ASUS Crossblade Ranger (FM2+) Motherboard Review

by - 6 years ago

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Introduction and Closer Look


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The last time ASUS released a Republic of Gamers series motherboard for an AMD platform was way back in late 2011. The motherboard in question was the ASUS Crosshair V Formula which ASUS have since refurbished and re-released as the Crosshair V Formula-Z. The key theme with ASUS ROG motherboards for AMD platforms is that they have never been produced for AMD’s APU platforms, until now. In a somewhat surprising move in August of this year ASUS announced their first ROG motherboard for AMD’s A-Series platform; to be called the Crossblade Ranger.

The Crossblade Ranger’s existence makes sense given the recent speculative report from Digitimes that claims AMD and ASUS have planned stronger cooperation together on APU related matters. Even if such speculation is untrue the Crossblade Ranger is still a welcomed addition to the marketplace as many ASUS ROG fans have been requesting such ROG treatment for the AMD APU platforms. While AMD’s FM2+ platform isn’t the obvious choice for a gaming system, having the flexibility to take advantage of AMD’s latest Steamroller based CPU architecture is only possible on the FM2+ socket. AMD recently released their fastest Steamroller-based CPU the Athlon X4 860K Black Edition. With 4 cores at 3.7-4GHz and a 95W TDP the 860K is identical to the A10-7850K in terms of the CPU component, the only difference is at $90 the 860K is half the price of the $180 7850K making it a great choice for gamers who want to go with a discrete graphics solution.

With all that in mind AMD’s FM2+ A88X platform makes an interesting choice for a budget gaming system; you can pair up AMD’s Athlon X4 860K with a sweet-spot discrete GPU like an R9 280X or GTX 770 and you’ll have no trouble smashing through the latest games at 1080p or 1440p. Where does the ASUS Crossblade Ranger fit in you say? Well the Crossblade Ranger brings all of the coveted gaming motherboard features from the expensive Z97 and X99 ROG boards down to a more attractive price point. By gaming motherboard features we aren’t just talking of “sticking on a Killer NIC and make it red”. I’m referring to things that Gamers can actually notice and make use of like the ASUS KeyBot hardware and software package that allows you to bind macros to your keyboard even if it doesn’t have macro keys. Or the ASUS ROG GameFirst III packet prioritisation software with Intel’s high-spec Gigabit controller that allows you to accelerate and organise your internet connection priorities. There’s also the ASUS SupremeFX audio implementation with automatic headphone impedance detection (Sonic SenseAmp), custom hardware level audio profiles for different game types that are set via an onboard switch (Sonic SoundStage) and a variety of software enhancements for in-game voice chat, bass enhancement and virtual surround sound (Sonic Studio). It doesn’t stop there either, ASUS also offer their Sonic Radar II software which provides positional data on audio signals received in-game as well as a functional RAMDisk package for users who have enough RAM to load one of their favourite games onto.

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Packaging and Accessories

Being an ROG series motherboard the accessory bundle for the Crossblade Ranger is well-endowed. Among the usual assortment of documentation we find four SATA cables, a dark metallic rear I/O shield, ASUS Q-Connectors for your front panel connectors, an ASUS ROG mousepad, an ROG door-hanger and some sticky-labels for marking up each of your SATA devices to avoid confusion.

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Closer Look

While all motherboard vendors now have a red and black motherboard offering there’s just something special about the ASUS ROG design. The Crossblade Ranger is a stunning looking board for gamers.

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Along the right hand edge of the motherboard we find 8 SATA ports, a fan header, USB 3.0 header, the motherboard 24 pin, a MemOK! button, an LN2 mode jumper, a Slow Mode switch, probes for voltage read-offs, a reset button, a power on button and a debug LED.

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The bottom starts with premium ELNA audio capacitors on the left, the audio front panel header next to that, the SoundStage button for hardware level audio profiles, a TPM header, ROG_EXT header, clear CMOS button, dual USB 2.0 headers, a KeyBot button and the front panel connectors.

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The SupremeFX 2014 audio package comes on its own isolated PCB which is illuminated red. That red illumination can be disabled within the BIOS too.

