Date: June 11, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams
eVGA has released numerous motherboards in the past two years, but we are going to take a look at their most recent top offering, the nForce 680i SLI. Coming from a company who knows how to cater to enthusiasts, will the board leave us impressed like their graphics cards do?
When you think of NVIDIA products, eVGA is not usually far from mind. They’ve been producing video cards utilizing NVIDIA’s GPUs for quite a while now, but recently they have been trying to make a name for themselves in the motherboard market. Things started off slowly, but they are quickly gaining momentum and are releasing some quality boards, one of which we will be taking a look at today.
The 680i SLI board has been available for many months now, so we are going to take a fresh look at it and see how it compares to our 975X and P35 boards.
As the name gives away, the board is based on NVIDIA’s 680i SLI chipset, their current top offering on the Intel platform. It supports all of the latest Intel CPUs with an 800/1066/1333 FSB. It also supports up to 8GB of ram with frequencies up to DDR2-1200.
The board we are looking at today has an A1 in the product code. T1 revisions are also available, with the primary difference being that it includes a Quad-Core fix. If you have an A1/AR board and are having problems with overclocking your Quad-Core, eVGA will fix it for you.
Before we jump into our look of the board itself, here are the complete specs. In addition to what’s mentioned above, we have a total of 10 USB 2.0 ports, 6 on the board itself, then four more to be used with your case or add-in card. We also have two LAN ports, which will be appreciated by those who need them.
|Performance|| Based on NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI Chipset chipset|
Supports Intel Core 2 Extreme, Intel Core 2 Quad, Intel Core 2 Duo, Pentium EE, and Pentium processors
1066/1333 Mhz Front Side Bus
|Memory|| 4 x 240-pin DIMM sockets|
Dual Channel DDR2
Maximum of 8GB of DDR2 533/667/800/1200MHz SLI-Ready memory
|Expansion Slot|| 2 x PCIe x16, 1 x PCIe Graphics expansion slot, 2 x PCIe x1, 2 x PCI|
2 x 32-bit PCI, support for PCI 2.1
|Storage I/O|| 1 x UltraDMA133|
6 x Serial ATA 300MB/sec with support for RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 0+1
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
|Integrated Peripherals|| 7.1 Channel, Azalia (HDA) 7.1 Channel, Azalia (HDA)|
2 x 10/100/1000 LAN via
|Multi I/O|| 1 x PS2 Keyboard|
1 x PS2 Mouse
1 x Serial Ports
10 x USB2.0 ports (6 external + 4 internal headers)
Audio connector (Line-in, Line-out, MIC)
|Form Factor|| ATX Form Factor|
Length: 12.0in – 304.8mm
Width: 9.6in – 243.6mm
The 680i arrived in one of the largest motherboard boxes I’ve ever seen. The reason behind this is that the board is kept safe in a large clamshell like packaging. Whereas many motherboards are kept in the direct bottom of a box, here it’s kept in the center.
Here is the inside packaging I was speaking about. On one side of this is where all of the accessories and manuals are kept.
Within these accessories is all of the required IDE, S-ATA and floppy drive cables. They also include adapters to add another firewire and four more USB ports.
Next up, the board layout.
In all of it’s black glory, here it is. At first glance, there are no problems I have with the overall layout. There are two S-ATA ports on the side, which is handy for drives closest to it. There is also an LED BIOS code readout, a handy feature if you run into problems at POST.
The only issue I really have, is the fact that the ATX case connectors are placed in between the DIMM slots and a molex connector. This is a very tight squeeze, and considering that these cables are small, more room would have been nice.
You will also notice that by default, the board is entirely passive cooled. A single copper heat pipe runs between the north and south bridge, with the PWM having it’s own tall heatsink for heat dissipation.
The northbridge is kept cool via a passive heatsink with many fins. For those who with to overclock, eVGA includes a small fan that clips on, as you can see below.
The south bridge utilizes no fan at all, which I didn’t find to be an immediate problem during any of my testing.
Here is the Winbond W83627DHG chipset which handles much of the I/O for the motherboard, including PS/2 peripherals, printer, joystick, et cetera. It is also responsible for passing along the boards temperatures to you. You can also better see the two side S-ATA ports.
To the right of the DIMM slots are the ATX connectors as we mentioned, an IDE connector and also the 24-Pin motherboard power connector. Four more S-ATA ports can also be found here.
At the bottom of the board you will find the CMOS reset switch, serial port connector and a 3-pin fan header. The location of the J1H3 LPC header would have been great for the front panel connectors.
The board includes two PCI-E 16x, one PCI-E expansion slot and two PCI-E 1x slots, in addition to two classic PCI slots.
Instead of a boring PWM heatsink, eVGA added some flair with a ‘cool’ wavy design.
If your CPU cooler is a tank, you might have a hard time installing it as there is not an abundance of room around the socket. Most people should have sufficient space to install their cooling though. I installed the Zalman 9700LED cooler with no issues.
For those who enjoy staring at the back of motherboards for fun, here you go.
