Intel's processor and chipset divisions are not playing
nicely together. Socket 775 processors and motherboards have been out for just over a year, and we have witnessed Intel release a whole plethora of supporting chipsets emerge. For example, first there was the Intel 925X, followed closely by the Intel 925XE chipset which added 1066 MHz FSB support... and then came the Intel 955X which added dual core support. In the upcoming quarter, Intel will release yet another chipset, the Intel 975X,which adds nVIDIA SLI and ATi CrossFire dual videocard compatibility. By that time it will be the fourth high end chipset to be released in little over 12 months time!
Hardcore gamers or power users contemplating purchasing
a new Intel system right now should really only consider a motherboard based
on the nVIDIA nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset. Seriously. The Nvidia chipset not only
supports more features than Intel's best current core logic offerings, it is also
very fast and more future proof. The downside is that motherboards based on
the nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset are pricey, but in the same range as
955X motherboards so which do you think is a better value? ;-)
The Foxconn Winfast motherboards that have passed through the PCStats test labs recently have gotten plenty of attention
from us. There's just something about 'new motherboard smell'... a very user friendly motherboard component layout, excellent user's manual and solid performance that's hard to beat.
Based around the versatile nVIDIA nForce4 SLI Intel Edition
chipset, the Foxconn NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2 motherboard which is the focus of this review boasts support for Socket 775 Pentium 4/D/XE and Celeron D processors running on a 533/800 and 1066 MHz Front Side Bus (FSB).
Its four 240 pin DDR-2 RAM slots accommodate up to 4GB of (unbuffered, non
ECC) DDR2-667 memory (DDR2-800 unofficially supported). Integrated peripherals
include a two port Silicon Image SiI3132 Serial ATA II/RAID controller (in
addition to the the native four port nVIDIA MCP04 Serial ATA II controller),
IEEE 1394b Firewire, dual Gigabit network cards (NICs) and 7.1-channel audio.
||Foxconn NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2 Motherboard
Quick Installation Guide Users
Manual, Driver CD, HDD Driver Diskettes, Two Ultra/133 IDE
Rounded Cables, Two Serial ATA cables, One Rounded Floppy
Cable, Two Molex Y Serial ATA Power Cables,IEEE 1394b bracket,
USB Bracket, I/O Shield, SLI Bridge
The Foxconn NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2 is pretty well equipped, but should you need
something like a TV card or 802.11g wireless NIC which is not included,
expansion is possible care of two PCI Express x1 (three if you do not run
SLI, the PCI Express x16 acts as another PCI-E x1 slot) slots as well as two
traditional 32-bit PCI slots. The second PCI Express x16 slot is available to
users who want to employ two nVIDIA Scalable Link Interface (SLI) compatible
videocards. Retail price on this pupply is about $197 CDN ($169 US).
The overall layout of components on the NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2
motherboard is excellent, and the PCB itself is very well labeled. All headers
and ports on the motherboard have labels close by, so even novice users should
not have much difficulty installing this motherboard for the first time.
Since we've all got years of IT drudgery under our
belts here at PCSTATS in rebuilding machines, let me just focus in on the two
3.5" floppy disks which come with this package. These are the SiI3132
and NVRAID hard drive driver diskettes for that "press F6 to
install third party RAID drivers" point in the installation of WindowsXP we all
know and "love." I wish more manufacturers would follow Foxconn's lead here; most companies did supply motherboards with driver diskettes in the past, but for some reason stopped in the last couple years. They are a life saver when doing a fresh install - especially if there isn't a PC nearby to create you own diskettes from the motherboard installation CD!
nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset and MCP04 Southbridge are notorious for
running hot, so heat is dealt with rather effectively in this instance. The
nForce chipset is cooled with a rather large active aluminum heatsink and the
Southbridge had a decent sized passive aluminum heatsink on it. Both heatsinks are removable should you want to replace them with a third-party solution. We'd recommend you measure things out before splurging on something else.
The user's manual and quick install guide that come with
the Foxconn NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2 motherboard are well written and detailed, but easy
enough for novice users to read and understand. The chapter overviews are very
helpful when browsing the manual and will save users time when searching for
something specific. The quick installation guide covers a lot of information and in several different languages.
All nForce4 SLI Intel Edition Intel based motherboards use a HyperTransport between
the two chipsets. The link that connects things up on the Foxconn NF4SLI7AA-8EKRS2
motherboard runs at 1600 MHz, and offers a 1.6GB/s 16 bit up/down connection
which is more than what Intel's latest offerings provide.