The Asus CrossHair
The Asus CrossHair is a menacing looking motherboard. Not only is it based on a dark-colored, nearly black PCB, but it's got an oversized cooling apparatus, a ton of integrated peripherals, and a unique layout with some eye-catching amenities. Upon first glance, it is readily apparent that this is not your average motherboard.
Overall, the CrossHair's layout is good. Things are relatively cramped due to all of the board's integrated peripherals and cooling hardware, but there are no major problems to speak of. There is ample room around the CPU socket for oversized coolers, all of the expansion headers and ports are situated around the edges of the board, and the DIMM slots do not encroach upon the first PEG slot. And when two graphics cards are installed, all of the board's SATA ports are accessible as well. The 24-Pin ATX power connector's placement just under the DIMM slots is somewhat awkward, and requires a bit of finagling to install an IDE cable once power is connected, but that's a minor quibble. The supplemental 8-pin power connector, however, is located in a good position, just behind the I/O backplane, near the top edge of the board.
There are four DIMM slots, six SATA ports, a single IDE port, and a floppy connector on the CrossHair, in addition to numerous headers for USB and Firewire ports. A front panel audio header is not available on the mobo itself, but there is one on the included audio riser card pictured on the previous page.
The CrossHair's two PCI Express X16 slots, three standard PCI slots, and notched X4 slot are organized in a way that when two double-wide graphics cards are installed, two of the PCI slots are still available. This is an ideal configuration in our opinion, due to the dearth of PCIe X1 (or X4) expansion cards currently on the market. If you've looked through some of the pictures already, it may appear that the CrossHair also has a PCI Express X1 slot in the first position, but it does not. That first slot is proprietary and supports only the included audio riser card.
The large copper-heatsinks on the CrossHair are all linked via a winding heatpipe. The lower two heatsinks obviously cool the nForce 590 SLI SPP and MCP (norhtbridge and southbridge), and the upper heatsinks cool the components in the motherboard's no-cap power circuitry. The CrossHair's 8-phase power array is not sold-state like some recent motherboards, but it is a capacitor-free design. Simply looking at the area surrounding the CPU socket reveals that the CrossHair has far fewer caps than most other mobos.
Now for the really cool stuff. The Asus CrossHair is equipped with numerous LEDs and switches designed to make installation, diagnostics, and expansion a bit easier for end users. There is a clear CMOS switch on the board, that - you guessed it - clears the CMOS, and there are handy power and reset switches on the board too. All of the switches are illuminated, which make them easy to see, even when crawling around under a desk in the dark. There is another switch in the I/O backplane that's used to illuminate a number of LEDs scattered across the surface of the board as well, which make is easier to work inside a dark system in general.
Also visible in the I/O backplane is an LCD POST code error reporter, which is also illuminated. In addition to reporting problems with the board in plain english, the LCD can be customized to show an 8 character message of your choosing. The only problem is that the screen is situated on the back of the board, so you'd have to stick your head behind the system to see it.
The remaining items in the I/O backplane consist of PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, coaxial and optical S/PDIF outputs, two eSATA ports, a Firewire port, dual GigE RJ45 LAN jacks, and lastly four USB ports. The eSATA ports are powered by a Silicon Image 3132 controller and the Firewire port by a Ti controller. USB and network functionality come by way of the nForce 590 SLI chipset itself. Noticeably absent are any analog audio ports; those are located on the included audio riser card and are powered by an ADI1988 HD codec.