Before we wrap up, I will elaborate on the ATX connectors a little more. As you can see in the picture, I only had patience to install the ATX PWR SW connector. I think the only problem with their location is the fact that a 4-Pin molex connector is to plug in directly beside it. It’s not a big problem, but better placement would have been appreciated.
Next, we will take a look through the BIOS, which offers plenty of options for overclocking enthusiasts.
eVGA knows that a good fraction of customers who buy their board are interested in overclocking, so it’s no surprise that the BIOS reflects that. Before we move into our performance reports, we will take a stroll through the BIOS to see all that it offers. The first few screens need no introduction.
Under the Advance BIOS Features menu, you are able to set boot devices, priorities and also enable the full screen logo, if you prefer it.
Advance Chipset Features is where you will find all of the overclocking and tweaking options. Everything is split into different sections. On the main page here, you can save your overclocking profiles with the Save timing/voltage set. It’s not as blatantly obvious as on other boards, but it’s here.
As with most recent 775 boards, eVGA’s 680i offers a wide range of overclocking headroom. On the FSB & Memory Config, you can enable EPP memory and also adjust your FSB and memory frequencies. You have an option to keep it Linked, Auto or Unlinked, which is of most interest.
Unlinked allows you to manually select FSB and MEM differently, so that your memory will not hold back a CPU overclock. For example, if you are using 1600FSB but your memory won’t overclock alongside it, you can manually set the memories frequency and the board will select the ratio closest to it.
The sub menu here is to adjust your memory timings, which all of the common ones listed. It is by no way as in-depth as some other motherboards on the market, such as the DFI RD600, but it should get the job done.
You will not likely be spending much time in the CPU Configuration screen, but if for some reason you wish to disable a core or two, you have the ability.
Under the Integrated Peripherals section you can set up a RAID, alter USB settings, config your eSATA and also disable or enable onboard audio, firewire and floppy controller.
Here are a few more screens, the most important one being the System Clocks, where you can alter your CPU multiplier.
The BIOS on the board is not feature-packed, but it gives you all the necessary overclocking headroom to get things done.
Throughout all of our benchmarks regardless of what we are reviewing, testing is done in a clean and stand-alone version of Windows XP Professional with SP2. No Windows Updates are applied for the sake of efficiency, unless one is required for a piece of hardware on the computer. Prior to testing, these conditions are met:
The testing rig used for todays benchmarking is as follows:
For comparison purposes, we have pitted the eVGA 680i against the ASUS P5K and P5K3 boards, both which use P35 chipsets and also the Intel XBX2, which uses the 975X chipset. The P5K3 is a DDR3 board, so it’s important to note that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it dominate in the charts, thanks to it’s faster memory speed. We have included it because it’s still a relevant comparison. The memory speeds used are as follows:
2T was used for the DDR2 settings because of the Intel XBX2’s inability to use 1T.
SYSmark is an industry leading system benchmarking tool, which is completely automated but utilizes real-world tests. It installs common applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, Photoshop CS2, 3DS Max, SketchUp! among others.
SYSmark grades the performance of the system with various methods, but most notably how well it could handle different operations. Systems with more than one core will benefit in the tests, since there is a lot of multi-tasking throughout. Once the test is completed, it will provide you with an overall score, in addition to showing areas where the computer excelled.
Something about the XBX2 made it a strong performer here. Both the eVGA 680i and ASUS P5K matched up equally here.
The individual test results can give us a deeper look at where each board failed, or performed well. Regarding 3D tests, all of the motherboards performed quite well to one another. When performing personal renders with 3DS Max, I found that this was always the case.
Both the XBX2 and P5K3 excelled here, with the eVGA 680i again pairing up with the P5K, although falling slightly behind overall.
Futuremark has long offered benchmarking tools to enthusiasts that allow them to gage their systems worth. There is a lot of skepticism revolving around the importance of the overall scores, but we enjoy running them because it’s a quick fix to see differences between platforms. Real world benchmarks are by far more important, and we will cover those on the next few pages.
Although old, 3D Mark 2001 proves a good benchmark to evaluate your systems overall performance. In 2000, this benchmark really stressed whatever GPU you owned, but today the GPU hardly comes into the equation. What does help you achieve a higher score is faster CPU and memory frequencies.
3D Mark 2006 tests your system in a similar manner that 2001 does, except this updated version actually does bottleneck on your GPU. The faster the GPU, the better the score. Multi-core processors also help greatly improve your scores here.
PC Mark is somewhat similar to SYSmark, which we discussed on the previous page. The difference is that PC Mark focuses more on synthetic benchmarking schemes, such as disk access and multi-tasking. Very little of the entire test will be seen by you though, as it all goes on behind the scenes.
Throughout all of these synthetic benchmarks, the P35 boards took the top spots, with the eVGA falling behind by a few points.
Nothing can prove the performance of a PC better than real-world benchmarks. The only downside to real-world tests is that it’s difficult to compare to a friends computer, unless they happen to have the same software and media files that you are encoding/converting. We can show direct differences though, since we run the exact same tests on each board.
