We’ve taken a closer look at ASUS flagship on the Socket 939 market, one of the first motherboards based on NVIDIA’s nForce 4 X16 SLI chipset and that comes with tons of nice features.
ASUS is without doubt the biggest motherboard manufacturer on the market. It’s
also famous for the so-called TTM, Time To Market, meaning that products are quickly
presented to the market shortly after e.g. the chipset manufacturer has
released specifications about a new chipset. We’ve actually seen ASUS release a
card even before the actual chipset’s been launched.
We’ve taken a closer at the ASUS A8N32-SLI
Deluxe, which is based on NVIDIA’s nForce 4 SLI x16. The only difference
between it and the earlier NF4 circuits is the added support for double 16x
PCI-Express lanes. This is a substantial feature for SLI systems since earlier
they were limited to only 8x PCI-Express lanes per card, which limited the bandwidth
to the system. ASUS has also included its 8-stage power design first seen on
the P5N32-SLI. This card looks to become really great.
Now, let’s have a look at the
ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe – Specifications
Athlon64, Athlon64 X2, Athlon FX, Sempron
4x 184-pin DIMM
Dual DDR 400/333/266 channels
Up to 4GB
1x PCI-Express x4
1x Floppy disk
2x Ultra DMA 133/100/66/33 IDE
6x SATA 3G (RAID 0/1/0+1/5/JBOD) (one external)
2x IEEE 1394 (Firewire)
1x CD/AUX input
1x PS/2 Keyboard
1x PS/2 Mouse
1x Parallel port
2x RJ-45 (10/100/1000Mbps)
2x S/PDIF (optical and coax)
6x Audio connections
|Size||305 x 245mm|
WLAN support (optional)
We’ve recently noticed that ASUS has doesn’t cheap out when equipping their
cards and this one is no exception. Looking at the specifications, ASUS gives you everything you might want.
Time to look at the bundled accessories.
ASUS didn’t cheap out on the accessories either. Bundled are 5 SATA cables,
2 IDE cables, 1 floppy cable and 3 SATA power cables (4 pin molex to SATA power
connector), of which two are double SATA power connectors and one single. Further,
we have the expansion brackets for enabling the internal MIDI/GAME, USB, serial
port (COM) and Firewire connectors.
Finally, there’s ASUS’ bendable SLI bridge and a fan for active cooling
of the MOSFET heatsinks. This is certainly not a bad idea when this cooler,
which we’ll look at in a moment, help cool both the North- and the Southbridge.
Then, of course, we have the usual, detailed manual, a CD with drivers, a CD
with the WinDVD Suite and an Asus sticker.
Let’s have a look at the board itself, shall we?
Just like ASUS P5N32, this one has a black PCB which is becoming a telltale sign of ASUS’ premium motherboards. The main part of all connectors are black, blue or white, all giving a neat impression. The confusing SATA port has an equally confusing coloring, but it is the only aesthetic detail that is sticking out. Component wise ASUS has chosen products from renown manufacturers and has gone the extra mile in the power solution part for the processor, which we will discuss further on the next page.
The power supply connectors are located to the edge of the motherboard where they are easily accessible and out of the way of add-on cards and the like. The 24 pin ATX connector and a 4 pin connector ASUS calls ”EZ Plug” is located to the right on the board and the 4 pin ATX12V connector is in the upper left corner by the CPU power supply. Here ASUS has decided for a regular 4 pin variety instead of the new 8 pin EATX12V connector. This shouldn’t be a limitation for the motherboard, but we feel ASUS could have added one considering they put the 8-phase power solution on there.
We have the regular internal connectors at the lower, right corner of the board. These are clearly marked and for most will be no problem connecting them without the manual. Just above and to the right of the battery we find the clear CMOS jumper, a big design oversight. Because of the locking mechanism on the second PCI-Express port it will make it very difficult to access the jumper, even if the board is not yet mounted in a chassis. The alternative of course is to simply remove the battery, achieving the same end. In some pictures, a few fan connectors can be seen and in total ASUS has equipped the board with 6 of them. In the second picture, we see the single SATA connector that goes to the same controller as the rear SATA connector visible in the third picture. The rear I/O panel is well stacked with dual Gigabit RJ45 ports, 8 ports of analog and digital sound, 4 USB ports and of course mouse, keyboard and a Parallel ports.
Let’s have a closer look at the power solution on the motherboard.
Instead of a bunch of noisy fans, ASUS has opted for a heatpipe solution, leading away the heat from both the north- and southbridges to a larger heatsink right next to to CPU socket. This heatsink also cools one cluster of the power solution’s MOSFETs and due to its proximity to the CPU heatsink is given an adequate airflow. The second cluster sits beneath another heatsink just above the CPU socket.
If you’re using water cooling or some other cooling method not inducing airflow around the CPU socket, it is recommended to use the included fan, fitting it on one of the heatsinks. ASUS was first to introduce an 8 phase power solution for the CPU on its P5N32 motherboard and they have chosen to use this design on this board too. Under the heatsinks we find the effect transistors, also known as MOSFETs, the small squares containing coils, on for each phase.
