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Asus’ A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard

Geoff Gasior
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Manufacturer Asus
Model A8N32-SLI Deluxe
Price (Street)
Availability Now

NVIDIA’S NFORCE4 SLI chipset has been out for about a year now, so it’s due for a refresh. That refresh comes in the form of the nForce4 SLI X16, a new chipset that addresses one of the main criticisms of the original nForce4 SLI: the fact that it only provides eight lanes of PCI Express to each graphics card in SLI. The new SLI X16 chipset provides—you guessed it—16 lanes of PCI Express to each graphics card in SLI, with enough lanes to spare for additional PCI-E slots and peripherals. Support for RAID 5 has also been added to the nForce4 SLI chipset for the new X16 edition, bringing NVIDIA’s K8 platform up to feature parity with its Intel Edition chipset.

Asus’ A8N32-SLI Deluxe is the first nForce4 SLI X16-based Athlon 64 motherboard to hit the market, and it’s more than just a simple refresh of Asus’ nForce4 SLI design. The A8N32-SLI is equipped with a swanky new heat pipe cooler that keeps its VRMs and chipset cool without making a sound. It’s also loaded with extra peripherals and eight-phase power. Oh, and it overclocks like mad, too. Read on for more on NVIDIA’s nForce4 SLI X16 chipset and Asus’ excellent implementation in the A8N32-SLI Deluxe.

The specs
As usual, we’ll get the ball rolling with a glance at the A8N32-SLI’s spec sheet.

CPU support Socket 939-based Athlon 64 and Sempron processors
North bridge NVIDIA nForce SPP 100
South bridge NVIDIA nForce4 SLI
Interconnect HyperTransport (8GB/sec)
Expansion slots 2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
3 32-bit/33MHz
Memory 4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 4GB of DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133 with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 support
4 channels Serial ATA with
RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 support via Silicon Image 3132
Audio 8-channel AC’97 audio via nForce4 SLI and Realtek ALC850 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 Parallel port

4 USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8053
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via nForce4 SLI

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in
1
analog mic in
1 Coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output

Headers for 2 Firewire ports via Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A
Header for 1 game and 1 serial port

BIOS Phoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speeds HT: 200-400MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 100, 133, 166, 183, 200, 216, 233, 250MHz
PCI-E: 100-200MHz in 1MHz increments
LDT: 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200MHz
SB-to-NB: 200-300MHz in 1MHz increments
Voltages CPU: auto, 1.0-1.5625V in 0.0025V increments
DDR: auto, 2.50-4.00V in 0.05V increments
HT: 1.2-1.3V in 0.1V increments
NB: default, 1.3V
SB
: default, 1.6V
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed control CPU, Chassis, Power

NVIDIA’s older nForce4 chipsets are single-chip designs, but the nForce4 SLI X16 has traditional north and south bridge chips. The north bridge serves up 18 lanes of PCI Express, 16 of which are dedicated to the board’s first x16 graphics slot. Secondary graphics cards hang off the south bridge, which provides 16 lanes of PCI-E connectivity for graphics and an additional four lanes for additional PCI-E slots and peripherals. With secondary graphics cards hanging off the south bridge, the nForce4 SLI X16’s chip-to-chip interconnect is particularly important. NVIDIA uses a 16-bit, 1GHz HyperTransport link to connect the chipset’s north and south bridge components, yielding as much bandwidth (8GB/s) between the north and south bridge chips as the chipset has between itself and the Athlon 64 processor.

As it turns out, the speed of the nForce4 SLI X16’s link to the CPU may help us predict whether the chipset’s additional PCI Express lanes will help SLI performance. Increasing the number of PCI Express lanes allocated to each graphics card from eight to 16 boosts available graphics bandwidth from 2GB/s to 4GB/s in each direction, going to and from the graphics card. However, the nForce4 SLI X16’s HyperTransport processor link only offers 4GB/s of bandwidth in each direction, so it can only fully saturate one 16-lane graphics slot at a time.

Of course, secondary graphics cards will also have to compete for interconnect bandwidth with the nForce4 SLI X16 south bridge’s other features, including its ActiveArmor-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet and RAID. NVIDIA’s RAID controller is perhaps the more impressive of these two features, as it’s capable of spanning multiple arrays across both ATA and Serial ATA drives. Support for RAID 5 arrays has also been added to the storage controller’s arsenal, a feature that has previously only been available on the company’s Intel Edition chipsets. As one might expect, the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset retains support for 300MB/s Serial ATA transfer rates, as well.