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The rear I/O offers up all of the essentials for any system: plenty of USB, a legacy PS/2 for those who like it, a variety of display connections if you choose to use an APU, Intel Gigabit LAN and a plethora of audio jacks.

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At the top of the motherboard we find a pair of CPU fan headers, the first of two stylised CPU VRM heatsinks and an EPS 8 pin CPU power.

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The second CPU VRM heatsink holds the Ranger nomenclature. Around the CPU socket ASUS use an 8 phase VRM which equips their newly designed allow chokes, 10K black metallic caps and the NexFETTMMOSFET design.

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PCIe connectivity will allow for dual-GPU configurations but being an FM2+ motherboard we can’t imagine many users will be opting for more than a single graphics card. The lack of any M.2 ports is the noticeable omission when comparing this board to an ROG Z97 equivalent like the Maximus VII Ranger.

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The back of the motherboard features reinforcement plates for improved stability and cooling: something no other motherboard vendors do.

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The Test System and Test Software


Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to review our test system and thank those sponsors who kindly provided us with test equipment to make our work possible. We offer our thanks to:

Intel for supplying us with a Core i7 4770K processor, which we reviewed here.

AMD for supplying us with a A10-7850K APU, which we reviewed here.

Kingston for supplying us with a Hyper X 3K 240GB solid state drive, which we reviewed here, and the Hyper X USB 3.0 DTHX Flash Drive, which we reviewed here.

Corsair for supplying us with a Hydro Series H100i liquid CPU cooler, which we reviewed here, and a Vengeance Pro 16GB 2400MHz memory kit, which we reviewed here.

Be Quiet for supplying us with a Straight Power E9 680W power supply unit, which we reviewed here.

Plextor for supplying us with a 256GB M.2 solid state drive, which we reviewed here.

Sapphire for supplying us with an AMD R9 290 Tri-X graphics card, which we reviewed here.

ASUS for supplying us with an RT-AC68U wireless AC gigabit router, which we reviewed here.

Patriot for supplying us with a Wildfire 120GB solid state drive, which we reviewed here.

Lian Li for supplying us with a PC-T60A test bench.

Noctua for supplying us with NT-H1 thermal compound.

Intel Z97 Test System

  • Motherboard: varies by review
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K processor (Turbo disabled @ stock)
  • GPU: Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X graphics card
  • RAM: 8GB 2400MHz dual-channel kit (11-13-13-31-2T, 2 x 4GB)
  • Cooling: Corsair H100i with Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
  • Case: Lian Li PC-T60A test bench
  • Storage Drives: Kingston 240GB Hyper X 3K SSD, Patriot 120GB Wildfire SSD, Kingston Hyper X 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive and Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD
  • PSU: Be Quiet Straight Power E9 680W
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit SP1
  • Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router

AMD FM2+ Test System

  • Motherboard: varies by review
  • CPU: AMD A10-7850K APU (Stock turbo settings)
  • GPU: Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X graphics card
  • RAM: 8GB 2400MHz dual-channel kit (11-13-13-31-2T, 2 x 4GB)
  • Cooling: Corsair H100i with Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Compound
  • Case: Lian Li PC-T60A test bench
  • Storage Drives: Kingston 240GB Hyper X 3K SSD, Patriot 120GB Wildfire SSD, Kingston Hyper X 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive and Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD
  • PSU: Be Quiet Straight Power E9 680W
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit SP1
  • Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router

Test Software

  • SiSoft Sandra Engineer – available here.
  • WPrime – available here.
  • Cinebench – available here.
  • 3DMark – available here.
  • Bioshock Infinite – available here.
  • Tomb Raider – available here.
  • AIDA 64 Engineer – available here.
  • DPC Latency Analyser – available here.
  • Rightmark Audio Analyser – available here.
  • LAN Speed Test Lite – available here.
  • Passmark – available here.
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BIOS and Overclocking


The Crossblade Ranger inherits the same style of BIOS from Z97 ROG motherboards, which is a good thing. We jumped straight into the overclocking to see what the Crossblade Ranger is capable of.

