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The board

The A8R32-MVP's layout is classic recent vintage Asus. The layout choices on an ATX board like this one are a series of compromises, and I don't take great exception to most of Asus' choices. If you are running a pair of double-width graphics cards like Radeon X1900 XTs on this thing, you will lose access to a pair of expansion slots, including the board's lone PCI-E x1 slot. Some day, that little plug on a mobo might start to matter, assuming someone starts making sound or physics cards that connect to a 21st-century expansion port. For now, folks may be more put out over the loss of one of the board's three PCI slots.

The designer of this board is a hero in my book, however, for finding an appropriate location for all four of the SATA ports coming off of the M1575 south bridge. This has become a persistent problem for dual-graphics motherboards: longer graphics cards with wider coolers tend to obstruct at least two of the board's main SATA ports. Not so here, as all four ports are free and clear with a pair of X1900's installed in the x16 slots.

There is, however, the strange case of the two auxiliary SATA ports driven by the Silicon Image controller. One of 'em is located behind the CPU socket next to the heatsink for the VRMs. Wha...? Asus uses this same placement on the A8N32-SLI, and I'm as puzzled by it here as ever. Probably has to do with trace lengths. The second port is actually an external eSATA connector, but Asus says it's possible to run the Silicon Image controller in RAID mode. I can't wait to set up my first half-internal, half-external RAID 0 array, just to confuse the neighbors.

Beyond the SATA port, the space around the CPU socket is relatively open, with no tall capacitors peeking up above the heatsink bracket and only modest heatsinks sprouting up from the VRMs and the north bridge. Most scary-huge CPU coolers should fit without incident, as does my beloved Zalman 9500.

Here's a close-up of those SATA ports. Other mobo makers, please observe how these ports can be used in real life thanks to careful placement. This is a good thing.

Notice, also, the header for COM1. There's no serial port around back on the A8R32-MVP, but Asus supplies a PCI slot insert with a port on it for use with this header. The floppy port on this board looks like it's about to drop off the edge, and some folks probably wish that it might by now. Its placement, however, could prove problematic in many cases that mount the floppy drive in a higher bay. Reaching there from this port might be stretch.

Did somebody mention ports? Here are 18 or so, all clustered together like Dick Cheney's birdshot. That wide red job is the eSATA port, for the take-away drive in my RAID 0 array. That's a nifty feature, honestly, so long as we're talking about single-drive use or even, perhaps, for a RAID 1 scheme involving external drives being carted away as off-site backups. The other notables here are the optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs for the board's HD Audio capabilities.