iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Gigabyte 780SLI-DS5 - a Motherboard Based on the NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI Chipset

Motherboard on the NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI Chipset

December 17, 2007

  • NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI chipset (nForce 780i SLI north bridge, nForce 570 SLI south bridge, and nForce 200 bridge)

Gigabyte kindly sent us its motherboard on the new chipset from NVIDIA before the official announcement. Company engineers were forced to try various cooling solutions to find the best choice because of problems with chipset cooling (see below). So probably even our review sample was not of the final design. It was very interesting to examine a motherboard on the new top-end chipset, the nForce 780i SLI.

The most interesting element of the motherboard is its cooling system, of course. The nForce 680i SLI was notable for its "hot temper", so there is nothing surprising about the fact that its descendant with an additional nForce 200 bridge, which is also hot, breaks all records here. A large heat sink covers the north bridge and nForce 200. One heat pipe connects it with a heat sink on field-effect transistors in the CPU power circuit. The large heat sink gets very hot - I really burned my finger, when I tried to evaluate its temperature by touch. The south bridge also gets very hot, so a small heat sink on this bridge looks mocking. We do not reproach Gigabyte engineers here: it's impossible to make this heat sink wider (because of large on-board components), and a higher heat sink would have blocked expansion cards.

It's a no-win situation. We can only note that the heat sink of the final design for the south bridge will be smaller, but it will be connected to the heat sink on the north bridge with a heat pipe. However, it will not improve the situation radically, in our opinion. In this case users will have to give up the idea of passive cooling. The reference motherboard from NVIDIA proves that we are right. Heat sinks on the south and north bridges are connected with four heat pipes, but the north bridge is still equipped with a big fan. Anyway, you'll have to provide good ventilation inside your system unit, if you decide to buy a motherboard on nForce 780i SLI.

There are no other surprises. All connectors on the motherboard are spaced apart not to interfere with each other as you plug cables. We'd like to mention the layout of SATA ports: all six ports sit at the nearest edge of the PCB, grouped into vertical couples. It's clear that three graphics cards installed in the 3-way SLI mode will deprive the motherboard of all expansion slots - this tendency is pardonable for a top SLI product.

The 6-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor uses two field-effect transistors per phase and high-quality FPCAP polymer capacitors from Fujitsu with low ESR. Motherboard dimensions - 305x245 mm (full-sized ATX), it's mounted with nine standard screws, all corners are firmly fixed. We don't have information about other Gigabyte motherboards on 780i/750i SLI yet. So we cannot say whether the company will offer similar products on the same or similar PCB. Theoretically, we can expect a more expensive model in the DQ6 family.

System monitoring (ITE IT8718F-S, BIOS Setup info)

  • Voltages on CPU, memory, +3.3 V, and +12 V (only indication of correct values!)
  • Rotational speed of three fans, two of them offer automatic fan speed control
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors).
  • Automatic speed control of two fans is limited to the choice of a control type (depending on a given model - 3 or 4 pins) the choice comes down to reducing voltage or skipping cycles) as well as the Intel QST option (using a digital temperature sensor in new Core 2/Extreme processors) instead of the classic scenario. But you cannot specify any thresholds.

Fan modes can be fine-tuned with EasyTune[5] for Windows.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Socket 775, support for processors with 800-1333 MHz FSB, including future products with the Penryn core
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 16 GB of DDR2-533/667/800; supporting dual-channel mode when both channel slots are filled symmetrically) there is a list of certified modules
  • 3 x PCIEx16 for graphics cards: 2 of them (blue) are compatible with PCI-E 2.0, the third slot is compatible only with the first version of the specs; all three slots always operate in the x16 mode, they can be used in SLI modes, including Triple-SLI (3-way SLI)
  • 1 x PCIEx1
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a regular 20-pin connector, but in this case it's not recommended to use top graphics cards without on-board power connectors, or you should use the 4-pin connector), 8-pin EPS12V for a processor (you can use a standard 4-pin ATX12V connector even without an adapter), and a 4-pin peripheral connector to supply additional power to PCIEx16 slots
  • 1 x FDD
  • 1 x chipset-based IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices
  • 6 x chipset-based SATA-II connectors for six SATA300 devices; connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5
  • Two connectors for brackets with 4 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-Out
  • Connector for a bracket with S/PDIF-In
  • Connector for a bracket with LPT port
  • Connector for a chassis intrusion sensor
  • Four fan headers (three headers with rpm control), two of them have four pins and allow automatic speed 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 COM, 1 x Toslink, and 1 x coaxial S/PDIF-Out, 1 x FireWire
  • 2 x USB 2.0 and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB 2.0 and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x eSATA and 2 x USB 2.0 (for some unknown reason they are also yellow)
  • 6 analog audio jacks: Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Side, Rear, Center/Sub.

The set and layout of rear panel connectors is praiseworthy: the motherboard offers a balanced set of all modern peripheral interfaces. I'm surprised that eSATA and USB connectors are painted yellow, which may confuse an inexperienced user, because USB ports are usually black.

Besides, eSATA ports are based on the additional JMicron controller, they are not controlled by the chipset.


We got our review sample without any bundle, so we'll have to wait at least for the official announcement of this motherboard on the manufacturer's web site to learn about the bundle.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on a 10-channel (7.1+2) Realtek ALC889A HDA codec (it's a top codec from the company that supports full-quality audio output from HD DVD and Blu-ray), 7.1 channel audio, a connector for front line-in/out, S/PDIF-Out jacks (coaxial and optical), S/PDIF-In, and support for some unique functions
  • Two network controllers based on the chipset (and Realtek RTL8211B PHY controllers) supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/s rates (Gigabit Ethernet) and a number of proprietary technologies of NVIDIA, including a hardware firewall (read the details in the chipset review)
  • SATA-II RAID based on JMicron JMB363 (marked "Gigabyte", PCIEx1), supporting two SATA300 devices, and RAID 0 and 1 (only a part of this controller's functionality is used)
  • FireWire, based on the Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chip, supporting 3 ports.