ASUS CrossBlade Ranger BIOS (1)

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To help with your overclocking it makes sense to boost the CPU’s current capability setting to the maximum, if you’re cooling can deal with it of course.

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The option to turn off the LEDs on the audio section and chipset heatsink is a nice touch: most motherboard vendors do not offer such customisation.

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Overclocking

We settled on a final overclock of 4.6GHz, a respectable figure. Sadly we couldn’t get 4.7GHz stable in the limited time we had but the system was bootable into Windows all the way up to 4.8GHz so there’s probably scope to attain more if you have the patience to sit around and tweak. We went straight in with a 1.5 core voltage (CPU-Z seems to report double the used voltage) but you can run 4.6GHz with a lot less voltage, 1.45 volts worked fine at this frequency also.

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Software Overview


AI Suite III

Any recent ASUS motherboard comes with support for the AI Suite III package: it doesn’t have much going on for gamers but it is nice to know it is there. Of note is the fact you can do overclocking from within Windows using this.

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KeyBot

The KeyBot software is probably the most exciting: it allows you to create fully customised macro key options and program them to a hardware level controller. A pretty impressive option given keyboards with customisable macros start at a fairly steep premium.

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ROG RAMDisk

The ROG RAMDisk application is probably a little defunct on this platform. Given the high cost of memory it’s unlikely an FM2+ user will have more than 8-16GB which doesn’t give you much scope to store any games. If you have 16GB of RAM you can probably use half of it as a RAMDisk, there are a few games out there under 8GB in size.

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Sonic Radar II

If I remember correctly the ASUS Sonic Radar II software is actually prohibited by a lot of anti-cheat systems. The software calculates the distance between your in game position and sounds that occur to give you some idea of where enemies might be based on foot step noises and such.

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SupremeFX Audio

In the Realtek HD Audio control panel ASUS have their SupremeFX SoundStage and Sonic Studio audio settings. SoundStage can also be done with the hardware button.

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GameFirst III

The final software on the list is the GameFirst III package which was developed in-house by ASUS. This software allows you to create priority mode profiles for different applications, when you’re gaming you can give high priority to certain games and applications like Steam and when you’re watching movies you can prioritise your internet browser or media playing application. Switching between those profiles can be done with a simple click.

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CPU Performance


Cinebench

CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s CPU performance. Cinebench R15 is a totally free utility and is available for download here.

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Firstly, we haven’t had any new motherboards in over the past few months that weren’t Z97, or X99 which is even more overkill, so our graphs aren’t great comparisons. However, we can see the A10-7850K, which is identical to the Athlon X4 860K, has modest CPU performance. The overclocked A10-7850K sits somewhere inbetween an overclocked Pentium G3258 and a Haswell Core i3.

SiSoft Sandra

The SiSoft Sandra Dhrystone and Whetstone benchmarks are widely used measures of compute power and performance for a wide array of real world usage scenarios. You can find out more details on these tests here or download SiSoft Sandra here.

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Overclocking helps the performance figures quite a lot, against an i7 4770K isn’t a fair comparison but these results are all we have.

WPrime

wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. wPrime is a free utility that is available for download here.

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WPrime reveals some promising results for the A10-7850K, the scaling with overclocking is good too.

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GPU Performance


3DMark

3DMark Firestrike is Futuremark’s latest creation for testing the GPU performance of high end gaming PCs using Direct X 11 graphics. You can download a free basic version of 3DMark here.

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3DMark reveals an obvious bottleneck with the A10-7850K as a CPU, the amount gained with overclocking is significantly more than other CPUs gained with a larger frequency boost. Remember the A10-7850K is going from 4GHz to 4.6GHz, the i7 4770K went from 3.5GHz to 4.8GHz and showed much less performance scaling.

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter developed by Irrational Games that is the third instalment of the Bioshock series. The game is the last to be produced by Irrational Games before they announced their closure in February 2014. The game has sold over 4 million copies since its 2013 release.

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Bioshock Infinite makes use of the CPU quite a bit but this diminshes as the resolution increases. As a result the A10-7850K overclocked has only a 5% FPS penalty compared to an overclocked Core i7 4770K.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is a popular action-adventure video game published by Square Enix based on the Tomb Raider franchise. The game was released in 2013 and as of March 2014 had sold 6 million copies.

