PN2 SLI2+ Extreme from ECS is based on the latest NVIDIA chipset for the Intel platform, nForce 680i, being a very high-end motherboard targeted to the latest and future Core 2 CPUs. Its main features include support to DDR2 memories up to 1,200 MHz, the new 1,333 MHz external bus (FSB) and an out-of-ordinary overclocking support. Nvidia has now a new approach and some motherboards based on their chipsets are now labeled as “designed by NVIDIA,” meaning that the motherboard was designed and manufactured by NVIDIA, not by the brand that is selling it. This is the case with this motherboard. Let’s see how this model branded by ECS performs.
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Figure 1: ECS PN2 SLI2+ Extreme motherboard.
It is very important to note that there are two nForce 680i chipsets around, the most high-end, used on this motherboard, is called nForce 680i SLI, and there is a “light” version of nForce 680i called nForce 680i LT SLI, which does not support DDR2 memories above 800 MHz and has not so many overclocking options as the “full” nForce 680i.
Because this model is a reference model manufactured by NVIDIA, it is identical to other nForce 680i motherboards “designed by NVIDIA” carried by other NVIDIA partners, like EVGA, BFG, Biostar and Albatron.
Those who are familiar to ECS motherboards will note another side effect of this motherboard being manufactured by NVIDIA: instead of having the traditional ECS purple lacquer on the motherboard PCB, this motherboard is black, bringing a much more professional aspect to the product.
This motherboard uses an active cooling solution on its north bridge chip and a passive heatsink on its south bridge chip. This passive heatsink has an aluminum heat-pipe that dissipates the heat generated by the south bridge chip on the north bridge heatsink. You can see this solution in Figure 2.
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Figure 2: Cooling solution used on the chipset.
By the way, on nForce 680i chipset the north bridge chip is called C55XE and the south bridge chip is called MCP55PXE – this is the same south bridge chip used on the nForce 590 SLI chipset, targeted to the AMD socket AM2 platform.
This motherboard provides three x16 PCI Express slots (the blue one running at x8), two x1 PCI Express slots and two standard PCI slots. Even though there are three x16 PCI Express slots, only two of them can run under SLI (they run at x16 when SLI is enabled). The third slot, which is blue and always run at x8 and not at x16, is available only if you want to increase the number of video displays connected to your PC – since you can connect up to two video monitors to a video card, with three card you can have up to six monitors connected to your computer, each one displaying a different image.
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Figure 3: Motherboard slots.
On the memory side, ECS PN2 SLI2+ has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 8 GB officially up to DDR2-800, however this motherboard supports up to DDR2-1200/PC2-9600 memories (we installed four DDR2-1066 modules and they worked just fine at 1,066 MHz). On this motherboard sockets 0 and 2 are blue and sockets 1 and 3 are black. Configuring DDR2 dual channel on this motherboard is pretty easy: just install each module on a socket with the same color.
On the storage side, this motherboard has a total of six SATA-300 ports and one ATA/133 port, all provided by the chipset. The SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD. This motherboard comes with an adapter that converts any of the SATA-300 ports into an eSATA port, allowing you to connect an external SATA hard disk drive to this motherboard and access it at its full speed through the use of an eSATA HDD enclosure. This port, however, probably isn’t compatible with all features provided by port multiplier.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by the south bridge using two Marvell 88E1116 chips to make the physical layer interface. This motherboard comes with a cross-over cable, allowing you to easily build a small network without needing to use a router.