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Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6
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Date: Jul 12, 2007
Section:Motherboards
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Intro, Specifications and Bundle

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Gigabyte has almost always been a well respected brand amongst PC enthusiasts, but it seems the company has come on very strong in the last year or so.  Gigabyte has released a number of highly praised motherboards is recent months, like the GA-P35T-DQ6 and GA-965P-DQ6 2.0 that were all lauded for their feature sets, performance, and overclockability.

In this article, we're going to showcase yet another Gigabyte-built mobo - the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 - that seemingly out does every other current desktop motherboard in a number of key areas.  How do four Gigabit LAN controllers, 10 SATA ports, 100% solid capacitors, and a unique wrap-around, passive, cooling apparatus strike you?  And did we mention the board is based on NVIDIA's nForce 680i SLI chipset and has three full length, PCI Express x16 slots for multi-GPU action?

As you'll see on the pages ahead, Gigabyte has gone all out with the GA-N680SLI-DQ6.  If you're a fan of Intel processors and also want to run a pair of GeForce cards in SLI mode, you're going to want to flip through the next few pages to see just what the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 is made of...

    

Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6
Specifications and Features

BIOS

  • 2 4Mbit flash ROM
  • Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  • PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b

Chipset

  • NVIDIA NFORCE 680i SLI MCP (Northbridge: C55XE, Southbridge: MCP55PXE)
  • Marvell 88E8052/88E8056 chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  • Marvell 88E1116 phy (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  • Realtek ALC888 DD audio codec
  • T.I. TSB43AB23 1394 chip

Processor

  • LGA775
  • Support Intel Core 2 Quad/Core 2 Duo/Pentium D/Pentium 4 Processor
  • Supports 1333/1066/800/533 MHz FSB

Internal I/O Connectors

  • 1 24-pin ATX power connector
  • 1 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • 1 4-pin PCIe 12V power connector
  • 1 floppy connector
  • 1 IDE connector
  • 10 SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  • 1 CPU fan connector
  • 1 system fan connector
  • 1 power fan connector
  • 1 front panel connector
  • 1 front audio connector
  • 1 CD In connector
  • 1 S/PDIF In connector
  • 3 USB 2.0/1.1 connectors for additional 6 ports by cables
  • 2 IEEE 1394a connectors for additional 2 ports by cables
  • 1 TPM connector
  • 1 LPT connector
  • 1 Power LED connector
  • 1 Chassis Intrusion connector

Form Factor

  • ATX
  • 30.5cm x 24.4cm

Rear Panel I/O

  • 1 PS/2 keyboard port
  • 1 PS/2 mouse port
  • 1 serial port
  • 1 IEEE 1394a port
  • 1 S/PDIF out port (optical)
  • 4 RJ-45 port
  • 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 6 audio jacks

Expansion Slots

  • 2 PCI Express x16 slots
  • 1 PCI Express x8 slot
  • 1 PCI Express x1 slot
  • 3 PCI slots

H/W Monitoring

  • System voltage detection
  • CPU / System temperature detection
  • CPU / System / Power fan speed detection
  • CPU warning temperature
  • CPU / System / Power fan failure warning
  • CPU / System smart fan control

Other Features

  • Supports @BIOS
  • Supports Download Center
  • Supports Q-Flash
  • Supports EasyTune (Note 2)
  • Supports Xpress Install
  • Supports Xpress Recovery2
  • Supports Xpress BIOS Rescue

Memory

  • 4 DDR2 DIMM memory slots
  • Supports up to 8 GB memory
  • Support Dual Channel DDR2 800/667/533 unbuffered DIMMs
  • Supports 1.8V DDR2 DIMM
  • Supports DDR2 667/533/400 DIMM
  • Supports ECC type DRAM

    

Gigabyte offers a wide arrary of accessories with the GA-N680SLI-DQ6.  Included in the package, users will fine a detailed user's manual and quick setup guide that explain all of the board's features and clearly illustrated the various steps necessary to install and configure the board.  In addition, a driver / utility CD is included, along with a hard SLI bridge connector and reinforcement bracket, a Gigabyte case badge, and a custom, color coded I/O shield.  There was also a plethora a brightly colored SATA cables included, and 80-wire IDE and floppy cables included too.  Perhaps the best accessories included with the GA-N680SLI-DQ6, however, are a pair of slot-mounted brackets that house eSATA ports.  These brackets bring eSATA and power connectors to any open slot location, and data and power cables are included.  If you're sick of the pokey transfer speeds of your external USB hard drive, you can connect basically any standard hard drive to one of these ports and get the same performance as if it was connected internally to one of the board's SATA connectors.

