As you have heard me say before, the ATX motherboard layout is pretty much the same no matter who you buy from. Yes, there are going to be minor differences in the number of slots, the placement of the front panel headers and your PATA and SATA ports. Still, for the most part, if you have seen one ATX motherboard, you have seen them all. At least that was until the P55.
Why did the P55 make things different? Well, that is easy to explain. You see, as most of you know, the P55 is not much more than a peripheral bridge. Yes, that is putting it in extremely simplistic terms, but there you have it. There is no link to RAM and no link to GPUs (or indeed to PCI-e Gen 2.0 slots). This means it can be smaller and also run cooler. The need for a large heatsink to keep it cool is gone, as is the requirement of putting it close to the CPU and RAM slots.
Before this was done, due to tracing issues moving the Northbridge to a different spot on the board would have made the tracing too complex and caused stability issues. Now that restriction is gone; motherboard makers finally have more freedom to move things around and improve their designs.
DFI has chosen to clean up the area around the top of the CPU. On many boards above the CPU socket there's another heatsink or it is cluttered up with more power regulators and capacitors. Thankfully this is not the case on the T3eH9.
The rest of the upper portion of the T3eH9 is pretty much the same as other motherboards out in the ATX form factor.
Moving down to the lower half of the board, we see a move back to the usual. DFI has done a good job of making sure you have enough room between your PCI-e 2.0 slots, but they still leave slots that will become useless on the board. To me this is a waste of board real-estate and in most cases (especially in the case of high-end boards) should not be included at all. DFI has again used a 4-pin floppy power connector for the extra PCI-e power. Fortunately this time they put it in a more convenient location. You may still have an issue here depending on the type of PCI-e x1 card you use, but it is better than having it right next to a PCI-e x16 slot.
DFI has included the usual on-board power and reset buttons. They also continue with their 90 degree angled SATA ports. The USB headers have been clustered here in a rough square to make them more accessible to cases with front and top mounted USB ports.
We also see the now vary familiar diagnostic LED dropped onto the board.
The I/O area is also more of the same with the very large exception of a small button and a mini-USB port. This port is something else, it is part of the BIOS secure system and when connected can enable you to flash the T3eH9's BIOS even if you cannot get the board to POST properly. It is a pretty impressive feature.
Another "nice touch" is the inclusion of the X-Fi based audio CODEC. This should help to enhance the audio quality of any gaming session without the need to drop even more money on a high-quality sound card.
Over all the T3eH9 has made some good departures from the normal ATX design, with the most evident changes in the upper half of the board around the CPU.
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