Reference Mainboard: Now Available in Stores
We are usually very skeptical about reviewing reference mainboards coming from the chipset developers. The thing is that these solutions rarely have anything in common with the actual retail products that the users can buy in stores later on, therefore testing reference solutions doesnít make too much practical sense. However, in case of Nvidia nForce 680i SLI the situation turned out completely different.
The thing is that Nvidia tried to use their graphics card distribution strategy in the mainboard market. In reality it will look as follows. There will be one large contract manufacturer responsible for mass production of reference Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboards. Then these mainboards will be distributed among the mainboard vendors who will sell them under their own brand names and will only be able to change the package design and accessories bundle. There are five companies that will start shipping Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboards in the nearest future: eVGA, BFG, XFX, ECS and Biostar.
There will be another five mainboard manufacturers who will try to introduce their own Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboard designs. They are ASUS, DFI, MSI, Gigabyte and ABIT. However, their own mainboard designs are not ready yet, so we have no other choice but review a reference Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based product at this time, and if you like it you will be able to buy it in stores.
At first letís take a closer look at the specification:
NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI reference mainboard
Celeron D, Pentium 4, Pentium D, Pentium 4 XE,
Pentium XE, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme
NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI (C55 + MCP55PXE)
100-625MHz (with 1MHz increment)
Adjustable Vcore, Vmem, North and South Bridge voltages,
FSB and HyperTransport bus voltages.
Independently adjustable PCI and PCI Express bus frequency.
EPP and LinkBoost technologies support.
4 DDR2 DIMM slots
for dual-channel DDR2-800/667/533 SDRAM
PCI Express x16 slots
2 (supporting NVIDIA SLI)
PCI Express x8 slots
1 (mechanically compatible with PCI Express x16)
PCI Express x1 slots
PCI expansion slots
USB 2.0 ports
10 (6 ?on the rear panel)
2 IEEE1394a ports
(1 ?on the rear panel, via the TI 1394 controller)
1 ATA-133 channel (in the chipset)
6 Serial ATA-300 channels
(in the chipset, with RAID and eSATA support)
ATA RAID support
RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 in the chipset
8-channel HD codec - Realtek Realtek ALC882D
2 Gigabit Ethernet controllers (in the chipset)
Phoenix Technologies 6.00PG
ATX, 305mm x 244mm
As you can see from the specification, maximum of the available chipset features have been implemented on this reference mainboard. Note that there are no additional controllers onboard except the Texas Instruments chip responsible for IEEE1394 bus implementation. However, despite the absence of additional onboard controllers, the solution is quite feature-rich ?all thanks to the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset.
The diagnostic CPU-Z utility reports the following about this mainboard:
We included this screenshot into our article because it clearly indicates that the South Bridges of Nvidia nForce 680i SLI and Nvidia nForce 570 SLI are identical. Other than that there is nothing else interesting about it, especially since the current utility version cannot detect the chipset North Bridge correctly.
Our mainboard supports all contemporary Intel processors for LGA775 form-factor and is claimed to support the upcoming processors on Core microarchitecture that will use Quad Pumped Bus with 1333MHz frequency.
There are four DDR2 DIMM slots on the board, two slots per channel. They are color-coded advising the user the best way to install memory modules in pair for dual-channel mode. There are two ways to set the memory frequency in the BIOS Setup: by selecting the divider that will derive the memory frequency from the FSB speed, or by clocking the memory asynchronously. The first way is certainly preferable, because it ensures lower latencies when addressing the memory subsystem, however there are very few dividers to choose from. There are only the following three memory-to-FSB frequency ratios available: 1:1, 5:4 and 3:2.
However, the asynchronous mode is extremely flexible, and you can set the memory frequency at pretty much any rate between 400MHz and 1200MHz. in asynchronous mode you can also set the memory frequency lower than the FSB, which might be very helpful during overclocking.