Asus also equips the board with secondary GigE and SATA RAID controllers. The auxiliary Gigabit Ethernet option may come in handy for those leery of NVIDIA’s GigE implementation, and the extra SATA ports can be useful for reasons we’ll elaborate on in a moment. Both chips use PCI Express, leaving a Texas Instruments Firewire chip as the only device on the motherboard’s PCI bus.

While the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset represents a refinement of previous nForce4 designs, it doesn’t address the chipset’s greatest weakness: its basic AC’97 audio controller. Not that we expect the world, but new high-end chipsets should at least support high-definition audio. Instead, the A8N32-SLI is stuck with AC’97 and a Realtek ALC850 codec. Hail to the crab, baby.

 

The board
Asus dresses the A8N32-SLI in black and blue, but the board is anything but bruised. A snaking heat pipe cooler is easily the board’s most recognizable feature, and we’ll get to it shortly. First, though, let’s take a closer look at the board’s layout.

Despite a wealth of onboard peripherals, coolers, ports, and slots, the A8N32-SLI is largely devoid of clearance issues. Power plug placement is good for traditional ATX enclosures that mount the PSU above the board. However, the fact that the auxiliary 12V connector is mounted along the top edge of the board is a potential nightmare for chassis that place the power supply at the bottom of the case.

Things look a little crowded as we zoom in on the A8N32-SLI’s CPU socket, where elaborate north bridge and VRM cooling could create clearance problems for wider processor heat sinks. Surprisingly, the board has no problem handling Zalman’s massive CNPS7700-AlCu. The heat pipes between the north bridge and VRM coolers could interfere with the retention brackets on some coolers, though.

Like its VRM cooling, the A8N32-SLI’s power circuitry is more elaborate than most. Asus uses an eight-phase power solution that should deliver very consistent power to the CPU. According to Asus, the eight-phase power implementation runs much cooler than other designs and should also improve stability when overclocking.

Moving down the board, we see that the A8N32-SLI has a surprisingly generous array of PCI slots. Double-wide graphics coolers will rob you of two of the three PCI slots, but that still leaves one. The board is also equipped with a PCI Express x4 slot, although x4 peripherals aren’t exactly common. PCI-E x1 cards are finally beginning to trickle onto the market, though. Thanks to PCI Express’ backward slot compatibility, these PCI-E x1 cards should work in the A8N32-SLI’s x4 and x16 slots.

Given the fact that PCI-E peripherals are finally becoming available, I almost wish that the A8N32-SLI swapped one of its PCI slots for a PCI-E x1 slot. Unfortunately, that would exceed the total number of PCI Express lanes available on the chipset. As it stands, the onboard GigE and SATA RAID chips consume the north bridge’s two spare PCI Express lanes, while the x4 slot monopolizes the south bridge’s extra lanes.

Thanks to its low-profile south bridge cooler, the A8N32-SLI has plenty of clearance for most PCI and PCI Express cards. However, extremely long double-wide graphics cards like the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 can interfere with one of the board’s top two SATA ports.

Fortunately, the A8N32-SLI has a couple of extra Serial ATA ports hanging off its Silicon Image controller. One of those is an external SATA port that can be found in the board’s port cluster alongside its Ethernet, USB, audio, and other ports. Somewhat surprisingly, the A8N32-SLI’s port cluster is completely devoid of Firewire. Access to the two onboard Firewire headers is provided via a PCI back plate that’s bundled with the board. Asus also ships the A8N32-SLI with PCI back plates that offer a game port, serial port, and two USB ports. An additional four USB ports are available via onboard headers for those with case-mounted USB ports, media card readers, and the like.

 

Heat pipes
The A8N32-SLI’s most unique feature is easily the copper heat pipe that snakes across its VRMs, and north and south bridge chips.

This copper cooler oozes industrial elegance, and apart from potentially interfering with some heat sink retention clips, it doesn’t get in the way at all. But best of all, the passive cooler is completely silent. Passive cooling is a definite improvement over the original A8N-SLI’s rather noisy active chipset cooler, and there’s more to like about the design than just its nonexistent noise levels. The passive cooler is also immune to fan failure, something that can strike the tiny fans used on most chipset coolers without warning.

