Asus is one of the first motherboard manufacturers to use the new Nvidia nForce4 SLI X16 chipset which supports AMD Athlon 64 processors in its Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe.
The original Nvidia nForce4 SLI chipset had a total of 20 PCI Express lanes with 16 lanes dedicated to the primary graphics card and four lanes left for other expansion cards; however in SLI mode each graphics card only got eight lanes. The new nForce4 SLI X16 chipset adds 18 more PCI Express lanes to give a total of 38, which means that each graphics slot gets a full 16 lanes with six lanes for the PCI Express network and RAID cards.
The new chipset uses a twin-chip piece of silicon which looks similar to the traditional chipsets that we are all used to. Recent Nvidia chipsets for AMD processors have taken advantage of the fact that the memory controller is contained within the processor and have used a single chip that is located between the graphics card slot and the processor socket, but the X16 has presented Asus with a problem. The Southbridge is located at the end of two graphics card slots which may well be populated by a pair of 7800GTX cards pumping out 100W each, so it can be tricky to keep the chip sufficiently cool.
Asus has used the sort of heatpipe solution that you find on a laptop processor to link the two parts of the chipset to a copper heat exchanger which is located between the processor socket and the I/O panel. The idea is that heat from the chipset is moved across the motherboard and is then extracted through the power supply or your rear case fan. It’s an effective solution that has the benefit of being silent as it is entirely passive, but if you feel the need Asus supplies a small fan that clips on the heat exchanger.
Other than the chipset, the rest of the motherboard is quite conventional as far as high-end Socket 939 motherboards go. There are four USB 2.0 ports on the I/O panel as well as dual Gigabit LAN, an external SATA connector plus six audio mini jacks, coaxial S/PDIF and optical S/PDIF outputs for the Realtek ALC850 eight-channel audio. There’s a parallel port on the I/O panel and a serial port on a bracket, along with a gameport and two more USB ports on a second bracket. A third bracket carries one mini Firewire and one regular Firewire port.
Elsewhere on the Asus board the four memory slots support up to 4GB of dual channel PC3200 memory, and there are two IDE connectors down the side of the board. Below them are four SATA2 connectors and there’s another SATA connector which is controlled by the same Sil3132 controller as the external SATA connector that we previously mentioned.
While the layout is very tidy, you would be hard-pressed to use any of the expansion slots if you installed a pair of large graphics cards in SLI mode, which is presumably how you would use the Asus board. At a push a single PCI slot is available for your SoundBlaster X-Fi but that’s about it.
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