NVIDIA nForce 790i SLI Ultra and GeForce 9800 GX2
Motherboards from ASUS and EVGA
In preparation for today's launch, we got our hands on a pair of nForce 790i SLI Ultra-based motherboards, one from EVGA and another from ASUS. As has been the case for the last few chipset releases, NVIDIA has set forth a reference motherboard that a few of their partners will be releasing. The EVGA nForce 790i SLI Ultra pictured here is based on NVIDIA's reference design.
In addition to exposing all of the features inherent to the chipset, NVIDIA has put significant engineering efforts into the reference board to wring the most performance out of it, and to ensure it is highly overclockable. For example, NVIDIA designed the board with tight trace lengths for better stability at high FSB speeds. The board also has a new circular heat pipe with a larger heatsink that has more fins than previous designs for better cooling. A new vapor chamber is attached to the circular heat pipe as well, that provides even more surface area for cooling the chipset.
Like previous high-end nForce chipsets, the nForce 790i SLI includes a removable fan that can be easily snapped into place without the need for tools or screws. The exhaust direction of the removable fan is also optimized for better overall system cooling. Along with a well designed cooling apparatus, the reference nForce 790i SLI Ultra motherboard design also has a number of extra ports and headers, including coaxial and optical audio connectors, an eSATA connector in the rear I/O backplane, an integrated LED POST code display, and on-board power and reset switches.
This particular package from EVGA also included a number of useful accessories like case brackets with USB, Firewire, and serial ports, a handful of SATA cables, two-way and three-way SLI bridge connectors, and the traditional user's manual, quick installation guide, and driver / utility CD.
Although it is based on the same chipset, the ASUS Striker II Extreme does not conform to NVIDIA's reference design. Instead, ASUS designed their own motherboard around the chipset, and as usual, the company pulled no punches...
As you can see, the ASUS Striker II Extreme is built upon dark-colored PCBs with white and blue slots and connectors. The 790i SLI SPP and MCP, and the components in the board's power array are cooled by an innovative, copper cooling apparatus, dubbed the Fusion Block System, that's linked together via a heat-pipe and works with either air or liquid-cooling. The Fusion Block is basically a standard chipset water-block, that happens to be linked to the other heatsinks via a heatpipe. This is a nice touch on ASUS' part that should make the Striker II Extreme more appealing to fans of liquid-cooling.
Even though the board is equipped with an oversized cooling apparatus, there is ample room around the CPU socket for large aftermarket coolers and overall the layout of the board is quite good. All of the boards' various connectors and headers are situated around the edges of the PCB and the DIMM slots are not in-line with the first PEG slot, so installing / removing RAM is possible when a long graphics card is installed.
The ASUS Striker II Extreme ships with a broad assortment of accessories and software. Bundled with the board itself are six SATA cables, a single SATA power adapter, floppy and IDE cables, and a case bracket with additional USB and Firewire ports. In addition to these items, we also found an electro-luminescent custom, I/O shield, three thermal probes, a pack of rubber stand-offs, a baggie with wire ties, another baggie with fittings and clamps for all types of liquid-cooling systems, a user’s manual, a pack of Q-Connectors, a couple of optional fans that can be mounted to the board’s cooling apparatus, and a driver and utility DVD complete with copies of Asus' PC Probe II and AI Suite, 3DMark06 and KAV (among other things). Asus also includes a SupremeFX II audio riser card which is powered by an ADI 1988B 8-Channel HD audio codec and an "LCD Poster".
The LCD Poster is a useful addition to the Striker II Extreme's bundle. While it doesn't do anything extraordinary in comparison to most other LCD POST code error reporters, it is far more convenient to use. ASUS' LCD Poster is unique in that it connects to the board via long cable and can be placed right on a desktop. Three no need to bend down and peer into a system to read the LEDs mounted on the PCB itself – with the Striker II Extreme the error codes are clearly visible right on the LCD’s screen, wherever a user decided to mount it.