At first glance, the N680SLI-DQ6 looks like any other high-end motherboard decked out in flashy colors and loaded with heatpipe cooling and plenty of peripheral ports. Closer inspection reveals that this board is anything but typical, though.
As your eyes scan across the board, you'll notice that there are no electrolytic capacitors to be found. All the caps on the N680SLI-DQ6 are solid-state units that should have a longer life than cheaper electrolytic designs. If you were hit by the cap-busting fiasco that plagued far too many motherboards just a few years ago, the solid-state caps will give you some added peace of mind.
Caps aside, we're less enthusiastic about the placement of the DQ6's auxiliary 12V power connector. The connector sits below the CPU socket where cabling will inevitably interfere with airflow between the CPU socket and rear chassis exhaust. This is hardly a unique issue—plenty of motherboards feature similar power plug placement—but we'd rather see the auxiliary 12V connector along the top edge of the board.
Already, the area around the N680SLI-DQ6's CPU socket is a little cramped. The socket is flanked on two sides by tall heatsinks on the north bridge and voltage regulation circuitry. These heatsinks are beautifully crafted, but they can interfere with extremely large coolers that fan out from the CPU socket.
Intricate, heatpipe-based chipset coolers are hardly new to the motherboard world, but Gigabyte ups the ante with the DQ6 by sending a heatpipe snaking around to the underside of the board.
There, it joins a beefy, finned plate that sits under the CPU socket to help dissipate heat from the underside of the board. The board sports plates beneath the north and south bridge chips, too, although no heatpipes for those.
A heatpipe does extend all the way down to the south bridge topside, though. That keeps the south bridge cooler short enough to avoid clearance issues with gargantuan graphics cards.
Incidentally, such cards won't block access to any of the orange SATA ports associated with the 680i SLI MCP. However, a double-wide graphics card installed in the lowest PCIe x16 slot will obscure access to the purple SATA ports that run along the bottom edge of the board. You'll need to use right-angle SATA cables to get at them, and even those might not work, depending on just how much room you have at the bottom of your enclosure.
Of course, the N680SLI-DQ6 has plenty of other PCI Express x16 slots to choose from. That middle slot only gets eight lanes of electrical connectivity, though; it's meant more for future physics products than current-generation graphics cards. There's also a PCIe x1 slot up at the top of the slot stack, but the north bridge cooler comes mighty close, so you'll have to be careful with longer x1 cards.
If you're still clinging to PCI peripherals—and given the dearth of PCIe cards, all of us are—the DQ6 also serves up three standard PCI slots. Each double-wide graphics card you run will cost you a PCI slot, but even with a high-end SLI config, you'll still have one PCI slot free.
The N680SLI-DQ6 easily has one of the oddest combinations of ports we've seen riding a motherboard. I don't even know where to begin, but since there are four of them, let's start with the Ethernet jacks. It's one thing to have four GigE options on a motherboard, but do we really need all of those ports taking up valuable backplane real estate? Perhaps not, especially since the port cluster is a little short on USB connectivity. The Firewire port is of the four-pin variety, too, which is a little unusual for a motherboard. And then there's the serial port. Sure the half-dozen or so enthusiasts who still use serial devices will be happy to see it included, but the rest of us will yearn for more USB and Firewire ports. Or even for a digital S/PDIF audio input to go along with the TOS-Link output.
You'll notice that unlike many new motherboards, the N680SLI-DQ6 lacks external Serial ATA connectivity in its port cluster. Gigabyte goes about supporting eSATA a little differently, and we actually prefer this unique approach.
Instead of sticking the DQ6 with an eSATA port tied to one of its onboard Serial ATA options, Gigabyte provides a PCI slot bracket that can extend any internal Serial ATA port to the outside world. There are two ports per bracket, and you get two brackets and associated cabling in the box. The cabling provided works with standard Serial ATA drives in addition to eSATA devices, too, adding a layer of versatility to an already sweet implementation.