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Asus Striker Extreme Nvidia nForce 680i Motherboard
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Date: Jan 15, 2007
Section:Motherboards
Author: Alex Evans
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Introduction and Specifications

There are only a few motherboard makers today who don't design boards with the enthusiast in mind. It's been proven that the enthusiast market, as small as it is, gets the most press coverage of any segment of motherboards. Thus, enthusiast markets do have the ability to influence purchases of an entire company's range of motherboards. Unfortunately, motherboards which are truly designed for the enthusiast are few and far between. Sure, it's easy to put some flashy heatsinks and some basic overclocking controls in to try to lure the casual gamer to their brand - but the true enthusiast demands more. Near unlimited access to timing controls, efficient cooling systems, flexible expansion configurations, and most of all, a cleanly designed motherboard which is easy to work with and can handle almost anything you can throw at it.

Few companies have the R&D power which Asus has, being one of the elite tier one motherboard makers out there who is designing boards for the enthusiast. While most of Asus's high-end board releases over the past year have been well received by the overclocking and tweaking communities, for the most part they still have been targeted at multiple markets. Recently though, Asus has decided to go all out and produce a line of boards dedicated to the ultra high-end enthusiast, cost be damned. These boards go above and beyond what most expect to see in a high-end board, and boast some unique features. Integrated LCD screens, LED backlighting, triple PCI Express x16 slots, complex swerving lanes of heatpipes - these boards are really getting into a class by themselves.

There are only three products in this lineup of ultra high-end Asus motherboards thus far, which can be noticed as they don't follow any of the conventional naming schemas applied to Asus' typical motherboard lineup. The other two motherboards are based on the nForce 590 SLI chipset for Socket-AM2 (the Asus Crosshair) and another based on the Intel P965 chipset for Socket-775 (the Asus Commando). However, neither of these boards are as coveted as the latest release in their "Gaming" series, the "Striker Extreme".

Let's just run down some of the core features here to get your appetite wet. Nvidia's latest nForce 680i chipset for Core 2 dual/quad-core processors. Support for up to 1333 MHz front side bus speeds with DDR2-1200 memory. Triple PCI Express x16 sized slots. Six Serial ATA-II/300 ports with RAID-5. Integated LCD screen and backlit I/O panel, silent copper heatpipe chipset cooling, and the most luxurious set of BIOS controls (yes, BIOS controls can be luxurious) to date. The Striker Extreme is a board for the high-end enthusiast who wants everything and will pay any price for it. 

Shipping Box - Top

Shipping Box - Bottom

Specifications

CPU

  • LGA775 socket for Intel Core2 Extreme / Core2 Duo / Pentium Extreme / Pentium D / Pentium 4 / Celeron D Processors
  • Intel Quad-core CPU Ready

Chipset

  •  NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI
  • Support SLI-Ready Memory Technlogy

Front Side Bus

  •  1333 / 1066 / 800 / 533 MHz
  • (available when CPU's supporting 1333 MHz FSB)

Memory

  •  Dual channel memory architecture
  • 4 x DIMM, max. 8GB, DDR2-800/667/533, non-ECC and un-buffered memory
  • SLI-Ready Memory @ 1200MHz

Expansion Slots

  •  2 x PCI Express x16 slot, support NVIDIA SLI technology, at full x16, x16 speed
  • 1 x PCI Express x16, at x8 speed
  • 1 x PCI Express x1
  • 2 x PCI 2.2

Scalable Link Interface (SLI)

  •  Support two identical NVIDIA SLI-Ready graphics cards (both at x16 mode)
  • ASUS PEG Link

Storage

  • 1 x Ultra DMA 133 / 100 / 66 / 33
  • 6 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s
  • NVIDIA MediaShield RAID supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD span cross Serial ATA drives
  • Silicon Image 3132 SATA controller supports 2 x External Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s port on back I/O (SATA On-the-Go)

LAN

  • NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI built-in dual Gigabit MAC with external Marvell PHY
  • Support NVIDIA DualNet technology

High Definition Audio

  • SupremeFX Audio Card
  • ADI 1988B 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
  • Support Jack-Sensing, Enumeration, Multi-streaming and Jack-Retasking
  • Noise Filter
  • Coaxial, Optical S/PDIF out
  • DTS Connect
  • ASUS Array Mic

IEEE 1394a

  • VIA6308P controller supports 2 x 1394a ports

USB

  • Max. 10 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (6 ports at mid-board, 4 ports at back panel)

