slide show: Asus M2 Crosshair
Asus is really trying to do something different with the Crosshair. This enthusiast board has a ton of nifty features that set it apart from the pack, even though its raw specifications are very similar to its M2N32-SLI cousin.
For expandability, the board features two PCIe x16 slots for video accelerators, one PCIe x4 slot and three standard PCI slots. The PCIe x4 Slot is open at the end, so plugging in a longer card might be possible, but there are two capacitors, which would probably prevent this. For USB and Firewire connectivity, there are four integrated USB ports, and three headers to support six more USB ports. A single Firewire (IEEE1394) port is on the motherboard and a header for a second port is available on the board as well. The bundle includes two add-on brackets for the user: One with two USB ports and one with a Firewire port.
There are two Gigabit network ports utilizing the nForce5 GbE controller, which is par for the course with nForce boards.
Other than the Epox MF570, the Asus boards are the only ones with a secondary SATA controller and eight SATA ports. The secondary two SATA ports are enabled through the secondary Silicon Image Sil3132 controller, one internal one an external eSATA. The nForce 590 MCP controls six primary ports for SATA/300 devices, and a single UltraATA/100 connector.
The Crosshair has similar audio hardware to the M2N32-SLI; the major difference is that the SoundMAX ADI AD1988B audio processor and the six mini jacks are on an add-in card, presumably to save PCB space. The single SPDIF coax and a single optical out are present for audio connectivity, and headers are available for 5x2 pin front audio, CD-in and SPDIF out.
The board also comes with the same Array microphone as the M2N32-SLI, which is another nice addition.
In this respect, the Crosshair is very similar to the other Asus board we reviewed. It also utilizes a large heat pipe that connects the Northbridge, Southbridge and power supply components. Included in the bundle is a separate fan that can be attached to the heat pipe cooler, and once again ASUS recommends it to be used only with water-cooled setups so that it does not interfere with an air-cooled CPU. Both of the ASUS boards sported the most fan headers in the group, which totaled seven, including the CPU fan header.
The Crosshair's bundle is identical to that of the M2N232-SLI Deluxe, but with an added bonus: 3DMark 2006 professional edition.
Please check the M2N232-SLI's information on the previous page for information on the other software in the Crosshair's bundle.
The most striking thing about the Crosshair is its built-in illumination. Firstly, the rear panel is illuminated, so in dark situations you could see where to plug in, say, a USB or network cable. At the rear of the panel is also a status display that shows status information during the boot sequence. After boot, the display shows the actual time. Secondly, the PCB side of the board is covered in blue LED lights for installing hardware without a flashlight. If you've ever installed hardware on a computer under a desk or something, you know how valuable this thoughtful little touch can be. Plus, it looks pretty fly. These LEDs can even be turned on when the PC is powered down.
For enthusiasts who test their PC outside of a case, there are illuminated Power, Reset, and CMOS clear buttons right on the motherboard. Brilliant! Other than these neat features, the board has a solid BIOS with ASUS' typical tweakability and control.
slide show: Asus M2 Crosshair