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Asus' P5N-E SLI and Striker Extreme motherboards


Mid-range marvel vs. high-end wonder
— 12:00 AM on March 19, 2007

ASUS' STRIKER EXTREME MOTHERBOARD is a perfect example of why high-end products garner so much attention. The name alone screams "look at me," and in a pleasant surprise, there's actually plenty to see. You get a top-of-the-line nForce 680i SLI chipset, incredibly intricate heatpipe cooling, enough blue LEDs to be seen from space, more BIOS tweaking and overclocking options than any sane person could ever need, an LCD display right in the port cluster, and a stack of unique extras in the box. The board is also a member of Asus' Republic of Gamers series, so it's your ticket to gaining access to those ultra-secret Sealand LAN parties. Or something.

The Striker Extreme's array of innovative features and decadent extras is enough to make any enthusiast swoon, but with street prices drifting well over $300, it costs more than what most enthusiasts can afford—or at least more than most of us are willing to pay. We enthusiasts tend to be reluctant to shell out for high-end products when the market is peppered with mid-range gems that cost less than half as much as the opulent Striker.

One of those mid-range gems might just be Asus' own P5N-E SLI. The P5N-E lacks many of the extras that come with the Striker—including the fancy heatpipes, flashy lights, and LCD display—but you still get nForce 650i core logic, passive chipset cooling, SLI support, and enough BIOS-level overclocking options to exploit the full potential of a Core 2 Duo. With motherboards doing little to affect overall system performance, especially when it comes to applications and games, the P5N-E SLI should be every bit as fast as the Striker.

Clearly, we had to put these boards to the test to see how a mid-range mobo like P5N-E SLI stacks up against the flagship Striker Extreme.


Board specs
The P5N-E SLI and Striker Extreme sit at opposite ends of the motherboard spectrum, and as one might expect, the differences between the boards is apparent with a cursory glance at their spec sheets.

Asus P5N-E SLI Asus Striker Extreme
CPU supportLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processorsLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processors
North bridgeNvidia nForce 650i SLI SPPNvidia nForce 680i SLI SPP
South bridgeNvidia nForce 430i SLI MCPNvidia nForce 680i SLI MCP
InterconnectDMI (2GB/s)DMI (2GB/s)
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
3 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
2 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
1 channel ATA/133
6 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Audio6-channel HD audio via nForce 430i and Realtek ALC883 codec8-channel HD audio via nForce 680i and Analog Devices AD1988B codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 parallel
1 eSATA via JMicron JMB360
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 line in (shared with bass/center out)
1 analog mic in (shared with rear out)
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
2 eSATA via Silicon Image SiI 3132
4 USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
2 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 analog mic in

1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
BIOSAwardAward
Bus speedsFSB: 533-3000MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400-2600MHz in 1MHz increments
NB PCIe: 100-131MHz in 1MHz increments
FSB: 533-3000MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400-2600MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe 1: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe 2: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe 3: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
SPPMCP ref clock: 200-500MHz in 0.5-2MHz increments
Bus multipliersLDT: 1x-8xLDT: 1x-8x
VoltagesCPU: 0.83125-1.6V in 0.00625V increments
CPU offset: +0.1V
DRAM: 1.92-2.517V in 0.072V increments
NB: 1.208-1.748V in 0.185V increments
CPU: 0.83125-1.9V in 0.00625V increments
DRAM: 1.85-3.425V in 0.025V increments
HT: 1.2-1.95V in 0.05V increments
NB: 1.2-2.75V in 0.05V increments
SB: 1.2-1.85V in 0.05V increments
CPU VTT: 1.2-1.55V in 0.05V increments
DDR2 controller ref: +/-0.01-0.03V in 0.01V increments
DDR2 controller ref channel A: +/-0.01-0.03V in 0.01V increments
DDR2 controller ref channel B: +/-0.01-0.03V in 0.01V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, SYSCPU, SYS, OPT1, OPT2, OPT3

Both boards draw from Nvidia's new nForce 600-series chipsets, but that 600 label really only applies to the north bridge chip. The Striker sports the nForce 680i SLI SPP, while the P5N-E is equipped with the 650i SPP. The two north bridges are likely the same chip, but several features are only available with the pricier 680i. For example, the 680i can handle memory with Enhanced Performance Profiles (EPP), but Nvidia doesn't officially support EPP on the 650i. The 680i also boasts front-side bus speeds up to 1333MHz for future processors, while the 650i is limited to the 1066MHz front-side bus frequency of Intel's current lineup.

Things get even more interesting at the south bridge, where we find the P5N-E fitted with an nForce 430i. The nForce 430 initially debuted with Nvidia's GeForce 6150 integrated graphics chipset more than a year and a half ago, and the chip's age is starting to show. Four Serial ATA ports and a single Gigabit Ethernet connection may be enough for most folks, but it's less than what you get with the nForce 680i SLI MCP, which has six SATA ports and dual GigE controllers. Those dual GigE connections can be combined to form a pseudo-2Gbps connection, and they both feature TCP/IP offloads to help lower CPU utilization—capabilities you don't get with the 430i.

The nForce 430i pulls up a little short in the PCI Express department, as well, forcing the P5N-E to split 16 lanes of bandwidth evenly between two graphics cards running in SLI. No such limitation plagues the Striker, which employs the 680i chipset's whopping 46 lanes of PCIe connectivity to provide each card in an SLI pair with a full 16 lanes of bandwidth. As if that weren't enough, the 680i also supports LinkBoost, which cranks up the chipset interconnect and PCIe reference clocks by 25%. We have yet to see LinkBoost offer a meaningful increase in actual application performance, though.

Both south bridges feature "Azalia" interfaces for High Definition Audio. Lately, Asus has favored codec chips from Analog Devices, so it's no surprise to see the AD1988B on the Striker Extreme. However, the P5N-E is sporting Realtek's six-channel ALC883 codec. Apparently, not even the mighty Asus could completely claw its way out of the crab's clutches.