Unfortunately, the board we were shipped from ASRock didn't come in retail packaging. Why this is, we can't really say for sure; but hey, it's still a board and it's ready to be fired up.
Being a HTPC based unit, its size is limited to the Micro-ATX format. While being of a cheaper design, there should be no skimping on the R&D for placement of connectors; it seems like ASRock has done this unfortunately. Normally we see the 24-pin power connector on the right hand side of the board, just behind the memory slots. Keeping it away from the CPU is preferred in order to promote better cooling. ASRock has placed its 24-pin power connector between the rear I/O slots and the CPU retention mechanism along with the 4-pin power connector right above it. This causes some cable clutter around the CPU, and in a small case like the Micro-ATX tower, there is very little room for extra fans to keep things cool. This results in a hotter running system with the cables where they are.
Behind the memory slots, ASRock has located the single IDE port running off the SB700 chip, AMD still believes in IDE like NVIDIA, where Intel boards require an extra chip for IDE.
There are six SATA ports controlled by the SB700; that's right, with the new SB700 chip we get two additional SATA ports over the SB600. This is a nice change to say the least. These ports are located at the bottom right of the board, lined up in three rows of two.
Because of the use of AMDs CPU retention mechanism, there is usually quite a lot of room on the AMD boards to place large heatsinks. This holds true with the ASRock board as well; there are no obstructions for our OCZ Vanquisher to worry about.
Providing power to the CPU is a 4-phase voltage system that is more than sufficient to power the latest generation of Phenom X4 processors. ASRock hasn't swapped out to solid state components yet, this board uses copper wound chokes and electrolyte capacitors. Hopefully we will soon see ASRock join in and start the trend of using power saving solid sate components.
Now we move onto the rear I/O components. Having the 780G chipset power the board, we get the advantages of the Radeon HD 3200 GPU. To that end, on the rear I/O we get two VGA ports; one RGB and one DVI-I. There is no HDMI port which is disappointing. What's more, this board is supposed to be equipped with DisplayPort, however there are no ports on the rear I/O and we didn't get shipped an add-in card. But from what we have been told, a PCI Express based add-in should have been sent that allows for DisplayPort functionality on this board.
One thing that bothered us was the fact that the board only has three stereo audio jacks; this means that if you want 5.1 sound on the board you have to give up the Line-in and Mic jacks. This is rather annoying if you want full 5.1 sound and a Mic at the same time for online gaming.
Lastly, we are onto the expansion slots that the board is equipped with. Being Micro-ATX based we don't have a huge array of options, but there are enough for a HTPC.
Starting off, we have a single PCI Express x16 slot for a discrete GPU, or if you're into the Hybrid Crossfire design, you can combine a selected Radeon graphics card with the onboard GPU. This helps for low end systems and would be of good design for a HTPC that needs a little extra juice for some basic games. The slot is of PCI-E 2.0 specification thanks to the 7 series Northbridge having PCI-E 2.0 compliance.
A Single PCI Express x1 slot also running 2.0 specs makes up the last of the PCI-E expansion options. Thanks to the SB700, all PCI-E slots on the new series of AMD boards will now be 2.0 spec'd. For legacy support there are two PCI slots that make up the final arrangement.
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