Of course, there are plenty of mid-range motherboards with competitive feature sets and competent BIOSes. To really stand out from that crowd, middle-of-the-road boards need to go above and beyond the call of duty, and that usually means offering loads of overclocking potential.
We've had good luck overclocking Asus' mid-range motherboards in the past, and that gave us high hopes for the company's M2R32-MVP. With an AM2 socket, CrossFire Express 3200 chipset, overclocking-friendly BIOS, and street price hovering around $140, the M2R32-MVP has all the tools it needs to impress PC enthusiasts. But does it know how to use them? Read on to find out.
We kick things off with a look at the M2R32-MVP's spec sheet, and as one might expect with a mid-range board, the specs don't hold many surprises.
|CPU support||Socket AM2-based Athlon 64 processors|
|North bridge||CrossFire Xpress 3200|
|Interconnect||PCI Express (2GB/s)|
|Expansion slots||2 PCI Express x16|
2 PCI Express x1
|Memory||4 240-pin DIMM sockets|
Maximum of 8GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
|Storage I/O||Floppy disk|
1 channel ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
|Audio||8-channel HD audio via SB600 and Analog Devices ADI 1988A codec|
|Ports||1 PS/2 keyboard|
1 PS/2 mouse
4 USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
1 1394a Firewire via VIA VT6308P with header for 1 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8001
1 eSATA via JMicron 360
1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
|Bus speeds||HT: 200-400MHz in 1MHz increments|
DRAM: 400, 533, 667, 800MHz
PCIe: 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments
|Bus multipliers||HT: 1x-5x|
|Voltages||CPU: auto, 0.8-1.5625V in 0.0125V increments|
DDR: auto, 1.8-2.45V in 0.05V increments
PCIe: auto, 1.2-1.5V in 0.1V increments
HT: auto, 1.2-1.5V in 0.1V increments
|Monitoring||Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring|
|Fan speed control||CPU|
The M2R32-MVP is based on the familiar ATI CrossFire Express 3200 chipset, a chipset AMD is now trying to rebrand as the AMD 580X CrossFire. Rebranding doesn't change what's under the hood, though. You still get a north bridge chip with a whopping 40 lanes of PCI Express connectivity. Four of those lanes are used for chipset interconnect, leaving enough for a couple of full-bandwidth PCIe x16 slots with lanes to spare. A four-lane PCI Express interconnect only gives the chipset 2GB/s of bandwidth between its north and south bridge components, but with both graphics cards hanging off the north bridge, that's actually plenty.
At the south bridge, we find an SB600 chip that's starting to look a little out of date. The chip only offers four Serial ATA RAID ports. That should be more than enough for most folks, but it's two short of what's offered on competing chipsets. Chipset-level RAID 5 is missing, as well, although RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 arrays are supported.
The SB600 doesn't feature integrated Gigabit Ethernet, leaving it up to Asus to handle the M2R32-MVP's networking correctly. Unfortunately, they don't handle it so well. Instead of opting for a sensible PCI Express GigE chip, Asus cheaps out on a PCI chip from Marvell. That chip will have to compete for bandwidth with other PCI devices—an issue Asus could easily have avoided with a PCIe equivalent.