The engineers took care about proper cooling of the mainboard’s components. The North Bridge is cooled by a tall needle-shaped heatsink with a small fan. Contrary to our apprehensions, the fan turned to be very quiet and it cools the not very complex RD480 chip – essentially a PCI Express controller – efficiently. Unfortunately, the North Bridge is placed too close to the CPU socket and makes it difficult to install a CPU cooler, especially if the latter uses the standard twisting clip. We managed to mount a Gigabyte 3D Rocket PCU22-SE cooler on the CPU, but with some serious difficulty. The South Bridge also has a small needle-shaped heatsink on (on thermal glue), while the power transistors of the CPU power circuit are grouped into a single block and are cooled with a rather big plate heatsink with a RADEON XPRESS logotype. The place usually occupied with the COM and LPT ports is empty. Off-the-shelf samples of the mainboard will probably have an exhaust fan there to take out the heat from the above-mentioned heatsink (the two-pin connector marked as PWR Fan indicates this possibility).
There are Power-On and Reset buttons below the Serial ATA-II controller, and the mainboard also has rubber feet which makes it an ideal test platform – you don’t have to search for a support and close the contacts with a screwdriver to start it up. :) The mainboard also carries a number of red LEDs that indicate the activity of each Serial ATA channel and report when the mainboard, CPU and memory modules receive power.
The current version of the mainboard’s BIOS (dated 08/12/05) is not free from some compatibility problems, Particularly, the mainboard refused to work with NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards and with a 2GB OCZ Enhanced Latency DDR PC3200 Dual Channel Platinum memory kit – the system would only start up with one memory module installed or if we put two modules into the third and fourth DIMM slots, the memory would work as PC2100 only. So we had to use our time-tested 1GB OCZ Enhanced Bandwidth DDR PC-3200 Dual Channel Platinum memory kit which worked in our sample of the mainboard without problems.
Unfortunately, the mainboard was damaged during transportation. When we took it out of the package, we found that a corner of one of the IDE slots was split off and the empty bed (probably intended for a backup BIOS chip) was almost torn off its place. There was no other obvious damage, but the mainboard began to act up soon. For example, it refused to identify an Audigy 2 audio card. ATI replaced the damaged sample with a new one for us to finish our tests.
It’s too early to make any judgments about the mainboard. We had an engineering sample with a number of drawbacks described above. We hope that final versions of RADEON XPRESS 200 CrossFire Edition mainboards will come out without those drawbacks, or at least without the worst of them.