When Intel ship their test systems out to reviewers they don't include any retail packaging, so here we have just jumped into the board itself. The first thing we noticed about the layout is that it looks rather like a lot of boards out there. Intel uses a black PCB with the 30x24cm layout. Keep in mind though, you can buy the Intel Bad Axe 2 motherboard, it's a retail product.
Layout is extremely clean, in fact, some of the other motherboard manufacturers could learn a lot from Intel in terms of layout. First off the power connectors are in extremely efficient places. The 24-pin ATX power connector is located behind the DDR-2 memory slots along with the FDD connector. The 8-pin ATX power connector is located at the top left of the board behind the PS/2 towers.
There is one quirk with this series of boards. If you have a 4-pin CPU voltage PSU, you won't get this board to power up. We tried our PSU with both 4-pin and 8-pin and when the 4-pin power connector was used, the board simply powered up and then powered down in the space of 3 seconds. When the 8-pin was used, the board worked fine.
The IDE port is located below the FDD port and is rotated 90 degree to the board so the cable doesn't stand up and keeps the cable away from large graphics cards. The board also has a total of 8 Serial ATA ports.
The CPU layout is of Intel specs and that makes sense since the board is designed by Intel. There is enough room to install larger heatsinks than the Intel OEM heatsink. The CPU is powered by a 4 phase digital VRM setup with a large heatsinks assembly across the Mosfets. Intel has used this setup since its first batch of Pentium Extreme boards to try and keep them cool when using over 130 watts of power. Core 2 draws a lot less, but its nice to see this tradition kept.
The rear I/O is rather plane by today's standards. Companies are adding e.SATA ports and SPDIF ports and whatever else to their high-end products. Intel only has a single SPDIF RCA port for its digital I/O. The rest is all legacy ports like Serial and Parallel ports.
Expansion ports on the board resemble what you would expect to find on a high-end board. There are a total of 3 PCI Express x16 slots - the top 2 are used for ATI Crossfire graphics cards, nVidia SLI isn't supported as both companies haven't come to any arrangements but don't count on that happening anytime soon. When you have only 1 PCI Express graphics card in the system, the top slot runs at full x16 speed. If you place a PCI Express expansion card into the second PCI Express x16 slot, it will only function in x1 mode unless you place a PCI Express card that runs in x4 or x8. In that instance, the second slot enables into x8 and the top slot also slows down to x8 speeds. When 2 PCI Express Graphics cards are used the 2 top PCI Express x16 slots run at x8 each.
The third PCI Express x16 slot may physically be x16 in length but it only runs at x4 electronically. This slot is used for a third graphics card if you want multiple monitor setup. Also with the use of a third graphics card you can use it as a physics engine like ATI demonstrated for us earlier this year. While good for graphics cards, you can use any PCI Express expansion card in there. It's good to have for server or workstation PCI Express RAID controller cards that come in x4 or x8 layouts.
Lastly on the expansion layout are 2 PCI slots for TV tuners and discrete sound system rather than having to use the Azalia audio codec that Intel now pushes.
Lastly we take a look at the extra features the board supports through external chips. While the board supports 8 SATA ports, the Southbridge only supports 4 of them. A Marvell PCI Express chip controls the extra 4. The blue ports are run by the Marvell chip. Firewire support comes from the Texas Instruments PCI Firewire chip. Lastly the Ethernet is a Tacoma PCI Express Gigabit LAN controller.