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Opposite approaches to the nForce 590 SLI


From a reference design to over the top indulgence
— 12:00 AM on July 17, 2006

WITH A SIX PACK of Serial ATA RAID, dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers, High Definition Audio, and a whopping 46 PCI Express lanes, NVIDIA's nForce 590 SLI chipset is easily the most feature-rich core logic chipset available for AMD's new Socket AM2 platform. Squeezing all of those features onto a motherboard is a tall order, which is why NVIDIA enlisted Foxconn to help design its nForce 590 SLI reference board. NVIDIA was intent on providing a solid reference platform loaded with features for overclockers and enthusiasts, and Foxconn was so happy with the design that they've released it as a retail board: the C51XEM2AA-8EKRS2H.

Awkward name aside, the Foxconn board is essentially the nForce 590 SLI as NVIDIA intended it. Other mobo makers have a slightly different take on the chipset, though. While the Foxconn is a lean nForce 590 SLI implementation with few frills, Asus' M2N32-SLI Deluxe Wireless Edition is an orgy of indulgent extras, including external Serial ATA, passive chipset cooling, integrated Wi-Fi, tinted windows, and spinners.

The C51XEM2AA and M2N32-SLI Deluxe represent opposite ends of the nForce 590 SLI motherboard spectrum, but are they really so different? Join us as we explore what these two extremes share, where they diverge, and which one is right for you.


Board specs
Before we dive into these nForce 590 SLI implementations from Asus and Foxconn, I strongly suggest reading through our Socket AM2 chipset comparison, which covers the nForce 590 SLI's myriad of features, capabilities, and buzzwords in detail. We'll be focusing most of our attention on motherboard-specific features and quirks today, so we won't spend too much time on chipset capabilities that are shared by both boards.

That said, we'll kick things off with a quick run down the spec sheets for the two boards. Note that the C51XEM2AA and M2N32-SLI are evenly matched, nearly line for line.

Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe Wireless Edition Foxconn C51XEM2AA
CPU supportSocket AM2-based Athlon 64 processorsSocket AM2-based Athlon 64 processors
North bridgenForce 590 SLI SPPnForce 590 SLI SPP
South bridgenForce 590 SLI MCPnForce 590 SLI MCP
InterconnectHyperTransport (8GB/sec)HyperTransport (8GB/sec)
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz
2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz
Memory4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
1 channels ATA/133
6 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via SiI 3132
Floppy disk
1 channels ATA/133
6 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Audio8-channel HD audio via nForce 590 and Analog Devices AD1988B codec8-channel HD audio via nForce 590 and Realtek ALC882D codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
4
USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 1394a Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A with header for 1 more
2 RJ45 10/100/1000
1 802.11b/g Wireless LAN via Realtek RTL8187L
1 eSATA via SiI 3132


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
6
USB 2.0 with headers for 2 more
1 1394b Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB81BA3
1 1394a Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB82AA2 with header for 1 more

2 RJ45 10/100/1000


1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsHT: 200-425MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400, 533, 667, 800MHz
PCI-E: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
HT: 100-500MHz in 2MHz increments
DRAM: 400, 533, 667, 800MHz
PCI-E: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus multipliersLDT: 1x-5x
SPP->MCP: 1x-5x
MCP->SPP: 1x-5x
LDT: 1x-5x
SPP->MCP: 1x-5x
MCP->SPP: 1x-5x
VoltagesCPU: auto, 0.8-1.5625V in 0.025V increments
DDR: auto, 1.8-2.5V in 0.025V increments
SPP:
auto, 1.2-1.4V in 0.05V increments
MCP:
auto, 1.5-1.75V in 0.025V increments
LDT:
auto, 1.2-1.5V in 0.025V increments
Interconnect:
auto, 1.3-1.5V in 0.025V increments
CPU: auto, 0.375-1.85V in 0.025V increments
DDR: auto, 1.825-2.5V in 0.025V increments
SPP: auto, 1.225-1.4V in 0.05V increments
MCP: auto, 1.525-1.75V in 0.025V increments
LDT: auto, 1.225-1.4V in 0.025V increments
Interconnect: auto, 1.325-1.5V in 0.025V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, systemNone

The C51XEM2AA and M2N32-SLI both take advantage of the nForce 590 SLI's generous array of Serial ATA, Gigabit Ethernet, and PCI Express connectivity. There are enough PCI-E lanes in the chipset to support two full-bandwidth PCI Express x16 slots, although the secondary slot actually hangs off the south bridge chip. This arrangement is more demanding of chipset interconnect bandwidth, but the nForce 590 SLI has plenty to spare. The chipset's interconnect is a 16-bit, 1GHz HyperTransport link that offers 8GB/s of bandwidth—as much as there is between the chipset and system processor.

A copious amount of interconnect bandwidth benefits more than just the chipset's secondary PCI Express x16 slot; it also provides a wide enough pipe to saturate the chipset's six Serial ATA RAID ports and dual hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet controllers. As if that doesn't give users enough storage and networking options, the M2N32-SLI adds auxiliary Silicon Image SATA RAID and Realtek Wi-Fi chips to the mix. The Foxconn mobo, on the other hand, eschews additional storage and networking options in favor of support for the faster 1394b Firewire standard. Windows XP has never supported 1394b properly, so we'll have to see how the Foxconn's fancy Firewire chip performs.

On the audio front, both boards enjoy the nForce 590 SLI's support for High Definition Audio. As expected, the C51XEM2AA pairs the chipset's audio controller with a Realtek ALC882D codec. Asus defies convention—and the almighty crab—by equipping the M2N32-SLI with an AD1988B codec chip from Analog Devices. Realtek codecs have become nearly ubiquitous on motherboards of late, so it will be interesting to see how Analog Devices fares in our 3D audio and playback quality tests.