ASRock's M3A785GXH/128M is based on a full ATX six layer PCB, so it measures the standard 30 x 24cm - a good case will be needed to fit it in. The board isn't packed to the brim with accessories and add-ons, so smaller ATX towers will be able to handle this board. A clean layout is extremely important and ASRock has done a good job with the board.
The 24-pin power connector is located at the very top right of the board behind the four DDR3 memory slots, this is in fact the first time we have seen the power connector this far up. If you were to put this board into an ATX case with limited space this would keep the large bulky power cable well out of the way of the other system components. The 4/8-pin AUX power connector is located in its usual spot just behind the PS2/USB combo tower on the upper left side of the board.
Like all major manufacturers now, ASRock has gone with solid state capacitors and chokes. Only very cheap boards now come with electrolyte capacitors and copper wound chokes. The CPU is fed its power through a five phase voltage regulation system to keep the power levels as clean as possible. There is no cooling for the Mosfets on this board; ASRock believes they are cool enough on their own. The 785G Northbridge comes with its own heatsink as does the Southbridge, both are passively cooled. You can see just under the Northbridge heatsink a small memory chip, this is a 128MB DDR3 memory chip that gives the board its onboard SidePort memory. This chip is not cooled - we would have liked to see the chip cooled as this board supports overclocking the IGP core and Sideport memory.
Moving along down the right hand side of the board we get a view of the media connectors. There are a total of six SATA ports, five are coloured red and one is coloured orange. All six ports are driven off the Southbridge's SATA controller which supports IDE, AHCI and RAID modes. The orange port is used as a bridge and it is something we really are not a fan of seeing.
If you want to make use of the eSATA port on the rear I/O, you have to run a SATA data cable from the orange port at the bottom right of the board to an orange SATA port just behind the eSATA port on the rear I/O.
The ATI/AMD Southbridge still comes with IDE support and a single blue IDE port sits just below the memory slots.
Moving to the rear I/O we get to see ASRock's take on things. The first thing that we saw is there is only a single PS/2 port which you configure in BIOS for either Auto, Keyboard or Mouse operations. Thanks to the IGP there are three video outputs - you get a D-SUB, DVI and HDMI output along with a SPDIF Toslink port for optical audio output.
You can see in this picture the eSATA port in red below the Firewire ports along with the orange SATA bridge port.
Lastly it's down to expansion slots and the additional chipsets the board uses. Thanks to the 785G's CrossFireX support, ASRock has taken advantage of this and included a total of three PCIe x16 slots. 785G only has 16 lanes for graphics, so you either have a single x16 slot or 2 x8 slots for CrossFireX mode. The last x16 slot is simply an x4 slot running off the Southbridge.
ASRock has been given a black mark also on its implementation of CrossFireX switching. Many other companies use digital switches to switch the PCI Express lanes, ASRock has gone and used a switch over paddle card, similar to the ones used when SLI was first released. This makes setting up CrossFireX a bit more of an effort if you already have one card installed. You have to take this video card out, switch the paddle around, reinstall that video card and then install the second video card... annoying to say the least.
Moving along a single PCIe x1 slot sits above the top PCIe x16 slot and two PCI legacy slots make up the expansion possibilities. The network is handled by a PCIe x1 based Realtek GIGABIT Ethernet controller which we know and love. The Firewire is handled by VIA's VT8305 PCI based Firewire controller chip.
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