Benchmark Analysis and Our Rating
Benchmark Analysis: To determine the overall performance of the P5N32-SLI, we ran a series of benchmarks against competing high-end boards such as Abit AW8-MAX and Asus P5WD2, both using the Intel 955X chipset and an earlier nForce4-SLI board from MSI, the P4N Diamond. For the most part, all four boards were performing on-par with each other, which makes it hard to pick out a "leader" from the group. We could just leave it like that, that the two chipsets are nearly equal, but for the PC enthusiast there's something the nForce4-SLI boards have that Intel doesn't, yet. nForce4-SLI boards support two of NVIDIA's GeForce cards, which can greatly improve frame rates in most games. It's also here where part of our concern for the P5N32-SLI developed. When placing the P5N32-SLI in direct competition with the MSI P4N Diamond, the performance difference was less than we had hoped for. Doubling the number of dedicated PCI-E lanes for the graphics cards led to minimal gains in gaming benchmarks, and no gain whatsoever with SLI-AA enabled. Perhaps future game engines and usage models will further exploit the additional bandwidth the nForce 4 SLI X16 chipset has to offer but for now it seems the chipset's full potential is not being realized.
They say the numbers don't lie. As such, we're quite content with the overall performance of the Asus P5N32-SLI. It blasted its way through the benchmarks with similarly configured high-end boards, with barely a few percentage points separating them. However, when we got to the SLI testing, we didn't get the results we had been hoping for. The whole reasoning behind the nForce4-SLI X16 update was the doubling of the number of PCI-E lanes for graphics applications from 16 to 32. Seen here, this doesn't appear to offer too much of an improvement over the original nForce4-SLI. For the new system builder, that might not be a problem. It makes perfect sense to start with the latest board than search out an older model. For upgraders, on the other hand, there's just not enough of an improvement to make the switch.
Of course, gaming benchmarks aren't everything. Stability and ease of operation are another. And it's these areas that the Asus P5N32-SLI really failed to impress us. Voltage problems surfaced during testing, continually showing that the CPU was getting 1V less than what was specified. While this could be easily remedied by adding an extra 1V in the BIOS, we were continually plagued with booting issues that could not be solved either with newer BIOS revisions or another board. We're also a little bit concerned on heat dissipation issues with the P5N32-SLI. The heatpipe strategy was appreciated, possibly taking a cue from Abit's OTES technology. It's quiet and should be moving heat away from sensitive components. Even so, we noticed that the SouthBridge heatsink was still quite hot to touch, and whisking the heat away only to place it directly around the CPU seems to be a foolish endeavor. Additional fans can be used to cool down these extra heatsinks, but can be installed in only a few cases, making their value nominal.
In light of these issues, we're left wondering if being first to market is always such a great thing. It's great to see that Asus is willing to take a new chipset and get a board out there. But, if the headaches outweigh the benefits, is it really worth the added cost? Current street price for the P5N32 SLI Deluxe is $200 - $220, about $20 - $30 more than current nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition boards based on the SLI X8 version of the chipset. For now, we're giving the Asus P5N32-SLI a 7.5 on the Heat Meter, and hoping that later BIOS or board revisions can fix some of these issues.
|•_On par performance-wise with other chipsets
•_Uses heatpipes to cool down both NorthBridge and SouthBridge.
•_nForce4-SLI X16 offers 32 PCI-E lanes
|•_Nominal gains made over older nForce4-SLI boards
•_Older revision nForce4-SLI boards can be had for less
•_Stability is an issue at this time