Even passive coolers require airflow, and the A8N32-SLI relies on active processor and chassis cooling to keep air moving over the copper cooling fins. If your system relies on passive or water cooling, there may not be sufficient air flow around the CPU socket to keep the chipset and VRMs cool. For systems that lack sufficient airflow around the socket, Asus ships the A8N32-SLI with an optional blower that’s surprisingly quiet. We didn’t need the blower on our open test bench, which uses an active CPU cooler but has effectively no chassis cooling.

Save for a flexible SLI bridge connector, the blower is the only significant extra to be bundled with the A8N32-SLI.

Certified memory?
For our A8N32-SLI testing, Corsair sent along latest TWINX2048-3500LLPRO dual-channel memory kit is branded as “Asus-Ready” and best for use with the A8N32-SLI.

The Corsair DIMMs pack 1GB per module and are rated for 2-3-2-6-1T timings at speeds up to 438MHz. That’s not quite as low as the 2-2-2-5 timings you’ll find on extremely low latency DIMMs, but it’s quite aggressive for high-density modules. Tight memory timings don’t always have a big impact on real-world performance, anyway.

Labeling a specific set of DIMMs as “best for use” with a specific motherboard may be more of a new frontier in marketing than in technology. After all, quality DIMM manufacturers like Corsair and Kingston already work with major motherboard makers to ensure compatibility. We will test these DIMMs with the A8N32-SLI in our memory benchmarks and overclocking endeavors and see whether they offer any eye-popping advantages over the modules we normally use.

 

BIOS and tweaking software
So far, the A8N32-SLI looks pretty stacked, but what about the BIOS?

As far as memory timings go, the A8N32-SLI’s BIOS has it all. Users have control over every timing imaginable, although most will probably only tinker with the first four. The BIOS also supports a 1T DRAM command rate, which can have a much more profound impact on memory bandwidth than CAS latency and other timings.

The A8N32-SLI’s BIOS is also well-equipped in the overclocking department, with support for HyperTransport speeds up to 400MHz in 1MHz increments. CPU voltages only go up to 1.5625V, which is a little low for extreme overclocking. The BIOS does offer an “Over-Voltage CPU Vcore” option that gives the processor an additional 0.2V, but it’s unclear whether it actually works for all processors and BIOS revisions, and why Asus separates it from the standard Vcore menu in the first place. Asus at least gets props for offering a wide range of CPU multiplier options in 0.5x increments.

If manual overclocking isn’t your style, the BIOS also supports load-dependent automatic overclocking and percentage-based overclocking that will turn up the clocks by 1-10%. Asus dabbles in graphics card overclocking, as well. The BIOS’s PEG Link mode capable of turning up the clocks on certain NVIDIA graphics cards, and it’s enabled by default, which is a little alarming. Overclocking will almost always void your warranty, and a motherboard shouldn’t take the liberty of overclocking a graphics card without asking first. Fortunately, PEG Link mode is easy to disable. Those who want to overclock their graphics cards will probably want more detailed control over clock speeds than PEG Link mode’s ambiguous Normal, Fast, and Faster settings provide, anyway.

Despite all its overclocking and memory timing options, the A8N32-SLI’s BIOS falls a little flat when it comes to hardware monitoring and fan speed control. The board can monitor voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds, but there are no BIOS-level alarm or shutdown conditions for any of those variables. “Smart” fan speed control is also limited to a simple on/off switch, with no user control over fan voltages or temperature thresholds. Asus’s “Q-Fan Control” feature at least appears to apply to the board’s auxiliary fan headers in addition to just the CPU fan.

Those who are uncomfortable with poking around in the BIOS have several options when it comes to tweaking and monitoring the A8N32-SLI from Windows. Unfortunately, nTune isn’t one of them.

None of nTune’s monitoring features are available on the A8N32-SLI, and although the system will load up an nTune Lite panel, you can’t actually change any bus speeds or memory timings. I rather like nTune’s interface and its ability to log monitored variables, so the A8N32-SLI’s lack of support is disappointing.

I suspect that Asus would rather users install its own tweaking and monitoring software. Asus’ AI Booster software covers motherboard tweaking, giving users access to Q-Fan Control, CPU voltage, HyperTransport speeds, and other overclocking settings. AI Booster also monitors a small collection of system variables, but doesn’t support memory timing tweaking.

If all you’re interested in is hardware monitoring, it’s better to use Asus’ PC Probe software. This app provides a flexible user interface, and is capable of monitoring system voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. PC Probe can also be used to set alarm thresholds for each monitored variable, and even a target temperature for the Q-Fan speed control.

