Gigabyte GA-8N-SLi Royal nForce 4 Intel mobo
Puts Intel CPUs at the forefront of gaming?
It's good to see that Nvidia decided to go for two IDE controllers, rather than the single one Intel offers on its current chipsets. This means that you can still use four IDE devices, as well as a further four Serial ATA devices. A new feature for the nForce 4 SLi Intel Edition is RAID 5, which allows you to run a RAID using three hard drives - two are striped for performance while is the parity volume. The parity disk keeps track of the data on both of the other two disks and if one fails the parity disk is used to rebuild the array together with the remaining working disk.
One of the best features of this motherboard is also one of the most simple. Gigabyte has used a new type of SATA cable that locks to the motherboard connectors as well as newer SATA hard drives. This means that there's less chance of the cables falling out during transit - there are also plastic surrounds for each port on the motherboard, making them slightly more sturdy.
The remaining features have been carried over from the nForce 4 SLi chipset for AMD, with Gigabit Ethernet and the ActiveArmor firewall making a welcome re-appearance.
Gigabyte has added plenty of features too. A Promise RAID controller with support for a further two IDE and SATA drives has been fitted, as has an 800Mbps FireWire 1394 controller. A second Gigabit Ethernet controller is also part of the package, as well as 7.1-channel AC'97 sound. This is one of the low points of the board, as the new Intel HD audio solutions offer much better sound quality. There's a small USB Bluetooth dongle, too.
Gigabyte has included its signature DualBIOS and U-PLUS D.P.S power module. Unfortunately, the latter doesn't fit that well on the GA-8N-SLi Royal due to the design of the heatpipe cooler. It gets too close to the chipset and with a larger CPU cooler it won't fit in its slot. The main chipset heatsink comes with an optional fan.
The I/O panel consists of two PS/2 ports, single parallel and serial ports, optical and co-axial S/PDIF outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, two Ethernet ports and six audio connectors. Two brackets are supplied in the box, one with two USB 2.0 ports and the other with a further two USB 2.0 ports, and FireWire 1394a and 1394b connectors. You also get six SATA cables and a retention mechanism for the SLi bridge connector.
The board layout is very cluttered, mainly due to all the features that Gigabyte has tried to squeeze in. The four-pin CPU fan connector as well as the 12V power connector are located in a very awkward place, especially if you use the U-PLUS D.P.S module. Expandability is also limited to two PCI slots and one x1 PCI Express slot if you're running an SLi setup. There are two spare fan connectors, but both of these are located towards the front of the board, so neither can be used with a rear mounted case fan.