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Abit and MSI take on the nForce 650i


Comparing the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI and P6N SLI Platinum
— 12:00 AM on April 26, 2007

ENTHUSIAST-ORIENTED MOTHERBOARDS for Intel processors have traditionally been more expensive than those built for AMD chips, and that's nullified some of the Core 2 Duo's advantage over the Athlon 64 X2. Boards based on Intel's P965 Express chipset aren't that cheap if you opt for ones equipped with the ICH8R south bridge, and prices climb even higher if you want a second PCI Express x16 slot. Compare that to the Athlon 64 platform, where you can find scores of enthusiast-class mobos with CrossFire or SLI support for less than $150, and it's easy to see why some have opted for Socket AM2.

Nvidia's latest nForce 650i SLI chipset may pry the last few budget-conscious enthusiasts away from Socket AM2, though. The 650i rolls SLI support into mid-range core logic for LGA775 processors, and motherboard makers have been quick to deploy the chipset in enthusiast-oriented products.

The latest 650i-based motherboards to hit the market are Abit's Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI and MSI's P6N SLI Platinum, and we've been abusing both in our labs for the last couple of weeks. Can a textbook MSI offering challenge Abit's first attempt to adapt the Fatal1ty brand to a mid-range mobo? Read on as we test these boards against half a dozen others to find out.


Getting specific
Nvidia is known for juggling north and south bridge components to create "new" chipsets, and the 650i SLI is no exception. In fact, it may be the most unexpected combination we've seen to date. At the north bridge, we have the 650i SPP—a brand new chip that boasts support for 1333MHz front-side bus speeds in addition to dual-x8 SLI configurations. That new core logic smell doesn't waft down to the south bridge, though. There, you'll find a 430i MCP that's all but identical to the nForce 430 that debuted with Nvidia's GeForce 6100 series chipsets in September of 2005.

I suppose that makes the nForce 430 the cougar of core logic chipsets—an older south bridge chip cavorting with a much younger north bridge. But they work well as a couple, in part thanks to the 8GB/s HyperTransport interconnect that bridges the generation gap. The nForce 430i SLI doesn't look its age, either; the chip has everything you'd expect from a modern mid-range MCP, including four SATA RAID ports, integrated Gigabit Ethernet, and support for Native Command Queuing and "Azalia" High Definition Audio.

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI MSI P6N SLI Platinum
CPU supportLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processorsLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processors
North bridgeNvidia nForce 650i SPPNvidia nForce 650i SPP
South bridgeNvidia nForce 430i SLI MCPNvidia nForce 430i SLI MCP
InterconnectHyperTransport (8GB/s)HyperTransport (8GB/s)
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-533/667/800 SDRAM
4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Audio8-channel HD audio via nForce 430i and Realtek ALC888 codec8-channel HD audio via nForce 430i and Realtek ALC888 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
4 USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 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
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 parallel
1 eSATA via Silicon Image SiI 3531
4
USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000
1 1394a Firewire via VIA VT6308P with headers for 1 more

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
BIOSAwardAMI
Bus speedsFSB: 400-3000MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400-1400MHz in 1MHz increments
NB PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
FSB: 400-2500MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400-1400MHz in 1MHz increments
NB PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus multipliersLDT: 1x-8xLDT: 1x-8x
VoltagesCPU: 1.325-1.7V in 0.025V increments
DRAM: 1.8-2.5V in 0.05-0.1V increments
NB: 1.2-1.58V in 0.04-0.08V increments
DDR Ref: -4-2% in 2% increments
CPU VTT: 1.2-1.65V in 0.04-0.07V increments
CPU: +0.0125-0.3875V in 0.0125V increments
DRAM: 1.8-2.8V in 0.05V increments
NB: 1.25-1.5V in 0.025V increments
SB: 1.5-1.7V in 0.05V increments
FSB VTT: +0-20% in 2-4% increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, SYSCPU

With both the Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI and P6N SLI Platinum fully exploiting the features inherent to the nForce 650i SLI, there are plenty of similarities between the spec sheets of each board. There are a few key differences though. First, note that the FP-IN9 favors pairs of PCI, PCIe x1, and PCIe x16 slots. The P6N Platinum, on the other hand, opts for an extra PCI slot at the expense of one PCIe x1.

Moving to integrated peripherals, you'll notice that the Fatal1ty board doesn't really have any. Mid-range mobos typically don't have enough in the budget left for indulgent extras, but the FP-IN9 doesn't even have Firewire onboard. The P6N does, and it's also packing an eSATA port tied to an auxiliary Silicon Image storage controller.

Despite those differences, both boards agree when it comes to audio codecs. Realtek's ALC888 gets the call, extending the crab's virtual monopoly over onboard audio to another two motherboards.