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nForce 650i SLI Shoot-Out: MSI P6N SLI vs Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI
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Date: Jul 27, 2007
Section:Motherboards
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction

As hardware enthusiasts, our enthusiasm for the latest and greatest PC gear often surpasses our bank account's ability to fund another upgrade. That's when we fall back on the always practical approach to maximizing our bang for the buck. Thankfully, this usually doesn't equate to buying products we're too ashamed to put in a modded case. Many companies cater to the more value conscious crowd while still bringing in enthusiast-oriented features.

One example of a product that offers a lot of bang for the buck yet maintains a fair amount of enthusiast-oriented features is the NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI chipset. MSI and Abit both offer nForce 650i SLI motherboards that pack a lot of great features in, at very reasonable prices. Of course, most gaming enthusiasts probably drool over the $200+ nForce 680i SLI boards, but they simple cost too much for many of us. For $50-75+ less, you can buy an nForce 650i SLI board and enjoy most of the essential features found on the 680i SLI board. For a detailed look at the differences between the various nForce 600 Series motherboards, check out the table below.

The main difference between the 650i SLI and 680i SLI that seems to concern gaming enthusiasts is that the 650i SLI's PCI express slots have x8 electrical connections instead of x16 in SLI mode. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that SLI in dual x16 mode hasn't proven to offer significant benefit over SLI with dual x8 PCI express slots. As you can see in the tablet, the 650i SLI also lacks a third PCI express slot. In addition to the reduction in PCI express lanes, the 650i SLI chipset also lacks official support for SLI-ready memory with EPP (although some 650i boards like the Abit board in this article do support it) and most of the networking-related special features.

For most users, even enthusiasts, however, these extra features and capabilities are unlikely to be missed. In this article, we'll compare the MSI P6N SLI Platinum to the Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI and get a better idea of just how well the 650i SLI chipset performs.

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MSI P6N SLI Platinum - Specs and Features

We are going to start this nForce 650i SLI comparison off by taking a look at the features, specifications, bundle and board layout of the MSI P6N SLI Platinum.

Whether it's video cards or motherboards, MSI consistently tries to deliver something unique with many of its products. In this case, the "Platinum" moniker signals the presence of an extra feature or two. When you check out the specs and features below, you may notice the inclusion of an external eSATA port and support for not one but two IEEE1394a (FireWire) ports. Another cool feature to take note of is the clear CMOS button that is included on the board. Kudos to MSI for the high convenience factor there! You won't see these features on many other nForce 650i SLI boards. Check out the table below to see what else the P6N SLI Platinum brings to the table.

    

MSI P6N SLI Platinum
Specifications & Features
CPU
• Supports Socket 775 for Intel Core2 Quad, Core2 Extreme, Core2 Duo, Pentium 4 (Prescott, P4EE), Pentium D, Pentium XE/Celeron D processors in LGA 775 package
• Supports FSB 533/800/1066/1333* MHz (FSB 1333 requires FSB 1333 CPU and manual FSB adjustment in the BIOS)
• Supports Intel 05B/05A and 04B/04A processors
• Supports EIST techonology
• Supports Intel Hyper-Threading (HT) Technology
• Supports Intel Dual Core Technology to 1066MHz and up

CHIPSET
NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI (C55) Chipset
• Supports FSB 533MHz, 800MHz, 1066MHz & 1333MHz* (FSB 1333 requires FSB 1333 CPU and manual FSB adjustment in the BIOS)
• Supports Dual channel DDR2 533/667/800 memory interface up to 8GB
• Supports Dual PCI Express 16X interface with either 1x16 or 2x8 operation

NVIDIA nForce 430i (MCP55) Chipset
• Integrated Hi-Speed USB 2.0 controller, 480Mb/sec, 8 ports
• 4 Serial ATAII ports w/ transfer rate up to 3Gb/s and support RAID (0,1, 0+1 & 5)
• 2 channel Ultra ATA 133 bus Master IDE controller up to 4 IDE drives
• PCI Master v 2.3, I/O ACPI 2.0 Compliant

