ASUS A8R-MVP (ATI CrossFire Xpress 1600)


The ASUS A8R-MVP

Features

The most interesting aspect about motherboards sporting an ATI chipset is the various configurations you come across. Now if you remember our past reviews, the ECS KA1 MVP sported ATI's own SB450 Southbridge while the MSI RD480 Neo2 came with ULi's M1573. If one had been asked to pick solely on the chipset features, the ULi M1573 would have won due to its better SATA performance and platform compatibility. The ASUS A8R-MVP on the other hand features an even newer ULi M1575 Southbridge that does everything the M1573 does, but now has additional SATA 3.0Gbps support.

Popping the heatsink revealed a good old RD480 chip, otherwise called the CrossFire Xpress 1600, and formerly known as the Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire Edition.

Integrated SATA 3.0Gbps support on the ULi M1575 Southbridge means ASUS doesn't have to opt for secondary storage controllers, saving space and reducing PCB complexity.

Because of the enhanced storage support of the A8R-MVP, ASUS can cut down on its dependency to external controllers for features. The motherboard basically comes with one Gigabit LAN port powered by Marvell's 88E8001, which is a shame since the controller is a PCI variant. FireWire is also supported by the A8R-MVP based on Texas Instruments' TSB43AB22A 2-port IEEE 1394a controller.

Marvell PCI LAN with a TI FireWire controller located towards the back end of the board. The red header you see is for an additional FireWire port.

In the audio department, the A8R-MVP features HD Audio support and uses an Analog Devices' SoundMAX AD1986A HD CODEC to interface with the ULi M1575 host. ADI may not be as prominent as Realtek today, but the audio quality of the AD1986A is comparable with its Realtek counterparts, but for the fact that this is only a 6-channel CODEC. Still more than sufficient for most users.

As with all RD480 CrossFire motherboards, the PCI Express graphics bandwidth is controlled by a terminator card plugged into the secondary slot. This is the same with the A8R-MVP, but ASUS has somehow decided to make things more confusing. Right out of the box, the board already comes with a white card inserted into the second PCIe x16 slot. The unsuspecting user may think that this is the actual terminator card, but it is actually just a piece of cardboard. The actual terminator card is included inside the motherboard package and if you're going to be running a single GPU configuration, you should insert this card or risk running at PCIe x8 only instead of PCIe x16.

Multi-GPU requires additional power and the A8R-MVP comes with an EZ plug molex on top of the secondary PCIe x16 slot.

By default, the board comes installed with the white 'switch card', which is nothing more than a cardboard filler. Users need to manually install the real terminator card in order to achieve full PCIe x16 in a single GPU setup.

Layout

The A8R-MVP gives the impression of a very spacious and decidedly plain PCB layout. ASUS has taken the effort to make sure that components are given generous room for airflow and with minimum features, they managed to pull it off. Sadly though, while the spacing of DIMM slots and connectors are to be applauded, this particular design seems to have eaten into the available space for the CPU socket, which now sits too close to the Northbridge heatsink.

Roomy component layout means good ventilation possibilities. Notice that the DIMM channels are placed in alternate fashion as well.

Typical expansion slot layout selection, though one more PCIe slot would have been preferable.

ASUS spread out the rest of the motherboard components, but ended up leaving little room for the CPU socket. Users with third party coolers might want to check if everything fits.

Overclocking

The following overclocking functions can be found within the BIOS:

  • FSB Settings: 200MHz to 400MHz
  • PCIe Frequency: 100MHz to 150MHz
  • RAM Frequency: DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400, DDR433, DDR466, DDR500
  • Vcore Over Voltage: Enable, Disable
  • Memory Voltage Settings: 2.65V to 2.90V (in 0.05V steps), 2.90V to 3.20V (in 0.10V steps)
  • PCIe Voltage: +1.2V to +1.5V (in 0.1V steps)
  • Southbridge Over Voltage: Auto, Enable, Disable
  • RD480 HT PLL Control: Normal, Fast
  • Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)

Overclocking on the A8R-MVP isn't an incredibly hard affair. The BIOS does have sufficient control for users to experiment with, especially the over-the-top selectable memory frequency options that reach up to 250MHz for DDR500 speeds. However, we did find it lacking in voltage control. The board only allows fine-tuning of memory and PCIe voltages. In our overclocking tests, we managed to hit a stable overclock of 245MHz FSB with the HyperTransport link tuned down to 4x. This puts the board between the ECS KA1 MVP and MSI's RD480 Neo2 previously reviewed.