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ASUS P5ND2-SLI Deluxe — a Motherboard on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI (Intel Edition)

October 24, 2005



ASUS P5ND2-SLI is the third representative of NVIDIA nForce4 SLI IE chipset that we got in our lab. The motherboard under review belongs to the top price segment due to its functionality. But its bundle is rather mediocre, though it contains everything necessary for normal operation, of course. The chipset possesses maximum features for these days: it supports all modern Intel processors for Socket LGA775 with FSB up to 1066 MHz, dual channel memory operating mode with DDR2-400/533/667 (up to 8 GB), and SLI mode for two video cards with PCIEx16 interface. It should also be noted that in order to support various peripheral devices, the function-rich chipset also includes SATA-II RAID, FireWire and Gigabit Ethernet controllers. The quality of the integrated audio solution looks rather pale against the general background (based on 8-channel AC'97 codec Realtek ALC850), especially if compared to the record-breaking results of the recently reviewed top motherboard ASUS P5WD2 Premium. But that model is equipped with a HDA codec.




The PCB layout is not very good compared to other models from ASUS — that's the fault of two graphics slots and the SLI switch, taking up much room. As a result, IDE, FDD and ATX connectors are placed too close to each other and memory slots, which has a negative effect on their usability. Besides, the additional 4-pin power connector is squeezed between a PCIEx16 slot and an additional SATA connector. An exotic location of the latter (and the corresponding controller) on the PCB can be explained by the fact that the second port of this controller is put on the rear panel of the motherboard. I'd like to mention a very bad contact quality between Northbridge and Southbridge heatsinks and the chips, they move freely on the chips' surface. What concerns visual diagnostics, we can note a LED, which informs about possibly insufficient power supply, if you install two video cards (in SLI mode) and plug only the 20-pin power connector, and a traditional ASUS LED, which lights when a computer is powered on (in this case you shouldn't handle memory modules, expansion cards, etc, to say nothing of installing/removing a processor).

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates five 1000 uF capacitors and eleven 821 uF capacitors. The board also contains a memory voltage regulator (three 1000 uF capacitors, three 820 uF ones, and two 471 uF ones, reinforced with L elements). In general, critical circuits incorporate electrolytic capacitors from Sanyo and United Chemi-Con (high quality and reliable components). Some field-effect transistors in the CPU power supply circuit are cooled by an impressively large heatsink. But ASUS Stack Cool technology, frequently used in top solutions (an additional board, mounted at the back of the motherboard, which channels the heat away from the CPU socket), is not used here. The motherboard has empty seats for another SATA RAID controller with two ports and an S/PDIF-Out jack — interestingly, ASUS does not offer a model with these elements soldered on this PCB. The second (and currently the last) motherboard in the line of products on nForce4 SLI IE (P5ND2-SLI) has a more unassuming functionality, it has no additional SATA and FireWire controllers. Besides, it does not use an integrated gigabit network adapter with proprietary NVIDIA functions (ActiveArmor, NVFirewall). Motherboard dimensions — 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX, nine-screw mount, all motherboard edges are firmly fixed).

System monitoring (ITE IT8712F-A, according to BIOS Setup):

  • CPU voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V and +12 V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, 533/800/1066 MHz FSB, compatible with all existing (at the time of this review) top processors from Intel: Celeron D (351), Pentium 4 (570J, 571 and 670), Pentium D (840), Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (3.73 GHz), Pentium Extreme Edition (840); though Pentium D 820 on this and other motherboards on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI IE is not fully supported, only one of its cores will operate in this configuration)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB DDR2-400/533/667; supporting dual channel mode, but the total memory size in both channels must be the same)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (or they operate as x16/x1 slots (in a single video card mode), or both slots operate as x8 in SLI mode)
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can connect a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use powerful up-to-date componentry like top PCIE video cards, besides you'd better not run the mobo in SLI mode. Otherwise, you have to use an additional power connector to be mentioned below), 4-pin ATX12V for a processor and 4-pin (peripheral) additional connector for a PSU with a 20-pin connector (must be used in SLI mode)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for 4 ATA133 devices — they are based on the chipset, connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, or 5 with "chipset" SATA disks
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) — four of them are chipset-based, connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1 or 5 with chipset-based PATA drives, another 2 (one of them is on the rear panel of the motherboard) are based on an additional Silicon Image SiI3132CNU controller supporting RAID 0 and 1
  • 3 connectors for brackets with six additional USB ports
  • Connector for the bracket with an additional FireWire port
  • Connector for a board that switches PCIEx16 modes (SLI/normal)
  • Connector for Game/MIDI port on a bracket
  • Connector for a COM port on a bracket
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • AUX-In connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • 4 x fan headers (three of them support rpm control, the CPU fan connector also allows automatic rpm control).

