Moving along to the board and ASUS' top of the line boards always look sexy with its Black/Brown 6-layer full ATX PCB and colour coding to really catch the eye. When it comes to the layout, ASUS really has the ball rolling with their latest motherboards. The 24-pin power connector along with the FDD connector get placed behind the four DDR3 memory slots which are nicely colour coded black for channel 1 and orange for channel 2. The 4/8 pin E-ATX power connector gets located to the top left of the board, right behind the PS/2 port stack in between two of the heatpipe coolers' fins towers.
Four of the six SATA ports along with the IDE port are located on the right hand edge of the board rotated 90 degree to keep the cables as clutter free as possible. The extra two SATA ports that are controlled by the ICH9R Southbridge are placed right below the memory slots on the standard upright angle.
Moving to the CPU area, ASUS have a lot of heatpipes surrounding the LGA775 socket. However, even our largest OCZ cooler we have here for testing purposes fits, though it was a bit tight to get to the push pins, but not impossible. The board uses the latest solid state components to provide the CPU with the most stable power it can out of the 8-phase voltage regulation system that is cooled by a huge heatpipe assembly. This assembly also connects to the X48 Northbridge and ICH9R Southbridge.
ASUS' rear I/O ports are identical to that used on the previous Premium series boards, however the addition of the USB based WiFi controller means that two extra holes have to go into the I/O shield, so if you're upgrading from a previous Premium ASUS board that didn't come with the WiFi controller, you will still need the new I/O shield. Thanks to the JMicron PCI Express controller chip onboard, two extra SATA ports are at ASUS disposal which have been routed to the rear I/O for eSATA operations. One thing that is interesting is that ASUS no longer provides a PS/2 port for the mouse, however a PS/2 port is included for the keyboard; what's the go here?
Lastly we come down to the expansion slots and the little extras that have been added to the board. ASUS has given us a total of three PCI Express x16 slots on the board; two blue ones and a single black. The two blue coloured x16 slots are routed to the 32 PCI Express 2.0 lanes that the X48 Northbridge provides, these are used for Dual Graphics operations such as Crossfire and Crossfire X. The third slot coloured black is routed from four lanes from the PCI Express lanes on the ICH9R Southbridge to give you the option for a third graphics card for Physics GPU power or any other PCI Express card that has over a x1 interface.
The last of the PCI Express options on the board is a single PCI Express x1 slot; in the last of the expansion slots are two PCI legacy slots which hopefully we will soon see disappear thanks to larger amounts of PCI Express lanes being added to new North and Southbridges.
Located between the second blue PCI Express x16 slot and the last PCI slot on the board is a small USB flash module that has been soldered onto the motherboard. This contains a small amount of flash memory. This is what ASUS calls the new Express Gate module; it has a Linux operating system called Splashtop loaded into the flash memory. Express Gate is a Pre-BIOS boot loader that has Wireless LAN and web browser support to name the least loaded into it. This allows you to access the internet or various other resources on your network if you need to access BIOS files or such.
Lastly, the little extras that make up the board are a JMicron PCI Express SATA/PATA controller chip that gives the board its single IDE port as well as the two eSATA ports on the back of the I/O ports. A Texas Instruments PCI based Firewire controller chip makes up for the two Firewire ports as well as the LSI controller chip that runs the EPU system.
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