Board Layout and Inspection
A drab colored PCB was the backdrop upon which the color-coded components lie. For example, the DIMM slots are highlighted in yellow and black, each color used to signify one channel, while primary IDE and SATA ports are colored red. Some manufacturers prefer to use a theme of colors, which gives a better overall appearance, but obviously this has no effect on performance. Color schemes such as the one used here on the P5WD2 simply help users locate components quicker, making installation easier.
One of the more striking features of the P5WD2 is the dual PCI-e slots used for installing graphic cards. The blue slot is for standard video operation, and utilizes 16 of the PCI Express lanes, while the black slot has a 2x - 4x electrical connection. A secondary video card can be installed here, however , SLI and Crossfire configurations are net yet approved on the i955. Instead, the dual video out on each card can be configured to create a quad view setup - two video cards powering four monitors.
There are plenty of connectivity options onboard, with the ICH7R South Bridge handling four SATA II ports and one IDE port. In addition to the ICH7R, Asus has included two additional IDE connections supported by the ITE chipset, and two more SATA ports, one placed near the CPU socket, and the other used externally on the rear panel. A full assortment of connectors is found on the rear panel including four USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit LAN jacks, automatic-sensing audio jacks, and the mundane PS/2 and Parallel ports.
The P5WD2 is the first in Asus' new AI Life Series line of motherboards. Two important parts of AI Life are AI Quiet and Stack Cool 2, and they are inter-related. As systems get faster and more powerful, the generation of heat becomes a larger issue. To dissipate the heat quicker, yet quieter, passive heatsinks are used on both the North and South Bridges on the P5WD2. Another decent sized aluminum heatsink is placed directly over the VRM to improve cooling and stability. The final piece of the puzzle involves what Asus calls Stack Cool 2 - an additional layer of PCB added to the underside of the board. This extra layer absorbs heat from components on the topside, allowing for more effective heat dissipation without any fans or added noise. Asus claims this should result in a temperature decrease of up to 20 degrees C.
Another part of Asus AI Life campaign centers on the WiFi-TV card. Unlike some of Asus' boards from the past, this WiFi card doesn't come with a proprietary interface and can be installed into any normal PCI-slot. The WiFi card operates under 802.11a/b/g standards, allowing convenient access to the Internet or other devices on the network. A large omni-directional antenna is provided with the package, but as with past releases by Asus, we wish the cable was just a bit longer for proper placement of the antenna.
A FM/TV tuner is added to the same Wi-Fi card, offering support for analog TV, digital TV with DVB-T standard, and FM radio. Various cables are provided to make such connections, including an A/V cable that will allow you to send the signal to your television or VCR, or record from incoming signals. Asus has even gone so far as to throw in a remote controller, for those of us too lazy to reach forward and click on the mouse. Seriously, the remote sends IR signals to a USB connected receiver, which makes it easier to navigate through Cyberlink's PowerCinema, part of the software bundled with the P5WD2. The manual clearly covers installation and setup of both the WiFi and TV-tuner aspects, and we were watching our favorite cable channels in no time.