ASUS P5N-E SLI Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on June 11, 2007
P5N-E SLI from ASUS is based on the latest NVIDIA mainstream chipset for the Intel platform, nForce 650i, being a motherboard targeted to the average user that wants SLI and support for the forthcoming Core 2 Duo CPUs based on the new 1,333 MHz external bus. Let’s take a look at the features and performance of this model from ASUS.
It is important to know that when under SLI mode nForce 650i makes the two PCI Express x16 slots to run at x8 speed and not at x16. This is exactly the same behavior as other previous mainstream chipsets from NVIDIA like nForce 570 SLI and nForce 4 SLI. NForce 650i brings two advantages over these two older chipsets. First, it supports the new 1,333 MHz external bus that will be used by new Core 2 Duo CPUs yet to be released; Second, it officially supports DDR2 up to 800 MHz, while these other chipsets supported only up to DDR2-667.
By the way, on the motherboard setup you can configure your memory as DDR2-1066. We did this as we were using DDR2-1066 memories, however the system wouldn’t work correctly, meaning that this chipset really doesn’t support DDR2-1066.
On P5N-E SLI ASUS used a small board to enable SLI mode, just like the very first SLI-based motherboards (see Figure 2). So if you want to use SLI mode you need to remove this board, rotate it, and install it back. In our opinion that is the major flaw with this motherboard, as we think ASUS could have used an automatic switch like everybody else (including themselves) is using on other motherboards.
On nForce 650i chipset the north bridge chip is called C55 and the south bridge chip is called nForce 430i (MCP51) – this is the same south bridge chip used by several other NVIDIA chipsets. On this motherboard the north bridge chip is cooled down by a passive aluminum heatsink, while no cooling solution was used on the south bridge chip.
On the memory side, ASUS P5N-E has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 8 GB officially up to DDR2-800. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 3 are yellow and sockets 2 and 4 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 five SATA-300 ports and two ATA/133 ports – which is a great feature, since it is becoming very hard to see motherboards with more than one parallel ATA port. One of the SATA ports is located on the rear panel of the motherboard, uses an eSATA connector and is controlled by a JMicron JMB360 chip. This port is different, as it is a port multiplier connector, so you can’t use a regular SATA cable on it.
The four SATA ports controlled by the chipset support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the south bridge using one Marvell 88E1116 chip to make the physical layer interface.
Even though this motherboard uses a 7.1 audio codec, Realtek ALC883, it only provides 5.1 audio on its analog outouts, since it only has three audio jacks on its rear panel. This codec provides a low (for today’s standards) signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs – only 85 dB. So it is not advisable to use this motherboard for professional audio capturing and editing (the minimum recommended for this application is 95 dB), unless you install a professional add-on audio card on it. Also the maximum sampling rate for its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio for its output is of 95 dB.
This board has one coaxial SPDIF output soldered directly on the motherboard, which is great as you can easily connect it to your home theater receiver.
This motherboard has eight USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and four available through I/O brackets – this motherboard comes with only one I/O bracket featuring two USB ports) and two FireWire ports controlled by VIA VT6308 chip (one soldered on the motherboard and another available through an I/O bracket that doesn’t come with the motherboard).
On the rear panel (Figure 3) you can find the Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, analog audio inputs/outputs, coaxial SPDIF output, parallel port, PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors. The serial ports are missing here but one serial port is available through the use of an I/O bracket, which doesn’t come with the motherboard.
As you can see in Figure 3, this motherboard has only three jacks for the analog audio connection, which is a problem, because if you want to use a set of analog 5.1 speakers together with a mike you will need to manually remove and install plugs on the rear of your computer, as the mic in and center/subwoofer functions share the same jack. Also because of this you can't use 7.1 analog speakers with this motherboard, even though it uses a 8-channel codec.
ASUS is using a new connector called Q-Connector to make the installation of the wires coming from the case frontal panel easier. You connect the wires to this Q-Connector and then install the connector to the motherboard header. What we liked about this feature is that it speeds up the assembling process, as you can position this connector near your eyes, not needing to position your eyes near the motherboard (usually bending the whole body) to read what is written.
Even though this motherboard uses a few solid aluminum capacitors, they are not used on the motherboard voltage regulator. The other electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are conventional ones, manufactured by Rubycon (Japanese), Chemi-Con (Japanese) and Toshin Kogyo (TK, which is a Japanese company using rebranded Taiwanese capacitors, from OST).
In Figure 5, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.
This motherboard comes with two CDs, containing its drivers and utilities plus some additional software like Norton Internet Security.
ASUS P5N-E SLI main features are:
* Researched at Shopping.com on 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.
We compared the reviewed board to ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35), MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ASUS P5B (Intel P965), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X). On the graphs present on this and on the following pages you will see the clock rate we configured our memories. Since we had DDR2-1066 memory modules installed, we ran our tests two times, first with our memories configured at 800 MHz and then configured at 1,066 MHz, whenever possible. Some motherboards (like the ones based on nForce 650i and Intel 975X chipsets), however, do not support DDR2-1066 and that is why you won’t find DDR2-1066 results for them.
You can see the results on the charts below.
