A Closer Look- P9X79
The windowed box which gives you a teasing glance at the P9X79 inside opens to the board, two 3GB/s SATA cables, two 6GB/s SATA cables, a rear I/O plate, an SLI bridge, the headache-saving case headers, a driver disc, and an install guide to supplement the full user guide.
The P9X79 has a clean layout and a black/blue color scheme, complete with an all-black PCB. ASUS' intricate PCH and VRM heatsinks add a but of functional visual appeal to the board as well. The rear of the PCB is clean and orderly. I'll point out that if you look at the positioning of the 4-pin fan headers, it's clear that ASUS has put effort into intelligently placing the fan headers, as opposed to simply sticking them where there's open space on the PCB, which makes the user experience that much better. Two near the CPU for push-pull, one near the right for a front fan, one one the left for a rear exhaust fan, all in a logical placement. Additionally, an ASUS-exclusive differentiation here is the complete fan capability offered by ASUS' Fan Xpert software, which allows you to setup a "cooling curve" which auto-adjusts fan speeds based upon a number of configurable parameters, such as CPU temperature.
The SATA ports extend outward from the right side of the board, stacked two high and butted right up against the PCH heatsink. This has become a fairly standard SATA port design, and allows for clean cable routing. Below the ports are the power-saving EPU switch (which has an equivalent BIOS setting) and the quick-overclock TPU switch. The EPU switch will undervolt the processor (but not the clock speeds) to reduce the power drawn by the CPU and reduces temperatures. The TPU provides a quick-overclock to 4.2-4.3GHz as a quick and easy way to boost performance without getting your "hands dirty." The bottom row contains the headers for external USB 2.0 connections, external sound, as well as an SPDIF_O port.
The PCI-e ports are also spaced to allow for SLI configurations of ASUS' high-performance DCUII GPU cooling system which consumes 3 rear expansion slots. To the left of the CMOS battery, we see a removable BIOS chip, which is another small added-value item ASUS has included, with a bit of added expense. If for some reason your BIOS chip were to become irreversibly corrupted, only the BIOS chip needs to be replaced, and not the whole motherboard, again adding to the end-user experience.
Taking a close look at the CPU socket area, we see adequate spacing for larger coolers, our biggest gripe with the X79-UD3. This requires significant design effort, as the number of lanes coming from 8 DIMM slots become difficult to route without making spacing sacrifices. The heatsink covering the power-transmission components also stands far enough back and is swept to stay out of the way. The 8-pin power connector is also closer to the CPU socket than we've seen on other designs, which makes power transmission to the CPU more efficient. Great detail has been paid to this portion of the board which creates the most formidable design challenges, and ASUS pulled off a great layout and overall PCB design with nice-looking heatsinks to top it off.
The rear panel has ten total USB ports, with 4 being the blue USB 3.0 ports. e-SATA ports are offered with one powered, and one unpowered port, sandwhiching an optical output. The white USB port is for ASUS' unique, and very handy USB BIOS Flashback, which in addition to simly updating your BIOS from a USB stick. Where is this really handy, imagine you've borked the BIOS settings and you cannot POST, without changing out the BIOS chip or RMA'ing the board, you'd be hosed. However, now you can plug in a flash drive with the BIOS loaded on it, press and hold the button, and voila, it'll take a couple minutes to update, and you're up and running once more! And to go the extra mile, ASUS has also made it so that the you only need standby PSU power to the motherboard to flash the BIOS, so you don't need to have a CPU, memory, or graphics card installed, which may be very convenient in a number of instances.