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Tomb Raider gave favourable results to the A10-7850K; we’re not sure how it came top but it did!

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Memory Performance


For our memory tests we use the built in memory benchmarks in AIDA64 Engineer and SiSoft Sandra. For more details on each of the benchmarks please see here and here respectively.

AIDA64 Engineer

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Memory perforance isn’t very impressive for Steamroller but that’s not something we can penalise ASUS for; I’ve seen similar results on a Gigabyte A88X motherboard last year.

SiSoft Sandra

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SiSoft shows similar results but it is important to note that this synthetic memory performance has very little impact on the “real world” performance. Real world performance is dictated more by the CPU performance.

Combined Latency Test

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Memory latency is similar to Intel’s X99, but that’s a quad-channel implementation. AMD’s Richland FM2 APUs have much better memory performance; remember you could use a Richland based Athlon X4 760K/A10-6800K in this system if you so desired.

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SATA, M.2 and USB Performance


To test the storage performance in our motherboard reviews we use AIDA’s Disk Benchmark utility built into their AIDA64 Engineer Edition software package and run linear read and write tests. We run each of the benchmark tests on a SATA III, USB 3.0 and M.2 device. For SATA III testing we use a Patriot WildFire 120GB SATA III SSD, for USB 3.0 testing we use the Kingston Hyper X 64 GB USB 3.0 flash drive and for M.2 testing we use Plextor’s 256GB M.2 M6e SSD. The drives are always formatted before use.

Linear Read

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The SATA and USB results in read and write are all within margin of error based on the maximum performance of the tested drives. In short the A88X platform will not limit your storage performance….unless you were hoping for an M.2 drive! Of course you could run something like Plextor’s M6E which uses an M.2 drive sandwiched onto a PCIe add-in card.

Linear Write

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Networking Performance


For our networking tests we connect the test system up to our Intel Gigabit enabled ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 motherboard test system through the ASUS RT-AC68U router and run our tests. We opted for this over a direct point-to-point connection because we wanted to simulate real world performance. For our WiFi tests we do the same except we connect the test system to the ASUS RT-AC68U router via WiFi at a distance of 2 metres from the router.

LAN Speed Test Lite

LAN Speed Test was designed from the ground up to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and Local Area Network (LAN) speeds (wired & wireless).  It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time. Download the free Lan Speed Test Lite utility from here.

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The Intel I211-AT controller isn’t something I’ve seen before. From some brief specification checking I believe ASUS opted for this Intel Gigabit controller as it is the best Intel Gigabit chip they can use on a non-Intel motherboard. The Intel I218V is certified for Intel’s motherboards. Performance is nearly identical to the I218V although upload speeds seem to have taken a bit of a hit.

Passmark Performance Test 8

The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.

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In Passmark we see slightly higher throughput that is more in-line with the Killer solutions. Those CPU usage figures below are impressive too: less CPU usage than the Killer chips using a more powerful CPU platform!

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Audio Performance


RightMark Audio Analyser (RMAA)

RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio device. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. Available here. We run the RMAA test using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable connecting the line out to the line in to test the quality of the motherboard audio codec not any external audio devices. We run the complete playback and recording test at default settings and then get RMAA to interpret the results giving the below outputs. We sync the playback and recording audio devices to the same setting as the test for accurate results.

16 Bit, 48KHz (DVD Quality)

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16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)

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16 Bit, 192 KHz (Studio Quality)

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The ASUS SupremeFX 2014 audio package is a great performer in Rightmark tests. While being a synthetic performer is good, the fact that the Crossblade Ranger also has all of the previously mentioned audio features makes this result all the better.

DPC Latency Analyser

Thesycon’s DPC Latency Checker is a Windows tool that analyses the capabilities of a computer system to handle real-time data streams properly. It may help to find the cause for interruptions in real-time audio and video streams, also known as drop-outs. Available here.

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Some of the newest Z97 motherboards can boast a DPC latency as low as 50 us, the Crossblade Ranger manages around 200 which is still a respectable result. Anything under 500~ will give you silky smooth audio and visual playback.