MEMORY
• Supports dual channel DDR2 533/667/800, using four 240-pin DDR2 DIMMs
• Supports the memory size up to 8GB
• Supports 1.8v DDR2 SDRAM DIMM

EXPANSION SLOTS
• Two PCI Express X16 slots (supports PCI Express BUs specification v1.0a compliant) (The 2nd PCI Express X16 slot will operate at X8 mode when SLI Technology has been enabled)
• One PCI Express X1 slot
• Three 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots
• Support 3.3V/5V PCI bus interface

ON-BOARD IDE / SATA
• Two IDE controllers on the NVIDIA nForce 430i chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes
-- Can connect up to 4 IDE devices
• NV RAID supports 4 SATA II ports (SATA1-4); Transfer rate is up to 300MB/s
• NV RAID
-- Supports up to 4 SATA
-- RAID 0 or 1, 0+1, 5, JBOD is supported
-- RAID function work w/ SATAII H/D

EXTERNAL eSATA RAID
• 1 SATAII port by Sil3531 (back panel)
• Supports RAID 0

IEEE 1394a
• VIA 6308P chipset
-- Supports up to 2 x 1394 ports
-- Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps

AUDIO
Realtek ALC888 HD Audio
• Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
• Compliant with Azalia 1.0 spec

LAN

• Supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Realtek® RTL8211BL


ON-BOARD PERIPHERALS
• 1 floppy port supports 1 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
• 1 Serial port (COM 1, supported by pin-out)
• 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
• 1 audio jack (5-in-1), coaxial/optical SPDIF out
• 8 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4 / Front x 4)
• 1 RJ45 LAN jack
• 1 D-Bracket 2 pinheader
• 2 IEEE 1394a connectors (Rear x 1 / Front x 1)
• 1 CD-in pinheader
• 1 eSATA port

SYSTEM BIOS
• The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
• The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
• Supports boot from LAN, USB Device 1.1 & 2.0 and SATA HDD

FORM FACTOR
• ATX Form Factor - 11.96 in. (L) x 9.61 in. (W)
• 9 mounting holes

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Live Update
• Dual Corecell
• MSI Dual CoreCenter
• DOT

     

Opening the MSI P6N SLI Platinum box reveals a decent sized bundle. The package includes a Quick User's Guide, Quick Installation Guide, Quick Guide poster, driver/utility CD, two 4-pin to SATA power connectors, SLI connector, a bracket to hold the SLI connector in place, FireWire bracket, USB/diagnostic LED bracket, chipset fan, round floppy cable, round IDE cable, four SATA cables, one eSATA cable, and a rear I/O cover. We like that MSI throws in about everything you need to utilize all the features of this board.

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MSI P6N SLI Platinum - The Board

MSI P6N SLI Platinum: The Board
Check Out the Layout on That PCB

The P6N SLI Platinum is an ATX board built upon a black PCB. Both the northbridge and southbridge are passively cooled by a custom heatpipe design that is connected to the northbridge, southbridge and PWM. Passive cooling of course means that no fans are used to cool the chipset, and that means no extra noise from the motherboard. MSI does include a fan that you can put on the northbridge, though, in case you feel like doing some serious overclocking. In addition to its lack of noise, we like the cooling employed by MSI because of its looks -- the copper looks great on the black PCB.

When it comes to expansion slots, the P6N SLI Platinum boasts two PCI Express x16 slots, one PCI Express x1 slot, and three 32-bit PCI slots. As we mentioned before, although the board features two PCI Express x16 slots, the second slot operates at x8 mode when SLI is enabled. In between the expansion slots, you can see the SLI switch card, which is a small PCB with connectors on both sides.

  

For your storage needs, MSI includes four SATA 3Gb/s ports, two IDE connectors and one floppy connector. That should meet the storage requirements of 99% of users out there. In addition to the storage connectors, you can see the four colored DIMM slots. Channel A is green and channel B is orange, so that means you will want to populate one DIMM in a green slot and one is an orange slot to take advantage of the chipset's dual-channel memory capabilities. One final thing we'd like to point out in the first picture below is the small, red button in between the SATA ports and the CMOS battery. That button is for resetting the CMOS. Nice touch, MSI. We wish every manufacturer would implement this level of convenience for clearing the BIOS.