Overclocking Features

  • AI NOS (Non-delay Overclocking System)
  • AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency tuner)
  • ASUS AI Booster Utility
  • O.C Profile
  • ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)

BIOS

  • 8Mb Award BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, Multi-Language BIOS

Manageability

  • WOL by PME, WOR by PME, Chasis Intrusion, PXE

Special Features

  • LCD Poster
  • EL I/O
  • Onboard LED
  • Onboard Switches: Power / Reset / Clr CMOS
  • Q-Connector
  • Q-Fan Plus
  • ASUS EZ Flash2
  • ASUS Music Alarm
  • ASUS MyLogo3

Back Panel I/O Ports

  • 1 x LCD Poster
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard port(purple)
  • 1 x PS/2 Mouse port(green)
  • 1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
  • 2 x External SATA
  • 2 x LAN (RJ45) port
  • 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x IEEE1394a port
  • 1 x onboard LED switch

Internal I/O Connectors

  • 3 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x Floppy disk drive connector
  • 1 x IDE connector for two devices
  • 6 x SATA connectors
  • 8 x Fan connector: 1 x CPU / 1 x SPS / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional
  • 3 x thermal sensor connector
  • 1 x IEEE1394a connector
  • 1 x S/PDIF output connector
  • 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
  • 24-pin ATX Power connector
  • 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
  • 1 x EL I/O Shield Connector
  • System panel connector

Accessories

  • SLI bridge
  • ASUS Array Mic
  • ASUS Optional Fan
  • 3 in 1 ASUS Q-Connector Kit
  • UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
  • Floppy disk drive cable
  • SATA cables
  • SATA power cables
  • 2-port USB2.0 module
  • IEEE1394a module
  • EL I/O Shield
  • Thermal sensor cables
  • Cable Ties
  • ROG key ring
  • User's manual

Software

  • Ghost Recon
  • InterVideo Media Launcher
  • Asus Striker Extreme Support DVD:
  • Futuremark 3DMark 06 Advanced Edition
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus

Form Factor

  • ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)

 

 

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Motherboard Layout

Layout

The motherboard ships in a molded plastic casing specifically designed for the Striker Extreme, which protects the board during shipment, and also helps minimize wasted space in the retail shipping box. The retail motherboard box also includes another internal box which includes all of the extras, bundled items, manuals, and disks, which helps minimize clutter when opening up this item. The retail box also has a see-through window on the side in order to see the board's I/O panel, showcasing the integrated LCD screen as much as possible. 

 

 

The board itself doesn't quite look like anything else on the market. Everyone who first sees this motherboard is immediately drawn in by its complex set of weaving copper heatpipes around the CPU socket. While copper heatpipes have been done before, and now are even standard on most high-end motherboards, we have not seen a motherboard with this caliber of heatpipes. There is actually a total of four heatpipes altogether, connected as follows.

  • Southbridge to top set of copper thin fins.
  • Northbridge to top set of copper thin fins.
  • Northbridge to left set of copper thin fins
  • Bottom thick fins, set of thin-fins to left and top set of copper thin fins.

Basically, the nForce 680i chipset is throwing heat in every direction through a series of heatpipes, and it's up to three sets of copper thin finned heatsinks to dissipate this heat properly. The Northbridge has three heatpipes to send heat through, which means that Asus is definitely focusing on keeping this chipset cool and overclockable. The top and left set of copper thin fins are also placed on top of the motherboard's VRM components, which also help the motherboard's stability when running high wattage / high heat processors. Each copper base plate is connected to their specific chip via thermal paste.

Asus has kept almost a perfect square around the Intel Socket-775 interface, which means you can use large coolers on this motherboard and it won't interfere with the heatpipes. If you go with the water-cooled/ passively cooled route, Asus includes a small fan which sits on one set of the copper heatsinks to keep from overheating. Basically, the heatpipe system is somewhat reliant on the CPU cooler in order to give it some residual airflow, so if you take the CPU cooler out of the mix (eliminating active airflow), you may run into some heat issues. Then again, if you have a nearby case exhaust fan, you shouldn't have to worry about it. The Striker Extreme will work great with newer cases which have rear and top mounted 120mm exhaust fans, as these fans will sit right next to the top two sets of copper thin finned heatsinks.

As we mentioned in the specs, the Socket-775 interface supports all brands of Intel chips, ranging from older Celeron and Pentium models to the newer Core 2 dual and quad-core chips. Obviously, most people who cough up the cash for a board of this nature will be using it with a Core 2 dual or quad-core processor, so Asus has made sure the board is ready right out of the box. For those who are concerned about platform longevity, the nForce 680i chipset is the first product on the market with support for 1333 MHz FSB based Core 2 processors, which are scheduled to be announced in the next few months. In the short term, this also means excellent overclockability for today's 1066 MHz FSB processors.

