nForce 4 SLI Motherboard Round-Up
DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR: The Board & Layout
DFI's LANParty NF4 SLI-DR looks somewhat different than the other two motherboards in this round-up, not only because of DFI's choice of colors, but because the LANParty NF4 SLI-DR doesn't take many queues from NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLi reference design. This board is unique in a couple of different ways, especially in the way the PCI Express lanes get configured for SLI operation.
The LANParty NF4 SLI-DR continues the tradition that started with DFI's initial LANParty offerings, in that its based on a dark colored PCB that's adorned with UV reactive, brightly colored, slots and headers. Under Ultra-Violet light, the slots fluoresce and appear to glow, which should appeal to the case modders out there. The NF4 SLI-DR is equipped with a single x4 PCI Express slot, a pair of x16 (mechanical) PEG slots, a single x1 slot and a pair of standard PCI slots. Note that if the x4 slot is used in conjunction with an x4 expansion card, the x1 slot that's located in between the PEG slots cannot be used. If, however, the x4 slot is populated with an x1 expansion card, the other x1 slots will still function. Taking a look at the rest of board reveals some other interesting features. The most notably the large jumper blocks used to not only configure the PEG slots for SLI operation, but to tweak the peak memory voltage available. At the upper corner of the board, there is a single jumper block, that when moved out of its default position, unlocks memory voltages up to 4v. The six remaining jumper blocks located between the PEG slots configure them in either an x16 / x2 configuration, or an x8 / x8 configuration.
DFI uses Realtek's ALC850 codec for audio, which supports eight output channels on the LANParty NF4 SLI-DR, but DFI implemented the audio solution in a rather unique way. The ALC850 and the external inputs and outputs are incorporated onto a separate module, dubbed the Karajan audio module that plugs into a header on the motherboard. According to DFI, isolating the audio circuitry onto a separate module helps improve audio quality by reducing electrical noise. Other controllers on the board include a Silicon Image 3114 PCI SATA I RAID controller, coupled to four of the board's SATA ports (the other four are powered by the NF4 chipset and support RAID and SATA II speeds), and a Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit PCI LAN controller. The other Gigabit LAN solution comes by way of a Vitesse VSC8201 Gigabit Phy. And because of the inherent capabilities of the nForce 4 SLI chipset, the DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR fully supports nVRAID and NVIDIA's ActiveArmor firewall technology.
The board's cooling duties are handled by a mixture of active and passive coolers located in various positions around the board. The NF4 chipset is cooled by an active, oval shaped, aluminum heatsinks and fan combo, that sits just behind the PEG slots. We should note that with longer graphics cards installed, there is minimal clearance between this cooler and the underside of the video cards. In the VRM and on the memory voltage regulator, there are relatively large aluminum heatsinks installed, that pull heat away from these hot running components.
The LANParty NF4 SLI-DR's overall layout is quite good with no major issues to speak of. The power connectors, drive connectors, and various headers are located along the front and bottom edge of the board. There are even a pair of power and reset switches incorporated onto the LANParty NF4 SLI-DR that make it easy to test without having to wire up any case switches or LEDs. While we're talking about LEDs, we should also mention that there are 4 diagnostic LEDs on the board that will light in a certain combination should there be a problem. These LEDs also interface with the FrontX ports, so you can see the diagnostic information without having to open up the case. The I/O backplane (pictured here without the audio module installed) is home to six USB 2.0 ports, a pair of PS/2 ports, a Firewire port, two audio connectors, and two RJ45 jacks.