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Inspecting the Board

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The Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 has a wealth if integrated peripherals, as such, the board is packed with a number of additional controllers and connectors.  Despite the relative complexity of the board, however, Gigabyte did a relative good job with its layout and overall design.

       

As you can see, the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 is built upon Gigabyte's signature blue PCB and all of its slots, headers, and connectors are color-coded for easier installation.  The board's slot configuration consists of three physical PCI Express x16 slots (x16 / x8 / x16), three standard PCI slots, and a single PCI Express x1 slot.  This is a very good slot configuration that'll allow users to run two, double-wide video cards in SLI mode, while still giving them access to two additional PCI Express slots and a PCI slot.

All of the nForce 680i SLI's inherent features are exploited on this board, so there is a wealth of USB and SATA connectors available (which support various RAID modes), but not all of the SATA ports are linked via a single controller.  The 6 main ports are powered by the 680i chipset and support multiple RAID modes, but the purple ports along the bottom edge come by way of a pair of individual controllers and arrays can't be built across them; individually they do support two-drive RAID, however.

       

In general, all of the GA-N680SLI-DQ6's various connectors are situated around the edge of the PCB, which helps with internal cable management, with the exception of the auxiliary power connector which is crammed in between the NB heatsink and I/O backplane.  Ideally, this connector should have been placed along the top edge of the board, but it's not a major issue.  Speaking of the NB heatsink, get a load of the intricate cooling apparatus affixed to this board.  The chipset and voltage regulators are all adorned with high-quality copper heatsinks, linked together via a heat-pipe system.  Additionally, Gigabyte wraps the heat-pipe around to the underside of the board, where you'll find three more heatsinks situated underneath the CPU socket area and chipset. This is en excellent cooling scheme in our opinion, and it did a great job throughout testing.  As you'll see a little later, despite being 100% passively cooled - and completely quiet - the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 suffered from no heat related issued and overclocked quite well.  We should also note that this board features a 12-phase power array, which results in more stable power and lower operating temps.  The 12-phase array is actually touted as a quad-triple phase array, which make it fit in with Gigabyte's DQ6, 6-Quad theme (Quad Core Ready, Quad SLI Ready, Quad Triple Phase Power, Quad eSATA, Quad BIOS, and Quad Gigabit LAN).

       

As we continue our tour around the GA-N680SLI-DQ6, you may notice that this board is equipped with nothing but solid capacitors; no electrolytic caps are to be found.  This should help with the board's longevity as there no chance of a leaky cap.

The I/O backplane is home it a funky assortment of connectors. For some reason, Gigabyte decided to use up valuable real-estate with a 9-pin serial port, along with PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, optical and analog audio ports, a single mini-Firewire port, four USB 2.0 ports, and four Gigabit Ethernet LAN jack - yes, you're eyes are working fine, that's four GigE ports. The Firewire port come courtesy of a TI controller, two of the GigE LAN ports are powered by the nForce chipset, the other two by a pair of Marvell PCI Express controller, and audio functionality come by way of Realtek's best ALC888DD HD codec.

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The BIOS and Overclocking

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Gigabyte has outfitted the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 with a customized Award / Phoenix BIOS derivative that resembles many of the other high-end, enthusiast class motherboards currently on the market.  Gigabyte does, however, put their own spin on the BIOS, which isn't necessarily for the better...

Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 - The BIOS
It's Right There Under The Surface

     

       

The boot screen hints at many of the GA-N680SLI-DQ6's proprietary features and technologies mentioned previously.  The main BIOS menu screens should look familiar to many of you. Using these menus, users can configure any of the board's integrated peripherals, set the boot order, or tweak memory timings, etc. This is all good, but one thing Gigabyte has been doing for a while still irks us a bit.  To access all of the advanced features inherent to this motherboard's BIOS, users are required to press CTRL-F1 after entering the BIOS.  Doing so reveals a number of menu options that aren't available without pressing this key combination.  This isn't a huge issue, but it is an annoyance considering this is unquestionably an enthusiast-class board, and enthusiasts are going to want access to every feature by default without having to take special measures.

Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 - Overclocking
As Good As They Get

       

       

       

The MB Intelligent Tweaker, or M.I.T., menu is where experienced users will find all of the GA-N680SLI-DQ6's voltage and memory options, and overclocking tools.  Although the motherboard is based on NVIDIA's nForce 680i SLI chipset, Gigabyte does not use the standard BIOS menus found on many other reference 680i boards, like EVGA's or XFX's.  With the GA-N680SLI-DQ6, Gigabyte took it upon themselves to customize the overclocking menus, and while it is well organized, NVIDIA's reference BIOS is a little better in our opinion.

With that said, the M.I.T. menu does give users plenty of control over voltages and frequencies for the CPU, chipset, and memory.  There is fine granularity with all of the voltage controls (which are extensive) and all frequencies can be adjusted in 1MHz increments.


We spent some time overclocking our Core 2 Duo X6800 processor with the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 motherboard and had very good results.  Before we began, we bumped the CPU and chipset voltages up by a tenth of a volt, configured our memory to operate at 400MHz, and dropped the CPU's multiplier.  Then we raised the FSB until the machine was no longer stable.  In the end, we were able to hit a stable FSB frequency of 478MHz (1.91GHz quad-pumped). This is an excellent result; the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 is definitely a motherboard that's well suited to overclockers.

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Test Systems and PCMark05

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How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for the following set of benchmarks, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults." We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for DDR2-800 with 4,4,4,12 1T timings. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional (SP2) was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we installed the drivers necessary for our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were then disabled, and we set up a 1024MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

HotHardware's Test Systems
AMD & Intel Inside!
System 1:
Intel C2E X6800
(2.93GHz)

Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6
(NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI)

2 x 1GB PC2-6400
DDR2-800

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro
nForce Drivers v9.53
NVIDIA Forceware v158.24
DirectX 9.0c June 2007

System 2:
Intel C2E X6800
(2.93GHz)

Intel D975XBX2
(Intel 975X Express)

2 x 1GB Corsair PC2-6400
DDR2-800

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro
Intel Inf Drivers v8.3.0.1013
NVIDIA Forceware v158.24
DirectX 9.0c June 2007

System 3:
Intel C2E X6800
(2.93GHz)

EVGA nForce 680i SLI
(NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI)

2 x 1GB Corsair PC2-6400
DDR2-800

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro
NVIDIA nForce Drivers v9.53
NVIDIA Forceware v158.24
DirectX 9.0c June 2007


Futuremark PCMark05
Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks


For our first round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05 suite.

"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

 

As expected, all three of the motherboards we tested put up similar scores in PCMark05's CPU performance test.  All three scores were quite close, with the 975X Express based D975XBX2 taking the top spot, followed by the Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6 and then EVGA's offering.


"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."  - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

 

The three motherboards we tested also put up similar scores in PCMark05's memory performance module.  This time around, however, the Gigabyte board took the lead, followed by the Intel board and then the EVGA nForce 680i SLI.

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Office XP and Photoshop

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PC World Magazine's Worldbench 5.0 is a Business and Professional application benchmark.  The tests consist of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of popular applications to gauge performance.
 

Worldbench 5.0: Office XP SP2 and Photoshop 7 Modules
Real-World Application Performance


Below we have the results from WB 5.0's Office XP SP2 and Photoshop 7 performance modules, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance here, so the shorter the bar the better.

