Given the A8R-MVP's budget price point, it's no surprise that Asus hasn't dressed up the board with fancy colors, neon components, or otherwise gaudy accents. This is what motherboards used to look like, and the bland aesthetic is a somewhat refreshing break from the veritable rainbow of colors we encounter on most enthusiast-oriented boards.
Since the A8R-MVP doesn't offer much in the way of extra components or peripherals, the board's layout is pretty open. Power plugs are neatly placed at the top of the board, which is perfect for traditional ATX cases that mount the power supply above the board. However, this configuration can be problematic for upside-down cases like Antec's P180, which mount the PSU below the board. With that type of enclosure, routing the auxiliary 12V connector all the way to the top of the board could be a nightmare.
Despite a generally spacious layout, the A8R-MVP's socket area is a little crowded for comfort. There's enough room for standard heat sinks, of course, but the proximity of the north bridge cooler may interfere with the clasps on some retention mechanisms. Thankfully, there's plenty of room on the other side of the socket.
While the A8R-MVP's north bridge cooler could stand to be further from the CPU socket, we applaud Asus for using passive cooling across the board. The A8R-MVP's north bridge, south bridge, and VRM components are all cooled by silent, passive heat sinks, so there's no need to worry about premature chipset fan failure or that annoying whine that tends to develop in small fans over time. I suppose we should also give props to ATI and ULi for producing chipset components that can get by with such modest cooling.
Moving down from the CPU socket, we see the A8R-MVP's collection of expansion slots. Single-card graphics configurations use the blue x16 slot for graphics, so double-wide coolers will cannibalize one of the board's PCI slots. That will be less of a concern as more PCI Express x1 peripherals make their way to market, though.
For single-card configurations, Asus supplies a switch card to be installed in the A8R-MVP's secondary PCI-E x16 slot. The card channels a full 16 PCI Express lanes to the lower slot. It's a little more cumbersome than a BIOS-level switch, but it only takes a few seconds to install.
Like most mobos, the A8R-MVP's storage ports are clustered in the lower right-hand corner of the board. IDE ports are mounted on the edge of the board, which can allow for cleaner cable routing but also create problems in extremely tight ATX cases. Fortunately, there's little chance that anything will interfere with the board's cluster of Serial ATA ports.
Speaking of ports, the A8R-MVP's port cluster does its best to please everyone. Serial and parallel ports make an appearance alongside a collection of Ethernet, Firewire, and USB jacks. The board also boasts a coaxial digital audio output, although analog audio input and output ports are forced to share only three jacks. Headers for an additional four USB ports, one Firewire port, and even a game port are also available on the board.