Now that we have taken care of the package, let's move on to the fun part; the board itself. ASUS has manufactured the board on a full sized ATX 30x24cm PCB. In fact, thanks to the larger heatsink and six memory slots, you won't find Core i7 boards being made on anything but this sized PCB. It seems to be the norm for today's PC's. Anyhow, enough rambling.
When it comes to the placement and location of connectors, ASUS is amongst the top designers out there. The 24-pin ATX power connector gets its normal position on the right hand side of the board, just behind the six DDR3 memory slots. These are coloured red and black. The 8-pin power connector sits behind the PS/2 / USB combo tower port that's right beside the heat-pipe assembly.
A note you should be aware of; when we setup our test board, we inserted all of the DDR3 modules (three in total) into the black slots. The board refused to post so we moved all of them to the orange/red slots and the board posted. We then put more modules into the black slots to see if the board was damaged, but it posted fine with the extra memory. It seems this board has a particular preference as to where the modules need to go when using only one bank.
Further down the board on the right hand side, the single IDE port controlled by a PCIe Marvell PATA/SATA controller chip is rotated on its side to keep the cable clutter down to a minimum. Just below this are six SATA ports, also on their sides and two more behind the SATA towers. There are four red ones and two orange ones on their sides with more red ports behind the side mounted red ports. These red SATA ports are controlled by the ICH10R Southbridge and support the usual Matrix Storage system and RAID arrays. The two orange ports are SAS ports and yes, you can plug SAS or SATA drives into them. SAS controllers are backwards compatible with SATA drives, but SAS drives will not work on SATA ports.
On the bottom of the board ASUS has two toggle switches; one for power on and one for reset. This means you can setup your system outside of a normal case, if you so desire or if you want to test the board and memory before it goes into the case. Overall, this is a very well designed board that's obviously had a lot of thought go into it.
Since the Core i7 CPU has grown in size, so has the heatsink. However, the PCBs have remained the same; this can't bode well for the CPU area, me thinks. Well, ASUS has done a good job here nonetheless. While it does look a bit cramped, we managed to get the Intel cooler in without a problem. We will have to see how well larger heatsinks fit as we get one, but for now the stock unit will have to suffice.
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; time to pick up a USB mouse/keyboard.
Digital audio is handled by either the Toslink or RCA S/PDIF port. Other digital connections include the FireWire port and also an eSATA port that runs off the same chip which controls the IDE port on the motherboard.
It's now time to take a look at the boards expansion layout. X58 is a far more flexible chipset than any of Intel's previous chipsets, mostly because it's the only chipset on the market to support both SLI and Crossfire. The board is equipped with three PCIe x16 slots; a blue slot, a white slot and a black slot. The Northbridge supports 32 PCI Express lanes, so you can have the following setups; either two full speed x16 slots or one full speed x16 slot and two x8 slots. ASUS has gone for the latter setup to allow for 3-way SLI, if you so desire it. If you prefer to run quad SLI, you'll need two 9800GX2's plugged into the blue and white slot. This then runs the two slots at full speed x16 mode, which is needed for quad SLI or quad Crossfire setups.
Just above the blue PCIe x16 slot is a Universal PCIe slot with a x4 link speed. This slot is connected to the ICH10R's PCIe lanes, so they are only 1.1 compliant. However, they allow for a x4 or even a x8 PCIe RAID controller or dual band Ethernet controller. Unfortunately, an extra GPU in here is impossible since the slot is too close to the heatsink for the Northbridge. To cap off the expansion slots, there are two PCI legacy slots for older sound cards or TV tuners.
As for additional components, there is quite a few. First off, since the ICH10R is IDE-less, a Marvell 88ES6111 PCIe based single PATA and Single SATA controller chip handles this. The IDE port is routed to the single red slot we mentioned earlier, where the SATA port is routed to the eSATA port on the rear I/O. The SATA port supports IDE and AHCI mode, so it's hot swappable.
To give the board its SAS ports, a Marvell 88ES6320 2-port SAS controller using a PCIe link is also supplied. The FireWire is handled by a VIA VT6308 2-port PCI based IEEE1394a controller and the dual Gigabit Ethernet is handled by two Marvell 88ES8056 PCIe LAN controllers.
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