Asus Rampage II Extreme

Pricey motherboard is a tweaker's dream come true

THE AS US RAMPAGE II EXTREME motherboard is the newest entry in the company's Republic of Garners line, offering slick looks and extensive support for overclocking. This pricey ($399) board based on Intel's X58 chipset supports Socket 1366 Intel Core i7 CPUs and is aimed at performance fiends for whom raw speed and configurability are more important than cost.

If you like to show off the insides of your PC, you'll be happy to know that the Rampage II Extreme's design screams performance. The black board is accented by gunmetal gray heat sinks with Ferrari red highlights, plus an LED-lit chipset cooler that looks a lot like an engine-block cover.

The board boasts three PCI Express (PCIe) x16 slots (which run in x16/x16 with two graphics cards or x16/x16/x8 with three cards) and supports both Nvidia SLI and ATI CrossFireX. Asus's other X58 board, the P6T Deluxe, has a board layout that restricts you to single-width graphics cards; the Rampage II Extreme can support three double-width cards.

The board also sports a pair of PCIe xl slots and a single PCI slot. Six memory slots support DDR3 DRAM at up to 1,800MIlz, and there are seven (yes, seven) SATA hard drive connectors as well as IDE and floppy ports. External expansion is robust as well, with 12 USB 2.0 ports (six of which are on the back panel), two FireWire ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and an external SATA (eSATA) port.

Like the MSI X58 Eclipse, the Rampage II Extreme bundles an EAX-compatible PCIe xl sound card, offering better, cleaner audio quality than typical onboard sound solutions. But although MSI includes an actual low-end Creative X-Fi card, the Asus solution is based on the ADI AD2000B audio codec. Its X-Fi support is provided by the drivers, enabling EAX 4.0, Crystalizer, and other typical Creative functions through software. Sound quality is excellent; with a Core i7 CPU, any additional CPU usage by the drivers is going to go unnoticed.

The Rampage II Extreme includes an external LCD Poster status module that lets you view boot status and error messages. Rather than using USB the way the external display included with the P6T Deluxe does, the Rampage connects directly to the motherboard, so it starts working before the operating system loads. Any doubt that this board is aimed at extreme tweakers should be dispelled by the fact that the BIOS settings open directly on the overclocking screen. The big, red power button right on the board lets you test and tweak the board outside of a case, and it's accompanied by a reset button as

well as a small joystick that works with the LCD Poster to let you manually adjust voltages and clock speeds. If you don't trust the voltage readouts provided by the motherboard, a set of two-pin headers will allow technical users to measure voltage by connecting a rnultimeter directly to various subsystems, such as CPU and DRAM. The Voltiminder LEDs on the board offer color-coded warnings if you push voltage too high. The board has two BIOS chips. This offers security should a flash upgrade go awry, and Asus allows you to switch between two different BIOS versions. You could run one version when stability is key, and switch to a newer beta version when you want to push performance to the limit.

For performance enthusiasts not familiar with the minutiae of overclocking settings, Asus includes CPU Level Up software, which lets you easily select from preset overclocking levels. Testing with a 2.66GHz Core i7-920 processor and the stock Intel cooler, in conjunction with a 1,333MHz DDR3 Triple Channel Memory Kit from OCZ, we easily reached the same 3.34GHz speed we achieved with the Asus P6T motherboard, using only Auto settings for voltages. The system was stable as a rock at this speed, and with a better cooler and appropriate tweaking, there's no doubt the Rampage II Extreme could have pushed the processor much faster.

The Rampage II Extreme is laden with overclocker treats. It's overkill for those who run their CPUs at stock speeds, but only the lack of full x16-channel support on all three PCIe graphics slots is likely to disappoint performance fiends. If you want to push your rig to the limit, this board is well-equipped and then some. —Denny Atkin

Computer Shopper March 2009


HP Mini 1000

Netbook has a killer keyboard, so-so speed

HP'S MINI-NOTE 2133 STOOD OUT with its high-res screen, Windows Vista OS—and high price.The new, low-priced Mini 1000 doesn't seem as distinctive, however, since its specs ate almost identical to those of its competitors.

The Mini 1000 is impressive, with solid construction, a stylish and svelte case, a superb keyboard, and a super-blight screen. The glossy black lid now sports a subtle Swirl pattern. The keys are no longer slick and shiny but subtly textured, and the screen has grown from 8.9 to 10.2 inches. Despite the larger display, the Mini 1000 has slimmed down to lx10.3x6.6 inches (HWD) and 2.5 pounds, making it the smallest, thinnest netbook yet with a full 10-inch-wide keyboard.

The standout feature of the Mini 1000 is its 92 percent keyboard.The keys feel solid, without the usual tapered edges, civing them flat tops with a slightly larger surface to hit.The layout is excellent, with none of keys found on other net books.The wide touch pad is very responsive; its buttons are easy to press, although we wish they were below the pad instead of off to the side.

The 1,024x600-pixel display is so bright that blacks looked gray at full brightness. Turning down the brightness solves this issue. The display is sharp and has a very wide viewing angle, but its glossy finish is sometimes annoying. Though I-W plans to offer an 8.9-inch screen as an option, the high-res 1,280x768 screen from the Mini-Note 2133 will not be available.

The 2133's anemic VIA processor has been replaced by the netbook-standard 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, backed by 1GB of DDR2 memory and running Windows XP Home Edition SP3. HP included a 60GB hard drive with our review unit; 8GB and 16GB SSDs, 2GB of RAM, and a Linux OS with a friendly "Mobile Internet Experience" front end will be available as options.

Performance is in line with that of other Atom-powered notebooks.The Mini 1000 scored 135 on Cinebench 9.5.Tasks like e-mail, Web browsing, word processing, and light numbercrunching were all smooth, but as with all netbooks, in terms of multimedia the Mini 1000 is more suited for video and audio playback than content editing and conversion. The netbook completed out Windows Media Encoder test in 27 minutes and 8 seconds and our Mines encoding test in 19 minutes and 24 seconds, which is almost identical to the $439 Lenovo IdeaPad S10's scores. With the included three-cell battery, the Mini 1000 lasted 2 hours and 21 minutes playing back an MPEG-4 movie; lighter usage, such as writing and browsing the Web, squeezed out another 20 minutes.

The integrated GMA 950 chipset does a fine job with Windows applications and full-screen video playback, but its poor 3DMark06 score of 91 means garners will be best off reliving five-year-old classics. The speakers are creatively placed behind a grille inside the laptop hinge, and although they don't have a
lot of volume, the audio clarity is superb.

For networking, the Mini 1000 includes 802.11b/gWi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 radios, as well as a 10/100 Ethernet port. You'll also find a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a combination headphone/microphone jack, an SD/MMC slot, and a VGA Webcam with a microphone.Though the notebook has a VGA monitor output, it uses a small custom connector, so you'll need to purchase an optional adapter cable to use an external monitor.

The Mini 1000 offers standout, solid construction and comfort. It is a worthy competitor in the netbook market, giving users the small size of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 without the compromised keyboard. Unfortunately, we're not convinced that its keyboard and weight are enough to offset the $80 to $120 price premium over competitors from Asus, Lenovo, and MSI that provide nearly identical performance.

Denny Atkin

Computer Shopper January 2009



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