Asus dresses the A8N32-SLI in black and blue, but the board is anything but bruised. A snaking heat pipe cooler is easily the board's most recognizable feature, and we'll get to it shortly. First, though, let's take a closer look at the board's layout.
Despite a wealth of onboard peripherals, coolers, ports, and slots, the A8N32-SLI is largely devoid of clearance issues. Power plug placement is good for traditional ATX enclosures that mount the PSU above the board. However, the fact that the auxiliary 12V connector is mounted along the top edge of the board is a potential nightmare for chassis that place the power supply at the bottom of the case.
Things look a little crowded as we zoom in on the A8N32-SLI's CPU socket, where elaborate north bridge and VRM cooling could create clearance problems for wider processor heat sinks. Surprisingly, the board has no problem handling Zalman's massive CNPS7700-AlCu. The heat pipes between the north bridge and VRM coolers could interfere with the retention brackets on some coolers, though.
Like its VRM cooling, the A8N32-SLI's power circuitry is more elaborate than most. Asus uses an eight-phase power solution that should deliver very consistent power to the CPU. According to Asus, the eight-phase power implementation runs much cooler than other designs and should also improve stability when overclocking.
Moving down the board, we see that the A8N32-SLI has a surprisingly generous array of PCI slots. Double-wide graphics coolers will rob you of two of the three PCI slots, but that still leaves one. The board is also equipped with a PCI Express x4 slot, although x4 peripherals aren't exactly common. PCI-E x1 cards are finally beginning to trickle onto the market, though. Thanks to PCI Express' backward slot compatibility, these PCI-E x1 cards should work in the A8N32-SLI's x4 and x16 slots.
Given the fact that PCI-E peripherals are finally becoming available, I almost wish that the A8N32-SLI swapped one of its PCI slots for a PCI-E x1 slot. Unfortunately, that would exceed the total number of PCI Express lanes available on the chipset. As it stands, the onboard GigE and SATA RAID chips consume the north bridge's two spare PCI Express lanes, while the x4 slot monopolizes the south bridge's extra lanes.
Thanks to its low-profile south bridge cooler, the A8N32-SLI has plenty of clearance for most PCI and PCI Express cards. However, extremely long double-wide graphics cards like the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 can interfere with one of the board's top two SATA ports.
Fortunately, the A8N32-SLI has a couple of extra Serial ATA ports hanging off its Silicon Image controller. One of those is an external SATA port that can be found in the board's port cluster alongside its Ethernet, USB, audio, and other ports. Somewhat surprisingly, the A8N32-SLI's port cluster is completely devoid of Firewire. Access to the two onboard Firewire headers is provided via a PCI back plate that's bundled with the board. Asus also ships the A8N32-SLI with PCI back plates that offer a game port, serial port, and two USB ports. An additional four USB ports are available via onboard headers for those with case-mounted USB ports, media card readers, and the like.
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