I have finally mentally digested all of the equipment I got to play with on my trip to mount hood and feel compelled to share this one lasting impression with you all.
I was absolutely blown away by one particular board and plate combination that I tested, and it was NOT the one I expected to love. We were riding on hideously tight groomed. . . ice. . . and this board and plate were just working so well in concert that I didn't want to stop riding or even slow down until my legs forced me. It was fun race style carving, it was fun free carving, heck, could even lay out a fairly easy eurocarve.
When I was chatting with Sean from Donek about the evolution of the board, he explained how that board has been evolving solely with a plate on it and never without, and you could tell. The board has been refined such that you must ride it with a plate, and furthermore, with the plate at the designed axel spacing. Everything just worked without having to think about setup, or where the axel should be, or where I wanted to move it to. There was only one answer and it just worked.
Where am I going with this. . . get ready for System boards in the next several years (Boards and plates that are designed and paired together and not necessarily interchangeable). Other people have said it, but to get the true benefit out of all of this, a board must be designed in concert with the plate that will be placed on it and the intended axel spacing known and accommodated for by the board builder (Encompassing flex of the plate, flex of the board, stiffness of the hardware, and how each of them impacts the other . . . not just, yeah, there are a set of inserts where you want to put your axels).
Getting away from all this interchangeability will allow for lower, lighter, and higher performing plate systems, but we will sacrifice being able to tweak axel spacing all day long (rather than ride), and might be limited in being able to put a "new plate" from a system board onto an old rock board.
Based on what I rode out at Hood, the board I will order next year will have NO 4X4 inserts, and only one set of plate mount inserts, placed at the location Sean has designed the flex pattern of the board to receive the input of the plate.
If you have a chance to demo/borrow/buy a board plate combo that have been refined together like this, I highly recommend it.