Exclusive: Gigabyte GA-N680SLI-DQ6 (NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI)


The New DQ6

Features

The GA-N680SLI-DQ6 supports all current LGA775 processors from Intel, including the quad-core Core 2 Quad CPUs as well as future 1333MHz FSB. Like the GA-965P-DQ6, the board comes with Gigabyte's Quad-Triple Phase (12-phase) PWM, practically guaranteeing clean and stable power to the CPU (and the rest of the board). A secondary benefit from the higher efficiency in voltage regulation is cooler operating temperatures and its use of solid capacitors also helps to prolong component lifespan.

As you should know by now, the nForce 680i SLI supports dual PCIe x16 graphics slots for SLI and a third PCIe x8 slot for triple GPU configurations. It is also a placeholder for the future implementation of NVIDIA's GPU physics setup, similar to ATI's Triple Play (though not much has been said of either of them in months). In any case, the board comes with three PCI slots, three PCIe x 16 slots and one PCIe x1 slot. Onboard audio is powered by a Realtek ALC888DD HD Audio CODEC supporting 8-channel analog and optical S/PDIF connections. If you have noticed the 'DD' suffix on the chip, this is the advanced version that supports Dolby Digital Live and DTS CONNECT software, similar to the one used on the GA-965P-DQ6.

In terms of storage support, the nForce 680i SLI's six SATA 3.0Gbps ports are supplemented further by two extra Gigabyte SATA2 (JMicron) controllers offering four additional RAID capable SATA 3.0Gbps ports with AHCI and NCQ support. This pumps the total storage capacity of the board to a maximum of ten SATA and two IDE devices. As part of the 6-Quad series, the retail board should also include a set of eSATA brackets as well. For peripheral connectivity, the board features ten USB 2.0 ports and three FireWire-400 ports spread out across the rear I/O panel and as optional headers. Note that the available FireWire port on the rear panel is of the mini 4-pin variety. The only features that seem to be missing from such an enthusiast level board are debug LEDs and onboard power/reset buttons. Not that these items are a 'must have', but we are increasingly seeing boards of this class incorporating them. Ultimately it boils down to your needs.

Motherboards with multiple LAN connections are nothing new, not with the nForce 680i SLI chipset itself featuring dual Gigabit LAN MACs. We've also seen vendors bundling WiFi onboard (ASUS) for certain models, but we have to take our hats off to Gigabyte for stacking four Gigabit LAN ports on the GA-N680SLI-DQ6. It would really be amazing if this turned out to be a four-port switch or router (Now that would be an idea!), but four individual LAN ports on a motherboard is just plain superfluous. However, there is a hidden gem in Gigabyte's implementation and that is to take advantage of improved bandwidth. We all know NVIDIA's DualNet features native teaming to form a single 2Gbps Ethernet link. The two extra LAN controllers onboard (Marvell 88E8052, Marvell 88E8056) are also capable of teaming themselves. So, instead of having four 1Gbps LAN ports, you can configure the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 for two ultra-wide 2Gbps links instead.

Layout

Unlike the GA-965P-DQ6, the design of the GA-N680SLI-DQ6 is cleaner and less cluttered. The new Silent-Pipe cooling doesn't surround the CPU socket, letting Gigabyte move it nearer to the top corner of the board. Because of this, component spacing seems to be a little better off. There is however, some wasted space in the middle where the MCP cooler is situated and you might still want to check if your custom CPU coolers can fit because of the diagonal MCP heatsink positioning.

The GA-N680SLI-DQ6 also includes an updated version of the Crazy Cool backplate, dubbed Crazy Cool 2. This time, it is connected with its own heat-pipe to a radiator at the topside. This entire setup is snapped on to the main Silent-Pipe cooler on the top. Our main concern with this elaborate system is that it basically prevents users from installing custom cooling solutions that require their own backplate support (most large coolers and almost all water cooling kits). We anticipate that most of these extreme users will probably dismantle it in favor of their own coolers, making the design less than effective overall.