For the better part of the last decade, there has only been two major players in the discreet graphics field, and as one of those players, nVidia needs no introduction. The GPU manufacturer has stayed at or near the forefront of technological advances through the years. Although there has been a misstep or two along the way, you generally can expect something good to emerge from their R&D labs. And we aren't speaking strictly about the company's GPUs. They have also been a major player in the chipset business with their very successful nForce products.
As time moved onward, the nForce chipset has matured and evolved to the point that it is now considered one of the "must-haves" for enthusiasts. nVidia had, in effect, started a nice little niche for themselves starting with the nForce 4 SLI boards. These boards not only were performing on the same level or better then their competition, but they offered up the first taste of dual-video card setups, of course using nVidia's own graphics cards. It was a win-win situation for nVidia. Without too many other options to choose from, a potential buyer was looking at purchasing a motherboard and two video cards, all from nVidia's stable.
We're now looking at the next generation of this chipset, called the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition X16, which fixes some compatibility issues as well as doubles the number of PCI Express lanes for the graphics cards. Our first look a few months back at the Asus P5N32-SLI was not overly favorable, but that was the first such motherboard to hit the market. With the extra time that Gigabyte has had with the GA-8N-SLI, we hope to find some improvement.
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|Specifications of the Gigabyte GA-8N-SLI Quad Royal
|Gigabyte gives us the Royal treatment
- LGA775 Intel Pentium D / Pentium 4 Processor
- Supports 1066/800/533MHz FSB
- Northbridge: nVIDIA nForce4 SLI X16 Intel Edition
- Southbridge: nVIDIA CK804
- 4x DDR2 DIMM Memory Slots (supports up to 8GB)
- Supports Dual channel DDR2 667/533 unbuffered DIMMs
- Supports 1.8V DDR2 DIMMs
- 2 ports from CK804 (IDE1/IDE2) allows connection of 4 IDE devices
- UDMA 33/ATA 66/ATA 100/ATA 133
- 4 SATA 3GB/s ports from CK804 controller (SATA1, SATA2, SATA3, SATA4)
- Supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 function
- Supports data transfer rate of up to 300 MB/s
- ALC850 CODEC
- Supports 2/4/6/8 channel audio
- Supports S/PDIF IN and S/PDIF Out (optical and coaxial) connections
- CD-IN connection
- Two RJ-45 jacks
- Onboard Agere ET1310 chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
- Onboard Marvell 88E1111 phy (10/100/1000 Mbit)
- Four PCI Express X16 slots:
- Two PCI Express x1 slots
- One PCI slot
- Texas Instruments IEEE 1394 controller
- Supports up to 3x 1394 ports with transfer rate up to 400Mbp
- 1 x Floppy port supports 1 FDD
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse
- 1 x Serial port (COMA)
- 1 x Parallel port supports Normal/EPP/ECP modes
- 10 x USB 2.0 (Rear x 4 / Front x 6)
- 2 x RJ-45 Gigabit LAN jacks
- 2 x IEEE 1394a connectors
- Uses licensed AWARD BIOS
- Supports Dual BIOS/Q-Flash/Multi-language BIOS
- ATX form factor 30.5 cm. (L) x 24.4cm. (W)
- NVIDIA SLI multi-GPU support
- Bluetooth Connectibity
- NVIDIA Firewall
- Xpress(TM) Installation and Recovery 2
- C.I.A. 2 (CPU Intelligent Accelerator 2)
- M.I.B. 2 (Memory Intelligent Booster 2)
The GA-8N-SLI is packaged in an oversized box complete with huge pictures that display the various features of the motherboard including the Quad PCIe slots and RAID configurations. Also on display in a small window was a Bluetooth USB dongle that allows for instant connectivity to any Bluetooth enabled device.
From that point, the bundle consists of mostly expected paraphernalia, but with a few oddities as well, some of which are specifically tuned to the GA-8N-SLI. For starters, there are three sets of brackets used to supplement the connections on the board itself. Two of these brackets are simply 2 USB port extenders, but the third has not only two USB ports, but also two FireWire ports. An I/O shield completes the set, with openings to match the external connections, although some of the metal pieces still need to be punched out first.
While multiple GPUs are the focus of the GA-8N-SLI, multiple drive arrays are also expected, and as such Gigabyte has included flat-ribbon ATA and floppy cables and four orange-colored SATA cables which match the on-board SATA connectors. The cables have a useful locking mechanism, which prevents them from slipping loose while tooling about inside the case.
It's expected that SLI requires some kind of special configuration tools, and there are two of them. The first is the SLI bridge, which is used to bridge two of the same model nVidia GeForce cards to increase performance. The second are two chips that need to be installed in the board depending on the number and type of cards that are used. Finally, a small, relatively flimsy fan is provided, which can optionally be installed over the northbridge.