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Gigabyte M57SLI-S4 — a Motherboard on NVIDIA nForce 570 SLI (Socket AM2)

July 21, 2006



In view of the summer platform updates and the launch of a new series of chipsets, Gigabyte has updated a model line of its motherboards, having added a new S-series. From now on, the designation will specify a number of options in a given model after the letter S at the end. Of course, top models on senior chipsets have maximum options. Low-End models have few. The M57SLI-S4 model under review takes up an intermediate position. According to the marketing department of Gigabyte, it possesses four S-features:

  • Safe. It implies using only elite capacitors from famous Japanese manufacturers in a voltage regulator, support for Virtual Dual BIOS (restoring a damaged BIOS from a floppy or CD using the built-in boot sector Xpress BIOS Rescue), automatic BIOS reset in case of unsuccessful overclocking, support for HDD S.M.A.R.T. and C.O.M. (Corporate Online Manager), as well as Xpress Recovery2 built into BIOS to create and restore a boot sector of your HDD;
  • Smart. The Smart featured motherboards of GIGABYTE S-series provide Download Center and Express Install (automatic search for driver and BIOS updates and their installation "at a single mouse click"), a test for damaged network cables (we should thank engineers from Marvell), boot menu that allows to choose a disk without changing BIOS settings, and Smart Fan support, which parameters can be easily configured under Windows via Easy Tune;
  • Speed. The Speed compliant motherboards of GIGABYTE S-series provide intelligent over-clocking and over-voltage software settings through the above mentioned EasyTune. Additional overclocking should be provided by R.G.B. (Robust Graphics Booster);
  • SLI. This option does not need deciphering. We are just surprised by the Quad SLI support, announced in promotional materials. It looks somewhat strange, as both graphics ports are limited to 8 PCI Express lanes in SLI mode. In our opinion, a 4-GPU solution should be reserved for models on the nForce 590 SLI chipset.

PCB layout does not give cause for objective criticism. FDD port is located real close to the extreme PCI slot. This is hardly an ideal solution, but Gigabyte engineers are not the only ones to insist on this layout. Nearly half of the modern cards are of the similar layout. Besides, PCI slots are gradually forced out by PCI Express x1 slots, which are still of little use. From the practical point of view, we can recommend buying external periphery for USB and FireWire interfaces. They are well supported by modern motherboards. As they are backward compatible, you won't have to throw out some TV tuner or a sound card, because your next motherboard does not support a necessary connector. Internal ports should be used for expansion cards that really need a high-bandwidth bus.

Installation of graphic ports via two PCIEx1 ports is praiseworthy as well as SATA connectors that are placed to avoid conflicts with full-sized video cards. Engineers really tried to provide the most comfortable conditions for a SLI couple of video cards on this motherboard.

The chipset is equipped with only a passive heatsink, which is often done for nForce 500-series models. However, that's not the first experiment of Gigabyte. The K8N-SLI model on nForce4 SLI also uses a passive heatsink (this solution really works, though it's not typical of models on nForce4 and not intended for overclockers). As we already wrote, core logic designers now follow a different way. Instead of intensively cooling chips to environment temperature, they raise the admissible temperature of chips.

In this case, a passive cooling system becomes more efficient (a hot heatsink provides better heat emission). As a results, a heatsink copes well with its task of channeling the heat away. Of course, a very hot heatsink (by touch) may perturb a user, who is not accustomed to such a situation. But that's not an extraordinary situation (in fact, you can find some chips on the motherboard or especially on a video card working well in worse conditions). Besides, unlike systems with active coolers, a passive system demonstrates stable characteristics, because it does not get obstructed with dust in time and does not depend on a fan, so it requires less attention.

Interestingly, RoHS requirements act as an additional incentive to spreading heat-resistant chips. Components should resist much higher temperatures for soldering with lead-free solders. Of course, such chips are more expensive. The difference is hardly compensated by saving on a petty fan (especially as passive cooling requires a massive heatsink). Besides, you should keep to specific layout limitations for hot chips, arranging electrolytic capacitors in particular. But there is at least one advantage from users' point of view — there is no noisy fan. Marathon stress tests demonstrated stability of the Gigabyte M57SLI-S4 motherboard in an open testbed without additional cooling of the chipset heatsink (however, you'd better remove a logo plate from the heatsink, if it's attached to production-line samples).