    

Overall, we found the layout of the board to be good and logical. Although the board's cooling system may be a bit unconventional, we don't believe it will pose any problems for even large coolers. The CPU socket has plenty of clearance.

  

The rear I/O ports include many of the usual suspects: PS/2 keyboard, PS/2 mouse, 4 USB 2.0, 1 parallel, 1 IEEE 1394a (FireWire), 1 RJ45 LAN jack, and 1 set of analog audio ports. Additionally, MSI throws in a digial coaxial out jack, a digial optical out jack, and an eSATA port. Although this is an entry-level SLI board, the rear panel reminds of us a high-end board.

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Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI - Specs and Features

Next in line, we have the Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI, which is part of the Fatal1ty Professional Series of products. Abit engineers designed this board with gaming in mind, but that doesn't mean you'll automatically be able to play like world champion fragger Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel.

The Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI's feature list isn't quite as extensive as that of the MSI P6N SLI Platinum, but the Fatal1ty board costs almost $20 less. The Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI is definitely geared more towards someone who wants to build a streamlined yet solid home or LAN party gaming system.

  

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI
Specifications & Features
CPU
• Supports LGA775 Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme, Pentium Dual-Core, Pentium Extreme Edition, Pentium D & Pentium 4 Processors with 1066/800MHz FSB
• PWM Designation provides high quality, efficient power

CHIPSET
NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI Chipset

MEMORY
• 4 X 240-pin DIMM sockets support max. memory capacity 32GB
• Supports Dual channel DDR2 800/667/533 Un-buffered Non-ECC memory

EXPANSION SLOTS
• 2 x PCI-E x16 (The 2nd PCI Express x16 slot will operate at x8 mode when SLI Technology has been enabled)
• 2 x PCI-E x1
• 2 x PCI

ON-BOARD IDE / SATA
• NVIDIA® NF430: 4 x SATA 3Gb/s supports NVIDIA® MediaShield™ RAID with SATA RAID 0/1/0+1/5 and JBOD
• Two ATA 133/100/66/33 IDE connectors

AUDIO

• 7.1 CH HD Audio CODEC
• Supports Auto Jack Sensing and optical S/PDIF Out
LAN
• Native Gigabit Ethernet controller supports 10/100/1000Mbit LAN connections


INTERNAL I/O
• 1 x Floppy Port supports up to 2.88 MB
• 2 x ATA 133/100/66/33 IDE connectors
• 4 x SATA 3Gb/s connector
• 2 x USB header (supports 4 additional ports)
• 1 x FP-Audio
• Quick Power On & Reset buttons

BACK PANEL I/O
• 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 Mouse
• 1 x S/P DIF Out
• 7.1 CH Audio connector (Front, Line-in, MIC-in, Center/Subwoofer, Surround, Rear Surround)
• 4 x USB 2.0
• 1 x RJ-45 LAN connector

FORM FACTOR
• ATX form factor 305 x 245mm
• PCB Color: Red

ABIT ENGINEERED
• 100% Japanese Capacitors
• Low ESR, high ripple, conductive polymer aluminum solid state capacitors in all high frequency areas
• Quick Power On & Reset buttons
• Silent Cooling

When you open the box, you are immediately greeted by the board itself. It's under clear plastic, which actually makes for a rather nice presentation. Right next to the board, you will find the SLI connector, which in a way reminds you that this board was made for SLI gaming.

Not only is the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI board itself simpler than the MSI P6N SLI Platinum, but its bundle is simpler than the P6N SLI Platinum's as well. The bundle consists of the following items: a driver/utility CD, a User Guide, a jumper settings guide/sticker, a note from Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, a rear I/O panel cover, one floppy cable, one IDE cable, four SATA cables, one SATA power cable, SLI connector and a bracket to hold the SLI connector in place.

