Asus Striker II Formula nForce 780i Motherboard
At first glance, the ASUS Striker II Formula is, well, striking. A bevy of copper heatsinks and tubing rise from the dark board used as the backdrop. Also, no garish neon colors are used for the main connections; blue and white are the order of the day both for the DIMM and expansion slots. Although the chipset cooling solution may look formidable from a top-down perspective, in reality it has a very low profile and shouldn't cause any issues when installing third-party CPU coolers.
Consistent with NVIDIA's reference design for the 780i, the slot configuration of the Striker II consists of three PCI Express x16 slots, two in blue and a white one sandwiched in between, two standard PCI slots, and a single PCI Express x1 slot. An additional x1 slot colored black is notched in the cutout of the main heatsink, and is used with the SupremeFX II audio card. The overall layout is similar to that of previous ROG boards such as the Maximus Extreme or Blitz series, except addtional heatpiping exists alongside the DIMM sockets and there aren't any mounts for water-cooling apparatuses.
The CPU Socket area seems a bit congested, what with all the fin-type radiators and power regulation. The FETs and polymer capacitors are smaller than those used on other boards, but should have an improved lifespan and enhanced thermal capacity. Along with the addition of the ASUS Energy Processing Unit or EPU, the increased number of FETs should provide a more stable and efficient working environment by providing more power when under load and improving efficiency when idle. Even the DDR2 gets a 2-phase power treatment, ensuring longer lifespan and better overclockability due to cooler temperatures and better efficiency.
The slot layout that we described earlier works fine for most scenarios, such as a single card or dual GPUs in SLI. The blue X16 slots are PCI-Express 2.0 compliant and a longer floppy SLI cable can connect the two cards even though there is a distance between them. Running a 3-way SLI setup, however, limits any further expansion hopes. With the GeForce 8800 GTX and 8800 Ultra cards utilizing dual-slot coolers, installing three such cards would completely cover all other slots.
Alleviating some concern about installing larger cards, the IDE and 6 SATA II ports are all on a right-angle along the front edge of the board, directly facing the drives themselves. The SATA ports wind up stacked like a pile of bricks which saves some room on the board and makes cabling a bit neater, if not more annoying when trying to remove the lower placed cable. The power connectors, floppy drive connector, and USB and front panel pins are also placed along the edge although in the standard orientation. Although their placement is rather standard, we particularly liked the positioning of the 12V Power connection, as it keeps that pesky cable from interfering with other components and works well with cables routed underneath.
ASUS does something different with the I/O backplane in order to accomodate not only the cooling mechanism, but to embrace progress as well. Rather than place two PS/2 ports on the back, there's only one, used for the keyboard. It's rare these days to find anyone using a PS/2 mouse, so ASUS replaced that port with two, more useful, USB ports. These ports are in addition to the four other USB 2.0 ports, a set of Gigabit LAN jacks, a single Firewire port, and optical and digital audio output. With little room to spare, there's no space for an eSATA port, so that might be missed by some users. In an obvious nod to the power-user, there is an illuminated Clear CMOS button right there on the backplane, and Power and Reset buttons on the board near the front panel pins. Now, obviously, most people will find little use for these in typical usage, but as an analyst I can say these came in pretty handy during testing.
Although we mentioned the various extras when we covered the packaging in the introduction, we thought a few pictures of these devices in action would be helpful. First, additional cooling can be had by installing 2 fans directly on top of each of the radiators around the CPU socket. As the 780i (and the 680i before it) runs a bit hot, any extra cooling is always welcome. The integrated audio and analog ports are handled by the SupremeFX II riser card, plugged into a specially located PCI-Express x1 slot above the main graphics card. Finally, we've got the LCD Poster connected to a set of pins just to the left of the PS/2 port, programmed with our own message, and a couple images of the lighted components onboard, including the SupremeFX II card, the ROG logo placed over the heatsink, and the power and reset buttons.