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790i Ultra SLI “Mystery Motherboard”

790i Ultra SLI Motherboards Compared
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A delay in this comparison led to one of the motherboards being “un-announced” after we’d already tested it. Had the comparison been published a few days earlier there would have been no way to un-ring the bell, but the manufacturer managed to get us a last minute message saying it wasn’t sure whether or not their product would reach mass production. Still, there are a number of samples floating around other sites, and we couldn’t withhold the data simply because the manufacturer wanted us to keep quiet on the product name.

Because of the number of samples in circulation, we can’t even show photos of a disguised product — its identity would be too obvious. This is a true shame, since it’s such a fine-looking product, loaded with features and accessories, including a chipset sink designed for both water and liquid-nitrogen cooling. Fear not, though, as the following information will be enough for die-hard enthusiasts to solve the mystery.

Layout and Features

The first point most readers will notice about the 790i Ultra SLI “Mystery Motherboard” is its huge northbridge cooling block, which is equipped with two 3/8” liquid-cooling hose barbs. A removable top plate allows the installation of a plastic funnel for liquid nitrogen cooling.

Three PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots and two PCI slots follow the same layout as previously spotted on the competing Asus Striker II Extreme. Likewise, the top slot provides clearance for PCI Express x1 cards up to 7” in length, while the remaining slots can support full-length cards. As with all 790i Ultra SLI motherboards, only two of the x16 slots support PCI Express 2.0 transfers.

This mystery motherboard has a few layout advantages compared to the competing Asus model. For example, the Ultra ATA port is located at the front edge above the motherboard’s center line, for easy cabling to the upper bay of tall cases; also, the floppy connector is located between the Ultra ATA port and the motherboard’s DIMM slots. Other advantages include USB and IEEE-1394 FireWire headers that while still being at the board’s bottom edge, have been moved forward as far as possible.

The mystery brand’s board isn’t completely free of cabling issues, however, as the front-panel audio connector is located in the same bottom-rear corner as the competing brand’s FireWire header. Enthusiasts will often replace onboard audio with a discrete sound card, though, and the competing brand’s audio riser card consumes a slot in the same fashion as a discrete sound card would.

Moving past the simple layout differences, this mystery motherboard adds two removable BIOS ROMs and an internal POST code display. Redundancy in BIOS ROMs ensures that the system can be recovered in the event of a bad BIOS flash. Making these replaceable adds even more peace of mind against a “dead motherboard” situation, compared to the competitor’s single, solder-on ROM.

The competitor’s external POST module is nice, but the internal part of this board doesn’t require running a cable around the outside of the case. On the other hand, the competing POST module displays actually words, whereas the two-digit internal POST display only has code numbers.

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  • 1 Hide
    trainreks , July 31, 2008 7:17 AM
    FINNALY !!!! A Review on the 790i
  • 0 Hide
    doxicity , July 31, 2008 7:21 AM
    Mystery Motherboard = GA-N780Ultra-DQ6?
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , July 31, 2008 7:42 AM
    This was ALL OF THE AVAILABLE 790i Ultra SLI MOTHERBOARDS: Other graphics brands with NVIDIA reference boards INCLUDING EVGA are selling the same unit as XFX, even with the same BIOS (except for the boot logo). XFX was the only one who cared to send one.
  • 1 Hide
    giovanni86 , July 31, 2008 7:45 AM
    Thats what i was going to say!!! Thank god. Well i guess i made the right choice. XFX 790i, exactly what i am going to buy in the coming month. Just need to save for it XD.
  • 3 Hide
    jaragon13 , July 31, 2008 8:39 AM
    Who would pay four hundred dollars,when you can just buy a P45 for 100-150 dollars which has roughly the same real world experience as an X48 or 790I?
    Nah,I'd rather buy better and more reliable parts-such as power supply,processor,GRAPHICS CARD,and maybe go buy a rifle :p 
  • 6 Hide
    kitsilencer , July 31, 2008 9:37 AM
    $400 for a motherboard? What the hell is wrong with the X48 Express that people would rather consider buying a 790i? And it can't be because of SLI. Makes more sense to buy the X48 and Crossfire.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , July 31, 2008 9:39 AM
    jaragon13Who would pay four hundred dollars,when you can just buy a P45 for 100-150 dollars which has roughly the same real world experience as an X48 or 790I?Nah,I'd rather buy better and more reliable parts-such as power supply,processor,GRAPHICS CARD,and maybe go buy a rifle


    If you want SLI you're going to need an SLI motherboard. The article specifically stated that the reference design motherboard was almost as good in many ways as the winning board, but far cheaper.