 

Our testing methods
Today we’ll be comparing the A8N32-SLI’s performance with that of DFI’s LANParty UT NF4 Ultra-D. The LANParty is one of our favorite nForce4 boards, and it’s among the fastest Athlon 64 platforms we’ve tested.

All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.

Processor AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 2.4GHz
System bus HyperTransport 16-bit/1GHz
Motherboard DFI LANParty UT NF4 Ultra-D Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe
BIOS revision N4D623-3 0804
North bridge NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra NVIDIA nForce4 SPP 100
South bridge NVIDIA nForce4 SLI
Chipset drivers ForceWare 6.70 ForceWare 6.82
Memory size 1GB (2 DIMMs) 1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ PC3200 EL Platinum Rev 2 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz
CAS latency (CL) 2 2
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 2 2
RAS precharge (tRP) 2 2
Cycle time (tRAS) 5 5
Command rate 1T 1T
Hard drives Western Digital Raptor WD360GD 37GB SATA
Audio nForce4/ALC850 nForce4 SLI/ALC850
Audio driver Realtek 3.75 Realtek 3.78
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT with ForceWare 81.85 drivers
OS Microsoft Windows XP Professional
OS updates Service Pack 2, DirectX 9.0c

Our test systems were powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor’s Choice winners in our latest PSU round-up.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. Most of the 3D gaming tests used the Medium detail image quality settings, with the exception that the resolution was set to 640×480 in 32-bit color.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

Memory performance
To give you an idea how Corsair’s “Best for A8N32-SLI” DIMMs perform in the board, we’ve run through an extra set of memory subsystem tests with the CMS1024-3500LLPRO modules. The memory was set at its default 2-3-2-6 latencies with a 1T command rate on a 200MHz memory bus.

The A8N32-SLI’s memory performance is just a hair slower than that of the DFI board. Scores are very close overall, with any differences between the Asus and DFI boards resulting from how each motherboard manufacturer has chosen to tune the Athlon 64’s on-die memory controller. It’s also worth noting that despite running at slightly more relaxed 2-3-2-6 latencies, the Corsair 3500LLPRO DIMMs don’t give up much ground at all.

 

WorldBench

WorldBench finishes in a tie, with neither board edging out the other.

Gaming

Scores are generally close throughout our low-resolution gaming tests, but there are a few notable exceptions. Notice that the A8N32-SLI trails slightly in 3DMark05’s CPU rendering tests, but that it’s out ahead by a decent margin in Far Cry.

 

SLI gaming performance
Our first round of gaming tests were conducted with low in-game detail levels and display resolutions, but we’ve cranked things up for a second round. These tests use high resolutions, high detail levels, and anisotropic filtering and antialiasing, so they should be more indicative of how gamers play in the real world. They also present a nice environment for the A8N32-SLI to show off its SLI credentials with a second GeForce 6800 GT graphics card installed.

SLI yields impressive performance gains across our high-resolution gaming tests. Even Unreal Tournament 2004, a game that has traditionally seen little benefit from SLI, sees a modest performance boost. You can probably thank the continued improvement of NVIDIA’s SLI drivers for that.

With a single graphics card installed, the A8N32-SLI and LANParty board are essentially tied. Both boards are GPU-bound at these detail levels and resolutions, but with frame rates hovering around 60 frames per second, you might as well turn everything up.

 

SLI gaming: nForce4 SLI and nForce SLI X16 head to head
This next set of tests is intended to divine whether there’s any real performance advantage in SLI mode for the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset’s full 16 lanes of PCI Express connectivity to each of its graphics slots. Here we’ve tested the A8N32-SLI Deluxe against its direct predecessor based on the original nForce4 SLI core-logic chip, the A8N-SLI Deluxe. The old A8N-SLI has only eight lanes to each of its PCI-E X16 slots in SLI mode.

For these tests, the system configs were notably different from the rest of our benchmarks. The systems were configured as they were in our GeForce 7800 GTX 512 review, including the use of a pair of mega-speedy GeForce 7800 GTX 512 graphics cards and 2GB of RAM. The two motherboards were configured as close to identically as possible, including the all of the same memory timings settings exposed in Asus’s BIOSes. If there’s any extra headroom in the A8N32-SLI, these setups ought to be able to take advantage of it. Let’s see what happens.

There’s very little daylight between the two systems. The only really notable performance difference, if there is one, is probably between the two 3DMark05 scores at 2048×1536. There, the A8N32-SLI takes a slight lead. Still, it’s nothing to write home about.

