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Asus' P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP @n
Bursting at the seams

Manufacturer Asus
Model P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP @n
Price (Street) $350
Availability Now
Asus is all over the X38 chipset with the P5E3 Deluxe WiFi-AP @n, a motherboard so loaded with features that letters alone apparently aren't enough to convey its grandness. High-end Asus offerings have always packed features galore, but the P5E3 breaks new ground with the most extensive array of extras we've seen on a motherboard. All this comes at a price, of course. The P5E3 isn't yet widely available online, but the few outlets currently carrying the board are charging upwards of $350.

With scads of integrated extras to include, Asus' board designers should be commended for managing to squeeze the P5E3 into a standard ATX form factor. They've done a pretty good job with the layout, too, getting little things right like putting the auxiliary 12V power connector along the top edge of the board, out of the way of the CPU socket.

The P5E3 even looks snazzy, decked out with a dark board and multi-colored slots and ports that actually make some sense. Storage-related SATA and ATA ports are red, PCIe 2.0 slots meant for graphics cards are blue, and each memory channel gets its own color. The manual even refers to these colors, which should make system assembly easier for beginners.

Like just about every other high-end motherboard, the P5E3 makes extensive use of heatpipes and passive heatsinks to cool its chipset and voltage regulation circuitry. A quartet of heatsinks surrounds the socket on all four sides, leaving little room for my thick, stubby fingers to get at processor cooler retention clips. Fortunately, the cooling fins are reasonably short. There should be enough room for larger aftermarket coolers that rise up from the socket before fanning out.

Over to the left of the socket you, can steal a peek at the P5E3's DIMM slots. This board is equipped to handle DDR3 modules up to 2GB, allowing for total system memory configurations up to 8GB.

Moving down the board, we encounter the P5E3's array of storage ports. The ATA connector and four SATA ports run along the edge of the board, ensuring they won't be blocked by longer graphics cards. The low-profile south bridge cooler won't get in the way, either.

Seven expansion slots is a lot to squeeze onto an ATX motherboard, but Asus manages to do it with the P5E3. In addition to two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, you get a pair each of PCIe 1.1 x1 slots and standard PCI slots. Asus also throws in a first-gen PCIe x16 slot that offers one or four lanes of connectivity, depending on whether the board's x1 slots are in use.

Pay particular attention to the space between the lower blue PCIe x16 slot and the PCI slot directly below it. There, you can see a small PCB attached directly to the board. This protrusion holds a flash memory chip Asus has loaded with a custom Linux distribution from Splashtop.

When you boot the system, you're greeted with a mouse-driven interface that provides options to go directly to a web browser or Skype client, enter the BIOS, or proceed to whatever operating system you have installed. Choosing one of those first two options launches the embedded Linux install, sending you to Skype or a web browser within seconds.

Options are limited from there, but the web browser and Skype client are fully-functional. More importantly, the fact that this distro is stored on an onboard flash chip means that it may be possible for users to roll their own custom configurations. We can think of plenty of additional capabilities we'd like to see added to what's essentially an instant-on operating system, including stress test options for overclockers and the ability to download and flash the latest BIOS revision. But I digress. Let's get back to the motherboard.

Around the rear, the P5E3's port cluster is predictably bursting with connectivity options. All the usual suspects make an appearance, including two flavors of digital audio output, eSATA, and Firewire. Curiously, though, you won't find a PS/2 mouse port. Most mice are USB these days, so the omission isn't a major concern. However, if you're running an older KVM switch that lacks USB peripheral support, you'll be out of luck with the P5E3 Deluxe.

If you happen to be looking for integrated Wi-Fi, the P5E3 is exactly what you want. The board comes with integrated 802.11n capabilities courtesy of an AzureWave AW-NA830 module that sits just above the top PCIe expansion slot.

Asus throws in a couple of Wi-Fi antennas to complement the integrated 802.11n chip. The box also includes an IR remote with several programmable buttons, a couple of chipset cooling fans intended for use with water-cooled systems that lack sufficient airflow around the CPU socket, and an I/O shield with a cushioned inner surface that removes the need for those annoying little metal tabs that always seem to bend the wrong way. Like other Asus boards, the P5E3 comes with handy little blocks for USB, Firewire, and front panel headers that make connecting enclosure wires much easier.