ASUS Crosshair II Formula Reviewajmatson -
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Just like the accessories, this board packs a punch in what it has to offer. The Crosshair II uses the same black PCB that ASUS Republic of Gamers boards are known to be made from. This is from the Stack Cool system that layers the board to spread the heat across the PCB to keep critical components cool. There are also heatsinks on the back of the board to aid in cooling and supporting the Northbridge and Southbridge chips. The Crosshair II is designed around the new NVIDIA 780a SLI chipset which allows for a true multi-GPU gaming platform. The 780a supports AM2 and AM2+ up to the Quad Core Phenom and carries all of that data on a 5200 MT/s HyperTransport 3.0 interface when used with an AM2+ CPU or up to 2000MT/s with an AM2 CPU.
The back panel looks like an underachiever when it comes to the amount of real estate used for connectors, but don't let that fool you. The ASUS Crosshair II offers you the right connections for anything you might need during your frag fests. One thing you might notice is that ASUS has done away with the PS/2 mouse port since most gamers use the faster and more accurate USB mice these days. Also at the very top of the panel is a button with a circular arrow. This is a BIOS reset button which makes resetting the system BIOS after a bad overclock extremely easy and convenient since you do not have to remove the side panel to perform this task. In addition, there are six USB 2.0 ports, a PS/2 keyboard port, an optical out port, a coaxial S/PDIF output, a VGA port, and an HDMI port (which has an adapter to provide a DVI port), one Firewire port, and two Gigabit LAN ports.
Moving on over to the top of the board you can see that there is a lot going on up here, but is not too cramped as to hinder aftermarket heatsinks should you choose to go that route. The ASUS Crosshair II uses a new 8+2 phase power design to aid in a better and stable overclock and uses a full 24-pin ATX power connector and an 8-pin auxiliary power connector to supply the juice to this board. The socket on this board is AM2+ but it will support AM2 CPUs as well, but with a lower HyperTansport speed. You can use Semprons, Athlons, Athlon X2s, and Phenoms, including the new 50 series Triple Core and Quad Cores.
Sliding down to the expansion slots, ASUS has done a great job of spreading them around. Since the board has its own sound that uses an x1 slot, ASUS has placed that near the top so that it will not be covered by a graphics cards with large two slot coolers. There are three PCI Express x16 slots on the board, two blue and one white. The two blue are for Dual SLI setups and will both run at x16 speeds when paired with SLI graphics cards. The white one will add additional graphics card support for Triple SLI mode, however then all three x16 slots run at x8 speeds. There is also another PCI Express x1 slot, and two legacy PCI slots available for extra add in cards.
Moving down to the bottom of the Crosshair II is where all of the headers are located. There is a Firewire header, three USB 2.0 headers, a floppy port, an S/PDIF header, the front panel headers, and you may have noticed the power and reset buttons. Being a hardware reviewer, this is one of the most appreciated features that I find on a motherboard. There is nothing like testing hardware either on the inside of a case or on a test bench and having to turn to the outside of the case to power on the board or use a jumper to connect the header leads. I would like to see this feature standard on all future motherboards.
If you thought that was all, think again. Along the right spine of the Crosshair II are more goodies. You have one IDE port which supports up to two IDE devices and six SATA ports. The SATA ports are SATA II 3.0GB/s speeds and are mounted at 90 degree angles to aid in case wire management and to avoid being blocked by large graphics cards. The SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD. A little further down you will find the memory slots. There are four memory slots which can have a total of 8GB of DDR2 1066 memory and can take both non-ECC and ECC un-buffered RAM.
There are a couple of highlights I want to make sure to point out to you about the ASUS Crosshair II. First is on top of the motherboard; behind the clear CMOS button on the back panel are three headers. Two of them are standard fan headers, but below them there is another header. This is where the POST LCD cable gets plugged into and routed out the back of the case for viewing. Second, instead of having a clear CMOS jumper that you have to shore while working inside the case, ASUS has turned it into a clear CMOS switch right under the CMOS battery, which makes it very easy to reset after a bad overclock or problem. Lastly, ASUS has added thermal probe headers on the board where you can place thermal probes and then monitor the temperatures in the BIOS or software using the motherboard. Sadly though, ASUS did not include any thermal probes with the Crosshair II as it has with other ROG motherboards.
And lastly there is the cooling setup of the Crosshair II. This motherboard uses a copper design of heatsinks and heatpipes to cool the critical components. The northbridge uses a pin fin design to help dissipate the heat and it connects to the heatsink on the southbridge and the voltage regulators. The heatsink on the voltage regulators is where the optional fan would be attached to actively cool the heatsink loop while water cooling or for some additional heat dissipation during overclocking. One thing I did want to note is if you look at the picture of the southbridge, right above it is some writing that says BR_Crazy, BR_High, and BR_Normal. These are Voltiminder LEDs that are placed around the motherboard to let you know if there is too much voltage going through critical components such as the CPU, RAM, northbridge, southbridge and more while you are overclocking.
Now that we have seen the board, let's take a look at the software side of the Crosshair II.