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Asus' serious side, plus one more thing
The Sabertooth family has a new member draped in Thermal Armor. Asus has added Dust Defender inserts for the expansion slots, and the plastic pieces have been designed to double as extensions to aid in releasing the retention clips on the PCIe slots. That's probably safer than the metal screwdriver I've been using to free graphics cards in tightly packed systems.

We weren't impressed with Asus' first Thermal Armor implementation, but this one comes with its own fans: two purportedly quiet units covered by the same five-year warranty as the rest of the board. One of the fans mounts just behind the port cluster, while its twin is meant to lie just south of the CPU socket.

To improve airflow to the back of the motherboard, the Sabertooth has been drilled full of holes. The portals are strategically placed around the power circuitry and fans, which have a little extra magic of their own. The headers intended for the Thermal Armor fans support an Overtime function that keeps them spinning after the system has been powered down, allowing it to cool more quickly. Users can define how long the fans keep spinning, and Overtime will work with any fan plugged into the appropriate headers.

Workstation users who require additional expansion slots but not the extra PCIe bandwidth offered by Sandy Bridge-E should make note of the P8Z77 WS, which uses a PLX bridge chip to split the PCI Express lanes hanging off the CPU. The PLX chip supports PCIe 3.0, and it acts as a simple pass-through when only two cards are installed, reducing the potential for latency.

Despite lacking premium features like integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the WS board has a few unique tricks up its sleeve. The Intel NICs are server-grade affairs that purportedly offer better performance than the client-oriented NICs used in the other boards. Also, there's a standard USB port on the circuit board intended for use with the DRM dongles required by some workstation software suites. Stashing the dongle inside the case makes it harder to steal.

Asus hasn't gone too crazy with its 7-series motherboards, but the changes look to be positive ones overall. There's much more to say, of course, but the intrigue largely revolves around the processor and platform hub, whose names I dare not speak. Expect an in-depth report on Intel's new hotness before long.

As the event wound down, I got to talking to an Asus rep about tablets. He promptly produced One More Thing: the new Transformer 300, a replacement for the original Transformer due out this spring. My time with it was limited, but as an owner of the first generation, the 300 felt like a definite upgrade.

The tablet and dock are noticeably thinner, and the UI is snappier thanks to the Tegra 3 SoC under the hood. I'm particularly fond of the textured finish on the back of the tablet, which feels grippy and almost rubberized. The device resisted my attempts to leave smudged fingerprints, and it looks quite distinctive—nothing like an iPad, at least not unless you believe Apple has a monopoly on curved edges and black bezels.

Asus is on track to ship the Transformer 300 and other additions to its tablet lineup this spring. I suspect we'll be seeing more cooperation between its motherboards and Android devices, too.TR

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