Next up we will have a look at the BIOS.
Those acquainted with ASUS’ BIOS will have no trouble recognising themselves, those not familiar with ASUS’ BIOS menu setup might have to spend some time to find everything. It’s all built up around 4 basic menus; ”Main”, ”Advanced”, ”Power” and ”Boot”, each menu has its own sub menus. On the right side there’s an information field describing the what the chosen position is and the effect any changes will have to the system. We would have liked to see the adjustments you’re likely to make most often, e.g. CPU and memory adjustments, to be more easily accessible. Some adjustments relative to each other has in some instances ended up in different pages in the BIOS. One example would be the adjustments of 1T or 2T not being with the rest of the memory adjustments.
Under the CPU adjustment page we find all memory adjustments and as we can see there is a whole bunch of adjustments. The adjustments of memory frequency versus Hyper Transport frequency is not very logically named ”Limit”, which more sounds like the memory frequency is limiting some other frequency. Setting ”Limit” to 200 MHz gives a synchronous memory and Hyper Transport frequency (1:1). Vi also see Asus have chosen a fuller setup of memory adjustments which we find a very good initiative.
|CPU bus||up to 500MHz (increments of 1MHz)|
|Memory bus||100/133/166/183/200/216/233/250MHz (relative a 200MHz CPU buss and provided CPU support)|
|PCI-Express||100MHz – 200MHz (increments of 1MHz)|
|CPU voltage (vcore)||1.0000v – 1.5625v (increments of 0.0125v)
+ 0.2v (in over voltage mode)
|Memory voltage (vdimm)||2.60v – 3.20v (increments of 0.05v)|
|Northbridge voltage (vnb)||Auto, 1.30v (in overvoltage mode)|
|Southbridge voltage (vsb)||Auto, 1.60v (in overvoltage mode)|
|HyperTransport voltage (vht)||1.2v, 1.30v (in overvoltage mode)|
The motherboard’s adjustments of the bus of the CPU and PCI are good and supports all memory speeds the chosen CPU supports. In concern of voltage we have access to between 1.00V and 1.7625V for the CPU in the ”over voltage” mode. This, in any normal case, is fully sufficient for most users. We have no idea why ASUS has added an ”overvoltage” mode for us to access the full voltage range, it seems fussy. The voltage for the memory is adjustable all the way up to 3.2V, which is more than other motherboards offer, still there are exceptions to this rule. The voltage adjustments for the North-, Southbridge and the Hyper Transport bus have been given, to say the least, minimal alternatives and in two instances we don’t even know what the Standard/Auto voltage is.
We’ll continue studying the BIOS.
Under Advanced Chipset we find a numerous amount of settings of how the communication between the processor, North- and Southbridge should be handled. On the second picture we got the settings for all the other features found on the card in a well structured form.
The USB settings has been given a page of its own with clear settings for speed and how the USB unit will act before Windows takes control. This is very useful if you’re going to boot to a USB memory to, for instance, update the BIOS or something like that. Under Hardware Monitor we can see the processor and motherboard temperatures, but also CPU voltage and the three most vital voltages from the power supply, +12v, +5v, +3.3v. Compared to other manufacturers this is a bit weak as we usually also get to see e.g. the voltages for the memories. Q-Fan Control can be activated, but no further settings are available. In this mode the processor fan slows down on certain occasions, but it’s hard to tell when without any further settings.
Let’s take a quick look at the test system before we start testing the card
|Motherboard||ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe||Abit Fatal1ty AN8 SLI|
|Processor||AMD Athlon64 FX-57|
|Memory||Corsair XMS 3200 (2x512MB)|
|Video card||nVidia GeForce 6800Ultra|
|Power supply||OCZ PowerStream 520W|
|Operating system||Windows XP (SP2)|
|Chipset drivers||nVidia nForce 6.82 (x16)||nVidia nForce 6.70|
|Graphics drivers||nVidia Forceware 81.95|
nVidia nForce 6.82
|Monitoring program||ASUS AI Booster||Abit EQ|
|Benchmark program||SiSoft Sandra 2005 SR3|
VirtualDub 1.6.10, XviD 1.0.3
|Idle||One hour in Windows without load|
|Load||One hour with four copies of Prime95 running|
|Stable||No errors reported by Prime during load|
|Multitasking||Tests performed with one instance of SuperPi running a 32M calculation in the background.|
|Processor temperature||The temperature reported by AIBooster|
We’ve chosen to use Abit AN8 that we have reviewed earlier here as a reference, other than that all hardware is the same. To make the comparison as similar as possible we used the same memory settings as far as we could. A noticeable difference that separates the cards in the tests is that we used a Command Rate of 1T on the Asus-card and only 2T with the Abit-card. The reason we did this is because the user probably will use this setting since it’s there and in our tests the Asus board could use this and the Abit couldn’t.
