The ASRock ALiveXFire-eSATA2 AMD-based board is inexpensive, and while it does have a limited supply of expansion options, it comes with some cool features, namely eSATA and ATI CrossFire support.
The board is based on the AMD 480X CrossFire chipset and installing it under Windows Vista was a cinch. We didn't even have to use the supplied driver CD as Vista detected all of the hardware components and installed them automatically. We only had to install our graphics card driver in order to get our system fully functional.
The board's AM2 CPU socket supports AMD Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 and Sempron processors. For our tests, we used an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ CPU, 1GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM, a 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive and a GeForce 7600GT-based graphics card.
In WorldBench 6, the board recorded a score of 78, which is exactly what we were expecting, while 53min worth of WAV files took 1min 48sec to encode using Cdex. This indicates that the board isn't holding back the CPU at all. If you want more speed, the board's BIOS will allow you to tinker with the front side bus speed to get a higher CPU frequency. In 3DMark06, the 7600GT-based card scored 3076, which indicates reliability.
The board's layout is a little perplexing. It has two full-size PCIe slots, but both of them are only PCIe x8 slots. ASRock supplies a "PCIe Switch Card", which needs to be installed in the first PCIe slot in order to redirect its eight lanes down to the second slot. This needs to be done so that a single graphics card can run in PCIe x16 mode. PCIe x16 mode is necessary if you want to reap the performance benefits of high resolution and high detail games, using a single high-end graphics card, but either slot will run a graphics card just fine in x8 mode. In a dual-card CrossFire configuration, the "PCIe Switch Card" needs to be removed so that both graphics cards can be installed.
The "PCIe Switch Card" inhibits the board's expansion possibilities as it leaves only one PCIe x1 slot open when PCIe x16 mode is enabled on the other PCIe slots. The board already suffers from a shortage of fixed USB 2.0 ports (there are only two on the rear panel, and two available via an expansion bracket but there are four internal pin-headers) and lacks FireWire, so it's not the best board if you want to use a lot of expansion cards and peripheral devices.
As for the rest of the board's layout, we didn't have any problems installing our CPU or memory, there was adequate clearance around these slots, and the 20-pin power connector is located in a position that allows a 24-pin power cable to be installed. This is good news for newer power supplies as it means you won't have to purchase a 24-20-pin adapter cable.