Our Summary & Conclusion
Benchmark And Performance Summary:
The performance of both boards was excellent. The P5N32-E SLI Plus, powered by its hybrid chipset, surprised us by defeating the nForce 680i SLI based IN9 32X-MAX in all of our gaming related tests and our SLI tests. Ultimately the performance gap between the two boards is negligible, but we have proved that ASUS' hybrid chipset is able to keep pace with the nForce 680i SLI in both single-card and SLI performance.
This article set out to find the answer to a question inspired by ASUS' hybrid chipset; can you have nForce 680i SLI performance with dual x16 SLI, at a nForce 650i SLI price? In order to answer that question, we took the only commercially available example of ASUS' hybrid chipset, the P5N32-E SLI Plus and pit it against the nForce 680i SLI based Abit IN9 32X-MAX. After reviewing both boards, comparing their features and pitting them against each other in a slew of benchmarks, we think we have our answer. Yes, you can get nForce 680i SLI level performance, complete with dual x16 SLI, triple SLI slots and lots of features all at a nForce 650i SLI price.
Abit IN9 32X-MAX:
So if we can get nForce 680i SLI level performance at a nForce 650i SLI price, why would we want to spend an extra $100 for a premium nForce 680i SLI based board like the IN9 32X-MAX? Simple, because premium boards like the IN9 32X-MAX offer features and packages you simply can't get with cheaper boards. Ultra high-end premium motherboards like the IN9 32X-MAX can never be replaced by cheaper boards, even if the performance gap is negligible. With their comprehensive accessory bundles, extreme overclocking options, and over-engineered design, these boards will always appeal to a certain bracket of the enthusiast market looking for the best gear.
The IN9 32X-MAX quickly makes you forget about the hit your wallet just took with its excellent overclocking performance. Even though we only overclocked it at stock voltages with all stock cooling, we were able to achieve an impressive frequency of 435MHz (1740MHz effective). Some boards can't even reach those numbers with water-cooling. Without a doubt, Abit's IN9 32X-MAX is an excellent motherboard. The only complaint we can leverage against it is its rather modest chipset voltage settings. Although even that is a rather moot concern since there usually isn't much point in pumping huge voltage into your board's components, when a modest voltage bump will do.
The IN9 32X-MAX is one of the most fully featured motherboards currently available for the Intel platform. The only other motherboards in this league is the similarly priced ASUS Striker Extreme and Gigabyte's N680SLI-DQ6. Triple SLI slots, dual x16 SLI support, dual eSATA, dual gigabit ethernet, ECC memory support, LED ground effects, onboard power and reset hard switches, externally accessible clear CMOS switch, onboard diagnostic LED display, 100% solid capacitors, massive all copper passive heatpipe system with included fan brackets for a 40mm fan; the feature list goes on and on. Of course the price of admission is quite steep. An Abit IN9 32X-MAX can be yours for about $320. That's a hefty price to pay for a motherboard but for those looking for the ultimate gear, the IN9 32X-MAX is worth every dollar.
ASUS P5N32-E SLI Plus:
ASUS saw a gap between the nForce 680i SLI and 650i SLI price points and they created a hybrid chipset to fill it. Dubbed the NVIDIA Dual X16 SLI, it uses a combination of a nForce 650i nothbridge with a nForce 570 SLI MCP southbridge to produce a chipset that offers true nForce 680i level performance without sacrificing any of the 680i SLI's features, all at a nForce 650i SLI-like price.
Although NVIDIA recently released the nForce 680i LT SLI chipset to plug the price gab between the 680i and the 650i, the ASUS P5N32-E SLI Plus remains highly relevant. Boards based on the new 680i LT SLI chipset are still not widely available yet, and the P5N32-E SLI Plus offers almost all the features of a full-sized 680i SLI solution, while the cut down 680i LT SLI only supports a single gigabit LAN port, lacks official DDR2-1200 support, and uses noisier active cooling. To make it even sweeter, the P5N32-E SLI Plus costs about the same or even less than initial 680i LT SLI based offerings.
The P5N32-E SLI Plus is a great motherboard and it represents an excellent value. It effectively presents a cheaper alternative to basic nForce 680i SLI based boards and it also overshadows the brand new nForce 680i LT SLI, all while maintaining a lower price point. Our review unit performed very well in our benchmarks and managed to best the significantly more expensive IN9 32X-MAX in all of our gaming tests, although it couldn't keep up when it came to overclocking. While our particular P5N32-E SLI Plus wasn't a very good overclocker, there are plenty of people reporting good results with this board.
In order to keep costs down, ASUS used a clever tactic. They reused the PCB of the Striker Extreme for the P5N32-E SLI. While this helped save production costs and helps to keep the board's price low, it also means that the P5N32-E SLI Plus must use the same SupremeFX audio card used by the Striker Extreme. While the SupremeFX card was necessary on the Striker because the rear I/O panel simply didn't have room for a set of audio connections, the P5N32-E SLI plus' I/O panel is nearly desolate. The SupremeFX audio card consumes valuable space on the PCB and it uses a proprietary expansion slot that cannot be used by any other device.
Despite a few minor complaints, the P5N32-E SLI Plus' excellent value makes it a great product and well worth its current price of $180. You truly can get nForce 680i SLI level performance and features for a nForce 650i SLI price, and the P5N32-E SLI Plus is proof.