The old saying goes that good artists copy, and great artists steal. I’m not sure whether the shroud on ECS’ X79R-AX Stealth concept motherboard qualifies as stolen or copied, but it looks an awful lot like the Thermal Armor featured on some Asus Sabertooth motherboards. ECS posted a picture of the concept on its Facebook site, and the accompanying text claims the shroud protects onboard components while "acting as an umbrella to cooling systems."
When we tested Asus’ first shroud-equipped motherboard, the Sabertooth P67, we discovered that the Thermal Armor actually increased the temperature of motherboard components. Only when we added a noisy "assistant fan" did temperatures drop to below what they were with the shroud removed entirely.
ECS’s Facebook post says "exhaust vents allow air to escape and store unit fans," but I’m not seeing any venting or fan mounts in the picture. It doesn’t look like there’s room for a spinner in the rear port cluster, either. Any fan that fits the shroud is likely to be small in diameter and require high rotational speeds to generate decent airflow. (Asus’ assistant fan peaked at 5,600 RPM!) In our experience, such fans tend to be much whinier than the larger, low-RPM models typically found on CPU coolers and in cases.
Shrouds like the custom-painted Thermal Armor pictured above certainly give artists a nice canvas. However, I’m not sure they make sense for desktop motherboards. Slick looks hardly make up for higher component temperatures, and we’ve yet to see a shroud implementation with sufficiently quiet cooling. Thanks to HardOCP for the tip.