ECS KN1 SLI Extreme: SLI on a Budget
When we look at the layout of the KN1 SLI Extreme, ECS did shuffle some components around compared to the original KN1 Extreme, although they still managed to keep a clean, uncluttered layout. Along with two PCI Express x16 slots, the board came equipped with three PCI slots and a single PCIe x1 slot, with flashing LEDs situated between each slot for an added effect. The second PCIe x16 slot had an auxiliary Molex power connector integrated into the board for added power, and the nForce4 SLI chipset was equipped with active cooling. One thing we did find was that ECS did situate the added PCIe x16 slot too close to the hinges of the board's four DIMM slots. When the hinges are closed, the card is right up against them, guaranteeing the card will need to be removed when upgrading the memory. Since this could mean the card and bridge clip must be removed, this adds to the potential for problems. Furthermore, if a DIMM hinge is open, user's can inadvertently break it off when installing the video card if they don't see it.
Something you may notice is that the KN1 SLI does away with the transposer card used on many other SLI motherboards to alter the PCI Express lane configuration to the PEG slots. Instead, the KN1 SLI can work in single, or dual-graphics card configurations without the need to manually flip the transposer card.
ECS did improve on the IDE and Floppy placement compared to the original KN1, consolidating them all into the same location rather than spreading them across the board. The six SATA II ports were all grouped together as well, four of which were powered by the nForce 4 SLI chipset. ECS traded in the SiS180 controller of the KN1 for a SiI3132 RAID controller, bringing RAID 0, 1 and 0+1 to the remaining two SATA II ports. Additionally, the KN1 SLI Extreme offers two FireWire headers, 3 USB 2.0 headers and a front panel audio header.
The KN1 SLI Extreme's integrated audio is powered by a Realtek ALC850 CODEC, delivering 8 audio channels, a step up from the KN1's 5.1 channel ALC655. The board is also Dual LAN ready with a Realtek 8100C controller providing 10/100 Mbps and a Marvell 88E1111 offering Gigabit Ethernet. The back of the board offered a solid array of ports such as the 8 channel audio connections, including 2 Digital SPDIF (Optical & Coaxial) outs, Dual Ethernet, four USB 2.0, PS/2 and Serial connections. Lastly, ECS included active cooling to draw air across the Voltage Regulator Module and capacitors for added stability.
We must say, when we reflect on the comments made with the original KN1 Extreme, it seems that ECS is taking reviewer's feedback seriously. In our original review, we expressed concern over the Floppy placement and SiS180 RAID controller and it appears they were listening. Did ECS address all of the issues we pointed out? No, but they were listening, which shows a willingness to improve a product based on consumer feedback. We still wish the board had Dual 'Gigabit" Ethernet. Nonetheless, throw in the added PCIe x16 slot, upgraded 8 channel audio and the KN1 SLI Extreme offers some major improvements over the original KN1.