Asus’ modus operandi of late has been to rush out new board designs so far ahead of its competitors that the other guys just seem to give up. Witness the company’s A8N32-SLI Deluxe board. In the dual-x16 nForce category, it was the only game in town for months on end.
This time around, Asus enjoys no early lead but the company still manages to add in some nice extras.
The AM2-based M2N32-SLI Deluxe Wireless Edition ships with an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card that supports both client and access-point functionality. Asus also opted for beefy (and quieter) heat pipes to cool not only the core-logic chips, but also the board’s voltage-regulator modules and capacitors.
The Asus and Foxconn boards are amazingly similar in expansion-card options. Both give you two PCI, one x1 and one x4 PCI-E, and two x16 PCI-E slots. Asus should have done what Foxconn did by swapping the position of the x4 slot with the x1 slot. As it stands, if you run a double-wide graphics card, you’ll block access to the x4 slot. We actually prefer the version of the MN232-SLI that’s only sold overseas—that board is configured so you can run two dual-slot graphics cards and still drop in a pair of PCI cards.
One of the niftiest items bundled with this board is the Q-Connector kit. Instead of plugging your front panel directly to the motherboard, you plug the power-on, reset, and LEDs into a connector block, which goes into the case. If you need to pull the mobo, just yank out the connector block, and then plug it back in when you reinstall the board, without having to mess with the jumpers. Very trick.
On another note, Asus’ board suffers one very glaring problem: the nForce 590 SLI supports six SATA ports but Asus configured the board so two SATA ports are blocked when running SLI. We initially thought the company addressed that by including two right-angle SATA cables, but the cables are angled the wrong way! If you use them, they block the other SATA ports. D’oh! The offense is somewhat lessened by the inclusion of two additional (and accessible) SATA ports on a separate Silicon Image controller card, but the mistake is nonetheless dopey.
When it comes to BIOS tweaking, Asus gives you almost as many switches and knobs to turn as the Foxconn board. However, Asus doesn’t support nTune 5.0 nor its overclocking features from nVidia’s Windows applet. Because Asus (like many other board makers) uses overclocking tools and a custom BIOS to differentiate itself from the competition, it doesn’t want to risk losing that edge. Custom BIOSes are great, but we’d like to have the Windows app as well.
As we noted in the Foxconn review, we saw near-identical performance between the two boards—not surprising, with both BIOSes set the same. So in the end, the choice comes down to the features that you want and whether you can live with the minor irritations of both boards’ wonky component placement.
Month Reviewed: September 2006
+ AIR FORCE: Quiet heat pipes, wireless module, and Q-Connector are pure Asus.
- AIR GUITAR: Why offer six SATA ports, and then block two of them?