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)





Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, S/PDIF-Out Coaxial and Toslink (optical), 1 x e-SATA (for SATA devices with internal power supply)
  • 6 x analog audio jacks (Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Rear, Center/Sub, Side)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 1 x FireWire

Package Contents




  • Package: AI Proactive series box of the standard dimensions with a flip cover enumerating features of the motherboard
  • Documentation: User's Guide in English
  • Cables: 5 x SATA (with power converters for 5 devices), 1 x ATA66, 1 x ATA33 (for optical storage drives) and an FDD cable (all of them are "wide" black cables with company's logo)
  • Rear panel bracket with 1 x FireWire
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 1 x Game/MIDI
  • Rear panel bracket with 1 x COM port
  • SLI bridge
  • A rear panel bracket with a holder that fixes the connection between two video cards with the above mentioned bridge (the bracket is installed on the rear panel between PCIEx16 slots and blocks the output of one of the PCIEx1 slots located between them)
  • Rear I/O shield
  • 2 CDs: with drivers and proprietary utilities from ASUS as well as InterVideo WinDVD Suite (software bundle to watch and create DVD: PhotoAlbum 1.0, WinDVD Creator 2, DVD Copy 2.5, Disc Master 2.5).

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the AC'97 codec Realtek (Avance Logic) ALC850, supporting 7.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-Out jacks
  • 2 network controllers: Marvell 88E1111-RCJ PHY controller for Gigabit Ethernet MAC controller integrated into the chipset (supporting Active Armor, see the details in the chipset description), and a separate Intel RC82540EM chip supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec (PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet)
  • An additional SATA-II RAID controller based on the Silicon Image SiI3132CNU chip, supporting two SATA300 devices that can form RAID 0 and 1
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip, supporting 2 x FireWire.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16bit, 44 kHz using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 test application and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0,07, -0,68
Good
Noise level, dB (A):
-81,3
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
69.1
Average
THD, %:
0.033
Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.056
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-73,2
Good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.179
Average

General performance: Good (Details).

Proprietary technologies

  • AI Quiet (including Q-Fan 2) — automatically changes the rotational speed of fans depending on a temperature
  • AI NOS (Non-Delay Overclocking System) — dynamically overclocks CPU clock (to be more exact, FSB) depending on the current load and returns to the initial state in idle mode
  • AI Net 2 — the network controller automatically detects a damaged cable even without booting into OS
  • CrashFree BIOS 2 - to restore BIOS automatically from a floppy or bootable CD even when the data in the flash-chip is damaged
  • EZ Flash and LiveUpdate — these utilities can flash a new BIOS version without booting a computer from a floppy
  • MyLogo 2 - to display your own logo at system startup.

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper When a system freezes at startup (due to overclocking), you don't need to activate this function, the motherboard will automatically change BIOS settings to the stable ones
A jumper to select a CPU fan mode You can specify directly whether the fan is compatible with Intel PWM Fan specifications (4-pin cable, supports rpm control)
In AwardBIOS v6.00 from Phoenix Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Internal Thermal Control, Enhanced SpeedStep, Enhanced Halt State
Memory timings + CAS# Latency, RAS# to CAS# Delay, Row Precharge Delay, Row Active Delay, Row Cycle Timing (all of them have expanded range), Addressing Mode
Memory frequency selection + A large set of dividers, which allows to set a memory frequency close to the manual value within 400—1200 MHz (in terms of double effective DDR frequency) at 1 MHz steps
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = 100—150 MHz at 1 MHz steps
HT bus clock control + 200—1000 MHz at 100/200 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + from -10 MHz of the nominal to 1600 MHz (in terms of quadruple values of the effective QPB frequency) at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + If a processor does not allow CPU multiplier control, it's fixed at the minimal value for the series (x14)
CPU core voltage control + Auto, 0.8375—1.6 V at 0.0125 V steps, additional increase by 0.1 V
Memory voltage control + Auto, 1.85—2.3 V at 0.05/0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control + 1.4, 1.5 V
FSB voltage control + 1.25—1.4 V at 0.05V steps
SATA voltage control (Southbridge) + 1.5, 1.6 V

We used BIOS 0802, the latest available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46 GHz
  • Memory: 2 x Corsair XMS2-4300 CM2X512A-4300C3PRO (DDR2-533, 3-3-3-8)
  • HDD: Samsung SP1213C (SATA), 7200 rpm
  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 XT, 256 MB DDR
  • Power supply unit: FSP AX500-A
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

ASUS P5ND2-SLI Deluxe does a good job in performance tests, sometimes significantly outperforming motherboards from competitors, based on the same chipset. As you can see, the difference between the models is actually rather large, so it may be reasonable to wait for the roundup of motherboards on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI IE.

Test EPoX 5NVA SLI Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal MSI P4N Diamond ASUS P5ND2-SLI Deluxe
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:57 7:23 7:06 6:55
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:09 5:14 5:12 5:03
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec 30:36 33:10 31:56 31:26
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Lowest@640x480x32), fps 74.6 73.6 74.3 76.5
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps 69.6 68.3 69.1 71.3

Bottom line: ASUS P5ND2-SLI Deluxe is a motherboard for those who is willing to overpay a little for the brand and get a very fast model with excellent functionality, but with an unimpressive bundle and average integrated audio quality.

This model on the manufacturer's web site (Russian mirror)

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
October 24, 2005.



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