NI8 SLI: The Board
The Abit NI8 SLI has a rather unique look, and is much more colorful than the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI. The NI8 SLI's PCB is a dark-orange, with brightly colored DIMMs slots, heatsinks, and connectors. There are quite a few similarities between the NI8 SLI and the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI, however.
The NI8 SLI and Fatal1ty AN8 SLI share the exact same slot configuration. The very first slot is the proprietary one for the audio riser card, followed by two pairs of alternating PCI Express x1 and PEG slots, and lastly a couple of standard PCI slots. PEG slot PCI Express lane configuration is handled by the same type of manual switch-card as the Fatal1ty AN8 SLI.
Beneath the slots, in the same unfortunate location as the AN8, you can see the NI8's floppy and supplemental power connectors. And right next to them, is the board's POST code error reporter. Not the best spot for it in our opinion, because its difficult or impossible to read the display with certain PCI cards installed.
There are a few other layout issues to speak about as well. The ATX power connector is in a good location just behind the board's four DDR2 DIMM slots, but the ATX12V connector positioning isn't in an ideal. It's actually mounted just behind the PS/2 ports below the CPU socket, which means draping cables above the CPU cooler. Below the ATX power connector are a pair of horizontally mounted IDE connectors, and just behind them are four of the board's six SATA ports. The IDE ports and this cluster of 4 SATA ports are powered by the nForce 4 chipset (with support for SATA RAID 0/1/0+1). Along the bottom edge of the board are the majority of its additional headers and connectors, which are all neatly color coded.
Two more SATA ports are situated between the Northbridge and the rear-edge of the board, but these two are controlled by a Silicon Image Sil 3132 PCIE controller with supports far SATA RAID 0/1 and NCQ. Perhaps the NI8 SLI's most distinctive feature is its custom Q-OTES Northbridge cooler. A heat-plate is mounted to the Northbridge, with a heat-pipe that leads to a copper radiator situated in the board's backplane. Heat from the Northbridge is carried to the radiator, where it is supposed to be exhausted form the system by the air rushing from the CPU cooler mounted just behind it. We did not experience any heat-related instability during our testing, but the heat-plate and radiator did get rather hot. With passive cooling like this, we still recommend having an additional fan or two in your case to circulate air over the radiator's fins. The Southbridge and the FETs in the VRM are also passively cooled, but by simple light-blue anodized aluminum heatsinks.
The NI8 SLI's I/O backplane is home to a pair of PS/2 connectors (keyboard & mouse), four USB ports, and a single RJ45 Ethernet LAN jack. Like the AN8, the NI8's audio related connectors reside on the AudioMax riser card, freeing up real-estate for the Northbridge cooler's copper radiator.