We got our hands on three new retail-ready nForce 780a SLI-based motherboards for the purpose of this round-up, the Asus M3N-HT Deluxe shown here, the Asus CrossHair II Formula, and the MSI K9N2 Diamond.
In the days leading up to this launch, NVIDIA advised the tech press that the M3N-HT Deluxe, with its latest BIOS, was the only 780a SLI-based board to have been tested and confirmed to support Hybrid Power, so the majority of our tests centered around this board.
The M3N-HT Deluxe looks much like the older M2N32-SLI, and includes a similar accessory bundle. Along with the motherboard itself, Asus included a host of SATA and other drive cables, a funk RAM cooler that can be bolted to the heatsink assembly, 3-way and 2-way SLI connectors, an HDMI to DVI converter, an optional cooling fan, and some other assorted stuff like manuals, Q-connectors, a driver DVD, I/O shield, and a case bracket with additional USB and Firewire ports.
In general, we found the M3N-HT Deluxe's layout to be good, and didn't encounter any clearance issues with a variety of graphics cards and an aftermarket Arctic Cooling CPU cooler. The chipset and 8+2 Phase VRM are cooled but a low-profile, copper heatsink assembly with heat-pipes connecting the various heatsinks. Throughout testing, we found the heatsinks to get fairly hot to the touch, even with residual airflow from the CPU cooler, but didn't encounter any heat related instability.
Overall, our experience so far with the M3N-HT Deluxe has been good. It seems the BIOS still needs some tweaking, however, as we encountered a few minor issues related to the board detecting which GPU had a display attached, but we suspect this will be ironed out in a future release.
Speaking of the BIOS, its menus are typical of a product in Asus' AI Lifestyle line-up. There are a good assortment of performance related options, controls for the embedded "Express Gate" OS, and controls for all of the board's integrated peripherals, including the nForce 780a SLI mGPU / IGP.
On the overclocking front, there are an assortment of voltages and multiplier adjustments available that should appease many AMD overclockers. The options aren't as extensive as those available with the CrossHair II Formula we're going to show you next, but we had no trouble overclocking a Phenom X4 9850 to over 2.8GHz (the max for this particular CPU) using a combination of multiplier and HT reference clock manipulation (14 x 205MHz).