 

Things were tight in both of the WorldBench v5 tests represented here, but a pattern is beginning to emerge.  Once again, the Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 came out on top, followed closely behind by the other two board.  Only a few seconds separated the first and last place finishers, however. In a real world usuage scenario, the differences seen here would be imperceptible to the end user.

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LAME MT and Sony Vegas

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In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.
 

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
Converting a Large WAV To MP3


In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

It doesn't get any closer than this one folks.  In our custom LAME MT benchmark, all three of the board put up the exact same score, regardless of whether the test was run in single- or multi-threaded mode.

 

Sony Vegas Digital Video Rendering Test
Video Rendering Performance


Sony's Vegas DV editing software is heavily multithreaded as it processes and mixes both audio and video streams. This is a new breed of digital video editing software that takes full advantage of current dual and multi-core processor architectures.

The tables turned in the Sony Vegas video rendering benchmark; here the Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 trailed both the 975 Express powered Intel motherboard and EVGA's nForce 680i SLI.  We have to note, however, that this benchmark will show different results between runs and the 18 second delta separating the first and last place finishers here shouldn't be considered significant.

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Kribibench v1.1

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For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer where a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported.

Kribibench v1.1

Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.

 

 

The Intel D975XBX2 motherboard had a marked edge over the nForce 680i SLI motherboards in both Kribibench tests that we ran.  The Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 outpaced EVGA's nForce 680i SLI-based motherboard in both tests, but it trailed the Intel-powered mobo.

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Cinebench and 3DMark06

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The Cinebench 9.5 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  And of course it's very demanding of system processor resources.

Cinebench 9.5 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests


This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds).

We should have put these results next to our LAME MT tests.  In the Cinebench R9.5 benchmark, all three systems put up the exact same scores, regardless of whether or not the test was run in single- or multi-threaded mode.

Futuremark 3DMark06 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance


3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.

The Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 jumped back into the to the top spot in 3DMark06's CPU benchmark. it fnished 6 points ahead of the EVGA board and 19 points ahead of the Intel board.  Once again though, we have to point out that these relatively small margins of victory fall well within the margin of error in this test.

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Quake 4 and F.E.A.R.

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For our last set of game tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. When testing processors and motherboards with Q4 or F.E.A.R, we drop the resolution and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Benchmarks with Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. v1.08
DirectX 9 Gaming Performance

 

Our Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. benchmarks had all three of the motherboads we tested performing within a few percentage points of one another.  The Gigabyte board took top honors in the Quake 4 test, however, the Intel 975X-based motherboard took the lead in F.E.A.R.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

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Performance Summary: The Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 was an excellent performer in essentially every category.  In both the synthetic and real-world benchmarks, the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 either finished at the top of the heap, or just behind the first place finisher. There isn't a whole lot to differentiate the overall performance between today's high-end motherboards based on competing chipsets, but it's safe to say the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 can hang with the best of them.  The board is also passively cooled, so acoustically it’s a winner, and it performed very well in our overclocking tests too.
 
   
 
Gigabyte has done an excellent job with the GA-N680SLI-DQ6. This motherboard is an enthusiast class product in every way. The GA-N680SLI-DQ6 has a feature set as extensive as we have seen, thanks to its chipset and additional integrated peripherals.  It's also a solid performer and an excellent overclocker.  The elaborate passive cooling apparatus and 100% solid capacitor design also hint at the board's top notch build quality.  Perhaps Gigabyte's zeal caused them to go a bit over the top with the Gigabit LAN and SATA connectivity options, but we doubt the type of users in the market for a board like this are going to knock it for having too many features.  We disliked having to press CTRL-F1 to access the board's more advanced BIOS menus and had some minor concerns regarding its layout, but overall it’s hard for us not to really like the GA-N680SLI-DQ6.  At about $285 on-line, the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 is one of the more expensive LGA-775 based motherboards on the market, but if you want support for Core 2 Duo processors and SLI, you can't do much better than this.


  • Good Performance
  • Great Overclocker
  • Slick Passive Cooling
  • Over The Top Features
  • Pricey
  • BIOS Quirks

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