The Board - Layout
The ASUS M5A97 EVO comes in what is now a standard color scheme for the majority of ASUS motherboards; blue heatsinks and slots nicely contrast with the black PCB and the remaining few slots in black. Due to the chipset layout, only six expansion slots are available, one short of what we've come to expect of an ATX format product. The layout is clean and simple, with very few distractions, both on the front, and the back of the board. The back of the socket area is populated with several MOSFETs, but as you can see in the picture above, they are set far enough back that they will not interfere with installation of aftermarket cooling solutions.
The socket area is very open, with very few surface-mounted components close to the socket, making setup for sub-zero clocking quite easy. We can clearly see AMD's new cooler retention clips, which features two small parts of high-density plastic which attach to the provided stock backplate with two small screws for each plastic piece. The socket itself, of course, is the new black "AM3b" socket that ensures support for upcoming AMD AM3+ CPUs, which features slightly larger holes for the pins to drop into, but at the same time, provides a very secure grip on existing CPUs. You can see that the socket itself is provided by Foxconn, and its black color is what you want to look for to ensure AM3+ CPU support. The back of the socket area, as we mentioned earlier, does have several MOSFETs and protruding pins nearby, however, our usual test fitting of a Corsair H50 backplate proved to show no problems with clearance with this design.
The bottom half of the motherboard is filled with just six expansion slots; two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (electrically one x16 slot, and one x4 slot), two PCI slots, and two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. The ASUS M5A97 EVO features four DIMM slots for up to 32 GB of memory (4x 8 GB), with a dual phase power delivery system for the DIMMs. This provides a great contrast to some other entry-level boards, most of which feature a single-phase power delivery system for the installed memory. We were quite eager to see how much of a role this may play when clocking RAM to the limit.
The board's bottom edge carries a full complement of pin headers for everything; from front panel audio to front panel USB 2.0 and FireWire. Moving over to the south bridge side of the board, we find several USB headers, a Clear CMOS header, and the front panel connector on the far right edge, to rounds things out. We also find two of the included six SATA 6 Gb/s ports along the bottom edge, along with a serial COM port. There are a total of four fan headers on the M5A97-EVO, two of which are your standard 3-pin, and the third and fourth are PWM controlled. All except the PWR_FAN header can be controlled from within the BIOS, with various airflow profiles available.
On the back plate we find a combo PS/2 mouse and keyboard port, two eSATA, eight USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a six-port analogue audio panel, a digital optical audio port, with a LAN port and a FireWire port rounding everything out. A total of four SATA 6 Gb/s ports are found on the opposite side, with all six internal ports driven by the SB950 chipset. That's not all this board has to offer though; hit the next page for a closer look.