Let’s start by testing the USB and network performance.
To test the capacity of the built in network cards we used IPERF, it’s a program that measure the transfer rate between two computers in a network. We used another computer with Gigabit LAN and used a crossover cable from that to the network outlet on the test board.
|nVidia NIC||Marvell Yukon||870MBit/s|
|Marvell Yukon||nVidia NIC||840MBit/s|
Unfortunately we didn’t have access to a network card that is verified to really handle 1GBit/s, but at least we can determine the transfer rate with these.
This test was performed by using a USB-memory from Corsair that was connected to both USB connections on the motherboard and then tested the transfer rate in SiSoft Sandra. There were no problems with any of the connections reaching maximal transfer rates to the USB memory, which is the limiting factor in this test. 16MB/s correspond to 128Mbit/s which shows that the board is guaranteed to work according to the USB 2.0 specifications.
Let’s move on to processor and memory tests.
First up in our synthetical tests is Sisoft Sandra that tests different parts of the computer.
The motherboard does not play any major role in these tests as the main load is on the CPU and memory, but we notice that the motherboard performs as it should and is no bottle neck.
|ASUS A8N32||Abit AN8|
|8M||5m 31.906s||5m 44.125s|
|32M||27m 56.563s||29m 06.687s|
This clearly shows the advantage of 1T Command Rate over 2T.
|ASUS A8N32||Abit AN8|
The outcome of the WinRAR benchmark depends, in large, on memory performance and we clearly se an advantage of 1T on the ASUS’ motherboard.
Next up are some test showing transfer troughput capacity of the NIC and USB.
Not unexpected we find it to be really tight between the boards as they are mainly equipped with same components. We see that
the ASUS board takes the victory with the smallest marginal in all test except 3Dmark05. The margin is well within the fault percentage but despite
several repeated attempts, the AN8 averaged a few points higher.
We’ll continue with some popular games.
We still see that the A8N32 performs well when we’re talking system performance. When we move on to
heavier graphics tests it doesn’t really measure up to the AN8. The reason for this is not totally clear to us.
One explanation would be that nVidia hasn’t perfected its chipset drivers yet. The obvious advantage with this board is that it has dual 16x PCI Express ports for dual graphics configurations. Unfortunately, for this test, we didn’t have access to two high performance video cards to examine this difference.
We shall comment the overclocking possibilities and conclude our impressions of this board on the next page.
As you’ve seen we don’t have a specific part on overclocking in this review and it’s the overclocking that has delayed this review. We have waited for ASUS to release an updated version of AIBooster for more than two months, but so far no version, supporting overclocking from Windows, has shown up.
We have earlier had concerns about the software part of ASUS’ products. The motherboards have arrived very fast to the market, but in many cases it has been impossible to find new drivers or software to be able to use all functionality from the start. Without the ability to in depth familiarise ourselves with the board at least the overcklocking appears to be promising. The memory we have is not known to overclock well without higher voltage, but with 3.2V set in the BIOS we managed to top out at 245MHz in 1T mode. More impressive is that the HTT frequency went fault free to 377MHz, also in 1T mode.
We hope to return with an updated review when ASUS releases a newer version of AIBooster, to really see the potential this motherboard has.
Conclusion – Stability
ASUS has always designed and built stable motherboards and this board is no exception. The NF4 chipset has matured a lot but hasn’t stoped developing and we see evidence of that in this latest setup of circuits. During our tests we didn’t find any bumps or quirks and it performed well at all time as it was supposed to.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to test the performance in a SLI configuration at this time, which should yield a noticeable performance increase compared to motherboards with only 8x PCI Express lanes to each graphics card. With one graphics card we find that the motherboard does well in CPU and memory intensive tests. On the graphics side the performance wasn’t equally dominating and we saw the board not being up to par with our reference system. The NIC and USB performance was flawless.
The bells and whistles
ASUS is not known to skimp on the extras on the motherboard and even though we have seen more connection possibilities from this manufacturer before, they have set the standard high. Dual Gigabit NICs, 6 SATA ports and 8 channel sound are some of the things that should satisfy even the most picky user. The extras go hand in hand with the expansion possibilities and no extra purchase of cables is necessary to make use of all the finesses on the board. Also that they have thought of users utilizing water cooling by supplying a fan for the heatpipe solution.
In short ASUS continues to deliver high quality motherboards, this one definitely being one of them, and we would like to point out a few of the main features.
:: ASUS has designed a solid motherboard based on nVidia’s nForce4 SLI X16 chipset which has all connection possibilities you could expect from a board today.
:: 8 Phase voltage supply part delivering stable voltage and ample current.
:: The motherboard is completely passively cooled with big heatsinks and heatpipes.
There are a few things we would have liked to see solved differently.
:: The jumper for clearing the CMOS has an unfortunate position under the locking mechanism of the lower PCI-Express port
:: Poor availability of updated software for the motherboard.
NordicHardware wishes to thank ASUS for providing the motherboard.