Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI nForce4 SLI Motherboard
Board Features and Layout
SLI motherboards are proving to be quite a bit tricky when it comes to the physical layout of the motherboards. As we saw with the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard we reviewed a little while back, there are new intricacies and details that we are having to take note of when looking over the new products.
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The board layout on the Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI looks pretty straight forward, and with the exception of a few issues that stood out to me as problems, it is. From a general over look of the board the parts all seem to be in good locations including the power supply connector and the IDE / SATA connectors.
We'll start up by the processor socket for a more detailed look. The blue slot that you see pictured above is for the Gigabyte DPS (Dual Power System) that allows for a small riser card to be installed that adds to the stability of the board. The manuals claim that by installing the DPS device, you are moving from a 3-phase power circuit to a 6-phase circuit, providing better performance and stability. In my testing, the system ran fine, even in SLI mode, without the DPS module installed, but being as that the card is included with the board, installing it should be a no brainer. It's far enough away from the processor socket to not interfere with the heatsink as well and didn't generate an exhorborante amount of heat either.
Also in that picture you'll see the 4-pin ATX power connector and notice that Gigabyte is not using a screw based retention system for the heatsink mount. This may be an issue if you want to remove the heatsink mount after the board is installed in a case, as you have to push the pins out from the bottom of the motherboard to remove it.
Here are the four DIMM slots that Gigabyte has provided on the SLI motherboard. For dual channel memory, you will need to install both modules in the purple slots, or both modules in the orange slots, directly next to each other. Gigabyte does mention in their manual that the board will not boot with three modules installed. The spacing on the DIMM slots is a bit of an oddity as well, as they appear to be closer together than some memory modules would like. The Corsair Pro modules, with the lights on them, actually come in contact enough that they were physically bowed out when installed in the board. Needless to say, that's not a safe configuration so I removed them and used standard Corsair modules on the board, that still made contact with each other, but without the obvious stress. I did notice that the heat given off by the memory seemed to be much hotter with the modules so close.
Behind the DIMM slots are the two IDE channels and the floppy connector as well as the ATX power connector. Notice the black filler in the top left corner of the ATX power connector -- it's used to prevent incorrect installation of standard 20-pin ATX power cords into this 24-pin capable power connector.
This shot shows the PCI and PCI Express slots available on the Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI: two legacy PCI, two x1 PCIe slots and two x16 PCI slots. In between is the SLI "switch" that is used to change the board from a single GPU configuration to a dual GPU configuration. Being as there is only a single x1 PCIe slot between the two x16 slots, the switch is much more difficult to access than it was on the Asus motherboard.
Under that shiny gold heatsink and fan is the nForce4 SLI chipset that is coveted by so many. The four SATA connectors of the orange color are those provided by the NVIDIA chipset and the four red ones at the bottom of the board are courtesy of the Silicon Image 3114 chipset that also support RAID 0, 1 and 0+1. The three yellow connectors are for additional USB headers and the purple one near the PCI slot is for Firewire support. These headers are provided in the Gigabyte package, too.
Unfortunately, the chipset is still located directly underneath the primary video card (when installed) so that the heatsink on the MCP must remain small. And since this chipset generates a lot of heat in its single chip package, that can cause some issue when it comes to overclocking and general stability of the system -- but it looks to be an issue with all the SLI motherboards we have seen.
Finally, here are the externally available connectors on the Gigabyte board. They include two Gigabit network connections (one from the on-board Marvell 8053 chip, the other from the NVIDIA MAC), four USB 2.0 headers, support for 8-channel audio as well as an SPDIF in and SPDIF out connector. Gigabyte continues to have support for the legacy printer port and serial port, too.