We’ve heard that one place where the extra PCI Express lanes can make a difference is with SLI antialiasing. This mode is apparently one of several special cases (along with applications that use render-to-texture techniques) where two graphics cards in SLI pass more data than usual between themselves via PCI Express. Do the additional PCI-E lanes help here?

Yep, a little. You might write home about this difference, but the folks at home would probably realize then that your life isn’t very exciting.

All in all, the extra PCI Express lanes in the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset don’t seem to help much, at least in the handful of apps we’ve tested here. Fortunately, they don’t hurt, either.

 

Cinebench rendering

Our Cinebench results are essentially a wash.

Sphinx speech recognition

Sphinx scores are very close, as well. The A8N32-SLI trails by a hair, but that’s about it.

 

Audio performance

Realtek’s latest 3.78 AC’97 codec drivers don’t work on the LANParty NF4 Ultra-D, so we had to run that board with older 3.75 drivers—not that it matters. Both boards produce virtually identical CPU utilization through RightMark’s 2D and 3D audio tests.

Audio quality
We used an M-Audio Revolution 7.1 card for recording in RightMark’s audio quality tests. Analog output ports were used on all systems. To keep things simple, I’ve translated RightMark’s word-based quality scale to numbers. Higher scores reflect better audio quality, and the scale tops out at 6, which corresponds to an “Excellent” rating in RightMark.

With the exception of the stereo crosstalk test, the Asus and DFI boards are evenly matched in RightMark Audio Analyzer. That said, the A8N32-SLI’s music playback quality is noticeably flatter than that of most discrete sound cards, including Creative’s Audigy2 and X-Fi XtremeMusic, M-Audio’s Revolution 7.1, and even budget cards based on VIA’s Envy24PT.

 

ATA performance
ATA performance was tested with a Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 ATA/133 hard drive using HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone setting.

Although the A8N32-SLI boasts faster ATA burst speeds than the LANParty board, the rest of HD Tach’s results are a wash. CPU utilization differs slightly, but scores are within HD Tach’s +/- 2% margin for error for that test.

 

Serial ATA performance
Moving to Serial ATA, we tested performance with a Western Digital Raptor WD360GD SATA hard drive. Again, we used HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone test.

Serial ATA performance is reasonably consistent across the board, with the A8N32-SLI’s integrated Silicon Image controller doing a fine job of keeping up with the nForce4’s SATA controller.

 

USB performance
Our USB transfer speed tests were conducted with a USB 2.0/Firewire external hard drive enclosure connected to a 7200RPM Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 hard drive. We tested with HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone setting.

The A8N32-SLI’s USB transfer rates are faster than those of the NF4 Ultra-D, but they don’t come cheap. CPU utilization during USB transfers is much higher for the Asus board.

Firewire performance
Our Firewire transfer speed tests were conducted with the same external enclosure and hard drive as our USB transfer speed tests.

Not much to see here. Move along.

 

Ethernet performance
We evaluated Ethernet performance using the NTttcp tool from Microsoft’s Windows DDK. The docs say this program “provides the customer with a multi-threaded, asynchronous performance benchmark for measuring achievable data transfer rate.”

We used the following command line options on the server machine:

ntttcps -m 4,0,192.168.1.25 -a

..and the same basic thing on each of our test systems acting as clients:

ntttcpr -m 4,0,192.168.1.25 -a

Our server was a Windows XP Pro system based on Chaintech’s Zenith 9CJS motherboard with a Pentium 4 2.4GHz (800MHz front-side bus, Hyper-Threading enabled) and CSA-attached Gigabit Ethernet. A crossover CAT6 cable was used to connect the server to each system.

The nForce4 boards were tested with the NVIDIA Firewall and Jumbo Frames disabled.

Over the nForce4’s history, driver updates have fixed and subsequently broken the chipset’s ActiveArmor Gigabit Ethernet acceleration. Everything seems to be working on the A8N32-SLI with the latest ForceWare 6.82 drivers, though. Throughput is great, and CPU utilization for the nForce4 GigE controller is much lower than that of the board’s integrated Marvell Gigabit Ethernet chip.

Unfortunately, the ForceWare 6.82 drivers are only available for the nForce4 SLI x16 chipset. The DFI board’s nForce4 Ultra chipset is running its latest ForceWare 6.70 drivers, and GigE CPU utilization is higher than we’ve seen with previous drivers.

