Motherboards and BIOS Options
Along with the new nForce 780i SLI chipset, NVIDIA is unveiling a new reference motherboard design. Motherboards based on the new reference design will be offered by NVIDIA’s partners, like XFX, EVGA, BFG, Foxconn, and ECS – basically all of the companies that offered nForce 680i SLI motherboards based on the reference design. As you’ll see a little further down the page though, some manufactures like Asus will be designing their own nForce 780i SLI mobos.
NVIDIA’s nForce 780i SLI reference motherboard looks much like the 680i SLI. There are some noteworthy changes, however. First of all, reference 780i SLI boards support ESA. They’ll also be configured with a different slot configuration consisting of three PCI Express x16 slots, two standard PCI slots, and a single PCI Express x1 slot. With this slot configuration, single PCI Express and standard PCI slots are left available when two double-wide graphics cards are installed. With a 3-Way SLI configuration, however, no other expansion slot can be used.
The odd location of the front panel connectors on the 680i SLI has been resolved as that header now resides along the bottom edge of the board. The cooling solution on the nForce 780i SLI reference motherboard is significantly larger to accommodate the NF200 and provide ample surface are, but the design still leaves plenty of room for aftermarket coolers.
The I/O backplane on the reference nForce 780i SLI houses PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, a single Firewire port, six USB 2.0 ports, dual GigE jacks, and analog and digital audio inputs and outputs.
The Asus P5N-T Deluxe motherboard, which we used for testing on the proceeding pages, is different from NVIDIA’s reference design in quite a few ways. The overall layout and positioning of the chipset are similar, but the location and orientation of some connectors and the slot configuration is different.
The Asus P5N-T Deluxe is outfitted with a custom copper cooling solution that links the SPP, MCP, NF200, and a few components in the board’s VRM. Generally speaking, all of the board’s major connectors and headers are situated around the edges of the PCB. Like the nForce 780i SLI reference design, some of the P5N-T Deluxe’s connectors are mounted at a right angle so that all of them can be accessed, even when running a three double-wide graphics cards in a 3-Way SLI configuration.
The P5N-T Deluxe has a trio of PCI Express x16 graphics slots, a pair of PCI Express x1 slots, and a single standard PCI slot. Most of the features inherent to the nForce 780i SLI chipset are exposed on the board, with the exception of DualNet and ESA, and Firewire support is added through the use of a VIA controller. HD audio duties on the P5N-T Deluxe are handled by an ADI1988 codec and GigE LAN connectivity comes by way of a Marvell 88se61111 chip.
The Asus P5N-T Deluxe’s I/O port cluster consists of PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, digital and analog audio inputs and outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, a single Firewire port, a single eSATA port, and a single GigE jack. NVIDIA’s reference nForce 780i SLI motherboard has two more USB 2.0 ports in its cluster and a second LAN jack, but lacks an eSATA port.
A quick trip into the P5N-T Deluxe’s BIOS didn’t yield anything unexpected. That’s not to say the BIOS is in some way lacking though, it is actually loaded with performance tuning options and comprehensive PC Health monitoring features.
As you can see, the Asus P5N-T Deluxe, and likely most other nForce 780i SLI-based motherboards, has a feature laden BIOS. From within the BIOS users have the ability to configure, enable or disable all of the board's integrated peripherals, and monitor voltages and clock speeds. The board also has a very complete set of memory timing options that offer good flexibility for fine tuning memory performance.
Of course there are plenty of options available to appease overclockers as well. Users also have the ability to alter clock frequencies and voltages for virtually every major on-board component. The CPU and PCI Express frequencies can be altered in 1MHz increments, and the CPU multiplier and memory ratios can also be manipulated manually, in linked or unlinked modes. There are also extensive voltage options for the CPU, Memory, chipset, HT link, and DDR2 termination. There are a host of automatic overclocking tools available (AI Tuning) for the uninitiated, and fans speeds can be monitors and tweaked from within the BIOS as well.
Using the options available in the Asus P5N-T Deluxe's BIOS, we spent some time overclocking a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processor to see what kind of FSB headroom the board had in store. We dropped the CPU's multiplier and increased the voltages for the chipset slightly and hit a 1725MHz FSB (421MHz quad-pumped) with minimal effort. We tried to push the board further without much success, however. We suspect the board is going to need a few more BIOS revisions to reach its maximum potential.