ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on June 7, 2006
M2N32-SLI De Luxe is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from ASUS, targeted to the new Athlon 64 CPUs supporting DDR2 memory. It is based on the new NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI chipset, supporting SLI technology. Let’s see how the performance of this latest release from ASUS is.
What really catches the eye when looking to this motherboard is its passive cooling solution, using copper heatsinks with heatpipes to cool down its north bridge, south bridge and MOSFET transistors. Two other socket AM2 motherboards from ASUS use a similar but simpler system, M2N-E (nForce 570 Ultra) and M2N-E SLI (nForce 570 SLI). Since the chipset used on these motherboards has only one chip and the voltage regulator has fewer transistors, they have only two heatsinks, instead of four like M2N32-SLI De Luxe, making this product from ASUS very unique.
The problem, in our opinion, is that this system produces a lot of heat. The whole idea behind passive coolers is to create a noiseless solution, the side effect, however, is that this solution increases the PC internal temperature. To address this issue, M2N32-SLI De Luxe comes with a fan to be optionally attached to one of the heatsinks, see Figure 4. But what is the point of having a passive cooling solution if you need to install a fan on it anyway?
This optional fan has no effect on the CPU cooling, as the fins of the CPU heatsink are in a different direction, as you can see in Figure 5. And you can’t install this fan on the top of the other voltage regulator heatsink as the CPU cooler touches it, leaving no room between them for you to install this fan there (this fan needs some space surrounding the heatsink for its plastic clip to be attached).
Since nForce 590 SLI chipset supports SLI technology, this motherboard has two x16 PCI Express slots, each one truly running at x16 transfer rate. This motherboard has one x1 PCI Express slot and three standard PCI slots.
On the storage side, this motherboard has a lot of HDD ports. The south bridge used by nForce 590 SLI brings one ATA-133 port and six SATA-300 ports, supporting NCQ, RAID0, RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID5 and JBOD. The additional SiliconImage SiI3132 chip brings two extra SATA-300 ports, supporting NCQ, RAID (0, 1 and JBOD) and Port Multiplier at one of them, which is strategically soldered on the external side (back panel) of the motherboard. Since this chip was placed near the back panel of the motherboard, the extra internal SATA-300 port is located in an unusual place, at the back of the motherboard, between the back panel and the memory sockets (see Figure 7).
In Figure 8, you can see this motherboard back panel. You will find the external SATA-300 port multiplier located below the FireWire port, in red.
Port multiplier is a technology targeted to external hard disk drives, allowing you to connect up to five Serial ATA hard disk drives to a single SATA-300 port. In order to use five SATA HDDs on this port you need an external port multiplier bridge, which is an external device sold separately. The hard disks are connected to this device, while this device is connected to this port multiplier port, which, in turn, is internally connected to one of the SATA ports controlled by the SiliconImage chip on the motherboard.
This motherboard has two FireWire (IEEE 1394a) ports controlled by Texas Instruments TSB43AB22A chip, one soldered on the motherboard back panel (see Figure 8) and another available through an I/O bracket that comes with this motherboard. This board also has 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard back panel and six available through I/O brackets (this motherboard comes with a bracket for just two USB ports).
ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, both controlled by the chipset using two Marvell 88E1116 chips to make the physical layer interface.
This motherboard has an eight-channel on-board audio solution, produced by the chipset with the aid of Analog Devices AD1988B codec, but unfortunately Analog Device’s website isn’t listing the technical specs for this chip yet, so we cannot post them here. This board also has coaxial and digital SPDIF outputs soldered on the motherboard back panel and also independent outputs for each pair of channels, which definitely helps a lot setting up a 7.1 analog speaker system.
On the memory side, M2N32-SLI De Luxe has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up 16 GB up to DDR2-800. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 2 are yellow and sockets 3 and 4 are black. To use DDR2 dual channel mode just install each module on sockets with the same color.
In Figure 9, you can see all cables and adapters that come with this motherboard: six SATA cables, one 80-wire IDE cable, one floppy disk drive cable, three SATA power adapter for two SATA devices, one I/O bracket containing two USB ports, one I/O bracket containing one FireWire (IEEE 1394a) port, one fan for the voltage regulator heatsink and one SLI bridge.
ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe main features are:
* Researched at Shopping.com in the day we published this review.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a program that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.
The benchmarks are divided into two groups:
The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.
Since socket AM2 was just released, we got only another socket AM2 motherboard for comparison, ECS KA3 MVP Extreme. You can see the results on the graph below.
On this test both motherboards achieved the same performance level.
We measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. PCMark05 Professional measures the system performance by running several tests. The System batch, which was the one we used, performs the following tests: HDD XP Startup, Physics and 3D, 2D Transparent Window, 3D Pixel Shader, Web Page Rendering, File Decryption, 2D Graphics Memory – 64 lines, HDD General Usage and three multithreading tests. The results are given in a PCMark05 specific unit.
In this program both motherboards achieved the same performance level.
You may be asking why we are using Quake III, an old game, to evaluate motherboard performance. When we have a high-end video card installed, like was our case, newer 3D benchmarking software measures only the video card performance, and other components – the motherboard, in particular – don’t affect much the measurement taken by these programs. Since we were willing to measure the performance impact the motherboard would have on the system, such programs wouldn’t fit our needs.
Quake III, on the other hand, is very sensitive to any changes on the hardware configuration. So we decided to use this program instead of newer ones.
We used the demo four available on version 1.32 of Quake III to make our benchmarking with this game. We ran this demo three times at 1024x768x32 resolution and all image quality settings on their default configuration and we picked the middle value for our comparisons, i.e., we discarded the highest and the lowest values.
Check the results below.
Here ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe was a little bit faster (4.13%) than ECS KA3 MVP Extreme.
ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe offers several options for tweaking the memory access, as you can see in Figure 10. The main overclocking options can be seen on Figures 11 and 12 and are listed below.
On ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe (0117 BIOS) you will find the following overclocking options:
This PCI Express clock configuration is very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the CPU base clock (HTT clock) you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well, and sometimes your overclocking will be limited not by the CPU but by the devices connected to the PCI Express bus. Thus with this option you can increase the probability of setting a higher overclocking.
With this motherboard we increased the base clock of our CPU from 200 MHz to 220 MHz and the system worked just fine. We increased the processor voltage to 1.325 V and locked the PCI Express bus at 100 MHz and we were able to go stable only up to 221 MHz (2,873 MHz internally), a 10.5% increase on the CPU clock (our Athlon 5000+ runs internally at 2.6 GHz), the same result we achieved with ECS KA3 MVP Extreme. The performance measured by PCMark05 increased 6.35% with this overclocking.
We could configure higher clocks, but the system was unstable. Since the only setting we played with was the CPU voltage, you will probably achieve better results than we did with more time and patience.
Traditionally there is almost no performance difference between motherboards targeted to Athlon 64 CPUs, since processor based on AMD64 architecture have an embedded memory controller, so the chipset doesn’t play any drastic role on performance. Because of this the decision on what socket AM2 motherboard one should buy must be based on extra features, price and overclocking capability.
M2N32-SLI De Luxe is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from ASUS, and it deservers the crown of the best socket AM2 motherboard around.
This motherboard brings several features that will prevent you from upgrading your PC for at least a couple of years, like eight SATA-300 ports supporting port multiplier, eight-channel audio, digital audio outputs, FireWire ports, two Gigabit LAN ports, SLI support and DDR2 in dual channel mode. Of course if you are more favorable to CrossFire than SLI, you will need to look for a motherboard based on Radeon Xpress 3200 – and so far ASUS hasn’t released any.
The amount of overclocking options is really amazing and with time and patience you will probably get better results than we did.
Also this motherboard has a better voltage regulator circuit compared to other motherboards, including models from ASUS.
The passive cooling solution on top of the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator circuit sounds great to improve the lifespan of this product, and the heat-pipe connection between and the passive heatsinks used by the chipset really catches the eye, creating a beautiful design. However, the heatsinks produces a lot of heat, what should increase the PC internal temperature. To address this issue this motherboard comes with an auxiliary fan to be installed on top of one of the heatsinks – which is kind of strange, as the idea behind of passive heatsinks is to avoid the use of fans in order to decrease the noise level.
Another feature that may sound silly but we find it great is the ability to enable network cable testing during POST. This test can even tell you the length of the cable.
The only bad thing about this motherboard is its price, but you won’t regret buying it.