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Asus Striker II Extreme

790i Ultra SLI Motherboards Compared

We’ve already used Asus’ highest-end SLI motherboard for several months, beginning in May for our June System Builder Marathon. A recent BIOS update, however, has challenged many of our previous observations.

The most noticeable feature of Asus’ top “Republic of Gamers” models is the liquid-cooled Northbridge, which is supplemented by large sinks for those who choose air cooling. These models also include a supplemental VRM sink cooling fan, which cools the Northbridge via an elaborate heat pipe assembly.

The Striker II Extreme features the typical 3-way SLI supporting triple PCI Express x16 slots, but the chipset provides only two of them with PCI Express 2.0 transfer mode. Asus decided to forgo any optional fourth x16 slot, which would have further been limited to x8 transfers, instead routing most of its PCI Express pathways to onboard devices.

Two PCI slots support older low-bandwidth expansion, while two PCI Express x1 slots allow moderate bandwidth to modern cards such as TV tuners and Gigabit Ethernet cards. The top (black) x1 slot supports Asus’ SupremeFX II audio module, as well as PCI Express expansion cards up to seven inches long, while the remaining slots support full-length cards.

Space around the CPU socket is somewhat restricted by the previously-mentioned heat pipe and sink assemblies, making the installation of some oversized coolers difficult. We had no problem test-fitting a huge Zalman CNPS9700 cooler within this space, but Zalman has taken responsible measures to assure adequate hardware access.

Connector placement was chosen fairly well: the power connectors are positioned ideally for large traditional cases, but builders using a case with the power supply at the motherboard’s bottom edge will have some trouble reaching up to the top. Likewise, smaller chassis often have a hard drive cage at the bottom that blocks access to the forward-facing SATA ports.

Ultra ATA cables would have a better chance of reaching the top bays of tall cases had Asus moved the connector up, but there’s simply no room to do that. On the other hand, the floppy header is ideally located directly behind the 3.5” external bay of most mid-tower cases.

The only real difficulty we noticed was the bottom-rear location of the IEEE-1394 FireWire cable header. The cables of most cases will barely reach there, and we’ve seen several Thermaltake models that won’t. It would be easy to blame case manufacturers for this problem, but doing so would ignore the fact that front panels aren’t anywhere near a motherboard’s rear edge.

Asus adds power and reset buttons to the lower edge of its Striker II Extreme, along with a switch that enables or disables a rear panel CLR_CMOS button. The firm continues to ignore the fact that front-panel switch connectors have been standardized for several years, and instead uses its own layout.

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