To test video encoding capabilities, we ripped our “Lamb of God – Killadelphia” concert DVD and then used Nero Recode to convert it into something that can be burned on a normal sized DVD. The direct DVD rip is 7.7GB, and Recode compresses it into a 4.5GB frame.
Similar to our video encoding test, we originally ripped a solid FLAC file from our “Tiesto – Elements of Life” album. From there, we decompressed it using flac -d and then compressed it into a 320Kbits MP3 using lame -b 320. FLAC 1.1.2 and LAME 3.97b2 were used for testing.
As mentioned earlier, I have performed numerous tests using 3DS Max 9 on multiple motherboards, to find that the end performance results hardly differed at all. My tests consisted of a 3200×2400 render, in addition to an export of 100 frames at 640×480. With both tests, the results were either exact or one second different.
Different motherboards use different chipsets for SATA controllers, so these tests are a good way to see how one board will compare to another. The first test is synthetic, using HD Tach RW/3, while the File Compression is real world, which involves compressing a 4GB folder (4,809 files) using 7-Zip.
None of the results here are too terribly impressive, especially the chart above which shows that the 680i board took more than a minute longer than the P5K to compress the 4GB folder.
To pit these boards against some popular games, we chose to use Half-Life 2: Episode 1, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Need for Speed: Carbon. Each game offers its own flare to our benchmarking reviews for different reasons. HL2 is great simply because it’s one of the most popular games of all time, while STALKER has a wide open world to render and AI to churn. NFS: Carbon is included because racing games really enjoy powerful systems to push high FPS when you are driving at 200MPH.
As a reminder, we are running a 2.4GHz Intel E6600 along with an ASUS 8800GTX, which we choose because of its power and ability to rid out the GPU as being a bottleneck. All of the games were run on 1280×1024 using default options. The only options changed was to NFS: Carbon in order to select “High” detail. Results were tabulated with the help of FRAPS 2.8.2. Each play through lasted between three and five minutes, depending on the level chosen.
For Half-Life 2: Episode 1, I chose my favorite level, ep1_c17_02a. The level starts you off in a dimly lit hallway and you need to make it through to the roof where an airship is trying to gun you down. It’s a fun level, and really shows off HDR.
In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., I chose a run-through with the thumb drive mission, which occurs near the beginning of the game. Through it, there are many people who die and you get to leave with a thumb drive. Does it get much better?
In our NFS: Carbon test, we played through the first normal race when choosing one through the Quick Race mode. Two choices of car are given, an upcoming Chevrolet Camaro and a Koenigsegg CCX. I think it’s obvious which one I chose.
With the exception of the Half-Life 2 results, the 680i board fell behind the others in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and NFS: Carbon. Of course, I am talking about >8FPS here, but it is a difference.
Since this board was first released, eVGA has released many more based on different NVIDIA chipsets. However, this board still sits on top as their prime offering. There are many things that I enjoy about the 680i, but also a few things I am equally not that impressed with.
The overclocking ability is not as good on this board as I have seen on others. When I first received the board, hitting anything over 350 FSB was a non-possibility. However, once they released the P27 BIOS, it seemed to improve mine, and many others overclocks. With the P27 BIOS, I have managed to hit 450FSB, which still falls a little short to a few other boards. The ASUS P5N-E for example could hit 495, while the P5K3 and P5K hit 475.
So if you are planning on the highest overclocks possible, then this board might not be for you. It might be wise to read around for other experiences though. With the Intel Q6600 installed, I was unable to hit close to 400FSB, while others were able to go beyond. It could be that I received a less than ideal board, I’m unsure.
That aside, the actual overclocking options in the board is not as thorough as a few others on the market, such as the ASUS Commando and DFI RD600, but I’d be hard pressed to see 10% of enthusiast overclockers touch all those secondary options anyway. It’s a time consuming process with little benefit.
The board layout is one area where I don’t really have any complaint. Modest coolers are used, so unlike the P5K3, you can actually pick the board up without straining yourself. I still do find it odd that the ATX case connectors are located where they are, as it’s inconvenient. Aside from that, it’s a good layout overall.
Of course what most will care about though is performance, and this is where the 680i fell short. Granted, it primarily fell short to the P35 boards, which were released long after this board was. Compared to the Intel XBX2, it performed well. The downside for this board is that the ASUS P5K DDR2 board performed better in almost all of the tests.
But how about when prices come into play? Perusing a popular e-tailer’s site, the ASUS P5K Deluxe board retails for $225, while the eVGA 680i retails for around $210. Despite the slight savings, I would still jump at the P5K quicker as it proved better performance and also allowed a higher FSB overclock.
That’s not to say that the 680i is a bad board, it’s far from it. Had I reviewed it months ago, it could have been a different story. The biggest gripe I had was with lack of overclocking ability, but the P27 BIOS patched up a lot of the issues there.
If you are an eVGA fan and want their board, then you will not be that disappointed with the 680i as long as you are not looking for extreme CPU overclocks and a slew of board extras.
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