Asus A8R-MVP Xpress 200 CrossFire Edition Review
Board Layout and Features
At first glance the Asus A8R-MVP board has the appearance of a very basic motherboard aimed at a large audience of gamers and enthusiasts. No fancy color schemes here or heat pipes, but let's dive a bit deeper to see what Asus did include.
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The processor socket and memory slots on the board are placed at the upper most section of the board PCB and don't interfere with other components on the board. The capacitors you see on the right side of this photo are a bit closer to the socket than we like to see but I was able to install a standard Koolance water cooling block on the board without any issues.
The DIMM slots don't ever come in contact with an installed graphics card so installation and removal of memory modules can be done at any time. The primary IDE connection is blue and faces up on the PCB unlike the secondary IDE and floppy connector that are facing off to the side of the board.
The expansion slot configuration that Asus used fits a very specific group of users - gamers. First, we see that there are two x16 PCIe slots for CrossFire graphics support, with the lower, blue slot for the primary (or single) GPU installed. The 4-pin Molex power connector above the black PCIe connector is to provide additional power to hungry ATI video cards when two cards eventually get installed.
There is a single x1 PCIe slot on the board, stuck right between two x16 slots -- unfortunatetly this means if you have two video cards installed, you probably won't be able to use it. A single slot cooling solution on your secondary card would allow for a x1 PCIe card to fit in there, but it would surely be bit hotter than normal. Not to mention that the only currently available CrossFire-ready GPUs are dual-slot cooled, so that takes the PCIe x1 slot out of the picture completely.
The three legacy PCI slots are there for users to carry over their other components, but the same rules apply to the first PCI slot as we mentioned above.
Here is the Asus CrossFire switch card that is used to change between single and dual graphics card modes. When you only have a single GPU in your system, this card should be installed in the secondary GPU slot in order to give the first slot a full x16 lanes of PCI Express bandwidth. Otherwise, without this card or with two GPUs installed, both x16 slots are actually get 8 lanes of PCI Express, just like the original SLI chipset configurations.
While the method is slightly different than the original nForce4 SLI chipsets, the idea is the same -- a riser card of some kind is need to physically switch between x8 and x16 modes.
One big advantage that this Asus A8R-MVP holds over the other CrossFire board on the market today is Asus' use of the ULi M1575 south bridge chipset instead of hte ATI SB450 chip that has be plagued with performance issues. Since the ATI north bridge uses PCI Express interconnects between it and the south bridge chip, the ULi M1575 can be swapped in pretty easily.
The M1575 south bridge provides pretty much all the storage and connectivity options on A8R-MVP motherboard included in the two IDE connections and four Serial ATA II connections. The south bridge support RAID as well in configurations of 0, 1, 1+0, 5 and JBOD which is covers anything a user could ask for on a home machine.
There is only a single networking connection on the motherboard and it is powered by a Marvel 88E8001 32-bit network controller on a standard PCI bus connection. We'll see if that limitation holds it back compared to PCI Express or integrated solutions.
The external connections on the board show the standard I/O ports as well as a single SPDIF output powered by the on-board ADI AD1986 6-channel audio codec.