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The locking lug on both PCI Express slots is small and not especially finger friendly. It’s also a nightmare to release when used with bulkier graphics cards.
Six Serial ATA connectors are to be found. The four orange connectors, along with the single IDE DMA66/100 connector are controlled from the ICH7R south bridge, while a further two connectors alongside are driven by the now common Silicon Image Sil3132 controller. All six ports support SATAII and Native Command Queuing. The four ICH7R connectors also support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 while the two Sil3132 connectors support RAID 0 and 1.
Two IEEE 1394a (FireWire) channels are available, one of which is a four-pin connector and another coming off a motherboard header, both powered off the VIA VT6307 controller. Dual LAN comes courtesy of the Marvel 88E8053 Gigabit controller and Realtek 8100C, the latter of which uses the PCI bus rather than the PCI Express bus which is a shame.
The South Bridge is passively cooled using a small and not particularly efficient looking cooler which has the word “EXTREME” machined around its circumference. The taller North Bridge sink is fan cooled and although this and the power circuit cooling fan, which I’ll discuss in a moment, both take up a three-pin fan header, the board still has a further three available, one of which is reserved for the CPU fan.
Layout is very clean and uncluttered though not perfect. The 24-pin ATX connecter is right alongside the floppy connector which can be fiddly. Also we run into the common problem whereby the graphics card sits too close to the memory slots to be able to properly add or remove modules without unseating it.
One thing that’s sure to catch your eye is the lime green shroud that sits nestled amongst the rear hardwired connectors. This uses a small cooling fan to draw air over the power circuit components and exhaust it out of the rear. This may seem like a needless gimmick that everyone seems to be jumping on at present, but my trusty Raytek MT4 reported a MOSFET temperature of 75 Celsius even with the fan blowing out a gentle stream of tepid air so perhaps it’s not entirely pointless.
Because of its design, the cooling shroud actually takes up very little of the I/O connector real estate which still manages to cram in PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse connectors, four USB and two RJ45 LAN connectors, a four-pin FireWire connector, a serial port, five audio jacks and an optical S/PDIF in and out, both of which have dust shutters.
Bundled alongside the board is an unusually comprehensive set of extras. A set of regular flat IDE cables sit in place of the increasingly ubiquitous rounded IDE cables but accompanying them are a set of four SATA cables, an Ethernet Cross Over (CAT5) cable, a four-pin Molex to dual SATA power adaptor, a parallel port bracket, an external SATA bracket and a further bracket sporting two USB and a single FireWire port. The latter also comes supplied with a 3.5in drive bay insert so by releasing three screws the connectors can be removed from the expansion slot bracket and attached to the bay insert making them available from the front of your PC.