The P9X79-E WS has a clean layout and a black/blue color scheme, complete with an all-black PCB. ASUS' intricate PCH heatsink adds a splash of functional visual appeal to the board, and the VRM heatsinks actually take a more reserved approach than many of ASUS' latest boards. 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, convenient placement for front fan(s), one one the left for a rear exhaust fan - again all in a logical spot on the board. Additionally, an ASUS-exclusive differentiation here is the complete fan control 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 - an onboard fan controller.
Taking a close look at the CPU socket area, we see adequate spacing for larger coolers, which requires significant design effort for X79 boards, 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 and are relatively low-profile. The 8-pin power connector is in a bit of a different position than we've grown used to, closer to the rear edge of the board next to the RAM slots - it looks like that may have been a tricky issue for ASUS engineers to efficiently route around all of those memory lanes. Speaking of RAM - got ECC Unbuffered memory laying around, this board will take it! Everyone is welcome to this party. This area is a bit more "squished" compared to other P9X79 boards from ASUS we've tested because of the massive amounts of PCI-e slots on the bottom which forces the CPU socket "higher" on the board, and it looks like they did a pretty good job on what was most likely a significant technical challenge.
Here's a close shot of the on-board 6-pin PCI-e connector nestled ever so neatly just above the first PCI-e slot to help power some of the more raunchy GPU setups this workstation-oriented board might be expected to see. In the upper left we can see the two 4-pin CPU fan headers for some push-pull goodness.
The expansion slots are quite literally stacked. The ridiculously-equipped P9X79-E WS has seven PCI-e x16 slots - something that's uncommon and even takes a bit of getting used to. Additional PLX chips boost the bandwidth to the processor for full x16 quad-SLI / Crossfire setups - wanna talk GPU scalability? Render workflows, prepare to meet your match in a big way. Some of the nifty little features, like removable / replaceable BIOS chips and TPU / EPU processors can be seen dotting the left edge of the board. Along the bottom, another conveniently-placed fan header, a COM port, audio headers, the TPU switch, and the CMOS battery.
Yes. More expandability. An additional Marvell 9230 controller boosts the total number of SATA ports to a whopping 10. Go nuts. Of course we'd expect a USB 3.0 header, and moving up the right side is the EPU switch, another fan header, the MemOK! button (a lifesaver, I use this ALOT with great results), as well as convenient on-baord power and reset buttons (with another fan header hiding which is well-suited for a top fan).
The bottom right of the board is also pretty packed with a firewire and USB 2.0 header, TPM headers, a vertical internal USB 2.0 port, and your case I/O. Just above the Q-headers is the Q-code diagnostic / status readout which is hugely helpful when it comes time to diagnose issues.
I'm sounding like a broken record at this point. Yeah, there's a port or two on the rear I/O as well, surprise surprise. A PS/2 port is included to support your favorite legacy peripherals, plenty of USB 2.0 ports (yeah, 10 of them again, but the white one is used for USB BIOS flashback, another great feature to rescue bad settings or for easy upgrading), two USB 3.0 ports, two e-SATA, dual server-grade Intel NICs, optical out, and of course a pretty well-spec'ed 8-channel onboard audio out.