Based on NVIDIA's nForce 590 SLI chipset, the Foxconn C51XEM2AA doesn't really need to rely on external features and functionality to stand out. Following the reference design, the board carries six SATA 3.0Gbps ports with full MediaShield functionality that includes RAID support for RAID 0,1,0+1 and RAID 5. However, AMD users will have to start getting used to the fact that there is only one IDE channel onboard, capable of supporting up to a maximum of two Ultra ATA-133 devices. Since this is a forward looking board catering to the latest trends, the nForce 500 series will retain the single IDE channel mainly to support the existing Optical Disc Drive (ODD) infrastructure. It's only a matter of time before ODD drives too would support the SATA interface and we do hope it arrives sooner.
Connectivity-wise, Foxconn has enabled all ten USB 2.0 ports for use right out of the box with six ports located on the board's I/O panel by default and the remaining four ports through the bundled bracket. FireWire fans will be quite happy to know that the C51XEM2AA is one of the rare motherboards these days that come packing FireWire-800 support. Foxconn uses Texas Instrument's TSB82AA2/TSB81BA3 3-port chipset combo. The TSB82AA2 is a link layer controller while the TSB81BA3 acts as the physical layer. The C51XEM2AA again comes will all three ports available, though Foxconn's specifications show that two ports only support 400Mbps speeds while only one port is working at a full 800Mbps.
As expected, Foxconn makes use of both Gigabit Ethernet MACs off the nForce 590 SLI MCP. What is interesting however is that instead of utilizing two separate Gigabit PHYs, the C51XEM2AA sports a single Marvell 88E1121 dual-port Gigabit PHY that is split between both MACs.
As an enthusiast gaming motherboard, the most important features of the C51XEM2AA are its graphics and audio capabilities. You'll get two full PCIe x16 slots for SLI configurations thanks to the nForce 590 SLI chipset and the board will also feature Realtek's ALC882D HD Audio CODEC, giving the C51XEM2AA Dolby Digital Live connectivity support for external consumer devices. The board's rear I/O panel comes with 8-channel analog ports as well as optical S/PDIF connection, though coaxial S/PDIF support is missing.
The board also comes complete with all the advanced performance features of the chipset like LinkBoost and SLI-Ready Memory (if you don't know what these are, read our nForce 500 MCP article here ). Foxconn's BIOS (which is mostly engineered by NVIDIA) is comprehensive enough that enthusiasts will drool over it and they've also taken the liberty to include diagnostic features such as quick power and reboot buttons on the PCB plus a BIOS code debugging LED.
The C51XEM2AA comes with a polished black PCB design, which is enhanced by the striking highlights of NVIDIA's bright green MCP chipset cooler. Design-wise, the board has a pretty clean layout with some consideration given to graphics card installation. The AM2 socket is also well spaced out except for one corner where we feel that it may be a little close to the DIMM slots.
Some connectors are also not ideally positioned, like the floppy connector at the bottom edge of the board as well as the auxiliary 12V power Molex connector. The USB 2.0 connectors on the board are wedged between the MCP cooler and SATA connectors too, putting them just off the bottom PCIe x16 slot. However, considering that most people won't have any room left for bracket installation running an SLI rig, it shouldn't cause anyone any sleep. Like we mentioned before, the C51XEM2AA is based entirely on NVIDIA's own reference board design so we can't really fault Foxconn for trying to get a working motherboard out as fast as they can to beat the competition.