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Gigabyte GA-N650SLI-DS4: Daily Driver

Seven 650i SLI Motherboards Compared
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The sensible alternative to high-priced flagship products and cut down economy boards, the GA-N650SLI-DS4 includes only those features needed to keep the majority of buyers comfortable in their purchasing decision over a long ownership term.

Features Overview

Gigabyte knows what its customers really need: Rather than offer the false economy of added "high-end" features at the expense of crippled "standard" features, the GA-N650SLI-DS4 comes with all the standard parts in correct proportions. A quick look at the six-phase CPU voltage regulator components provides the first example of this effort, where the closest-priced competitor uses only three.

But a better VRM is just the beginning of Gigabyte's attempt at high quality for moderate prices. The GA-N650SLI-DS4 also uses an all solid capacitor design to improve longevity and heat resistance. Similarly, a passive copper Northbridge sink will never wear out, unlike fans.

The layout doesn't have to be perfect to beat most competitors, so Gigabyte's use of the full seven slot positions for adding expansion cards is a great start. Other points in its favor include a front-panel audio connector next to the rear panel analog ports for easy cable routing regardless of case design, an ATX power connector perfectly placed for traditional tower case designs, two Ultra ATA connectors placed above the center of the forward edge for easier cable routing to upper drive bays, and four SATA connectors located low enough beneath the upper graphics card slot to prevent cable-to-cooler interference while easily servicing middle and lower drive bays.

Three things that stand in the way of perfection are hard-to-reach floppy and auxiliary bus power connectors beneath the lowest PCI slot and an eight-pin ATX12V connector located behind the rear corner of the CPU cooler position. The later snag may prove beneficial in cases that have the power supply at the bottom, but will force the cable to be routed around or above the CPU cooler in traditional case designs.

DIMM latches are just a little too close to the top graphics card slot to allow easy removal memory with a long card in place, but the greatest problem will affect anyone not using a downdraft-style cooler: Fins on the Northbridge sink are far too close together to allow adequate passive cooling without the assistance of a CPU fan.

Gigabyte GA-N650SLI-DS4 (Revision 1.0)
Northbridge NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI (C55 SPP)
Southbridge nF430 (MCP51)
Voltage Regulator Six Phases
BIOS F5 (04/11/2007)
266.7 MHz (FSB1066) 266.7 MHz (+0.0%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard 2x PCIe x16 (1x x16 or 2x x8 pathways)
2x PCIe x1
3x PCI
2x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)
2x IEEE-1394 FireWire
1x Floppy
2x Ultra ATA
4x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s
1x Front Panel Audio
1x Chassis Intrusion Connector
1x S/P-DIF In
1x CD Audio In
2x Fan 4 pins (CPU/System)
2x Fan 3 pins (Chipset/PWR)
1x Power LED
IO panel 2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)
1x RJ-45 Network
4x USB 2.0
1x IEEE-1394 FireWire
2x Digital Audio Out (S/P-DIF Coaxial + Optical)
6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
1x 25-Pin Parallel Port
1x 9-Pin Serial Communications Port
Mass Storage Controllers
MCP51 4x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10)
2x Ultra ATA-133 (4-drives)
Network
NVIDIA Gigabit Network 1x Marvell 88E1116 PHY
Audio
HDA (Azalia) Controller Interface Realtek ALC888 7.1 Codec
FireWire
Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 3x IEEE-1394a (400 Mbit/s)

A low target price didn't prevent Gigabyte from supplying an IEEE-1394 FireWire controller on its GA-N650SLI-DS4, but anyone who needs eSATA will want to consider buying a breakout cable or a PCI-Express x1 2-port eSATA card.

Gigabyte's GA-N650SLI-DS4 is ready for gaming or office duty with a combination of old and new connections and no missing features. In addition to the PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse, Parallel and Serial connections, the company includes both Optical and Coaxial digital audio outputs plus all six required analog audio ports.

One IEEE-1394 FireWire, one RJ-45 Network, and four USB 2.0 ports complete the rear panel's connectivity set.

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