ASUS P5N-E SLI achieved an overall performance similar to ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X). However the other motherboards we included in our comparison were faster: ASUS P5B (Intel P965) was 3.33% faster, ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) was 4.85% faster, MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) was 5.15% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) was 6.06% faster. To make this comparison correct these numbers refer to the motherboards running with their memories at 800 MHz.
On Internet Content Creation the same thing happened: ASUS P5N-E SLI achieved the same performance level of ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), while the other motherboards were faster. ASUS P5B (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) were 3.02% faster, MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) was 3.95% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) was 4.19% faster. We are comparing the results with all memories running at 800 MHz.
On Office Productivity the same thing happened again: ASUS P5N-E SLI achieved the same performance level of ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), while the other motherboards were faster. ASUS P5B (Intel P965) was 3.54% faster, ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) were 6.30% faster and MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) was 7.87% faster. We are comparing the results with all memories running at 800 MHz.
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.
Here all motherboards achieved similar results.
We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.3 and ran its multiplayer demo id_demo001 at 1024x768x32 with image quality settings configured at “low” four times. The first result was always discarded, and from the other three values, we discarded the highest and the lowest score, i.e., we used the middle value for our comparison. You can see the results below.
On Quake 4 ASUS P5N-E SLI achieved the same performance level of ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i) and MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), while the other motherboards we included in our comparison were faster: Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X) was 3.92% faster, MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35) was 6.38% faster, ASUS P5B (Intel P965) was 6.58% faster and ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) was 6.76% faster. For these numbers we compared only the results obtained with the memories running at 800 MHz.
On ASUS P5N-E SLI we could find several overclocking options (0602 BIOS):
This motherboard also provides several memory timings adjustments.
This motherboard provides some important overclocking features not found on other mainstream motherboards and even on some high-end models.
The most important one is the ability to lock and configure the memory clock independently from the CPU external clock. On almost all motherboards the memory clock is derived from the CPU external clock, so if when you overclock the CPU you automatically overclock the memory as well. Thus when you reach the maximum overclocking your system can take you will never know what is limiting your computer from reaching an even higher overclocking, the CPU or the memories. With this option you can lock your memory clock at their standard clock rate (e.g., 800 MHz) and only after you found the maximum clock rate your CPU can take you may start increasing the memory clock rate in order to find the maximum clock rate your memories can achieve.
The PCI Express clock configuration is also very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the FSB 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.
On this motherboard the external clock rate is configurable at 0.25 MHz steps and a lot of people may not notice this, because in the setup the FSB clock rate is referred by its quadruplicated value (QDR), not by the real clock rate like on almost all other motherboards.
For instance, the maximum external clock rate we could configure was 1,308 MHz (i.e., 327 MHz), with our memories locked at 800 MHz. With this overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6700, which normally runs at 2.66 MHz, was running at 3.27 GHz, an amazing 23% increase on its internal clock rate. With this overclocking our system performance increased 10.65% on Quake 4 and 12.55% on PCMark05.
We could configure our external clock above that but the system was unstable. We only consider our overclocking to be successful after we can run at least four times Quake 4 and PCMark05 with no errors.
We don’t know the magic ASUS did on this motherboard, but with P5N-E SLI we could achieve the best overclocking from all socket LGA775 motherboards we reviewed to date – on ASUS P5B Premium we could set our CPU running at 323 MHz, on ASUS P5B we could set our CPU running at 316 MHz, on MSI P35 Neo Combo we could set our CPU running at 314 MHz, on ECS NF650iSLIT-A we could set our CPU running at 308 MHz and on ECS PN2 SLI2+ we could set our CPU running at 306 MHz.
We, however, didn’t play with voltage settings or any other fancy adjustments, so you may achieve a better overclocking than we did with more time and patience – on this motherboard and also on the other motherboards we reviewed.
ASUS P5N-E SLI is a terrific pick for the average user looking for a mainstream socket LGA775 motherboard supporting the new 1,333 MHz bus, DDR2-800 memories and SLI.
Bringing SLI, four SATA-300 ports, two FireWire ports, an eSATA port and coaxial SPDIF output soldered on the motherboard – plus an outstanding overclocking capability –, P5N-E SLI has everything Average Joe needs.
Of course high-end motherboards will provide a better performance and more features, but they are more expensive. Costing USD 138, on average (this is an average, so you may find it costing less), we think that ASUS P5N-E SLI has one of the best cost/benefit ratios for the average user around looking for a motherboard with the features that P5N-E SLI provides.
Some mainstream motherboards like ASUS P5B are faster and cost around the same thing, however they do not provide SLI.
There are only two things we didn’t like about this motherboard. First, the SLI selection card. ASUS could have used an automatic switch like everybody else (including themselves). The second weak point on this motherboard is its on-board audio. Even though it uses a 7.1 codec, it only has only three audio jacks on its rear panel, meaning that you can only hook a six-channel speaker system to this board. The codec it uses, Realtek ALC883, is also a low-end codec, providing a low signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs – only 85 dB. This means we do not recommend you to use its on-board audio for capturing and editing analog audio, or you will have a lot of noise on your final file. Also the maximum sampling rate for its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio for its output is of 95 dB, which is ok for the average user. Even though it brings a coaxial SPDIF out soldered on the rear panel it could also have an optical SPDIF out soldered there.