nForce 4 SLI Motherboard Round-Up
Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-SLI: The Board & Layout
The Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI is equipped with many of the proprietary peripherals, and has many of the features, that Gigabyte has favored in the past, like their DPS (Dual Power System) and Dual-BIOS. Yet, even with an above average list of integrated extras the K8NXP-SLI's layout is clean. There are only a few minor issues to tell you about.
The K8NXP-SLI is built upon Gigabyte's trademark dark-blue PCB, and features multi-colored accents. In fact, all of the boards connectors and headers are color-coded, which makes installation much easier for less experienced Do-It-Yourselfers. It's got two PCI Express X1 slots, two PCI Express X16 (mechanical) slots, and two standard PCI slots. They are configured in such a way that one of the X1 slots is unusable when a pair of video cards are installed, but considering the utter lack of PCI Express X1 add-in cards available and the board's high level of integration, this trade-off is acceptable. Just behind the second X1 slot, between the pair of X16 slots, you can see the reversible SLI card used to configure the PEG slots for SLI operation. The SLI card is held in place with a pair of clips, in the same manner that a SODIMM is held in place on most notebooks. The clip was very sturdy, and fairly easy to work with considering its location.
There is ample room around the CPU socket to accommodate oversized coolers, with only a single row of capacitors and coils along one edge that could pose a problem. Those caps and coils are part of the 3-Phase power array incorporated into the board. And just above the CPU socket, and you'll find the small blue slot where the DPS gets installed. With the DPS in place, the K8NXP-SLI is upgraded with an additional 3-Phase power array, complete with active cooling. This effective 6-Phase array is meant to "future-proof" the board somewhat, should new CPUs get released with more demanding power requirements. The DPS is a welcome addition to the bundle, but we should also mention that the K8NXP-SLI works fine without it. The DPS is complimented by another proprietary feature, Gigabyte's Dual-BIOS, which acts as a BIOS-backup should a flash update fail.
Along the front edge of the board, just behind the DIMM slots, and along the bottom edge you can see all eight of the K8NXP-SLI's SATA ports, its two IDE and single floppy connectors, and an assortment of unused USB, Firewire and audio headers. Four of the SATA ports on the board are controlled natively by the nForce 4 chipset and offer 3Gb/s (SATA II) transfer speeds, and the other four are controlled by a Silicon Image 3114 chip that offers 1.5Gb/s (SATA I) transfer speeds. Both of the controllers are capable of RAID, and the NVIDIA controller can even span across PATA and SATA hard drives. The K8NXP-SLI's power connectors are placed in adequate locations on opposing sides of the board, and the nForce 4 SLI chip is actively cooled with an aluminum heatsink / fan combo. On the I/O backplane you'll find the K8NXP-SLI's eight Realtek ALC850 powered audio connectors (including S/PDIF), four USB 2.0 connectors, serial and parallel ports, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, and a pair of RJ45 jacks. Each of the RJ45 jacks is coupled to a gigabit LAN controller, one powered by a Marvell 88E8053 chip, and the other by the nForce 4 chipset itself thanks to a CICADA8201 phy chip. If you're keeping count, that makes a total of three LAN controllers bundled with this board, including the 802.11g wireless card - which by the way worked perfectly fine with our D-Link DI-624 and Linksys WRT54GS routers. There is also a TI IEEE1394B Firewire controller integrated into the K8NXP-SLI capable of 800Mb/s transfer speeds.
Overall, the K8NXP-SLI's feature set is very complete. But with all of the board's features and capabilities, Gigabyte had a lot of silicon to squeeze onto a limited amount of PCB real estate. The four DIMM slots on this board were grouped very tightly together, so some memory modules with larger-than-average heat-spreaders may not fit well. We also found that there is a minimal amount of clearance above the chipset's heatsink when a pair of GeForce 6800 GTs were installed. These are relatively minor issues in overall picture, however.