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