Up Close, Layout and Features
The P5AD2-E from Asus is a Socket T/LGA775 motherboard that is jam-packed with technology and an incredible amount of potential for future expansion.
The board's layout is pretty neat and clean with all major connectors located in optimal positions for cable routing inside your chassis. The board is configured with two 1X PCI Express slots and three PCI slots. There are a total of 8 SATA ports on board and two EIDE ports (supporting 4 drives total) on this motherboard, along with 2 more external SATA ports available with the IO bracket we showed earlier. All of these ports support RAID 0, 1 and 0+1 modes, with 4 of the SATA ports supporting RAID 10 and 5 configurations. There are three flavors of SATA and EIDE controllers on this board, Intel's ICH6R Southbridge, a Silicon Image 3114 and an ITE 8212F. This is easily the best offering in storage expansion and connectivity we've seen in a Pentium 4 motherboard to date.
Asus also delivers their innovative "Stack Cool" design with this model, as we saw in the first version P5AD2. Stack Cool employs a mini printed circuit board on the underside of the mainboard that wicks heat away from the CPU area. This are also a series of power FETs that are cooled by a small copper, thin-finned heat sink near the CPU socket. While these new innovations in cooling do a nice job of keeping thermals in check around the CPU and adjacent power array, we wish Asus had included an active cooling solution for the Northbridge. The large heatsink they include with the P5AD2-E does a good job of absorbing heat from the Northbridge but once the system builds up heat over time, the sink gets fairly hot and thermally saturated. A simple fan stuck on top would have done the trick nicely.
In terms of Networking and other types of IO connectivity, the P5AD2-E has it all. Dual Gigabit LAN and integrated 802.11g WiFi are courtesy of Marvell's various Ethernet and WiFi chipset technologies. Finally, TI's 1394b/a chipset offers four FireWire ports, 2 of which are FireWire 800 capable, for data transfers up to 800 Mbps, which is almost 2X the speed for the 480Mbps bandwidth offered by the board's USB 2.0 ports.
ASUS bundled a Wi-Fi Client and Soft Access Point software that drives the Marvell 54g Wi-Fi chipset on the board. As you can see, there are user configurations for "Station" and "AP" or Access Point mode. In addition, the Premium version of the P5AD2-E that we tested comes with Dual Gigabit Ethernet wired NICs, so in combination with the AP software, you could turn a workstation into a combination workstation/server setup with full Wireless Access Point and WEP encryption functionality, along with a hub port for a nearby client. The 54g radio worked as expected, offering excellent file transfer and Internet downloadspeeds throughout our lab's wireless router and cable connection in our quick functionality tests.