RD580. ATI Xpress 3200 CrossFire. Whichever way you say it, it’s the latest chipset from ATI, superseding (but not replacing) RD480 / ATI Xpress 1600 CrossFire. We were sent the RD580 based Asus A8R32-MVP, positioned as a higher-end version of the RD480 based A8R-MVP. However, this board is more than just a chipset replacement.
As exciting as RD580 sounds, on paper it’s not a huge improvement over RD480. When in CrossFire mode, RD480 provides eight lanes for each of the PCI Express graphics slots. RD580 improves on this by providing 16 lanes per PCI Express graphics slot – hence the addition of ‘32’ to the product name. Unlike nVidia’s SLI x16 solution which uses a separate chip to provide the extra 16 lanes, all 32 lines are hard-wired into the new north bridge. Although ATI’s method has theoretical advantages, the actual difference is minimal.
The area that is by far the weakest in ATI’s design is its SB450 south bridge which is slow and doesn’t support new features such as SATA II. Unfortunately, this has not been upgraded yet and it's unlikely that we will see it before AMD releases Socket AM2. Luckily, due to the modular nature of having a north and south bridge, Asus can, and has, opted to use the superior ULi M1575 south bridge. This has the benefit of faster USB 2.0 performance and support for up to four SATA II devices.
A recent addition to the ATI team Sami Maekinen or “Macci” as he prefers to be known has ensured that RD580 is considerably more adept at overclocking. Considering how poorly RD480 has overclocked in the past, any improvement will be appreciated.
The Asus A8R32-MVP is very similar to the A8R-MVP, but there are differences. For one, Asus has added “Deluxe” to the title. To justify this, Asus has had to do more than just change the chipset. Most obviously this has manifested itself as a black PCB instead of the budget brown, but being Deluxe is more than skin-deep.
Audio has been upgraded from the 5.1-channel AD1986A chipset to the 7.1-channel Realtek ALC 882 chipset with six analogue connections as well as optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs.
As well as the four SATA II ports that the ULi south bridge provides (which both boards use), Asus has included another two ports courtesy of the Silicon Image Sil3132 chipset. One of these ports is strangely positioned on the opposite end of the board close to the back panel and the second is physically on the back panel for running external devices. However, there is no external SATA power, so making use of this facility is tricky at best.