Asus' F1A75-I Deluxe motherboard
Over the past decade or so that I've been reviewing motherboards, there have been times I've felt like Asus was coasting on its name a little. Not lately. Intel's chipset issues aside, Asus has executed its Sandy Bridge motherboards much better than anyone else. Now, a number of features that made that family so appealing have migrated to Asus' collection of Llano boards, which includes the F1A75-I Deluxe.
I've gotta say, I really like the look of this board. Compared to the A75-ITX, everything is neat, tidy, and low-profile. The vertical battery mount is the tallest thing on the landscape, and it's situated well clear of the SATA ports where it won't get in the way.
Peer at the F1A75-I a little longer, and you'll notice that it's almost the mirror image of the A75-ITX. The chipset, SATA ports, and wireless card line the board's top edge, while the socket sits below them. The socket is also rotated 90°, which is important to consider when determining whether the Deluxe will play nicely with your chosen combination of CPU cooler, memory, expansion card, and case.
As you can see, there isn't a lot of breathing room between the socket and the PCI Express x16 slot. Llano may be best suited to systems that exploit its integrated graphics, but you might want to run a TV tuner or a discrete sound card alongside the built-in Radeon. There's really no need to worry about the distances between the socket and the heatsink or battery; neither are tall enough to interfere with CPU coolers.
I do, however, worry about the short hunk of metal sharing heat between the chipset and the VRMs. Those VRMs are likely to get much hotter than the A75 platform hub, and I'd rather not have that heat warming the chipset.
See the wiring associated with the onboard Wi-Fi card? That's right; you had to look for it. Asus neatly sheathes the wires and snakes them out of sight along the surface of the board—very slick.
In the journey between the Mini PCIe card and the rear antenna jacks, the wiring passes four Serial ATA ports and internal headers good for two USB 3.0 ports. The Deluxe is content to offer four USB 3.0 ports in total: two tied to a front-panel connector, and the remainder available in the rear cluster. As a result, Asus doesn't have to farm out any SuperSpeed connectivity to auxiliary controller or hub silicon.
The F1A75-I Deluxe's port cluster offers a different mix of options than we saw on its Zotac counterpart. First there are the four USB 2.0 ports, which are still sufficiently fast for input devices, printers, digital cameras, beverage coolers, and pretty much everything short of an external storage device. On that front, the Deluxe offers an alternative to USB 3.0 in the form of an unpowered eSATA port.
Asus skimps on the number of analog audio outputs, but it's using the same Realtek codec chip as Zotac. Rather than relying on Realtek's drivers for surround-sound virtualization, Asus uses UltraPC software from DTS. Alas, the board doesn't support real-time DTS encoding for multi-channel audio, which is the only way to play games in surround sound using a digital output.
Props to Asus for including a fancy pants DisplayPort video output. You'll have to choose between it and the DVI port, though; those two outputs can't be used simultaneously.
Oh, in case you were wondering about that purple growth above the red USB ports, it's a Bluetooth transceiver. Like the Zotac board, the Asus has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support.