Asus P5ND2-SLI nForce4 Intel Edition Review
Board Layout and Features
If you are familiar with any of Asus' recent high end motherboards, including their A8N-SLI or P5AD2 offerings, you're going to recognize a lot of the layout features seen on this board as well. The P5ND2-SLI board mixes them all together very well.
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The easily seen feature is the inclusion of two x16 PCI Express slots for SLI graphics goodness. The black hue of the PCB has now almost become synonymous with the upper echelon of the Asus product line.
The LGA775 processor socket is surrounded by some smaller capacitors that of course do not interfere with the standard Intel heatsink assemblies. Using the Koolance supplied spacer, my Koolance water cooling LGA775 adaptor worked fine on the board. In this image you can also see a heatsink covering a few MOSFETs as well as the 4-pin ATX power connector facing away from the motherboard, very near the top of the PCB. While in a case, that may make removing the power cable a bit of a nuissance.
These DIMM slots (pictured above) support dual channel memory configurations and memory up to DDR2-667 speeds. Asus is even claiming to support native DDR2-720 speeds when coupled with a processor on a 1066 MHz FSB, such as the 3.73 GHz Extreme Edition processor we tested with. This is simply done by keeping the memory ratio at 667 MHz speeds (when using an 800 MHz FSB processor) when a 1066 MHz FSB CPU is installed.
The ATX power connector is here next to the DIMMs as well, supporting both 24- and 20-pin ATX power supplies.
That's right, this baby doesn't use any active cooling on the north bridge! And it shows too based on the heat that comes off of this chipset. The heatsinks is a bit larger than we are used to seeing on north bridge chips in an attempt by Asus to get enough cooling across the silicon. During my testing, the heatsink did become noticeably hot; hot enough to burn my finger very mildly. This indicates to me that perhaps an active cooling solution (read: a FAN) should be used on these motherboards, but Asus is aiming for a silent motherboard solution. Not much good to be silent if the processor and GPU fan start kicking in anyway...
The 4-pin Molex connector you see above the PCIe slot is there to provide additional power to the GPUs when running in an SLI configuration. Though it isn't really required by NVIDIA's specs, and my testing showed no difference in stability in having it plugged in or not, Asus claims the power adds to their overall integrity. I say plug it in if you have an extra connector, otherwise don't worry about it.
Also you'll probably wonder why there is a SATA channel poping up right next to the north bridge. If you look really closely in the above image, behind the SATA connector is a Silicon Image SATA controller that offers both this extra SATA channel and one for the external connectors as well.
The expansion slots on the P5ND2-SLI include two x16 PCI Express slots that work in either x16 and x1 mode or x8 and x8 mode, depending on the position of the riser card between them. SLI mode requires the use of two x8 PCIe slots, but if you are using only a single graphics card you may still use x16 slot as a x1 PCIe device connection. There are also two additional x1 PCIe connectors on the board, that will probably be blocked by any video card you may install in the system if it uses a two slot cooling device. If you are using two cards in SLI mode, chances are good you will not have access to any spare x1 PCIe channels.
There are also three legacy PCI slots on the board for all your existing cards to come with you to your new system.
The bottom of the P5ND2-SLI is ripe with storage options and features. Unlike the 925X and 955X chipsets, the nForce4 Intel Edition supports two IDE channels in its south bridge, allowing most users to easily upgrade and keep their current CD/DVD drives and IDE hard drives if they wish. If you'd rather move up to SATA storage, then Asus has you covered here as well with the four SATA-II compatible Serial ATA channels provided by the nForce4 MCP.
The other connections in this image include the headers to connect additional USB ports to (all included in the box) as well as support for a COM port and Game port. You remember those right, usually attached to your sound card?
Notice the two "missing" SATA channels and chip located to the west of the BIOS chip? I am guessing these were the original locations for the SATA devices that were moved up to the top of the board.
These two chips provide the Asus P5ND2-SLI motherboard with two Gigabit networking connections. The Marvell chip is the PHY that coupled with the NVIDIA nForce4 Gigabit MAC supports the NVIDIA software features such as NV ActiveArmor and NV Firewall. The other chip is the Intel RC8254 PCI Gigabit LAN controller.
Here are the external connectors for the board; a pretty impressive alotment. We have the standard PS2 ports, parallel port and USB 2.0 ports. Added to that we have the two Gigabit network conenctions and a single Firewire jack. The audio output is powered by the Realtek ALC850 7.1 channel audio codec (AC'97 v2.3) and it sports both a coaxial and optical SPDIF out port. This is one area where I think Asus should have upgraded the board: to use a higher end audio solution like Creative's chip or Intel's Azalia codec.
You'll also see the external SATA connection back there. That is the second port provided by the Silicon Image controller by the north bridge. Asus is dubbing this feature "SATA On-the-Go" and it is for using a SATA hard drive externally, obviously. However, as you can see from the picture above, there's no power connection for the SATA drive! So this feature would be more useful if Asus would provide some way to power the hard drive through either a front panel or real panel connector.