Gigabyte's N680SLI-DQ6 motherboard

Opulent excess at its finest
— 12:00 AM on May 7, 2007

HIGH-END MOTHERBOARDS must be a tough sell these days. You see, unlike with other PC components, where high-end parts are faster than their more affordable counterparts, motherboards tend to offer roughly the same performance regardless of their price. Sure, there are variations here and there, but they're subtle at best and generally confined to the speed and CPU utilization of onboard peripherals. Motherboard makers have even tried to exploit the value of onboard peripherals by packing more of them onto high-end products. That certainly adds functionality, but there comes a point where users don't need more Serial ATA, USB, or Ethernet ports.

I was somewhat mystified, then, when Gigabyte's N680SLI-DQ6 arrived on my doorstep. With a little help from Nvidia's nForce 680i SLI chipset, this board packs a whopping ten Serial ATA ports and four Gigabit Ethernet options—more SATA and GigE than my last three workstations put together. Add in loads of Firewire ports and onboard audio that boasts Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding, and the DQ6 easily boasts the most impressive array of onboard peripherals on the market.

The DQ6 isn't just a conduit for a high-end chipset and a dizzying array of peripheral ports, though. It's also outfitted with the most extravagant chipset cooler to grace a motherboard, and it comes with the smartest external Serial ATA implementation we've seen to date. Did I mention that it overclocks with aplomb, too?

Perhaps, when done right, high-end motherboards aren't such a tough sell after all. We've put the N680SLI-DQ6 through its paces against a slew of competitors to find out, with surprising results.

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