As usual, the above said does not mean that the motherboard will work well, if you install it into a tight PC case together with a couple of video cards and plan on overclocking your computer. But this chipset cooling system is certainly not a weak link in adequate conditions.

Periphery and power connectors are located along motherboard edges, Serial ATA connectors are fenced. The only Clear CMOS jumper (to be more exact, two contacts to be connected with a jumper) on the motherboard is placed near a battery and is easily accessible after you install the motherboard into a PC case; there is a brief description of its functions on the PCB next to it (quite redundant in this case). There are no unsoldered elements on the motherboard, except for a missing backup BIOS chip. This motherboard is the only Gigabyte model [so far] based on an nForce 570 chipset. So its PCB layout is unique. But as we found out by the example of MSI motherboards for Socket AM2, the same design can be used for motherboards on nForce 570 Ultra.

The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel, four 3300 uF capacitors from Rubycon, six 1500 uF ones from United Chemi-Con, and three 1500 uF ones from Sanyo. An excellent combination and obvious safety margin even in case of installing top components! Motherboard dimensions — 305×235 mm (narrow ATX), seven-screw mount, the nearest edge is "poised in the air" on the level of storage drive connectors.

System monitoring (ITE IT8716-S, according to BIOS Setup)

  • CPU and memory (1.8V) voltages, +3.3 V and +12 V (the system only indicates whether the value is correct)
  • RPM of 3 fans
  • CPU temperature (by the embedded CPU sensor)
  • SmartFan Control — automatic CPU fan speed control depending on CPU temperature (it can be configured under Windows with Easy Tune) By default, a 1°C change in temperature changes the fan speed by about 100 rpm. Two modes are supported — controlling fan speed by changing voltage; this mode will do for 4-pin as well as 3-pin fans. As well as a more accurate control mode through the Power Management pin (it requires a 4-pin fan).

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, officially supports all Athlon 64/X2/FX and Sempron processors for this socket)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 16 GB DDR2-400/533/667/800, dual-channel mode is available, if slots are filled symmetrically)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 for video accelerators (x8+x8 SLI mode)
  • 3 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins), 4-pin ATX12V for a processor, and 4-pin peripheral connector for additional power supply to video cards in PCI Express x16 ports
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE connector (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices (chipset-based)
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for six SATA300 devices — chipset-based, connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5
  • 3 connectors for brackets with 6 additional USB ports
  • Two connectors for brackets with 2 additional FireWire ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a bracket with S/PDIF In
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • 3 fan headers with rpm control, a CPU header allows to control the speed of 3-pin as well as 4-pin fans.

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)


Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x SPDIF Out (coaxial), 1 x SPDIF Out (optical), 1 x LPT, 1 x COM
  • 2 x USB, 1 x FireWire
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 3 x Analog Audio (Line-in, Line-out (Front), Mic-in)
  • 3 x Analog Audio (Surround, Center/Sub, Rear)

Package Contents

  • Package: "thick" box of a new design slightly resembling a box with detergent (I hope the marketing department of Gigabyte will forgive me this analogy!). All S-series motherboards will come in such boxes
  • Documentation: User's Guide in English
  • Cables: 4 x SATA, 1 x ATA66, and 1 x FDD
  • SLI Bridge
  • Rear I/O shield
  • CD with drivers and proprietary Gigabyte utilities as well as Norton Internet Security 2005 (antivirus and firewall).

Proprietary utilities include standard tools to flash BIOS under Windows that can also seek and download the latest versions from the official web site (@BIOS) and EasyTune5 used for monitoring system parameters and "overclocking" (it can change CPU clock and multiplier, PCI Express frequency within BIOS limits, as well as memory and CPU core voltages) and configuring SmartFan modes.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the chipset support for High Definition Audio and Realtek ALC883 codec, 7.1 channel audio, front line-ins/outs, as well as CD-In and S/PDIF-In/Out jacks
  • Network, based on the chipset and PHY controller Marvell 88E1116, supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s, proprietary high-speed interface and ActiveArmor (see the details in the chipset description)
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip, supporting 3 ports.