The audio codec offers a high signal/noise ratio for sound recording and playback. It can also transfer an audio signal of full quality from DVD Audio, HD DVD and Blu-ray discs to output to HDMI. This function is possible owing to DRM support, so that certified software players can transmit an audio stream without losses to a graphics card (or any other expansion card) with an HDMI port. Besides, the ALC889A supports the DTS Connect technology to connect a computer to a multichannel audio system to obtain the surround sound effect. DTS Neo:PC is also supported. This technology splits a usual stereo signal into 4-8 channels for a surround sound effect with an analog connection to a multi-channel audio system.


Jumpers and switchesClear CMOS jumperto be more exact, there are two contacts to be closed with a screw driver, a jumper, or any other metal object
In Award BIOS v6.00PGAllows to disable specific CPU functions+Multi-Threading (disables Hyper-Threading and additional cores), No-Execute Memory Protect, CPU Thermal Monitor 2, CPU EIST Function, CPU Enhanced Halt, Virtualization Technology
Memory timings+CAS Latency, RAS# to CAS# Delay, Row Precharge, Min RAS# Active Time, Command Per Clock, TRRD, TRC, TWR, TWTR, TREF
Memory frequency selection+Linked (to be increased proportionally to the FSB clock rate by choosing one of available dividers) or to specify a frequency within 400-1400 MHz at 1 MHz steps (the step is much bigger in reality, it may reach 80 MHz)
Peripheral bus frequency control+PCI-E (for the PCIEx16 slot on the south bridge): 100-150 MHz at 1 MHz steps, indicating the current value
HT (between chipset bridges): x1, x2, x3, x4, x5 to the reference frequency
PCI IRQ manual assignment+ 
FSB frequency setup+100-650 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier+ 
CPU core voltage control+Normal, 0.68750-2.37500 V at 0.00625 V steps to 1.6 V and at 0.025 V steps above this threshold, the current value is indicated
Memory voltage control+Normal, +0.025-0.775 V at 0.025 V steps
Chipset voltage control+for north bridge: Normal, +0.05-0.20 V at 0.05 V steps
for south bridge in Standby mode: Normal, +0.05-0.15 V at 0.05 V steps
for the HT bus between the bridges: Normal, +0.05-0.35 V at 0.05 V steps
FSB voltage control+Normal, +0.05-0.35 V at 0.05 V steps

We used BIOS D2, 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. As it usually happens with Gigabyte products, additional settings appear in BIOS Setup if you press Ctrl+F1 (you mostly get memory timings). It was a beta BIOS version, so you should expect some changes in the release version.

Like all motherboards on the latest chipsets from NVIDIA, the Gigabyte 780SLI-DS5 supports EPP profiles in memory modules (SLI-Ready Memory), so that you can easily switch between predefined memory clock rates, timings, and voltages. The motherboard allows to call up a menu to select a boot device during the POST procedure, a convenient way for a once-only boot-up, for example from a CD drive, without making changes in BIOS Setup. This BIOS also contains built-in Gigabyte Q-Flash, a traditional utility to flash BIOS from a floppy, not necessarily bootable at that.


Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • Memory: 2 x 1 GB Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D (tested in DDR2-800 mode at 4-4-4-1T)
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX, 512 MB
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • Power supply unit: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We wanted to compare the new motherboard from Gigabyte with the reference motherboard on nForce 680i SLI from NVIDIA (sold under the EVGA brand) and a representative of the latest chipsets from Intel (we noticed no performance differences between the P965 and the P35 with DDR2). Unfortunately, in the process of our tests we found out that our sample of the Gigabyte motherboard refused to work with our Corsair memory modules in DDR2-800 mode at 4-4-4-1T (although motherboards on 680i SLI did fine). It could set the main timings to 4-4-4, but it failed to start up with 1T Command Per Clock. Moreover, programs that monitored memory operation in Windows indicated that timings were actually set to 5-6-6. Thus, our Gigabyte motherboard gave a head start to its competitors even before the tests were carried out, so our results were predictable.

Test Gigabyte 780SLI-DS5 (nForce 780i SLI) EVGA nForce 680i SLI (nForce 680i SLI) Gigabyte 965P-DQ6 (i965P)
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 4:25 4:07 4:10
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:41 3:37 3:37
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 339 365 359
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 141 152 152
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 200 218 218
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 119 121 123

Considering that our BIOS was an early beta, we cannot really blame the motherboard. But in future we'll try to run our tests on a production-line sample of the Gigabyte 780SLI-DS5 and update the article. In our opinion, it's too early to draw conclusions on performance of this motherboard and its chipset.

Bottom line

You might have noticed that our today's review is too much on the "preliminary side". We have no doubts that a good motherboard on the latest chipset from NVIDIA, the first to offer the real x16+x16+x16 support for the Triple-SLI, will find its share of users. It's hard to say at the moment, whether it will be the Gigabyte 780SLI-DS5 in its current state, an updated Gigabyte 780SLI-DS5, or a different motherboard. As of the negative side, we can mention the necessity to provide better cooling. Perhaps you will have to ignore Gigabyte's attempts to create a passive cooling system for the chipset. Anyhow, the motherboard was unstable in our open testbed, until the only source of active cooling (CPU cooler) was switched from Smart Fan to the full speed mode.

The motherboard is kindly provided by the manufacturer.
We express our thanks to Corsair for the provided memory modules

Sergei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
December 17, 2007

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