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Power Consumption


Power Consumption

To measure power consumption we use a killawatt meter and measure the total system power draw at the wall. We run three different use-case scenarios for 5 minutes and take the average reading.

asus_crossblade_ranger_graphs_power

Power consumption has never been AMD’s Forté and that shows here. At stock speeds the Crossblade Ranger system pulls slightly more than an i7 4770K Z97 system which delivers more performance (but costs a heck of a lot more!). At load the power consumption balances out more and Steamroller actually looks fairly efficient, Intel are still miles ahead but the gap isn’t bad, especially considering the price and the unfair comparison here.

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Final Thoughts


Pricing

The ASUS Crossblade Ranger has retail pricing of $159.99 at Newegg and $164.99 at Amazon in the USA. In the UK pricing is £119.99 from Overclockers, which includes a complimentary copy of Sniper Elite III. ASUS provide a 3 year warranty with this product.

Overview

AMD’s FM2+ A88X platform isn’t going to be everyone’s first preference for building a gaming system: I anticipate even ASUS acknowledge this. However, the fact remains that what ASUS are doing is commendable; they are responding to what their customers want which is a gaming board for the FM2+ platform.With the Crossblade Ranger we find all the applauded features from the ASUS Z97 Republic of Gamers boards are now available to AMD users. This gives gamers much more flexibility and puts the FM2+ platform on equal footing with Intel’s equivalents, CPU performance aside of course, when building a gaming system.

To build yourself an equivalently priced and performing Intel ROG system you’d need to opt for the Maximus VII Hero (or Ranger if you’re within Europe) and on the CPU side you’d be torn between the cheap and overclockable Pentium G3258 Anniversary edition, or the more expensive hyper-threaded Haswell Core i3s. That’s if you want to stick to the same budget as the Crossblade Ranger with an Athlon X4 860K or 760K. To put that into perspective here’s some pricing summaries:

  • ASUS Crossblade Ranger ($160) + AMD Athlon X4 860K ($90) = $250~
  • ASUS Maximus VII Hero ($205) + Intel Pentium G3258 ($70) = $275~
  • ASUS Maximus VII Hero ($205) + Intel Core i3 4150 ($120) = $325~

In the UK the availability of the cheaper Maximus VII Ranger makes the Intel platform with the Pentium an equivalently priced option but I would still be inclined towards the Crossblade Ranger on the basis you can get four real cores. Although, the Pentium Anniversary Edition does benefit from greater power efficiency and single-threaded performance. If it isn’t already obvious the situation is a little bit muddled. The segment to which the Crossblade Ranger appeals is very competitive, but the Crossblade Ranger still has its merits.

The main reason for commending the Crossblade Ranger is that in a motherboard market saturated with so many “gaming” motherboards, that deliver very little to gamers, the Crossblade Ranger offers a refreshingly positive experience for gaming. Sure, it isn’t the cheapest route for a gaming system but with everything that’s included the deal is still a very strong one.

Pros

  • Brings the ROG feature-set to a more competitive price point
  • Excellent software package and BIOS
  • Great styling
  • Offers a nice alternative to Intel’s LGA 1150 for gamers
  • Premium audio quality

Cons

  • Expensive relative to other A88X motherboards
  • The limited CPU performance of the AMD Athlon X4 860K/A10-7850K may put some prospective buyers off

“The Crossblade Ranger brings the ROG treatment to the AMD A-Series platform in style. A beautiful design matched with some great gaming features should make anyone take a second look at AMD’s FM2+ for a budget gaming system.”

ASUS Crossblade Ranger (FM2+) Motherboard Review

Thank you to ASUS for providing this review sample.

Article Index

  1. Introduction and Closer Look
  2. The Test System and Test Software
  3. BIOS and Overclocking
  4. Software Overview
  5. CPU Performance
  6. GPU Performance
  7. Memory Performance
  8. SATA, M.2 and USB Performance
  9. Networking Performance
  10. Audio Performance
  11. Power Consumption
  12. Final Thoughts
  13. View All

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