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Gigabyte's N680SLI-DQ6 motherboard

Opulent excess at its finest

Price (MSRP)$309

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.

Board specs
With more onboard peripherals than we've seen from any other desktop motherboard, the N680SLI-DQ6's spec sheet is bursting at the seams with goodies.

CPU supportLGA775-based Celeron, Pentium 4/D, Core 2 processors
North bridgeNvidia nForce 680i SLI SPP
South bridgeNvidia nForce 680i SLI MCP
InterconnectHyperTransport (8GB/s)
Expansion slots3 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8GB of DDR2-533/667/800 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
1 channel ATA/133
6 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5  support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via
Gigabyte SATA2
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via Gigabyte SATA2
Audio8-channel HD audio via nForce 680i SLI MCP and Realtek ALC888DD codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
1 1394a Firewire via Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 with headers for 2 more
2 RJ45 10/100/1000
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8052
RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8056

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
Bus speedsFSB: 100-650MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400-1400MHz in 3MHz increments
PCIe1: 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe2: 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe3: 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments
Bus multipliersCPU: 6x-10x (Core 2 Duo E6600)
LDT: 1x-5x
VoltagesCPU: 0.6875-2.375V in 0.025V increments
DRAM: +0.025-0.775V in 0.025V increments
: +0.05-0.2V in 0.05V increments
SB: +0.05-0.55V in 0.05V increments
FSB: +0.05-0.35V in 0.05V increments
HT: +0.05-0.35V in 0.05V increments
SB Standby: +0.1-0.2V in 0.1V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU, system

Nvidia's flagship nForce 680i SLI chipset anchors the N680SLI-DQ6, providing the board with gobs of PCI Express connectivity in addition to six Serial ATA RAID ports and two hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet controllers. This is the original 680i SLI, too, not its low-calorie LT cousin.

Yet not even the full-fat 680i SLI has enough connectivity options to sate the N680SLI-DQ6. Gigabyte also throws in a couple of Marvell Gigabit Ethernet controllers to boost the number of networking options to four, and two Gigabyte-branded Serial ATA RAID chips take the number of SATA ports up to 10. These auxiliary peripheral chips all ride the PCI Express bus, so there's no need to worry about sharing PCI bandwidth, either. However, because the four extra SATA ports are provided by a pair of two-port storage controllers, you can't run three- or four-drive arrays across them. For massive arrays, you'll have to stick to the six SATA ports that branch off the 680i SLI MCP.

The 680i SLI SPP offers support for "Azalia" High Definition Audio, which Gigabyte complements with Realtek's voluptuous ALC888DD codec chip. The ALC888DD is as high-end as Realtek codecs get, offering a signal-to-noise rating of 96dB for its DACs. You also get support for on-the-fly Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding, although that's all done in software, so there will be a CPU utilization hit involved. Still, that's a nice option to have if you want to run surround speakers through a single optical cable.

A Texas Instruments Firewire chip rounds out the DQ6's impressive array of connectivity options. Gigabyte used to spec "Firewire 800" 1394b chips on its high-end boards, but they've gone back to plain old 1394a this time around, perhaps in part to avoid the hassles surrounding 1394b support in Windows XP.