Asus M5A99FX Pro R2.0
For the performance-value market, Asus continues to stress the importance of longevity and compatibility over oft-unused added ports. Durability is difficult to test within the several days I spend with each motherboard, but compatibility is one reason the firm’s products get picked for so many of my memory reviews.
Priced $45 less than the previously-detailed ASRock product, Asus’ M5A99FX Pro R2.0 is equipped with half as many USB 3.0 ports and only a single added-on SATA 6Gb/s controller. Eight is enough when it comes to the SATA needs of most buyers, and Asus locates one of those ports on the rear panel as eSATA.
That’s not to say that this board isn’t packed with not-so-apparent features. A quick look around its perimeter shows a USB BIOS Flashback button for updating firmware without so much as a CPU installed, a Direct Key button for booting directly into the firmware interface without worrying about hitting the Del key, and a MemOK button that selects a slower DRAM profile to allow booting with poorly-programmed modules.
Asus even adds DTS Connect and UltraPC II. The former combines DTS Neo:PC and DTS Interactive, upmixing stereo sources to as many as eight channels, and then encoding the signal in real-time for output through a digital source. The latter facilitates "virtual surround" through a set of algorithms intended to convey multi-channel audio through a set of stereo speakers or headphones.
Supporting only two front-panel USB 3.0 ports, Asus retains the expected trio of two-port USB 2.0 headers along the board’s bottom edge. A seventh SATA 6Gb/s port is added next to the USB 3.0 header to ease front-panel cable access.
Though it supports up to four single-slot or three dual-slot graphics cards, the M5A99FX Pro R2.0 isn’t designed with three-way SLI in mind. The two blue x16 slots share none of their lanes with the black slots, leaving each of those locked into x4-mode. The blue slots retain their total of 32 pathways, and are spaced perfectly to host two enormous triple-slot cards.
Having the “expected” number of USB 2.0 ports and a front-panel audio header slid around an inch forward from the bottom-rear corner, the M5A99FX Pro R2.0 comes with a single installation caveat: forward-facing SATA headers are occasionally blocked by the lower drive cage of some older ATX cases.
Four SATA cables are enough for most users, though the board does support seven internal drives. The M5A99FX Pro R2.0’s single SLI bridge is adequate as well, since the board technically supports four PCIe x16 graphics cards, but wasn't even properly designed for three-way SLI.