We took the mainboard out of its antistatic bag to have a closer look:
The board itself looks gorgeous, being up to its status. ASUS lacquered the PCB deep brown and that looks real cool. The mainboard carries seven expansion slots: two PCI Express x16, two PCI Express x1, and three PCI slots. The DIMM slots are grouped in twos; the first slot of each memory channel is colored blue. The EZ Selector, a card that chooses the PCI Express mode, was already set to the Dual Card position on the mainboard, i.e. the default configuration is “PCI Express 8x + PCI Express 8x”. If you turn the EZ Selector by 180 degrees and plug it in again, the top slot becomes a PCI Express x16, and the bottom slot a PCI Express x1, because the nForce4 SLI chipset supports twenty PCI Express lanes.
Besides the four Serial ATA II ports and two ATA-133 channels, typical for nForce4 SLI-based mainboards, we have an additional SiI3114C controller from Silicon Image here. This chip procures four more Serial ATA-150 ports for the user. Thus, you can attach as many as eight Serial ATA devices to this mainboard – this seems a little excessive for today since optical drives with this interface are yet very rare. The mainboard fully supports nvRAID technology; you can build RAID arrays of levels 0, 1, 0+1, 5, 10 and JBOD.
The mainboard’s networking capabilities are courtesy of two Marvell chips. The Marvell Yukon 88E801 is a regular single-die Gigabit Ethernet controller that resides on the PCI bus; the Marvell Alaska 88E1111 chip is a physical-level (PHY) interface to the Gigabit Ethernet controller integrated into the chipset. ActiveArmor technology, the hardware firewall from NVIDIA, is fully supported by the nForce4 SLI.
The voice of the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe is the voice of the last-generation AC’97 ALC850 codec from Realtek. This is of course no SoundBlaster Live 24-bit that we saw on the MSI K8N Diamond mainboard, and even no High Definition Audio from Intel, but the quality and functionality of this codec should suffice for a majority of users, especially considering its ability to output digital audio through the coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs located on the mainboard’s connections panel.
The first PCI Express x16 slot is colored blue; the second (for the slave card) is painted black. These slots have special fixing locks. There are two PCI Express x1 slots in between, and you won’t be able to use one of them if you’ve got a GeForce 6800 Ultra or any other device with a dual-slot cooling system, installed. A Molex-type connector is located above the first slot; it is labeled as EZ_Plug and sends more power to the PCI Express bus in case two graphics cards are installed in the system. As you know, the maximum power this interface can provide is 75 watts, so additional power would be of much help with two cards. ASUS says EZ_Plug improves the system stability, and we agree wholeheartedly. There’s a red LED indicator near this power connector and it lights up if you’ve forgotten to attach the additional power. The second, green LED is placed under the PCI slots; it signals that the mainboard is receiving power.
The CPU power circuit is designed properly, although without a sophisticated cooling system. Its hottest components, i.e. the power transistors, are just equipped with a heatsink. Unfortunately many manufacturers forget about the cooling of these elements altogether, but these components are directly responsible for the well-being of your central processor. The CPU voltage regulator is three-channel on the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe.
The mainboard has five 3-pin connectors for attaching fans, but one of them is already occupied with the chipset fan, and one more is intended for the CPU cooler, so the user has to do with the remaining three connectors, two of which don’t support the speed monitoring feature. Q-Fan technology allows controlling the speed of the CPU cooler by setting the threshold temperatures at which it should stop, start and spin up to its maximum speed.
The mainboard’s connections panel is rather typical and has all the necessary ports, save for a COM port instead which there’s a FireWire connector. One COM port is available on the bracket for the back panel system case. This is in fact a right decision since FireWire peripherals are more popular nowadays than COM devices. The ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe supports two FireWire ports; the second is available on a bracket. There are four USB 2.0 ports at the mainboard’s back panel, and four more can be attached to additional brackets. The nForce4 chipset supports ten USB 2.0 ports in total, and the remaining onboard USB headers can be used for a card-reader, for example, or you can output the ports to the system case’s front panel.
There’s nothing very interesting on the underside of the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe – only a metal plate that’s part of the CPU cooler’s fastening.