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Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI - The Board

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI
Have a Closer Look

The Fatal1ty brand is dominated by two colors: black and red. It's no surprise, then, that the Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI's PCB is red, and the connectors/slots are all red or black. Even the three heatsinks (one for the northbridge, southbridge and PWM) are black, and two of them sport Fatal1ty logos.

The Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI features two PCI Express x16 slots and two PCI Express x1 slots. Like other nForce 650i SLI motherboards, the second PCI Express x16 slot operates at x8 mode when SLI technology is used. In addition to the PCI Express slots, Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI includes two regular PCI slots. In the opposite corner of the board, you will see four DDR2 DIMM slots. To take advantage of dual-channel memory, you will need to populate two slots of the same color.

  

In the storage department, the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI offers the same set of connectors as the MSI P6N SLI Platinum: four SATA 3Gb/s ports, two IDE connectors, and a single floppy connector. While the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI does not feature a CMOS reset button, it does sport onboard power and reset buttons, which you can see next to the SATA ports in the first picture below (they are the small yellow and brown buttons). This is another nice touch that we'd like to see more manufacturers implement.

  

We don't have any major gripes about the layout of the board, and we were happy to see that the CPU socket has plenty of clearance for robust cooling solutions.

We found the rear panel I/O to be rather simple, but it's no surprise considering the gaming-oriented target audience for this board. Gamers most likely won't need a parallel or serial port. Plus, we can appreciate a simple, clean layout. In the picture below, you can see the following connectors: PS/2 mouse, PS/2 keyboard, digital optial audio out, six analog audio jacks, four USB 2.0 ports, and an RJ45 LAN port.

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Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI - BIOS and Overclocking

Since Abit builds Fatal1ty products with gamers in mind, we expected to see at least decent tweaking options in the BIOS. We weren't disappointed. While it's not the most robust BIOS we've ever seen, this Phoenix AwardBIOS derivative is more than adequate.

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI: The BIOS
Lots of Red - Hope there are no Bulls around

When we first entered the BIOS, we were struck by the red screen. It's a nice change from the typical blue BIOSes we are used to. Plus, it adds to the overall Fatal1ty theme quite nicely.

The first option in the BIOS is the SoftMenu Setup, and this happens to be where most of the magic can happen. In the SoftMenu Setup menu, you can adjust the front-side bus (FSB), multiplier, FSB:memory ratio, memory speed, and voltages. All of these settings are essential to achieving a boast-worthy overclock. As you can see in the third shot below, the FSB can be adjusted from 400MHz to 3000MHz (note that FSB is shown as quad data rate or QDR).

     

The BIOS's voltage control includes the following adjustable voltages: CPU Core, DDR2, DDR2 REF, CPU VTT, and NB (northbridge). The CPU Core voltage can be bumped all the way to 1.7000V, and the DDR2 voltage goes to 2.50V. Those ranges should be adequate for almost every overclocker.

    

Under the Advanced Chipset Features menu, you can adjust memory timing settings. In addition to the SoftMenu Setup and Advanced Chipset Features, you'll probably want to pay attention to the PC Health Status screen. It allows you to establish some precautionary temperature and fan settings, and it shows you current temperatures and voltages.

    

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI: Overclocking
Put the Pedal to the Metal?

Overclocking with the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI was not as quick and painless as we had hoped it would be. After several hours of trial and error and clearing the CMOS, we were only able to reach an FSB overclock of 330MHz (1320MHz QDR). This was achieved after setting the multiplier to 6x and bumping the northbridge volage to 1.35V. We tried increasing the northbridge voltage and other voltage settings, but we couldn't even get to the POST screen with a FSB higher than 330MHz.

Although you could achieve some nice performance boosts with a 330MHz FSB, we were left disappointed in our test sample since we've seen a lot of talk where this board hits 400MHz or higher. It just goes to show that not every board performs the same, even if it is the exact same model. Overclocking mileage will always vary.

