The general layout is very good, with a few notable incompatibilities: the memory slots are too close to the top PCI-Express x16 slot, which means you have to remove the inevitably long graphics card to remove the memory - this may not be a problem for most, but it's something worth consideration. The northbridge and power regulation component heatsinks are tall enough to provide some issues with wider, low slung heatsinks, but you will want to replace the northbridge cooler anyway.
And lastly the bottom PCI-Express slot is, well, right at the bottom, so putting in a single slot card in there - since that's all that will fit - will provide you with a fantastic vacuum cleaner for the bottom of your case. It is only a PCI-Express x2 slot for 'ATI Physics', so the third graphics card that may
eventually be purchased, for this currently fictitious concept won't be of high processing power, making the use of a fan somewhat unnecessary. Since it's the only PCI-Express slot other than the x16 graphics slots, it'll most likely be used for other add-in cards like RAID controllers as well. With that said though, the fact that DFI has opted to use a full x16 slot gives physical support for all PCI-Express card types.
Fantastically, three PCI slots are included and all of which can be used, even when one dual slot graphics card is installed. Even with CrossFire enabled on a pair of X1950XTX's, two of the PCI slots are still usable.
The colour scheme is typical LANParty, with the tangerine orange and dash of yellow on the memory slots. It's an acquired taste, but it’s certainly distinctive and personally I rather like the orange on black. All the components are, as usual, UV reactive for those with black-lights and it makes a great combination with watercooling using UV dye.
DFI has included eight SATA ports, four from SB600 at right angles to the board along the edge, and four from the Promise disk controller. Both support RAID 0, 1 and 0+1 but only the Promise goes the extra mile and gives you RAID 5 as well. As questionable as the benefits are of on-board RAID 5, with regards to CPU calculations and RAID array migration when changing the motherboard, it's a nice low cost redundancy feature to have if your application is a lot less than mission critical.
Interestingly the floppy connector is at right angles to the board, but the IDE isn't. It's questionable whether right angled ribbon cable connectors are useful, because the ribbon protrudes 90 degrees to the connector anyway.
The four pin connectors above both PCI-Express x16 slots are, in fact not fan connectors but additional floppy power connectors. Each is provided for its own x16 graphics slot providing superior power distribution, and floppy connectors are smaller so they take up less board surface real-estate. Unfortunately we found a lot of high end PSUs don't include more than one, if any floppy connectors on them now: it's generally either molex or SATA. It would've been a nice touch if DFI had included a couple of molex-to-floppy power connector converters.
All the heatsinks are passively cooled, which is great for a quiet computer, but it also means that voltage increases from overclocking will cause a lot of extra heat output. Why would you consider buying this board if you weren’t overclocking, given the intensely filled BIOS (see page 3). The six phase digital power provides much more precise and consistent power application, but other boards go the extra mile and offer eight phase. Also the tiny heatsink that cools the PWMs tends to get very hot when the components underneath are inevitably pushed hard. Luckily it's held on by push pins so replacing it with something water containing should be easy.
The same cannot be said for the northbridge, which is retained using clips and hooks: no holes for screws, unfortunately. This is a huge limitation because the necessary compression must now be attained using clips as springs, which makes more effective third party products harder to design and effectively more expensive. We did manage to find an old Swiftech MCX159-P heatsink on a trusty P4P800-E motherboard in the cupboard (ah, the memories - Ed.
) that fitted the ICFX3200-T2R/G perfectly, and when overclocking dropped the northbridge temperature from a fusion-initiating 115°C down to a more acceptable 65°C.
Finally, along the bottom of the board there are colour-coordinated front panel pin-outs included, as well as the last four USB 2.0 connectors (via pin headers) and on-board power and reset switches. All of these are well placed and easily identifiable. The hex LED readout only becomes obscured when you have a card installed in the bottom slot, but it's still a very useful inclusion. The extra IEEE1394a Firewire pin outs are a subtle grey, and rather awkwardly positioned above the upper PCI slot.