Since Intel still doesn't have an on-die memory controller, Nvidia takes control here and it's up to them to provide a decent memory interface. They took the high road for the nForce 590-series chipset, which only officially supported DDR2-667, despite the market quickly moving towards DDR2-800 at the time. They aren't taking that same route this time, as the nForce 680i chipset supports DDR2 speeds up to 1200 MHz. Most high-end enthusiasts are focusing on DDR2-800 and DDR2-1066, which are plentiful on the market today, so again Nvidia is future-proofing their chipset with support for newer speeds. We're seeing the first actual DDR2-1200 modules being announced recently, so perhaps sometime in the future we'll be able to adequately test out this feature. However, for the time being and for our testing, we'll be sticking with good ol' low-latency DDR2-800 modules. The Striker Extreme motherboard supports up to 8 GB of memory, supporting 2 GB modules per slot. However, if you want to use all 8 GB capacity, it's likely that you'll have to use DDR2-667, as 2 GB DDR2-800 modules are nearly impossible to find on the market. The nForce 680i supports dual-channel operation as well, so peak memory bandwidth levels skyrocket up to a theoretical 19.2 GB/s if you're using two or four sticks of DDR2-1200 memory.

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Motherboard Layout (Cont.)

Layout Continued

Because it's based on the nForce 680i SLI chipset, it's no surprise that the board fully supports Nvidia's SLI multi-GPU technology. The board is equipped with dual PCI Express x16 graphics card slots (in blue), which provide full bandwidth to the graphics cards. The 680i takes PCI Express connectivity one bit further though with an additional PCI Express x16 slot between the two blue slots. This slot is only connected to eight PCI Express lanes, but can handle full-sized PCI Express x16 sized cards (say, for example, another graphics card).

For those thinking that this will make for some sort of Tri-SLI configuration, think again. There's currently no method for connecting three cards together in a multi-GPU configuration. However, a third graphics card could be installed in here to provide additional monitor outputs or physics support. Consider that both ATI and Nvidia have PCIe cards which can handle two outputs per card. Three of these PCIe cards could mean six native PCI Express connected monitor links on one system - without much hassle. The board also supports a single PCI Express x1 connector and two 32-bit PCI connectors as well, keeping a fairly good mix of new and older connectors.

Expansion Slots

Serial ATA Ports

The nForce 680i chipset supports six Serial ATA-II/300 ports natively, and Asus has mounted the ports in a ninety degree fashion in order to allow the cables to not interfere with expansion cards installed above the slots. The ports support RAID as well, like prior Nvidia chipsets, allowing for RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 support. Nvidia has had some troubles with data corruption on other nForce 680i platforms, but the Striker Extreme has so far not been affected by these issues, as this board was designed by Asus and does not use Nvidia's reference design. The board also has one floppy connector and one IDE port (supporting up to two drives). Surprisingly, even with the high end focus of this motherboard, Asus does not include rounded IDE/floppy cables with the Striker. eVGA bundles some very nice rounded cables with their 680i board, so we would expect this from a more expensive 680i platform. Alas, Asus still bundles their same old ribbon cables with the Striker.

Separate from the Nvidia SATA ports, there is a Silicon Image SATA-II controller which sits near the I/O panel, which allows for dual eSATA port connectivity, a first we've seen thus far. As eSATA drives are becoming more widely available, we're glad to see additional eSATA connectivity for a high-end board such as this. The Silicon Image 3132 controller which is used connects directly to a PCI Express x1 link.

Above the top PCI Express x16 connector on the motherboard is Asus' audio riser card slot, which utilizes the bundled "SupremeFX" output card, which is unfortunately not compatible with any other cards - so this slot is more or less useless for other expansion purposes. The SupremeFX card is a small riser card which holds the analog outputs for the onboard HD audio for the Striker Extreme. The SupremeFX card holds the CODEC (Analog Devices 1988B) as well, although the digital ports remain on the main I/O panel. Daughter boards such as this are typically designed to isolate noise away from the rest of the system - although it's likely more due to that the Striker's I/O panel is already stuffed with ports, moving the analog ports to an optional side card makes spacing things out a little easier. The board also comes with a small SoundMax microphone unit which can be mounted easily on one's desk or monitor. 

