Now we get to our favourite part of the review, the board itself. Using a full 30x24cm ATX layout you can see ASUS has used just about all of the real estate to fit the additional features. On their top-end boards, ASUS does a fantastic job of placement and location of connectors.
The 24-pin power, IDE and FDD connectors are placed at the right hand top of the board behind the DIMM sockets. This keeps the messy ribbon cables in one spot along with the very bulky ATX power connector. The dual purpose 4/8 pin CPU power connector sits to the top left of the board right behind the PS/2 towers and nestled between the top most heatpipe block.
You will also see that ASUS has done something that nobody else so far has done with its SATA ports. They have been placed on a 90 degree angle to the board - this means that the cables don't stick up in the air, which, when using GeForce 7950GX2 cards can be a problem getting them in and out.
ASUS also does a good job of the cooling setup of the board and the routing of the heatpipes, the Southbridge is cooled by a pipe going to the top most Mosfets block, the Northbridge is cooled by a separate heatpipe setup that runs to the side mosfet block just behind the I/O ports.
The CPU layout is a little smaller than most, so it may be a bit harder to install after market large base heatsinks, however, this board is an ideal water cooling candidate. The board provides an 8 phase CPU voltage regulation system. While its just adequate for Pentium D and Pentium Extreme Dual core processors, it is more than enough for Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme - and even supplies more power than the Core 2 Quad will ever need, even when overclocked.
The Mosfets are cooled by heatpipe towers that sit directly on top of the Mosfets. If you use a heatsink on the board, the air force from the CPU fan cools these towers. If you use water cooling, you need to install the fans provided by ASUS to the top of the towers to keep these parts cool under load. In all a very sensible setup we wish other companies would follow.
The rear I/O ports have changed slightly with the new ASUS setup. Firstly there are no more Serial ports or Parallel ports - these are now obsolete in the Digital world. ASUS also includes an extra e.SATA port - e.SATA is about to make a big entrance into the external storage market, the more slots you have on the board the better. The rest are pretty standard with Firewire, Wireless Antenna, PS/2 ports and USB/RJ45 towers.
Expansion slot wise, ASUS really goes for the lot. You will notice ASUS gives you a total of three PCI Express x16 slots - one blue, one black and one yellow. The blue and black ones are full speed x16 slots; the blue slot is routed off the Northbridge, the black off the Southbridge. The yellow slot is a physical x16 slot but only eclectically x8 and uses all but two of the PCI Express lanes built into the Southbridge. This slot is included if you want more then four monitors or to add a third PCI Express graphics card to handle physics, which nVidia will announce soon.
Another possibility is the use of PCI Express x4 RAID controller cards in this slot, or even PCI Express x8 based SAS controllers available for the server market. There is also a single PCI Express x1 slot between the PCI Express x16 blue and yellow slots and two PCI slots at the bottom of the board. There is a single PCI Express x1 like slot at the top of the PCI Express x16 blue slot and this is used to connect the audio daughter board to the system.
Additional controllers include a VIA VT6308 PCI based Firewire chip and a Silicon Image 3132 2 port SATA controller chip that runs the two e.SATA ports. Marvell PHY chips are included that interface with the nVidia Dual Gigabit LAN controller built into the Southbridge.
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