It's now time for the big show, the board itself. ASUS puts a lot of pride in their Republic of Gamers series of boards and it really does show. The board is made on the same black/dark brown 6 layer PCB measuring 30x24cm.
The layout on the ASUS boards is never a problem. The 24-pin ATX power connector is located on the right hand side of the board behind the six DDR3 memory modules along with a special control panel that ASUS now uses. This panel includes the power and reset buttons along with toggle buttons and a joystick that's used for manual overclocking and selecting certain setup features on the board.
Just below these buttons are a set of 2-pin headers; these are actually there for users who want to manually monitor the voltage outputs with a multimeter. ASUS includes a small header that allows you to connect it to the probe wires of a multimeter to monitor voltages. If you don't want to fiddle with this, there are solder headers below each of the ports that you can directly connect the multimeter to. This is great for overclockers who don't trust the software power monitor as it allows for a perfectly accurate reading.
The CPU area is rather cramped by today's standards. ASUS has gone with a very intricate heatpipe that cools not only the ICH10R Southbridge, but also encompasses the Northbridge and the Mosfets on the left side and top row. While keeping them cool, it makes it hard to get large heatsinks installed. In fact, our OCZ Vanquisher had a few issues fitting onto this board. A few copper fin cuts to the fingers and knuckles were the results.
If this board was installed in a case before putting the heatsink on, it would have been totally impossible to get the push pins down, so if you're going with a large heatsink then be sure to install the CPU and heatsink before putting the board into the case. Your fingers and knuckles will be less damaged at the end of the day.
The CPU is fed its power through a 16 phase VRM system. That's right, 16 phases; four more than the top GIGABYTE board on offer. However, ASUS does not have any info available as to whether or not this is a true 16 phase system or a dual 8 phase system. Remember, GIGABYTE doesn't have 12 phases, but a dual 6 phase setup working in parallel to supply its power to the CPU.
We asked this question of ASUS at Computex 2008 during the technical Q&A, but received no answers on whether or not it was a true 16 phase arrangement or how many phases it would shut down at idle.
Turning our attention to the rear I/O ports, ASUS has a fantastic layout and design. Of note here, there is only one PS/2 port, but it has a half purple and half green colour scheme. This is a dual purpose port; if you have a PS/2 mouse, you can run it off the PS/2 port and run the keyboard off the USB, or vice versa. If you have both a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, you're stuffed here; it's time to pick up a USB mouse/keyboard.
Digital audio is handled by either the Toslink or RCA S/PDIF port located on the SupremeFX X-Fi controller card which supports EAX 4 and digital connection is through the FireWire and eSATA port that runs off the same chip which controls the IDE port on the motherboard.
Time to look at the expansion layout that ASUS has managed to slip into the frey. First off, we look at the PCI Express slots. In total we have three PCI Express x16 slots and two PCI Express x1 slots. Out of the PCI-E x16 slots, we have one blue slot and two black. The blue slot runs at a full 16 lanes when only a single graphics card is inserted onto the board in this slot. If you plan to go Crossfire on this board, a second graphics card needs to be inserted into the upper black slot; this will then trigger the digital switch to split the 16 lanes from the Northbridge down to 8 lanes for the blue and 8 lanes for the black slots. The last PCI Express x16 slot is a universal slot that runs x4 max speed and is created using the PCI-E lanes from the ICH10R Southbridge. If you plan to use an extra graphics card in here, you can't use any of the PCI-E x1 lanes as their bandwidth is routed to the last slot to make it functional. If you do use the other PCI-E x1 slots, the last x16 slot will only work in x1 mode.
To wrap up the legacy connections, two PCI slots are also included if you want to use older sound cards, modems, TV tuners or anything PCI based.
Additionally, since the ICH10R does not support any form of IDE port, ASUS added in a Marvell 88SE6121 PATA/SATA PCI Express combo chip. This chip gives the board its single IDE port along with two SATA ports. However, only one is used and it is routed to the eSATA port for the rear I/O.