ASRock A770CrossFire Motherboard
Motherboards on the AMD 770 chipset initially came with the SB600 Southbridge. But several months after the rollout of AMD 780, manufacturers got an opportunity to use the new SB700 Southbridge in combination with previously designed Northbridges. It was not relevant for High-End chipsets (790FX), as such motherboards usually used additional controllers to expand their functionality to the excessive number of ports. But this opportunity proved to be very useful for inexpensive motherboards on AMD 770, because such motherboards usually don't come with additional controllers, and so integrated functionality of the chipset is very important.
ASRock approached this issue with maximum creativity and decided to squeeze everything possible not only from the Southbridge, but also from the Northbridge: the company installed the second graphics port and organized CrossFire support in the nominal mode (that is when two cards are installed, each port gets eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes), although only 790X and higher-end chipsets officially possess this feature.
Unlike many motherboards on inexpensive chipsets with CrossFire/SLI implemented as addons (this function not provided by the chipset), this motherboard can boast of another major advantage besides the above mentioned symmetric distribution of PCI Express lanes. It can accommodate two very long graphics cards with dual-slot cooling systems without blocking any peripheral ports on the board. The second port can also accommodate non-graphics cards with PCI Express interface. PCIEx1 cards can work with the main port operating as x16.
Using a special card installed correspondingly into the slot between graphics ports to control them is not a coercive measure (because the chipset does not officially support CrossFire). ASRock uses such cards in other motherboards as well. These cards are unified, so that the same card could switch between SLI modes in another model.
In other respects, the design features no interesting solutions as well as blunders, except for the layout of the main power connector, so that the power cable will go above a CPU cooler in a number of cases (not only ugly, but may also hamper ventilation). External eSATA port in ASRock motherboards often has to be plugged to the on-board connector with a cable, we cannot say whether it's an advantage or a drawback. Some users will like the idea to preserve the opportunity to plug six internal hard drives. But if you need eSATA, you may have to find a long cable. If a motherboard is rigged up with expansion cards, a bulky cooler, and taking into account many cables inside the PC enclosure, the way to the external SATA connector may be quite serpentine.
The cooling system is quite standard for such motherboards, we can mention only the alternating fin height of the Northbridge heatsink and its imposing dimensions. So this chipset barely manages to warm this device in the nominal mode. So it has a sufficient safety margin for overclocking.
The 5-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel, not bad at all for an inexpensive motherboard. The power circuit also contains five 820 uF solid-state capacitors and three 270 uF electrolytic capacitors. We have no doubts that it's possible to install a CPU with TDP=140 W here. But there may be insufficient power for its overclocking, because the field-effect transistors are not equipped with heat sinks on this motherboard. However, such motherboards are apparently bought for Low- and Mid-End processors. For example, when we overclocked Phenom 9550 with TDP of 95 W and started our stability tests, the only elements to grow relatively hot were chokes (absolutely normal situation for an operating mode), while the field-effect transistors remained at the room temperature level. There are no empty seats on the board, because it's the only model from ASRock with this design. Motherboard dimensions -- 305x245 mm (standard ATX), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.
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