Features of the ASUS P5WD2
The ASUS P5WD2 motherboard is based around the ASUS design that has impressed us for quite some time. Based on a full ATX 30x30cm layout, ASUS has managed to pack as much onto the one board as possible. In terms of layout, ASUS has done a fantastic job to keep all the heavy cabling out of the way for maximum air flow, which is what you want on a fanless design motherboard.
ASUS has implemented a passive cooled motherboard, relying on case air flow in order to cool the power components as well as the north and south bridges. The power connectors are located on the right hand side for the new 24pin ATX power connector and the upper left corner for the combo power plug. What we mean by combo is that if you have an EPS12V compatible PSU you can use the 8 pin AUX power connector on the upper combo power plug, simply remove the black tab and insert the 8 pin connector. If you are still using standard ATX power supplies with the 4 pin AUX power connector, you can still use this board without any problems either.
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Expansion slot wise, ASUS has managed to fit a good collection onto the board. First off you may notice there are two PCI Express x16 slots, while you may be thinking SLI, you will be disappointed to find out this board doesn't have SLI or Crossfire support as of yet (we are still unsure if 955X will get SLI support but it's looking like it could). The blue PCI Express x16 slot is a true PCI-E x16 slot with all 16 lanes fully operational. The black slot is what ASUS refer to as a PCI Express Universal slot. This slot physically accepts PCI Express x16 devices however the slot only works at PCI-E x4 rate. This slot is good if you want to add quad monitor support with Dual Graphic cards or if you want to add in PCI-E server cards that are now starting on the market like SAS controller cards.
For the rest of the slots you have a single PCI-E x1 slot and 3 PCI legacy slots which is all you will need to add in your older devices like SB Audigy 2 and such.
The heart of the matter is Intel's 955X chipset. Intel's release of the 955X was designed to go hand in hand with the Pentium Extreme Edition CPU with Dual Core and Hyper-Threading. Technically, the i955X support all the same features as the i945 series only with official support for the P-EE CPU. The 955X Northbridge also incorporates the latest DDR-2 memory controller supporting up to DDR-866 memory technology. As well as the latest memory controller support, the PCI-E primary graphics controller is incorporated here. There are a total of 20 lanes assigned to the Northbridge with 16 which goes to the primary PCI-E x16 slot and the other 4 to the PCI-E Universal slot.
The Southbridge is the ICH7-R variant of the ICH7 series Southbridge. ICH7 series incorporates up to 4 PCI Express lanes for up to 4 PCI-E devices and/or slots. Added to this is support for 4x Serial ATA-II 3.0Gbps ports, this brings the Intel controller up to the level of the nVidia NF4-IE chipset in terms of SATA ports and speed. Next is the Azalia Audio from the ICH6 series with Dolby Digital Live certification.
Both the Northbridge and the Southbridge's are passively cooled without any fans in sight. ASUS is relying on good case cooling to keep the temps down on the ICH7 and the i955X - keep this in mind if you're looking at buying this motherboard.
Intel's latest chipsets have in a way crippled legacy support for PATA drives, with only one IDE controller for two drives, it does become a bit hard to use older HDD's and CD units. ASUS has remedied this by adding two additional mass storage controllers, both supporting RAID. First is the ITE8211F IDE controller chip which supports two IDE channels with up to two IDE drives per port. The ITE chip is connected to the system through the PCI bus.
The second mass storage add-on is the Silicon Image Sil3132 two port SATA-II RAID controller. You will notice that only one port is located on the board near the I/O panel, the extra port is an e.SATA port, however, no e.SATA cables are provided in the package - looks like ASUS might be bringing out some e.SATA enclosures soon. The Silicon Image sil3132 controller is connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 connection.
ASUS has done many things in groups of two's on this board. The next twin pair we come across is the Ethernet controller. The first controller is the Intel Pro1000MT PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller and the second controller is the Marvell 8801 PCI based Gigabit Ethernet controller.
Lastly we come to the serial architecture of the board. Texas Instrument PCI based IEEE1394a controller chip is added to give two Firewire-A ports. ASUS has decided not to use the Firewire-B standard on this board, as very little supports Firewire-B at this stage.