iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






XFX nForce 790i Ultra 3-Way SLI and Zotac nForce 790i-Supreme

Two motherboards on NVIDIA nForce 790i Ultra SLI chipset.

July 7, 2008

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Integrated controllers

  • Audio, based on the 10-channel (7.1+2) HDA codec Realtek ALC888S (average analog audio quality, two independent S/PDIF-Outs), 7.10-ch audio, front line-ins/outs, optical and coaxial S/PDIF-Out jacks (another S/PDIF-Out can be plugged on a bracket)
  • Two network controllers based on the chipset and Broadcom PHY controllers supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps (Gigabit Ethernet) and a number of proprietary NVIDIA technologies, including hardware firewall (read the details in the chipset description)
  • SATA-II, based on JMicron JMB362, supporting two SATA300 devices, including one eSATA (PCIEx1)
  • FireWire, based on Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A, supporting two devices (PCI)

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0 and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB +0.02, -0.04 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A) -87.9 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A) 88.0 Good
THD, % 0.0054 Very good
Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A) -79.4 Average
Intermodulation distortion + noise, % 0.012 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB -85.2 Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, % 0.012 Very good

General performance: Very good. As you can see in our test results, analog audio quality is on the standard good level for HDA codecs. What concerns interesting features of the codec implemented on the software level, we can mention DTS Connect (it allows to plug a computer to a multi-channel audio system in several ways and obtain surround sound) and Dolby Digital Live (encoding audio on the fly into AC-3 to output via S/PDIF).

As NVIDIA hasn't abandoned the PATA interface in its chipsets, there are no connectivity problems with old hard drives and especially CD/DVD drives. We can only praise the chipset manufacturer here.


Jumpers and buttons Clear CMOS jumper  
Phoenix AwardBIOS 6.00PG Allows to disable specific CPU functions + disable individual processor cores, Hyper-Threading, Execute Disable Bit, Virtualization Technology, C1E Enhanced Halt State, Thermal Control (TM1/TM2/TM1&TM2/Disable), SpeedStep
Memory timings + By SPD, CAS Latency, RAS# to CAS# Delay, RAS# Precharge, RAS# Activate to Precharge, Command Clock (1T/2T), TRRD, TRC, TWR, TWTR, TFAW, TREF
Memory frequency selection + Linked (proportional to FSB clock rate): Auto, Sync (1:1), 3:2, 5:4, or Unlinked: 400-2500 MHz at 1 MHz steps (in fact, the step is noticeably bigger, it may reach 70 MHz)
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E (separately for the first/second slot and the third slot): 100-200 MHz at 1 MHz steps
HT (between chipset bridges, clock rate): 200-500 MHz at 1 MHz steps
HT (between chipset bridges, multiplier): x1-x5 separately in each direction
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 400-2800 MHz at 1 MHz steps (in fact, the step is bigger, it may reach 10 MHz)
CPU multiplier + it's possible to use half-multipliers
CPU core voltage control + Auto, 0.51250-2.00000 V at 0.00625 V and 0.0125 V steps
Memory voltage control + Auto, 1.500-2.275 V at 0.025 V steps
Chipset voltage control + Northbridge: Auto, 1.30-1.55 V at 0.05 V steps
Southbridge: Auto, 1.50-1.75 V at 0.05 V steps
FSB voltage control + Auto, 1.20-1.55 V at 0.05 V steps

We used BIOS P03 dated 15.03.08, 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. Your combinations of overclocking BIOS settings (frequencies and voltages) can be saved into three profiles, which can be restored from BIOS Setup. The motherboard allows to choose a boot device during the POST procedure at startup by pressing a certain button (no need to enter BIOS Setup and change this parameter there).

Besides, you can change CPU GTL Reference Voltage Lane 0-3 from -155 to +155 mV.

We haven't tested memory modules with EPP 2.0 so far, even though the NVIDIA nForce 790i chipset is the first to support them. Theoretically, the situation should be similar to what we already saw with EPP and XMP: BIOS Setup will allow to choose one of performance profiles and adjust its parameters, when necessary.


The performance issue of this chipset, represented by the reference motherboard from NVIDIA (there must be no performance differences between XFX and Zotac products), has been analyzed in the NVIDIA nForce 790i SLI review.


When we review top reference motherboards from NVIDIA (regardless of the manufacturer), we always have to draw conclusions with regard to price tags. Unfortunately, this company sets disbursing prices for its solutions on the basis of its own principles, ignoring competing solutions. And retail prices are governed by NVIDIA's disbursing prices, not by marketing departments of XFX, Zotac, or EVGA However, if we take into account only functionality of the motherboard, without its supposedly excellent overclocking potential, we should admit that it's a usual top product, nothing more. A number of solutions (POST controller with a display, chipset cooling system) detach this reference motherboard on nForce 790i Ultra SLI from the usual products. But it's a unique solution only owing to its SLI support (including 3-Way SLI) in combination with Penryn support. If you are not interested in SLI, you may find a similar or better product, for example on Intel X48, but cheaper by $100.

An impressive bundle might have made up for the high prices. But in this case the box contains nothing extraordinary (only the Wi-Fi-g controller in Zotac box), even though the bundles include everything necessary. Thus, motherboards on nForce 790i SLI might have been much more interesting (they should be cheaper by $100). Unfortunately, we haven't heard about such products. No wonder, a decision to roll out a product is determined by potential profits it might bring (read the previous paragraph about the limitation), not by its retail prices.

Motherboards provided by their respective manufacturers.

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Page 1: General description

Page 2: Monitoring, sockets, interfaces

Page 3: Packages

Page 4: Controllers, BIOS, conclusions

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