The SPP also contains the memory controller which supports SLI certified memory kits with speeds as high as DDR2-1200, as well as two PCI-E 1x links. The MCP is more of a multi-purpose controller, i.e. controls the largest number of functions. It supports 10 USB 2.0 ports, has two separate Gbit LAN controllers, the Azalia audio codec, six SATAII rails, one PATA rail, five PCI lines supported, one PCI-E 8x line, four 1x and one 16x line (first gen). Beside all that, it also has the ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture) certificate, which enables real-time monitoring of all vital system info (CPU temperature and voltage, same chipset properties etc.). Finally, we have the nForce 200 chip, which only has the task of managing two remaining PCI-E 16x (second gen) lines.
With this chipset, Nvidia officially supported Penryn processors (Intel's codename for the 45 nm dual- and quad-core CPUs) and, most of all, promoted the 3-way SLI. The new SLI is the most important feature, since some 680i-based mobos can actually work with Penryn after a BIOS update. This SLI regime requires three separate graphics cards and provides performance boosts of up to 280%, which is great (if true). So far, only 8800GTX and 8800 Ultra can be connected into a three-way SLI, since they are the only ones to have the SLI connectors doubled (which is necessary to connect each card to the other two, naturally). These kinds of systems are targeting only the most hardcore gamers, who opt for the highest possible resolutions and detail levels, not giving a single thought as to how much such an option costs.
In the classic “Deluxe” packaging, recognisably one of ASUS's, we received this premium board. Before we took it out of the box, we took a moment to read the specs on the box itself. The back clearly states that this board has 8-phase voltage filtering, perfected by ASUS's engineers, as shown on the diagram curve in the associated picture. Also, the front cover reminds you that you should register on ASUS's member site as a VIP member. Inside the box, there are loads of equipment: six SATA cables, one SATA power cable, one IDE and FDD cable, a bracket with a couple of USB and a single FireWire port, a PSU-mountable fan for a water-cooling system, the driver disc, the manual, and finally, the SLI bridge connector.
Upon extraction of the mobo, we first had a look at the massive cooling system, one with flawless looks. By the way, the board is covered by copper cooling bodies all connected by a single heatpipe, whereas the only separately cooled part is a part of the voltage unit above the CPU socket. In the upper left corner, right next to the voltage unit, an 8-pin EPS 12V connector is situated, which has become quite a trend lately. The voltage unit is 8-phase, as stated on the box, and it gives a very stable voltage while staying cool most of the time. On the right edge of the PCB, in the best possible place, one finds the 24-pin power connector, with the FDD connector located right above it, and the IDE connector following.
Three USB connectors are located on the standard lower spot, as well as the FireWire connector. One USB connector is, however, located on the top of the board, which will certainly be greeted by owners of enclosures with the front panel on top of the case, as there will be less cabling required. The processor socket has enough room around itself to provide easy installation of even the biggest coolers. The six SATA connectors are rotated by 90°, which makes the cabling procedure easier for meticulous users. The back panel is very neat and contains two PS/2 ports (strangely enough, as ASUS cut this number down to 1 on all their motherboards long ago), a coaxial and optical I/O, four USB ports, LAN connectors, audio card connectors and the red-dyed FireWire and eSATA connectors.
The soft part of the motherboard – BIOS, is, again, classic ASUS, which means that it is very neat and descriptive. As far as overclocking is concerned, we remind you that nForce-based motherboards enable clocks for memory and FSB bus, which is present here as well. The FSB can be set in the 533-3000 MHz range (QPB, which is equivalent to 133-750 MHz). Memory settings allow for values of 400-2600 MHz, of which the latter is unattainable, of course. No components will be lacking in voltage either – the processor has the 0.83125-1.9 V range at disposal, with steps of 0.00625 V. Memory was also grewardedh with a large range, 1.85-3.11 V in 0.02 V steps. The CPU VTT can be set in between 1.2 V and 1.55 V in just the same step values, and the NB chip goes from 1.2 V to 2.46 V, again in the same step values. The HT bus has a 1.2-2 V range, and finally, the SB chip with its 1.35-1.85 V range.
We must note that there are two different chipset revisions, the newer one being much cooler and more stable. We tried both of them and were frankly surprised by the differences. While the first revision (probably the initial “press” samples not to be found on the market) was very hot and almost non-overclockable, the second revision was working just as we expected, so both the board and the chipset left a most positive impression on us, as it pushed our sample quad-core processor to 3 GHz and remained quite cool. With all of the advanced technology it brings us, we mark it “approved”, no doubts about that.