benchmark of them all.

Aida CPU Suite

CPU Queen and PhotoWorxx
xblade_queen

CPU AES and HASH

xblade_aes

Aida FPU Suite

xblade_fpu

 

Conclusion

Crossblade Ranger is very interesting board,a much needed addition to the AMD motherboard lineup which was missing after the Crosshair V Formula Z. But somewhere i feel the the board came a tad late for the APU’s since the new gen Kaveri APUs are notorious for not clocking well at times(even our ES stopped working with us after 4300MHz). ASUS seems to have gone the whole hog about the VRM and power delivery which seems almost overengineered for a platform such as FM2+ which is not primarily targeted as an overclocking one. Other than that, no complaints – the board gets upgraded SupremeFX 2014 Audio (RealTek ALC1150), Intel GbE, MemOK!/SonicStage onboard buttons, support for ROG FrontBase, and the usual plethora of ROG oriented software and UEFI features.

Overall, the Crossblade Ranger is a very good board for the budget enthusiasts (sounds like an oxymoron)who would like to get a cheap and low TDP APU + Motherboard solution for about the price of i7 4790k.

Added to that you have the backward compatibility support for older FM2 processors and you have a very capable overclockable platform at a relatively cheap price.

APU’s are a tough sell but the Ranger makes the whole lineup pretty lucrative for a budget build with a cheap GPU like a R7 260x/265 or even a GTX 750Ti if you prefer to swing that way. AMD is pushing its luck pretty hard on the 28nm fabrication process, and while the entire architecture is due for an update soon, motherboards like the Ranger continue to provide some incentives for existing/new users.

 

Sumon Pathak

Sumon Pathak

Lawyer by day, Overclocker and reviewer by night, and a sniper in weekends.