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A fistful of nForce 590 SLI motherboards compared


Socket AM2 shows its strength
— 12:00 AM on December 28, 2006

THE NFORCE 590 SLI is easily the most feature-rich core-logic chipset available for Athlon 64 processors. Nvidia takes feature integration further than any other chipset maker, and that's enabled the company to ensure a measure of consistency between motherboards based on its chipsets. Unfortunately, although core logic consolidation has done wonders for promoting a consistent end user experience, it's also made it increasingly difficult for motherboard manufacturers to differentiate their products.

With an eye toward maintaining a measure of unique identity in a sea of boards whose performance and features are largely defined by the chipsets they use, mobo makers are scrambling to break new ground. For some, new ground comes in the form of workstation-specific amenities like PCI-X slots. For others, it's digital voltage circuitry around the processor. Some have even challenged the chipset itself, replacing integrated audio with something a little more exotic.

But do these attempts at differentiation actually make for better boards, or are you better off with simpler designs that do little more than bring a chipset's payload to bear? To find out, we rounded up a fistful of nForce 590 SLI motherboards from Abit, Asus, DFI, ECS, and MSI.


The boards
If you're not already familiar with Nvidia's nForce 590 SLI, I suggest browsing through our coverage of the chipset's launch. All five of the boards we'll be looking at today use the 590 SLI, and we'll be focusing our attention on the unique characteristics of each rather than the common denominator.

Before we dive into coverage of each board, let's set the stage by quickly comparing the boards' features.

  Abit Fatal1ty AN9 32X Asus M2N32 WS Professional DFI LANParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G ECS KN3 SLI2 MSI K9N Diamond
ChipsetnForce 590 SLInForce 590 SLInForce 590 SLInForce 590 SLInForce 590 SLI
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
1 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
1 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 64-bit/100/133MHz PCI PCI-X
2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x8
1 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Auxiliary storageNAMarvell 88SE614x ATA/SATASilicon Image 3132 SATAJMicron JMB363 ATA/SATANA
AudioRealtek ALC882Analog Devices AD1988BRealtek ALC885Realtek ALC882Creative Audigy SE
FirewireTexas Instruments TSB43AB22ATexas Instruments TSB43AB22AVIA VT6307VIA VT6307VIA VT6306

Since we'll be covering each mobo individually, I'll only point out a few highlights here. First, note that almost every one has a unique distribution of PCI, PCI Express, and even PCI-X connectivity. There's also some variety when we look at auxiliary storage controllers, with each board that taps an extra chip using a different manufacturer and model. This is the first time we've seen a board with a Marvell storage controller, and it will be interesting to see how the chip performs in our ATA and Serial ATA tests.

Things get at little more homogeneous when we look at audio, with three of five boards succumbing to the (Realtek) crab. The MSI board's Audigy SE is a bit of a surprise here, not only because it bucks the nForce 590 SLI's integrated "Azalia" HD audio controller, but because it does so with an Audigy. However, as we'll illustrate in a moment, the Audigy branding is a bit of a misnomer. Don't get your hopes up.