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: +0,15, -0,16Very good
Noise level, dB (A): -83,9Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 83.6Good
THD, %: 0.0042Very good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %: 0.037Good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -83,3Very good
IMD at 10 kHz, %: 0.016Very good

General performance: Good. The motherboard has demonstrated decent results. So we can say that the quality of HD Audio support in nForce 500 chipsets is not inferior to the level of other chipsets.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

The motherboard cannot boast of maximum features, typical of top Gigabyte models only. Nevertheless, a range of proprietary options is rather wide. The motherboard offers Q-Flash - emergency BIOS flashing by pressing F8 at startup (you must have a BIOS version on a floppy, in this case you don't need to boot up under your operating system, which may be problematic in case your boot sector is damaged). There is also a traditional function of restoring a previously backed up HDD partition using a BIOS utility - Xpress Recovery2. The difference from the traditional utilities (like Acronis True Image) is that you don't have to boot up from a CD to restore data. But its functions and interface are certainly more unassuming: in particular, you can keep only one backup image. There is no support for hard drives in RAID as well as external drives connected via USB or FireWire. Note that this utility does not recognize images created by the previous (first) version.

Settings

Jumpers and switchesClear CMOS jumperTo 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 v6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions- 
Memory timings+1T/2T Memory Timing, CAS Latency, TwTr Command Delay, Write Recovery Time, Precharge Time, Row Cycle Time, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS to RAS Delay, Row Precharge Time, Min RAS Active Time
Memory frequency selection+Frequency - 400, 533, 667, 800. You actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency
HT bus setup + x1, x2, x3, x4, x5; 8 bit or 16 bit
Peripheral bus frequency control+PCI-E = 100—145 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment+ 
FSB frequency setup+ 200—300 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier+from x5, at integer steps
CPU core voltage control + 1.400—1.550 V at 0.025 V steps
Memory voltage control++0.025—1.575 V at 0.025 V steps
HT bus voltage control++0.025—0.375 V at 0.025 V steps

We used BIOS E17 dated 05/05/2006, 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. You should press Ctrl+F1 in the main menu to display a full menu, which includes settings for memory timings and voltages.

A range of overclocking options is sufficient for non-extreme experiments with system components (S4-series motherboards are not designed for hardcore overclockers, Gigabyte offers them a series of motherboards on nForce 590 SLI, which will be reviewed in the nearest future).

Performance

Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x 512 MB Kingston KHX7200D2K2 (DDR800, 4-3-4-5)
  • Discrete video: XFX GeForce 7800 GTX, 256 MB DDR
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: Chieftec GPS-400AA
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We decided to compare the model under review with the recently tested MSI K9N SLI Platinum, based on the same chipset.

Test MSI K9N SLI Platinum Gigabyte M57SLI-S4
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:27 6:29
MPEG4 (DivX) encoding, min:sec 4:31 4:31
Unreal Tournament 2004 (Low@640x480), fps 58.7 60.0
Unreal Tournament 2004 (High@1024x768), fps 55.5 56.0
Doom3 (Low@640x480), fps 151.4 147.8
Doom3 (High@1024x768), fps 148.3 146.8

Expectedly, performance almost does not depend on a motherboard model (on Socket AM2 as well as on Socket 939, given you specify the same main memory timings.) We managed to determine a minimum difference in games, but it's not sufficient to designate a leader.

Bottom line

Gigabyte M57SLI-S4 possesses all necessary attributes of a motherboard for a medium-budget gaming PC, where the second graphics port is certainly more important than any other optional feature — from the point of view of gradual upgrading your video system and installing the second video card to accelerate physics computations (it's quite possible in future). Passive cooling and support for smart fan speed control will please those users, who like low-noise systems. On the other hand, if you assemble an extreme gaming computer right now and if you plan on installing a couple of high-end video cards at once and use this computer in an overclocked mode, this motherboard won't do. For this purpose NVIDIA has a more interesting chipset - nForce 590 SLI. Besides, motherboard manufacturers spice up ready products on top chipsets with additional features, for example, a more powerful chipset cooling system with heat pipes.



This model on the manufacturer's web site

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer

Reviewed by iXBT.com — this product has passed our lab tests

Dmitry Vladimirovich (lpt@ixbt.com)
July 21, 2006.

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