Layout and Features
The GA-8N-SLI uses a 4 phase voltage regulation system, which can be seen spaced neatly around the CPU socket. Interspersed are a few lower profile capacitors, the end result being a clear area around the CPU perfect for installing larger third-party coolers. That being said, the power connectors are placed a bit awkwardly. The 24-pin ATX connector is fine, placed directly on the edge of the board near the DIMM sockets. The 4 (or 8-pin) ATX connector is placed on the far side of the CPU and NorthBridge, which requires some tricky wiring, especially if using the 8-pin type. Running the wires up or around the heatsinks restricts airflow, which is a no-no with today's hot CPUs.
The list of expansion slots include four PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots and a single PCI slot. The PCI-E slots are defined further by having two black colored slots on the outer edges and two blue slots towards the middle. By default, the black slots are set up as 1x, while the blue slots are designed to be run at x16 speed. Thus, in a single card environment, you would be installing the video card into the second available slot rather than the first. A single SLI connection can occupy the first two, the middle two, or the latter two slots using the SLI bridge connector. The optimum placement here is the middle two slots, which will fully utilize the 32 available lanes for the graphics cards. Using the outer sets limits the number to 16 lanes, essentially the same as the original nForce4 SLI chipset. To manage these scenarios, the user must install one of two SLI switches, with the appropriate side facing inwards.
As you can imagine, the four full-sized PCI-e x16 graphics slots require that other components be moved around a bit. As such, the lower corner around the southbridge is much busier than a typical motherboard. This region is fully populated with four SATA-II ports which are controlled by the nearby SouthBridge, as well as the two IDE ports and three USB connectors. The SouthBridge itself is covered by a very thin active heatsink with a grated top. Of course, there's no way that any larger heatsink or fan combination could have been installed here, as it is possible that two video cards will be running directly over the top. Along with the battery and front panel pins, there's an LED readout for diagnosing system errors. Even when turned off, the numbers '00' are lit up, which can be seen glowing in cases with window panels. Even though this could be used to let the user know that the system is still receiving power, we would rather not have anything lit on our board when not being used.
The rear panel comes fully stocked with two PS/2 ports for standard keyboards and mice, a legacy parallel port, Coaxial and Toslink audio out jacks, one Firewire port, four USB ports and two Gigabit RJ-45 ethernet jacks. There are also 6 audio jacks to use with the onboard sound. On the board itself, there are no less than seven 3-pin connectors for fans, including the CPU, Southbridge, and optional Northbridge coolers. The SouthBridge HSF is pre-installed, as past results have shown this chipset can often run quite hot. The NorthBridge is normally saddled by a larger passive heatink, but why waste the optional cooler and 3-pin connection? The fan barely adds in any additional noise, and the blue LEDs incorporated into the fan add a nice touch.