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Test System Specs and Sandra XI SP2

Test System Specifications
What's Under the Hood?
Motherboards Tested:
MSI P6N SLI Platinum

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI

Common Hardware:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 @ 2.13GHz
2x512MB Corsair XMS2 DDR2-667 (CL 4-4-4-12)
NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GT

On-board audio & LAN
Maxtor 120GB SATA 7200RPM Hard Drive

Software / System Drivers:
Windows XP with Service Pack 2
DirectX 9.0c
NVIDIA nForce4 Chipset Drivers v8.43
NVIDIA ForceWare Drivers v94.24


Preliminary Benchmarks with SiSoft SANDRA XI SP2
Synthetic Testing

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA XI suite (CPU, Multimedia, and Memory) with a Core 2 Duo E6400 installed in the boards we tested. All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 2.13GHz.

As we expected, both boards posted very similar scores. The differences between the results is neglible and would never be noticed by a user.

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Futuremark PCMark05

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05. For those interested in more than just the graphs, we've got a couple of quotes directly from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do and how they work.

Futuremark PCMark05
More Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

"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.

Once again, the results aren't different enough to truly matter. Both boards do the Core 2 Duo E6400 justice, but the results emphasize that performance isn't what is going to distinguish these two boards from each other. It's truly all (or mostly) about the features here.

"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.

Like the CPU performance module results, these results are really close. Both boards appear to provide nearly equivalent memory performance and bandwidth.

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Office XP and Photoshop 7

PC World Magazine's WorldBench 5.0 is a Business and Professional application benchmark. WorldBench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance. Below we have the results from WB 5's Office XP SP2 and Photoshop 7 modules, recorded in seconds. Lower times indicate better performance here, so the shorter the bar the better.

WorldBench 5.0: Office XP SP2 & Photoshop 7 Modules
Real-World Application Performance

The story doesn't get much different with the WorldBench tests. The Abit Fatal1ty PF-IN9 SLI takes the win in both tests, but it's not by a very big margin.

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Lame MP3 Encoding

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
Converting a Large WAV To MP3

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a daily basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times were recorded and are shown in seconds below. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

We couldn't pinpoint the cause, but the MSI P6N SLI Platinum schooled the Abit Fatal1ty here in both the single-thread and multi-thread tests here. We verified the results a couple of times and are reporting what we experienced, but are unsure what caused the discrepinacy. None of the other benchmarks showed variations of this magnitude.

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KribiBench

Next we ran Kribibench, 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. We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and a gargantuan "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.

KribiBench v1.1
Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

The trend returns to only a marginal difference in performance, which is much more along the lines of what we expected to see.

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CINEBENCH 9.5 and Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU

CINEBENCH R9.5 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

The CINEBENCH R9.5 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application. 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).

In the CINEBENCH testing, the two boards performed exactly the same -- 1:02 for single-thread and 0:33 for multi-thread.

Futuremark 3DMark05 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark05'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, which 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 is used to determine the final score.

Once again, the competition is close -- close enough to basically call this one a tie.

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F.E.A.R. - Low Quality and High Quality

So, now we know there really isn't, for the most part, any discernible difference between the CPU and memory performance of the MSI P6N SLI Platinum and Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI. Let's take a look at a couple gaming benchmarks to see if there's more of a gap between the two boards when it comes to 3D performance. We ran the benchmarks at low resolution / low quality and then high resolution / high quality.

Benchmarks with F.E.A.R.
DirectX Gaming Performance

To start our in-game testing, we ran some low resolution and low quality benchmarking with F.E.A.R., a game that can be quite demanding even on the fastest system. Like the other in-game tests in this review, we used low quality graphic settings and a low screen resolution to isolate CPU and memory performance. In other words, all eye candy was set to the lowest level possible or disabled, and resolution was set to 640x480.

If you've read every page up to this point, then you know that this result is exactly what we expected to see. The results are really close with no decisive victor.

Let's crank the resolution up to 1600x1200, boost the effects to maximum, and run the test again to see how these boards perform in a gaming situation that you'd actually want to try.

Just as with the CPU and memory performance, the two boards finish neck and neck in the first gaming performance benchmark.

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Quake 4 - Low Quality and High Quality

Now that we've taken a quick look at DirectX gaming performance with F.E.A.R., let's move on to the OpenGL FPS game Quake 4.

