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Asus M4A785TD-M EVO AMD Motherboard - Asus M4A785TD-M EVO
As expected from Asus, the M4A785TD-M EVO is a neat and attractive affair, clothed in a combination of brown for the PCB and various blues for the slots. While not as impressive as MSI's P55-GD65, it certainly won't put your other components to shame.
Layout is spot-on, with no unnecessary legacy connectors or ports. Next to the CPU socket is a flared heat-sink sporting blue metal fins, which should be more than adequate to cool the northbridge, while a tiny, unobtrusive heatsink takes care of the southbridge. The four memory slots, which can take DDR3 memory up to 1,800MHz, are thankfully staggered to allow better airflow around them when only using two, though not colour-coded to match.
Compared to its bigger brother, the M4A785TD-M has sacrificed one PCI slot and one PCIe x16 slot. However, as this second x16 slot only ran at x4 with a second card installed you couldn't run CrossFire properly anyway, so its absence is no loss. This board still has everything you need for the average build, including one PCIe x1 slot, the aforementioned x16 slot and two 'old' PCI slots.
What the M EVO does offer is Hybrid CrossFireX, which basically refers to the board's ability to run its integrated HD 4200 in tandem with a discrete graphics card. While this doesn't bring the same power-saving that the mobile implementation does, there are quite a few benefits. The most obvious of these is better gaming performance, though you can't pair the HD 4200 with anything very powerful if you want it to keep up. In fact, AMD suggests an HD 3400-series discrete GPU as the best partner, and as a combo this will still be outperformed by something as humble as a discrete Radeon 4750.
A more significant - if rather niche - advantage is that you can run four monitors from this hybrid configuration. Of course, you can just ignore the integrated graphics altogether and stick in the best card you can for some serious gaming - like the HD 5870 (which will also give you multiple simultaneous monitor outputs with EyeFinity), though good luck fitting it into a small case.
There are five standard SATA slots, and that's about it as the M EVO lacks fancy extras such as reset buttons or overclocking switches. Getting onto the motherboard's rear I/O connectivity, we have a very generous arrangement. First up is a PS2 keyboard port, though thankfully the mouse equivalent is omitted. Six USB ports is average, but there's both FireWire and eSATA, which are both sometimes omitted on much more expensive boards.
Video connections are especially well provided for, with VGA, DVI and HDMI covering all the options. Aside from the digital audio carried over HDMI, Asus also offers optical digital and six 3.5mm jacks for eight-channel surround sound from the integrated VIA VT1708S HD chip. Last but not least there's a Gigabit Ethernet port.