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Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal — a Motherboard Based on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI (Intel Edition)

July 25, 2005



We have recently reviewed the first motherboard from Gigabyte of the Royal class (8I955X Royal), which includes the richest models in terms of features and bundles according to the new classification of this company. Obviously, all our general comments and remarks about the bundles hold true in case of the 8N-SLI Royal, because these models have similar package contents. Their main difference lies in a chipset. Let's find out what this top model on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI (Intel Edition) can offer its users.




The motherboard possesses rich functionality, but its PCB layout offers no special inconveniences in terms of assemblage. Among its relatively small drawbacks we may note the locations of FireWire and SATA (it's inconvenient to plug cables, when a PCI card is installed into the terminal slot), crowded connectors around memory slots, and the location of audio ins (the second video card will block them). Access to the only jumper is not hampered even when the motherboard is in a case. There is a brief description of jumper functions on the PCB. Gigabyte offers another 8N-SLI model, the Pro modification: it lacks the additional IDE/SATA RAID controller, the second gigabit network adapter, U-Plus DPS option, and its bundle does not include a Bluetooth adapter.

The 4-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four 3000 uF capacitors, four 1000 uF capacitors, and five 560 uF ones. The board also contains a memory voltage regulator (incorporating eight 1000 uF capacitors reinforced with L elements). In general, critical circuits incorporate electrolytic capacitors from Sanyo and United Chemi-Con (high quality and reliable components). The board incorporates a proprietary Gigabyte technology — DPS: when an additional VRM is installed into a special slot (in this case it's U-Plus DPS), the number of phases in a CPU voltage regulator is increased to 8. Theoretically, such a scheme provides better operating stability, which is very critical for overclocking. 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, memory, and battery voltage, +3.3 V and +12 V
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, we have no precise information on its compatibility so far, but this motherboard should support any modern processors from Intel: Celeron D, Pentium 4, Pentium D (except for the 820 model, where only one core will be operable), Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, Pentium Extreme Edition)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 4 GB DDR2-400/533/667 without ECC supports dual channel mode, if 2/4 modules of the same capacity and organization are installed in pairs)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (either only one of them works (in x16 mode), or both of them operate in SLI mode — x8/x8)
  • 2 x PCIEx1 (one of them is physically unavailable when two video cards are installed in SLI mode)
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can also plug a standard 20-pin connector, but you'd better not use such powerful components as top PCIE video cards or you should use the below mentioned 4-pin connector), 4-pin ATX12V to power up the processor, 4-pin (peripheral) power connector for powerful video cards (it's mandatory in case of SLI)
  • DPS connector (in this case it's U-Plus DPS)
  • Connector for a board that switches PCIEx16 modes (SLI/normal)
  • 1 x FDD
  • 3 x IDE (Parallel ATA) for six ATA133 devices. Hard disks connected to the two chipset-based slots can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1 or 5 with chipset-based SATA hard disks. Hard disks connected to the third slot (based on the additional Promise controller) can form RAID 0 and 1 with SATA hard disks connected to the same controller
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for six SATA300 devices — 4 of them are in the chipset; connected hard disks can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, or 5 with "chipset" PATA disks. The other two are based on the additional Promise controller, connected hard disks can form RAID 0 and 1 with PATA hard disks connected to the same controller
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB (2.0) ports
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 3 Gigawire ports (FireWire-800)
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • S/PDIF-In
  • RF_ID connector for some specific Gigabyte devices
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 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, 1 x COM, Coaxial and Toslink S/PDIF-Outs
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x analog audio jacks (Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Rear, Center/Sub, Side)

Package Contents




  • Package: a standard box of the i-DNA series (Intelligent Dual Nano Architecture)
  • Documentation in English: User's Guide, SATA RAID Setup Guide, poster with brief instructions on installation and setup
  • Cables: 6 x SATA (with power converters for 6 devices), 1 x ATA66 and an FDD cable (both cables are blue, with the company's logo)
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 2 x FireWire/GigaWire
  • Two rear panel brackets with 2 x USB each





  • USB adapter (BTD02) to setup Bluetooth 1.2 (connection range - up to 100 meters)
  • USB extension cord (about 1 meter long)





  • U-Plus DPS (an additional VRM that can potentially increase operating stability, including overclocked modes)
  • 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 PCIEx1 slot located between them)
  • An additional board that switches PCIEx16 slot modes (Gigabyte 3D1 SLI/normal mode; the first mode is necessary, when you install a video accelerator of the Gigabyte 3D1 series, that combines two NVIDIA video processors on a single card and thus requires specific organization of PCIEx16, where it's installed)
  • Fan that can be latched on the northbridge heatsink
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and proprietary Gigabyte utilities, as well as Norton Internet Security 2005.

