Up Close, Layout and Features
If you were to sum up the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe in one word, we would offer that it is quite simply "tight". This board is so jam-packed with the latest technology, that there is hardly a square millimeter of open PCB area available for any other component placement.
Let's start with the obvious and move on to the less obvious areas. First the back panel I/O bracket sports dual Gigabit Ethernet ports courtesy of an Intel Gig-E MAC/Phy chip and Marvell Gig-E phy chip in combination with NVIDIA's built in Gigabit MAC with NV Firewall and NV ActiveArmor intrusion detection features (more details here).
Then there is the addition of SATA II hard drive support driven by the nForce 4's Southbridge chip. SATA II drives are just starting to show up on the market now and while we were only able to test this new Asus board with a standard SATA I Western Digital Raptor drive, the upgrade path to SATA II's 3Gbps bandwidth, double that of SATA I, and hardware Native Command Queueing, make it a very attractive bonus feature that users can benefit from in the months ahead as SATA II drives become more prevalent.
Layout wise the board is well thought out, but there are a few snags along the way. There are three standard PCI slots in addition to the two PCI Express X16 graphics slots. However, in between those slots is where things get a little too busy. Not only are there two X1 PCI Express slots in between the graphics slots, but then there is the SODIMM form-factor reminiscent Asus mezzanine card that plugs in horizontal to the PCB and configures the PCI Express lanes of the Northbridge for two X8 configurations in the case of dual graphics mode, or one X16 configs for single graphics card configurations. Perhaps Asus had to put those X1 PCIe slots somewhere but more optimal position could probably have been found. Regardless, with virtually zero X1 PCI Express add-in cards on the market end users are much more like to fill those standard PCI slots with any other peripherals that could possibly be needed in the future. Other than that, power and storage connectors are in all the right places and this board works really well with cable management considering all that it has going on under the hood.
Finally, as you can see in some of shots above the cooling on this motherboard is all passive, that is to say that there are no fans installed on either the North or South bridges. The Northbridge sink, while at first glance is both stylish and somewhat impressive, is rather inadequate in our opinion, to handle the heat that's driven from the nForce 4 SPP (System Platform Processor) Norhtbridge chip , even the MCP Southbridge chip gets a tad too hot for our liking. While we personally didn't experience any instability issues as a result of this, we'd advise robust airflow in any chassis installation and perhaps even positioning a side intake fan over the Northbridge and adjacent graphics slot areas.