Benchmarks with Quake 4
OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next game test, we benchmarked both motherboards using a custom single-player Quake 4 timedemo. Here, we cranked the resolution down to 640 x 480 and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. When it's configured at these minimal settings, this game is also more CPU and memory-bound than anything else.

As with the F.E.A.R. benchmark, the two 650i SLI boards perform nearly indentically. The Abit boards squeaks by with a tiny victory of 2.6 frames per second.

Once again, we switched from low resolution and quality to 1600x1200 and high quality settings and 4xAA enabled.

Our testing ends with one final confirmation that the boards perform nearly identically.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Benchmark Summary: We know we're starting to sound like a broken record, but the benchmarks tell the story. The MSI P6N SLI Platinum and Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI are basically identical in terms of performance. The MSI P6N SLI Platinum did demonstrate an edge in Lame MP3 encoding, but nowhere else.  For all intents and purposes, we wouldn't choose one board over the other based on performance alone. The benchmarks just don't favor one board enough to declare a clear winner in the performance category.

MSI P6N SLI Platinum: 
The more astute among you may be wondering why we didn't include a BIOS and overclocking section for the MSI P6N SLI Platinum. Unfortunately, we had some strange stability issues with our sample. When we initially tried to benchmark with 3DMark06, it would consistently fail. We tried different RAM and power supplies, and tried various software changes and reinstallations to no avail. We did eventually get the 3DMark06 score, however, and were able to reliably finish the benchmark suite. Over the course of our testing, a new BIOS was released, however.  So we updated the BIOS to see if that would make any difference, but things only got worse from there. The flash appeared to go smoothly, but afterwards it wouldn't boot.  We weren't getting any activity whatsoever, no matter what we did...no beep codes, no POST, no Windows (obviously). So, we weren't able to explore the board's overclocking capabilities.  And unfortunately, multiple e-mails to MSI went unanswered.  We apologize for the hole in the article, but luck wasn't on our side (or MSI's for that matter).

With that said, others don't seem to be suffering from the same problems we did, and the MSI P6N SLI Platinum is clearly one of the most feature-rich nForce 650i SLI motherboards on the market at this time, and the price reflects that. While most of the board manufacturers opted to leave some features and connectors on the cutting room floor, MSI figured out a way to include most of them at what amounts to about a $20-25 premium versus many other 650i SLI boards. We think the price bump is worth it if you are interested in more than just the basic necessities, specifically if you are interested in a well-designed cooling solution, eSATA connectors, FireWire, and two digital audio output options. MSI includes a relatively generous bundle as well that also helps explain the price premium.

Despite our less than optimal experience with this board, we're hesitant to completely dismiss it, especially considering how highly it has been praised by users and some of our peers. We are willing to chalk our experience up to a bad sample for the most part. Do some research, and you'll see the MSI P6N SLI Platinum is still worthy of consideration.

  • Good Layout
  • Good Performance
  • More Features and Connectors Than Much of the Competition
  • Silent Copper Heatpipe Cooling Solution
  • eSATA Connector
  • More Expensive Than Most Other 650i SLI Boards
  • Stability Issues

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI:
With the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI, Abit takes a much more practical approach. Abit essentially includes only the features that a die-hard gamer would need. There are no extra bells and whistles like eSATA, FireWire, or a copper heatpipe cooling solution. We can definitely appreciate this approach as well, and we know that it will appeal to many readers who don't like to spend money on things they'll never use, especially if this board is to be used for a dedicated gaming/LAN party rig. We like that Abit still opted for a silent cooling solution with three heatsinks, and we think the black and red Fatal1ty design looks great. Our sample didn't quite overclock as well as we'd like to see, but as we mentioned before, we've seen others hit higher speeds. If a simpler bundle and more practical solution appeals to you more than extras, and you're in the market for a good SLI board, then we recommend you add the Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI to your short list of considerations.

  • Decent Layout
  • Competitive Performance
  • Cool Red/Black Fatal1ty-Inspired Design
  • Streamlined and Practical
  • May Be Too Practical for Some
  • No eSATA or FireWire

 

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