To test reports that ActiveArmor and the NVIDIA Firewall corrupt large files, we also downloaded several gigabytes worth of large game demos and video files on the A8N32-SLI. We used the nForce4 GigE port with both ActiveArmor and the Firewall enabled, and we didn’t encounter any problems with data corruption. However, given the nForce4’s history of intermittent problems, your mileage may vary.

 

Overclocking
For our first round of overclocking tests, we backed off our OCZ memory’s timings from 2-2-2-5 to 2.5-4-4-8, dropped the CPU and HyperTransport multipliers, and started cranking on the HyperTransport clock. We were able to get the board stable some 95MHz later, with a 295MHz HT link speed, 3x HT multiplier, and 8.5x CPU multiplier that kept our Athlon 64 FX-53 close to its stock 2.4GHz clock speed. We left that RAM at a 1:1 ratio with the HT link. This is the highest overclock we’ve had on any Athlon 64 motherboard by about 15MHz, which is an impressive result to say the least.

The OCZ DIMMs we used for this overclocking test are actually only rated up to 400MHz, but the modules use Samsung TCCD memory chips that have proven to be potent overclockers. It’s possible that the A8N32-SLI could overclock even farther with memory capable of higher speeds. However, we tried changing the memory clock speed ratio in order to keep RAM speeds down, but doing so didn’t allow us to push the board any higher than 295MHz.

Since our overclocking tests were conducted with 2.5-4-4-8 memory timings, the results below differ from those earlier in the review.

Our nearly 50% HT overclock is good for healthy performance gains in Sphinx and Unreal Tournament 2004. However, keep in mind that with a 295MHz HT speed and 8.5x multiplier, our overclocked configuration’s CPU is running close to 110MHz above stock.

For our next round of overclocking tests, we swapped in Corsair’s “Best for A8N32-SLI” TWINX1024-3500LLPRO DIMMs to see how far they’d go with more relaxed 2.5-4-4-8 timings. The Corsair DIMMs didn’t hit 295MHz, but they were stable at speeds up to 260MHz. That’s a reasonably good result for high density DIMMs, especially since no extra voltage was required. Adding a little extra voltage didn’t improve stability at speeds above 260MHz.

Gains aren’t quite as dramatic as we saw with the jump to 295MHz. Still, the extra performance is a nice perk.

As is always the case with overclocking, your mileage may vary. Overclocking success is never guaranteed, and can often depend as much on a system’s mix of individual components as it can on luck.

 

Conclusions
At around $220 online, the A8N32-SLI Deluxe is significantly more expensive than the nForce4 SLI solutions currently available on the market. High-end nForce4 SLI boards from Abit, DFI, Gigabyte, MSI, and even Asus are widely available for $60 to $70 less than the A8N32-SLI Deluxe, and in most cases, they should be every bit as fast. However, there’s a possibility that the A8N32-SLI’s price will fall as other nForce4 SLI X16-based motherboards hit the market.

Honestly, $220 doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for a high-end SLI board like the A8N32-SLI Deluxe, especially if you place a premium on passive cooling. The board’s nForce4 SLI X16 chipset is arguably the best core logic for the Athlon 64, and with auxiliary PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet and SATA RAID controllers, the A8N32-SLI Deluxe is loaded with integrated features and peripherals. And don’t forget the eight-phase power solution, which I suspect was at least partially responsible for our board’s phenomenal overclocking ability.

Of course, the A8N32-SLI Deluxe’s high price tag also makes it hard to forgive the board’s relatively pedestrian BIOS. Although the BIOS has enough tweaking and overclocking options to satisfy most users, it doesn’t go above and beyond what’s become standard fare for enthusiast-class boards. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Abit and DFI’s BIOS innovations, which include new standards for hardware monitoring and fan speed control, and new features like Memtest86 integration, support for multiple configuration profiles, and overclocking options that coexist with Cool’n’Quiet. The A8N32-SLI Deluxe’s BIOS is by no means inadequate, but it’s far from inspiring.

BIOS quibbles aside, it’s hard to fault the A8N32-SLI Deluxe. Sure, 16 lanes of PCI Express to each graphics card in SLI aren’t necessary for most applications, but since when have enthusiasts shied away from excess? The extra lanes certainly don’t hurt. So, despite the fact that it’s not the most economical board around, the A8N32-SLI Deluxe still offers an attractive mix of features and performance, with apparent overclocking potential to spare. 

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