ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe: PCB Design
After we’ve given an appraising look to the package and accessories, it’s time to take the mainboard itself out of its antistatic pack for closer examination.
Unlike the earlier single-chip versions of the nForce4, the nForce 4 SLI X16 consists of two pieces, and the new mainboard is more densely populated than the A8N-SLI Deluxe or A8N-SLI Premium, the size of the PCB being the same. The number of expansion slots has been reduced from 7 to 6, and the new mainboard carries two PCI Express x16 slots, one PCI Express x4 slot, and three PCI slots. Since the new chipset provides 16 PCI Express lanes to each of the graphical slots, the ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe carries no logic to configure them – it has become unnecessary. The slots are placed conveniently enough, considering that the designers had little elbowroom. If you install two graphics cards with single-slot coolers, all the three PCI slots are ready to take in your expansion cards, but if you’ve got two ASUS Extreme N7800GTX TOP, for example, you’ll have only one accessible PCI slot. On the other hand, this Deluxe mainboard features extended functionality, so there’s little need to install any expansion cards. And even in the worst case you’ll have one PCI slot you can plug a TV-tuner or a standalone audio card into. Do not also forget about the PCI Express x4 slot – such peripherals are steadily gaining in popularity.
The CPU socket is shifted a little downwards because the mainboard employs a sturdy eight-channel power circuit and some of its load-bearing elements are located along the top edge of the PCB. Unfortunately, the heat pipes of the chipset’s cooler are so close to the fastening frame that you may find it difficult to install some CPU coolers. The power connectors are placed properly and the power cables won’t hinder normal operation of the CPU cooler. The second Parallel ATA slot is difficult to access, but it is rather seldom used in modern computer systems anyway. A 4-pin Molex connector marked as EZ_Plug supplies additional power to the PCI Express x16 slots in case you install two graphics cards that don’t have an additional power connector, for example GeForce 6600 GT.
The DIMM slots are placed properly. They are above the top PCI Express slot and a long graphics card won’t block the latches. There’s also a small gap between the slots of each channel so that memory modules with massive heat-spreaders could be easily installed. As usual, the connectors of the first memory channel are painted blue so that you plugged your memory in correctly.
You are unlikely to encounter any problems when you’re assembling a computer around this mainboard. The heat pipes may only become an obstacle during installation of certain CPU coolers. Some problems may also arise if you need to reset the BIOS settings since the appropriate jumper is located right under the latch of the bottom PCI Express x16 slot and is hard to access even if the slot is free. If the slot is occupied, the jumper is altogether inaccessible. And still, designing such a complex mainboard as A8N32-SLI is a daunting task, and we think the people at ASUS did a good job of it.