Up close with the ASUS A8R32-MVP Deluxe
Now we see the beauty that is the ASUS A8R32-MVP Deluxe. The board uses a 30x30cm full ATX layout on a black/brown PCB. This is the PCB of choice for ASUS when it comes to its deluxe and premium motherboards. This PCB also comes out with a thin alloy plate moulded into the PCB as standard to remove some of the heat from the rear components into the back of the case using convection cooling.
ASUS has done a great job in terms of its placement of connectors. The normal and best place to place the 24-pin ATX power connector is on the right hand side of the board behind the DIMM sockets. There are also two IDE connectors controlled by the Southbridge located here as well. ASUS uses the new 8-pin EPS12v aux power connector in place of the 4-pin unit, which is now becoming the norm for motherboards all round. This plug is located on the top left of the board behind the PS/2 ports. This is the ideal spot or also on the top right of the board, as you eliminate a lot of the cable clutter we see in a lot of cases today due to poor placements.
Power regulation is handled by 3 phase switching voltage regulation system that allows for voltage adjustments within the BIOS. The Mosfet's are cooled by a large passive heatsink covering all the main components. ASUS is the biggest fan of passive cooling of any motherboard manufacturer out there. These days PC's are getting faster and faster, and in order to do this there is a trade off in heat generated, which must be cooled in some fashion. Rather than small active cooling ASUS uses larger passive cooling systems, which help keep things as quiet as possible.
The I/O panel at the rear is somewhat changed despite falling in the same category as the other deluxe boards - the main elements are there, just in a different order. The most notable one here is the new e.SATA port. The SATA organisation has defined a new port layout, shielding requirements and speed specs for Serial ATA outside the PC. This is the new board that is gong to be the standard, now all we need is proper e.SATA enclosures to take advantage of this.
Expansion slots wise, ASUS have done a rather good job giving you as much as possible. There are two PCI Express x16 slots, the blue one is for the Crossfire Master card (if you use a master/slave card system). If you go with the X1600 series, it doesn't matter as there is no master/slave system to worry about. There is also a single PCI Express x1 slot and three PCI slots. Both PCI Express x16 slots are located on the Northbridge; this gives the advantage of being able to swap out Southbridges with other companies, where nVidia cannot.
Unlike the Sapphire Xpress 3200 motherboard we just reviewed, ASUS uses a combination of two separate chips. The leader of the pack is the ATI RD580 Northbridge which is the smallest Northbridge on the market using TSMC's new 0.11um fabrication process. ATI has gone this way in order to increase the overclocking ability of the RD580 chipset above that of the nVidia. ATI claims that this chipset is drastically underspeced, meaning that it should be able to overclock without any added voltages to the Hyper Transport links, PCI Express buses or A-Link bus.
The Southbridge ASUS use is a ULI M1575 Southbridge. This Southbridge is actually a universal Southbridge that can be used on just about any motherboard. Rather than using a Hyper Transport, A-Link, V-Link or DMI interface to connect the Southbridge to a Northbridge chipset, ULI built this baby with a PCI Express x4 interface for the Southbridge. This means any motherboard with one or more spare PCI Express lanes free can have this chip on their board to give the additional features, in theory, this chip could be placed on a expansion card and installed into a board with spare PCI Express x1 or above slot. Though for best results, PCI Express x4 is required. The M1575 supports 8Ch Azalia HD Audio from Intel, 4 port SATA RAID with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD as well as 2 IDE ports and a 10/100 MAC. There are also four spare PCI Express x1 lanes available for add-on cards and controller ports.
In the digital media age Firewire is a must. ASUS has put the Texas Instruments IEEE1394a PCI controller chip. This chip gives you two Firewire ports by way of the two red headers on the board. To make use of them you need to use the supplied PCI cover bracket with the Firewire ports, unless you have a case with front Firewire ports.
Silicon Image is the only manufacturer of desktop SATA-II controllers using the PCI Express bus. This chip gives two SATA-II spec ports. One of these ports is located behind the last USB rear I/O tower and the second port is routed to the e.SATA port on the rear I/O.
ASUS provides two Gigabit LAN ports for dual net connections. Both controllers use Marvell PCI Express based MAC chips.