While offering a lot of slots this layout also has some drawbacks. This board targets the high-end enthusiast market, where two-slot graphics cards are common. We think the single PCIe x1 slot is a waste of space, so the Northbridge and its massive cooler have to be located very close to the CPU socket. Some coolers will be troublesome to install because the heatpipes take up a lot of space. Check out the Web pages of the CPU cooler manufacturer before purchase.
You can only use all PCIe x16 slots when you set the second and third to x1 speed. If you set the secondary PCIe x16 slot to x4, the third slot is unusable and the second Gb LAN-port is disabled. DFI should have spared the PCIe x1 slot and used it for the 2nd LAN port. At least you have three PCI slots, so you can keep your audio, TV and PATA RAID cards.
While heatpipe cooling on the chipset has been standard for a while in the high-end market, DFI did something incomprehensible. The heatpipe is covering the mounting hole under the primary PCIe slot, which should be attached, especially when a heavy graphics card such as a 8800 GTX is used. We have already heard that this mistake will sadly be repeated with the AMD 790FX board.
In contrast to all other boards we tested, this board has a digital VRM. A dual four-phase design keeps your CPU cool and reduces power requirements. The Volterra VT1115MF drives two Coiltronics CPL-4-50 quad-phase power inductors. Compared to an analog design, the digital chip can switch much faster and the current is supplied with much more accuracy. This will give you some advantages when overclocking.
Network connectivity is provided by two Marvell PCIe Gb LAN MACs, but you may only use the first if you need to use all three PCIe x16 ports. PATA devices can be used, thanks to the JMB363 controller on board, which also provides two more SATA ports onboard. DFI does not use these extra ports to provide two eSATA ports, this may be a drawback, but you still have 12 USB 2.0 ports to add lots of external storage. Additionally, a VIA VT6307 provides two Firewire 400 ports, one externally and one header.
The memory slots are placed pretty close to the PCIe x16 primary slot, but with a bit of fiddling around you can replace memory, even when a large graphics card is installed. Below you find the 24-pin power connector and the IDE port.
The SATA connectors are located on the edge of the board at a 90° angle. Such a layout saves space, does not interfere with extra large graphics cards and keeps the cable mess at bay. The yellow ones are connected to the JMB363 controller.
On the left side below the third PCIe x16 slot you will find reset and power switches. You won't miss the CMOS switch because when pressing the reset and power switches for more than four seconds simultaneously the CMOS will be cleared of the OC settings, while RAID and other options stay. Below them the port-80 diagnostic LEDs will inform you of any troubles while booting. Not all codes are printed inside the manual, but the Internet will help out if you run into an undescribed code.
DFI packs the Transpiper module in the box, which is a nice idea to get the heat out of the case. Sadly, DFI did not think the idea through, because it's not very compatible. For example, if you own a Thermaltake Armor case, you're in trouble, because you can't mount it in such a way to get the heatsink in front of your power supply. In this case the power cable gets in the way. If you use a monster PSU with 750W or more, you won't get cool air from the power supply, and it will heat up the Transpiper which will limit your overclocking results.
There is an other option to mount the Transpiper to the Southbridge cooler, which is a bad idea, as heatpipes work best when heat can flow upwards. The third option is to sandwich a cooper heatspreader between the CPU and the CPU cooler, which should transport some of the heat to the VRM cooler (where the Transpiper is installed anyway), and this is a bad idea, too. To introduce an extra heatspreader does more harm than good, since it impairs CPU cooling. Only one heatpipe is mounted on the VRM cooler which connects to the Transpiper module. We think a dual heatpipe would been better, at least for stability reasons. We also wish there were more installation flexibility and also request that the tiny tube of thermal conductive paste be replaced with a tube of Arctic Silver 5 instead. The original was too hard to apply due its viscous consistency.