The RD580 reference motherboard
To see the power of ATIís CrossFire Xpress 3200 AM2 chipset, weíre using the ATI reference RD580 Xpress3200 motherboard. We felt it was important to take a more in depth look at the ATI reference board, as itís quite possible some of ATIís motherboard partners may go into production with this design. Sapphire for instance has used ATIís reference boards in the past for their final retail boards. Letís start with the back of the reference board first.
The back panel of the reference board doesnít have anything special, in fact it actually lacks some of the features found on many premium nForce4 and nForce 500 boards. There are only four rear USB ports, only one Ethernet jack and no optical out on the back. Again, keep in mind that this ATI board is reference only, weíre pretty sure ATIís board partners have something up their sleeves to make their CrossFire Xpress 3200 boards stand out.
Here are the expansion slots for the reference board. Thereís nothing much to see here, everything is quite standard. Thereís enough space for video cards with dual slot cooling, you can also see a VIA Firewire controller. Towards the bottom corner is a useful diagnostic display for informing you of critical system messages, and a Molex connector. This connector is used to feed juice to the motherboard when Crossfire is enabled. The Molex connector is at the same spot here as on the NVIDIA nForce 590 reference board. This is a very strange position because the cables have to go over the video card to reach. Some power supplies have shorter cables, which may not reach the connector at all.
Here is the Realtek ALC880 codec. It provides the HD Azalia audio. To the right is the ITE 8712F chip that monitors system health, such as voltages and temperatures. Youíll have to excuse us for these two fairly blurry photographs.
As with NVIDIA, ATI provides six SATA ports on their reference motherboard. You can see the 24 pin ATX2.0 connector and floppy port. The four DDR2 240pin DIMM slots are present, but do not define the dual channel configurations. Weíll tell them to you instead. From top to bottom are DIMM slots 1-4. Slots 1 and 3 are Channel A, and slots 2 and 4 are Channel B.
ATI incorporates silent passive cooling on both bridges. The MOSFET/PWM area is also cooled. At the top left of the first picture you can spot a second Molex connector. This is for even more juice to the motherboard and is located quite conveniently.