Enthusiasts may be primarily concerned with features and performance, but a little aesthetic flash doesn't hurt. With the KA1 MVP, flash comes in an unapologetic shade of purple that's just a few hues short of pastel. ECS complements the Barney board with a multicolored assortment of ports and slots that's a little too busy to be visually appealing, but unless you have a case window, you'll never notice.
KA1 MVP's primary 24-pin power connector sits in the top right-hand corner of the board, so it shouldn't get in the way. However, the placement of the auxiliary 12V power connector isn't quite as good. The plug sits near the bottom of the CPU socket where cable routing can easily interfere with air flow around the processor heat sink. To be fair, though, this location could make cable routing a little easier in upside-down cases that mount the PSU below the motherboard.
Even without the auxiliary 12V power connector adding to the clutter, there isn't much room around the KA1 MVP's CPU socket. The board's passive north bridge cooler sits right next to the socket, and the DIMM slots are pretty close, as well. Still, there's just enough room for Zalman's massive CNPS7700, so at least some oversized coolers will work.
From this angle, we also have a good view of the KA1 MVP's VRM cooling fan. The cooler is designed to exhaust heat from the board's power circuitry, but it's just a little chipset fan and plastic shroud. Seriously, that's all. ECS doesn't even put heat sinks on the voltage regulators, giving the fan little surface area to work with.
VRM cooling is pretty popular on enthusiast boards these days, but most manufacturers favor chunky heat sinks that take advantage of system air flow around the CPU socket. That seems like a better idea, especially given the fact that tiny fans tend to develop an annoying whine over time. Since the rest of the KA1 MVP gets away with silent, passive cooling, it would be nice if the VRM cooler followed suit.
Moving down the board, we encounter the KA1 MVP's cornucopia of expansion slots, which includes pairs of PCI, PCI Express x1, and physical x16 slots. Double-wide graphics cards will obscure access to the board's x1 slots, but given the persistent dearth of PCI Express peripherals, that's not a bad way to lay things out.
The KA1 MVP runs single graphics cards in the lower of the two x16 slots, and an included shunt card must be installed to correctly route the north bridge's PCI Express lanes for single-card operation. That's hardly an elegant solution, but it's the one favored by most CrossFire motherboards. NVIDIA's original SLI paddle switch wasn't all that pretty, either.
To the right of the x16 slots, we encounter one of the KA1 MVP's biggest layout problems. The board's Serial ATA ports are too close for comfort, and some of them can easily be blocked by extra-long or double-wide graphics cards. What's even more frustrating about the port placement is the fact that there's plenty of room to move the SATA ports south, provided ECS was willing to ditch the board's largish "Extreme" name badge.
Around the rear, the KA1 MVP has a largely standard assortment of peripheral ports. The VRM cooler's exhaust port occupies space normally reserved for a parallel port, but you still get a serial port, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, dual Ethernet jacks, four USB ports, and a full suite of analog audio ports. Sadly, though, the port cluster lacks Firewire and digital S/PDIF audio input and output ports. On-board headers are available for two Firewire ports and one S/PDIF output, but that's not quite as convenient as having physical ports on the board.
In addition to on-board Firewire and S/PDIF headers, the KA1 MVP has headers for another four USB ports. ECS bundles a PCI back plate for two of those ports and both internal Firewire connectors. If you'd rather have access to those ports around the front of your system, there's also a 3.5" drive bay insert that will accommodate them. ECS even bundles in a PCI back plate that will route a Serial ATA port to the rear. However, since it only uses a standard Serial ATA data cable, you're on your own when it comes to power.
Like most motherboards, the KA1 MVP's bundle also includes a standard assortment of IDE ribbons and Serial ATA cables. ECS gets points for originality by including a six-foot Cat 5e Ethernet cable, as well.
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