- Heat-pipe cooling, silent cooling, four eSATA ports, full-speed SLI, four LAN ports, overclockable
- Slow WorldBench score compared to competing boards we've tested
If you're a gamer, and especially if you host LAN parties, you'll be interested in the features this Gigabyte board offers: full-speed SLI, four LAN ports and up to ten SATA ports, including four eSATA ports.
Price$ 545.00 (AUD)
If you're a gamer who's in the market for a high-end motherboard, the Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6 is an excellent choice. It has a glut of ports and slots as well as plenty of useful overclocking features in its BIOS. Its build quality is also stellar and its layout is logical and not too cramped, despite how packed with features it is. It was a little slow in our WorldBench 5 benchmark suite, but it picked up the pace in our MP3 encoding and hard drive transfer tests, and it was also rock-solid when we overclocked it.
The N680SLI-DQ6 isn't a conservative motherboard. For starters, it comes with four eSATA ports, when most high-end boards tend to come with one or two. It also has four Gigabit networking ports, when most high-end boards tend to come with two. There is also an abundance of cooling on its main chipsets and transistors. The NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI chipset gives this board a full-speed SLI capability. That is, two identical graphics cards can each use 16 lanes of PCI Express bandwidth, for a total of 32 lanes. The Intel LGA775 CPU socket will support every current LGA775 socket-based CPU on the market, from a Pentium 4, right up to a Core 2 Extreme Edition. Support for a 1333MHz front side bus speed means that the board should be capable of handling the new CPUs that Intel will be releasing towards the middle of this year.
We tested the board using an Intel Core 2 QX6700 Quad Core CPU, 1GB of Corsair DDR2 800MHz RAM, a Palit 7600GT-based graphics card, a 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive and a Seasonic SS-650HT power supply. WorldBench 5 recorded a score lower than what we expected at 130. Other boards based on the same chipset tend to score around 140. Nevertheless, the board recorded a great time in our MP3 encoding test at 1min 38sec and, in the hard drive transfer test, the nForce 680i SLI controller allowed the Raptor hard drive to copy at a rate of 28.49MBps, which is excellent.
Going into the BIOS, we changed the front side bus speed to boost our CPU's speed to 2.9GHz and then to 3GHz. At 2.9GHz, our MP3 encoding test finished in 1min 21sec and at 3GHz it finished at 1min 19sec. This is a significant boost in performance that was sustained and it's a slightly faster result than what other high-end boards have achieved when overclocked by the same margin. We ran 3DMark06 at the standard system speed (2.67GHz for the Core 2 QX6700 Quad Core), where it scored 3434. Overclocked to 3GHz, 3DMark06 scored 3515 and looped for hours without any problems.
These results bode well if you want to tinker with the settings to try and get your system running as fast, yet as reliably, as possible. We've no doubt the heat-pipe cooling device had something to do with the board's reliable performance. This heat-pipe attaches to heat sinks on the northbridge chipset, the southbridge chipset and the fast-switching transistors near the CPU socket. The northbridge is the portion of the nForce 680i SLI chipset that controls the flow of data to and from the CPU, memory and the PCI Express slots. The southbridge portion of the nForce 680i SLI chipset controls the flow of data to and from the hard drives, network ports, USB ports, FireWire ports and the PCI Express slots. The copper heat sinks on these components are large and heat sinks also reside underneath these components on the underside of the motherboard, which further increases the surface area that absorbs generated heat.
We encountered no problems when installing the CPU, memory and graphics card, nor when attaching all the cables. However, since the memory slots reside close to the primary graphics card slot, you will have to install the memory modules before the graphics card. The space between the two SLI graphics card slots is ample, meaning that two thick cards can be installed comfortably. We love that Gigabyte has put the release mechanism for the PCI Express graphics slots on the top side of the slots, which makes removing a graphics card an easy task. There are six SATA ports on the right edge of the board and four of them face towards the front of the PC case, rather than the side, which can make your SATA cable routing neater. Four more SATA ports, which are controlled by separate Gigabyte controller chips, reside on the bottom edge of the board, and these can be used to attach the supplied cables for the eSATA brackets, which have two eSATA ports each. The eSATA brackets will prohibit you from using up to two expansion slots.
The rear port cluster of the motherboard is packed with a combination of old and new technology that is mostly useful, yet somewhat gluttonous. PS/2 ports, a serial port and analogue audio output ports reside next to four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire port, an optical audio output port and four Gigabit networking ports. The four ports are included for those of you who want to employ 'LAN teaming'. This feature can be used to increase the bandwidth and the reliability of your network connection if you will be using your machine as a gaming server on a LAN.
During testing, we admired the board's dynamic CPU fan control, which kept the fan on our standard Intel cooler running relatively slowly and quietly. It picked up the pace slightly whenever the system was processing a heavy load. Driver installation went smoothly thanks to Gigabyte's one-click setup utility, which requires minimal user interaction to complete. All up, while the board was slightly slow in WorldBench 5, its overall performance was very good and it also performed well when overclocked. The advanced features of the board and its build quality should provide you with years of good service. It's a well-recommended board if you're looking to build a high-end gaming machine.
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