Soundmax Mic and SupremeFX Card

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Extras and Overclocking

Striker Goodies and Extras

The Striker Extreme has some downright nifty features which we can't overlook. While some may consider these features overkill and/or un-necessary, they're not all for show. These types of features are what we like to call "functional bling". They certainly add the "wow" factor and actually can improve the overall computing experience, but for the most part, it's all for show. 

Striker Extreme back panel ports

Above you can see the I/O panel. Sandwiched between the digital audio outputs, dual PCIe Gigabit LAN ports, and above the dual eSATA ports, we see an interesting addition here. This is actually a diagnostic LCD panel which Asus has equipped this board with, which can supply the user with POST codes in order to see what the motherboard is working on. In particular, this screen is useful when overclocking, as you can see which part of the POST process the system is failing on (CPU, memory, PCI, etc). When the system is done booting, you can have it either display the current time (not that useful - who looks at the back of their system for the time?) or you can have it display an eight character custom message. The screen is not extremely well mounted, and we found the screen to be somewhat flimsy, we think it could easily break off if the board was mis-handled. 

POST Codes

Custom Message

The I/O panel cover itself is connected to a power lead and you can press the light bulb icon to "light up" descriptions of the ports. This is useful if you're digging around your system in the dark and need to know what ports are which, but again, this is more of a "bling" feature compared to one which will be used by a lot of people. Nevertheless, we have to give Asus some credit for innovation here.

Looking at the bottom of the board, there are three big silver buttons, which are hard power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons. Instead of fiddling around with jumpers or making metal-to-metal connections to manually start / stop the motherboard, Asus lets enthusiasts have a little more control when using the board outside of a chassis. While the buttons themselves are quite cool to begin with, they also light up in the dark, as seen below. No more hunting for that flashlight in order to clear your CMOS. 

Hard Switches - In Light

Hard Switches - In Darkness

BIOS, Software and Overclocking

The Striker Extreme is obviously designed with overclocking in mind. It's likely that the vast majority of people who buy this motherboard will be looking to overclock as much as possible. Thus, Asus has provided users of this board with (more or less) unlimited control over timings and voltages. All of the necessary overclocking settings have been combined into the "Extreme Tweaker" section of the Striker's BIOS.

One of the great things about the nForce 680i chipset is that front side bus speeds can be adjusted independently of the memory bus, which typically are tied together in some sort of divider scenario based off the front side bus speed. The 680i allows for complete independence, so you can set your memory speed at one specific level (for example, 800 MHz) and push your FSB speed as far as you can without affecting memory stability. This makes processor-level overclocking much, much easier. Of course, if you have an Extreme Edition processor with an unlocked multiplier, Asus lets you control this option as well. You can manually adjust chipset, CPU, memory voltages with ease, and you can manually time every aspect of your DDR2 memory modules as well. The fan speed controls on this board are quite amazing as well, as you can manually control voltage levels for each of the seven fan connectors on-board. 

Main Extreme Tweaker Menu

CPU Features

Voltage Alteration

Fan Speed Controls

Memory Timings

With our stock Intel retail box cooler and a Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz dual-core) processor running at 1066 MHz front side bus speed, we were able to push our system up to 1466 MHz front side bus speed, upping the processor clock to 3.3 GHz - all without touching voltages.  3.3 GHz / 1466 MHz seemed to provide the best mix of performance and stability without really doing any work.   When we started pushing voltage levels higher and lowering the CPU's multiplier, we were able to get a maximum of 1866 MHz front side bus speed at mostly stable speeds, and up to 1900 MHz with a lot of work (and little stability).  However, at 1466 MHz levels and under, we found the board to be an extremely stable.

All in all, the Strike Extreme is an incredibly easy board to use for, especially with the latest 0701 BIOS in place (some of the earlier BIOS revs didn't play as nice). So yeah, 1333 MHz FSB was a piece of cake with today's Core 2 processors - I'd imagine that some hardcore overclockers will push past 2000 MHz front side bus speed with dedication, time, and perhaps enhanced cooling methods.