Note the skillful design of the U-Plus DPS module that provides high quality passive cooling for all field-effect transistors in the power converter circuit. It even incorporates a cooler with a heat pipe. On the other hand, field-effect transistors in the main circuit of the on-board power converter (which can operate without DPS) enjoy no special cooling (they have to do with an airflow from the CPU cooler). But it should be noted that each channel of the converter contains three field-effect transistors instead of only two. The bundle of proprietary Gigabyte utilities includes applications to overclock and monitor your system, to change a graphics logo at startup, to search for the latest BIOS version via Internet and to flash it, etc. Nothing unusual or really interesting.

Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal motherboard gets the Excellent Package award for its complete bundle (with U-Plus DPS and BTD02 USB adapter):




Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the AC'97 codec Realtek ALC850, supporting 7.1 surround sound audio with front line-in/out and S/PDIF-In/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 Marvell 88E8053-NNC chip supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • SATA/IDE RAID controller based on the Promise PDC20779 chip supporting two ATA133 hard disks, two SATA300 devices, and RAID 0 and 1
  • GigaWire, based on Texas Instruments TSB82AA2/TSB81BA3 chips supporting 3 GigaWire ports (FireWire-800, IEEE 1394b).

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:
+0,06, -0,58
Good
Noise level, dB (A):
-82,1
Good
Dynamic range, dB (A):
81.5
Good
THD, %:
0.036
Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
0.057
Good
Channel crosstalk, dB:
-80,9
Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %:
0.188
Average

General performance: Good (Details). Quality of the analog audio output is quite usual for present-day integrated solutions, there are no dips, but there is nothing special either.

Proprietary technologies

  • DualBIOS — the motherboard has the second Flash EEPROM chip with BIOS backup, which can be used to restore BIOS in case of its corruption
  • U-Plus DPS — an additional VRM is installed into a special connector on the motherboard
  • CIA (CPU Intelligent Accelerator) 2 — dynamically changes CPU clock (to be more exact, FSB) depending on the current load
  • MIB (Memory Intelligent Booster) 2 — optimizes memory operations by reckoning with properties of known chips/modules
  • EasyTune 5 — a proprietary Windows utility to overclock and monitor system parameters in real time
  • Q-Flash and @BIOS — these utilities can flash a new BIOS version without booting a computer from a floppy
  • Xpress Recovery — this utility backs up the data in the hidden area of a hard drive and then allows to restore this data
  • Xpress Install — automatically installs necessary drivers and applications from the bundled CD

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper To be more exact, the board has two contacts, which should be short-circuited with a metal object — e.g. a screwdriver or a jumper (if available)
In Award BIOS v6.00 Allows to disable specific CPU functions + Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Enhanced Halt State
Memory timings + CAS Latency Time, DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay, DRAM RAS# Precharge, Active to Precharge Delay, Active to Active Delay, Addressing Mode (1T/2T), Top Performance
Memory frequency selection + 400—1200 MHz at 1 MHz steps (sets the double frequency)
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = 90—148.4375 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 400—2000 MHz at 1 MHz steps (sets the quadruple frequency)
CPU multiplier + Only those processors that allow users to change CPU multiplier
CPU core voltage control + Normal, 0.8375—1.6000 V at 0.0125 V steps
Memory voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.7 V at 0.1 V steps
Chipset voltage control -  
HT bus clock control + 200—1000 MHz at 200 MHz steps
FSB voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.3 V at 0.1 V steps
PCI-E bus voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.3 V at 0.1 V steps
SATA II voltage control + Normal, +0.1—0.3 V at 0.1 V steps

We used BIOS F1, the only available BIOS version at the time of our tests. The later Version F2 adds support for both cores in the Pentium D 830 processor. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested. You can see a complete list of settings by pressing Ctrl+F1 in the main BIOS Setup menu.

Preliminary test results

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
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal is only the second model on nForce4 SLI IE, reviewed on our web site. So we published not only the results of both motherboards on this chipset, but also the results of a top motherboard from Gigabyte on the competing chipset from Intel (i955X) as far as their functionality and prices are concerned.

Test Gigabyte 8I955X Royal (i955X) MSI P4N Diamond (nForce4 SLI IE) Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal (nForce4 SLI IE)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 7:12 7:06 7:23
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:15 5:12 5:14
Processing images in Photoshop, min:sec 32:32 31:56 33:10
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Lowest@640x480x32), fps 72.6 74.3 73.6
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Medium@800x600x32), fps 67.7 69.1 68.3

The new model from Gigabyte is slightly outperformed by the motherboard from MSI (up to 3%), it's almost on a par with the model on i955X, and it even shoots forward in games. The results are not complete so far, wait for the roundup of motherboards on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI IE, where we shall draw final conclusions about their performance.

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

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer





Vladimir Senchihin (sench@ixbt.com)
July 16, 2005


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