MSI X79A-GD45 (8D)
MSI rivals Asus in offering the fewest extras for the money by integrating two USB 3.0 controllers and chipset-only SATA (compared to Asus’ eSATA ports and lack of front-panel USB 3.0). Both boards support triple-card CrossFireX, though, and both have a full set of eight DIMM slots.
It bears mention that the X79A-GD45 (8D)’s extra USB 3.0 connectivity is a little less valuable than Asus' eSATA because you can't use the front-panel USB 3.0 header with three graphics cards installed. Short add-in cards fit. Thin add-in cards fit. But USB 3.0 front-panel cable ends are simply too stiff to fit under a graphics card heat sink.
The other two x16-length slots each have a single PCIe 2.0 pathway suitable only for low-bandwidth devices. That functionality could include low-end graphics cards serving 2D needs.
Apart from the unfortunately-positioned USB 3.0 front-panel header, we have no major objections to the X79A-GD45 (8D)’s layout. It's somewhat inconvenient to have the front-panel audio header positioned a little too far back for some of our cases. That's offset by a minor design triumph in MSI's inclusion of a manual switch for its dual-BIOS function.
Supporting up to six internal SATA drives, the X79A-GD45 (8D) includes all six SATA cables. MSI’s M-Connector cable bundler, a single SLI bridge, and an I/O shield complete the installation kit.