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Test Platform and Sandra
Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz) Processor
  • 2 x Corsair XMS DDR2-800 Memory (2 x 1 GB, CAS 4-4-4-12)
  • 1 x Nvidia GeForce 7900 GT 256 MB (Nvidia 93.71 Driver)
  • 1 x Maxtor DiamondMax 10 Serial ATA Hard Disk
  • 1 x Plextor PX-755SA DVD+/-RW Drive
  • 1 x Corsair HX620W 620W Power Supply
  • Windows XP Professional SP2 (32-bit)

     

  • Asus Striker Extreme Nvidia nForce 680i SLI Chipset (701 BIOS)
  • Asus P5NSLI Nvidia nForce 570 SLI Chipset (0903 BIOS)
  • Asus P5W DH Deluxe Intel 975X Chipset (1707 BIOS)

Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks
SiSoft Sandra XI

 

 

 

 

At stock speeds, the Striker Extreme shows performance on par with other high-end Socket-775 boards. CPU performance is nearly identical, although we do see some variance when it comes to memory performance. The Striker 680i board shows a slight lead in memory bandwidth, whereas the 975X has slightly better latencies, at least at stock speeds.

When overclocked (to 1466 MHz FSB / 3.3 GHz), the Striker Extreme really shines, delivering excellent performance. Keep in mind, we reached these speeds without adjusting voltage levels at all - everything was kept at stock levels.

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3DMark and PCMark
Synthetic Benchmarks
Futuremark 3DMark05 and PCMark05

 

 

3D performance looks nearly identical between these various boards - although interestingly, at stock speeds we see the Intel 975X board holding a small lead in PCMark over our Nvidia based Socket-775 boards. When overclocked, the Striker obviously takes the performance lead over the non-overclocked platforms.

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Half Life 2, Prey, FEAR
Gaming Benchmarks
Half Life 2, FEAR and Prey

 

 

The Striker shows solid gaming performance. Even with one graphics card, the Striker 680i board tends to perform a smidge better than Intel's more mature 975X chipset. However, the difference is so small that one would be hard pressed to see a real-world difference.

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Cinebench, DivX Converter
Application Benchmarks
Cinebench and DivX Converter

 

Our CPU intensive applications show very little difference between these motherboards, which is what we were expecting. With CPU bound benchmarks, overclocking the CPU by large amounts helps performance quite a bit, as is evident in the benchmark results above.

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HDTach 3.0
Hard Disk Benchmarks
HDTach 3.0

 

 

While Nvidia's SATA controllers are sometimes given a bad rap, our tests show that the 680i performs right on par with Intel's 975X in terms of disk speed. Burst and sustained transfer rates are right in line, although our Nvidia platforms did use a smidge more CPU power to do so. But with only a 1% difference, we won't lose too much sleep over it.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Our Conclusion

Asus has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and has set a new bar for high-end gaming / enthusiast class motherboards. The Striker Extreme is an excellent product overall, and dare we say is a masterpiece due to how well thought out this design is. Once you work with this board for an extended period of time, you can begin to appreciate the work put in by Asus' R&D team -- these guys know what they're doing and have made a motherboard that proves it.

If money was no object, the Striker Extreme would possibly be our choice for the best overall Socket-775 platform on the market today. However, money does play a large role in a purchase like this - and the Striker Extreme's $400+ price tag is quite exorbitant. Luckily, Asus has also provided a nice second-tier option with their P5N32-E SLI motherboard, which uses the same core design and same nForce 680i chipset, but lacks some of the over-the-top features like the LCD post screen, backlit LED I/O panel, quad copper heatpipes, and a few other minor features. This board is sold for quite a bit less, and should be considered for those who want the same core features as the Striker but without all of the (somewhat excessive) "bling" features.

Our benchmarks did not show the Striker to be far and away the best platform in terms of raw performance. With only a single graphics card, this board will perform on par with other 680i or 975X platforms. However, the Striker can handle dual PCIe x16 graphics cards in SLI, which the 975X cannot, so if you're looking to run a pair of high-end GeForce 8800-series cards, the 680i should be the only chipset to look at. Of course, the Striker Extreme showed itself to be an excellent overclocker as well when equipped with the latest BIOS, so this should be brought into consideration as well (early BIOS revisions didn't fare as well in this area). This board was able to overclock our Core 2 Duo processor further than we've seen on 975X and P965 boards in the past. Asus provides near limitless control of the BIOS, so we're bound to see some amazing overclocks happen with this platform.

If Asus can get these boards out in volume and bring street prices down a bit, we're certain that they'll sell well. These boards are hard to come by on the retail market, hopefully this will improve over the next few weeks. With more stock, it's likely that prices will drop to more sane levels and more high-end users will be able to enjoy this board.

  • Superb Layout, Meticulously Designed
  • Efficient, Silent Copper Heatpipe Cooling
  • 16 x 16 SLI Support
  • 3 x PCIe Card Support
  • Highly Overclockable
  • Great BIOS Control
  • Extremely Pricey, Over $400 USD
  • Limited Availability At This Time

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