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We have been as keen as mustard to get our hands on the Asus P5N-VM WS because it unleashes a completely new feature. We are used to integrated graphics that support regular PC tasks such as email and shopping at Amazon so they usually come with a name such as GeForce or Radeon. However, the Asus P5N-VM WS is the first motherboard to use the new Nvidia Quadro FX 470 chipset. Have a look at Nvidia's extensive Quadro FX webpage and halfway down on the right hand side you'll see the nVidia Quadro FX 470, which has a note saying ‘nVidia Quadro FX 470 is a motherboard solution-not available as a discrete add-in graphics board'.
Yes that's right, for the first time Nvidia is offering workstation graphics without the need to spend a fortune on a dedicated Quadro graphics card. That sounds tempting when you consider that a Quadro FX5600 with 1.5GB of GDDR3 costs £2,600 although an entry level FX 570 will set you back a more modest £119.
This is a bold move for nVidia as it threatens to cannibalise the Quadro name and it marks another change as nVidia handles sales of OEM Quadro hardware while PNY has the exclusive rights to aftermarket Quadro cards. FX 470 is clearly deemed to fall into a different product category and the result is the Asus P5N-VM WS. There's no mention of Quadro in the product name and neither is this the first Asus WS (Work Station) motherboard. We've seen a couple of these models over the past few years and they have tended to be regular desktop products with the addition of a PCI-X slot or two.
At first it looked as though we would have to review the Asus P5N-VM WS as part of the £413 Asus TW100-E5 Barebones system but we are chuffed to see that Scan is also offering the motherboard as a separate component at £177.
A quick bit of maths tells us that the Micro-ATX case, 80mm case fan, 390W power supply and Asus DVD-Rom sell for £236 which makes it quite possibly the most expensive basic steel case in the history of the planet. Either that or it's one special DVD-Rom.
This is an unusual motherboard as it's based on an nVidia product but doesn't have any legacy support apart from a single PS/2 port on the I/O panel. There are no floppy or IDE connectors so you'll be making full use of the six SATA ports, although we doubt you will use Nvidia RAID in a workstation. There is, however, a PCI Express x4 slot that is dedicated to a SAS controller such as the £200 Adaptec 3405 card.
Any peripherals will have to connect using USB 2.0 as there are no Firewire ports. However you do, somewhat surprisingly, get full surround sound with both analogue and digital connections, which are a nice bonus if your boss will let you take advantage of them.
The other expansion slots are a PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot which is ready and waiting for adding in a more powerful Quadro upgrade. There are also a PCI Express x1 slot and a PCI slot. Memory support is very basic as the four slots can accommodate up to 8GB of DDR2-800.