One of the things that I noticed right off the bat with the ASUS P7F7-E is the layout of the lower half of the board. It is very clear from this and from the marketing on the product that you are buying a board designed to use multiple GPUs. This is a key factor to this board. But before we get into all of that, let's look at the general layout and features.
Starting off at our usual spot, we see that ASUS has dropped on an extra pair of RAM slots. This will be good news for many professional users. Although you cannot load this board up with six 4GB modules (the max is still 16GB of addressable RAM), you can extend the amount of RAM you can use without spending a ton of money.
To get 16GB with four slots you are going to pay quite a bit more than you would if you are using the P7F7-E WS. On the opposite side you can also extend out to 12GB spending much less money as well. For some reason ASUS put an extra 4-pin Molex connector for board power up here; while the extra power is nice, the location is a tad awkward.
At the top of the RAM slots are three switches. As this is an ASUS board first and foremost, these are there to give you some overvolting options. You can extend the voltage available to the CPU, IMC and RAM.
Looking at the CPU socket, we find the familiar heatpipe layout. This is the same layout we saw on the P7P55 WS. The tall blue heatsinks are something of a fixture for the Intel based WS boards. Despite its cramped appearance, there is still plenty of room around the CPU for large air coolers and even our large Hyper 212 with two fans fit without issue.
Although the tall heatsinks are nice and provide excellent cooling, they do get in the way of plugging in the 8-pin Aux power cable. I think this one little plug is going to be an issue on just about any new high-end ATX board. To be honest with you, while this is an issue that is repeated over and over again with just about every manufacturer, it is not something they can do much about. This plug needs to be in close proximity to the CPU. The reason for this is that the traces (the small lines crisscrossing the board) cannot run power like this over long distances efficiently.
Moving down to the lower half of the board, you can see the well-spaced slots for all of your GPUs. Of course, not all of these are fully x16 electrical. The two blue are x16 (thanks to the NF200 bridge) and the two black are x8. In between each of these is more than enough space to accommodate a dual height cooler (if you do not use the x1 slots). The board fully supports Tri SLI and Quad Crossfire. It also supports up to four NVIDIA Tesla GPUs (if you are using a Clarkdale CPU).
Here we see the six SATA II and two SATA 3.0 ports as well as two internal USB ports. These USB ports are ideal for software dongles for applications like Lightwave 3D, etc.
To ensure that the SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 ports get enough bandwidth, ASUS has dropped a PLX bridge onto the board. This gives the extra PCIe Gen 2.0 lanes needed to keep the data flowing.
The PLX bridge is, according to ASUS, a much better method for controlling both SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 on the P55 and H5x boards. It has multiple PCIe Gen 2.0 lanes that it then translates back to a x4 Gen 1.0 lane to the chipset.
The upshot of this is that the Marvell and NEC controllers have all the bandwidth they need while the PLX bridge is responsible for handling the data transfer back to the P55 MCP. There is a small amount of latency with this, but in the end it is a much cleaner solution.
Looking at the ports on the I/O panel, you will see that ASUS has thrown in a pair of Firewire 800 ports as well as two LAN ports.
Now, the extra LAN port is nothing new, but the fact that these ports can be teamed using 802.3ad Link Aggregation Protocol and load balancing/ failover is. The LAN ports are controlled by RealTek 8112L chips which offer Gbe connection across both (up to 2GB with teaming).
The ASUS P7F7-E WS is a well laid out board for its intended use. It is very much designed to be either a professional content creation board (primarily graphical or video) or a computational monster. The four available PCIe x16 mechanical slots give some amazing freedom in your choice of GPU. This is especially true if you are using Adobe CS5 products; you can get a pretty big boost if you are using NVIDIA Quadros and Premier.
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