    The site only has two awards, one is for top value and the other is for "best of the best". It's hard to award a $350 motherboard for top value, but it's not so difficult awarding the "best of the best" even if the price is outrageous
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , July 31, 2008 9:41 AM
    kitsilencer$400 for a motherboard? What the hell is wrong with the X48 Express that people would rather consider buying a 790i? And it can't be because of SLI. Makes more sense to buy the X48 and Crossfire.


    It does! Well, sorta. If you want the absolute fastest rig on the planet, you're going to need at least two, possibly three, GTX280's. But if you can wait a few days or maybe a couple weeks, you might be surprised at how well a Crossfire set of HD4870X2's can perform using an X48 motherboard.
  • 0 Hide
    jaragon13 , July 31, 2008 12:59 PM
    My point is that,even though you could theoritically have 3/4 GPU's all at once,you won't get nearly as much performance as you'd want.A simple 750I or P45 chipset will do nearly the same job.
  • 0 Hide
    zer00000 , July 31, 2008 1:13 PM
    It is a foxconn board i bet.I just read a review elsewhere with same stuff except it had an x48 chipset."All manner of goodies are bundled with the Black Ops: a 120MM fan, a plastic dry ice cooling pot for the Northbridge, and a Plexiglas "benching table" for open-air use."
  • 3 Hide
    ovaltineplease , July 31, 2008 2:02 PM
    For anyone thinking of grabbing these boards - confirm that the manufacturer has a bios fix for drive corruption if you intend to use RAID; its a known issue.
  • 0 Hide
    sirrell , July 31, 2008 2:22 PM
    Hey i just bought an EVGA's nForce 790i Ultra SLI 775 A1 Version Motherboard can you test this against them please?
    I wanna see how my motherboard performs against these. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    theLaminator , July 31, 2008 2:38 PM
    Why buy a 790i? Just wait for Nehalem and get a mobo with the x58 chipset. It supports SLI and CrossFire. Seems like the way to go to me. http://www.custompc.co.uk/news/604443/intel_x58_chipset_to_support_sli_and_crossfire.html
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , July 31, 2008 3:42 PM
    sirrellHey i just bought an EVGA's nForce 790i Ultra SLI 775 A1 Version Motherboard can you test this against them please?I wanna see how my motherboard performs against these.


    The EVGA motherboard WAS tested. It's the same motherboard as XFX sells. EVGA has never made a motherboard, it buys them from other companies, and in this case XFX and EVGA buy the SAME motherboard from the SAME company. Even the BIOS is the same, which you'd probably know if you read a little more of the article.

    XFX wants your business more than EVGA, which is why XFX sent a motherboard when EVGA did not. In fact, EVGA wouldn't even respond to the request.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , July 31, 2008 3:45 PM
    theLaminatorWhy buy a 790i? Just wait for Nehalem and get a mobo with the x58 chipset. It supports SLI and CrossFire. Seems like the way to go to me. http://www.custompc.co.uk/news/604 [...] sfire.html


    X58 DOES NOT support SLI any more than the X48 did. Either motherboard could use the nForce 200 bridge to let NVIDIA's graphics driver SEE the "Compatibility". It's all driver tricks, as Intel chipsets supported SLI until NVIDIA locked Intel out in the graphics driver.

    So, we might see some X58 motherboards with an nForce 200, and we might also see some that don't have it. All that is well and fine if you're interested in waiting for the "next big thing". But if you want to buy now and instead wait for the next big thing...perhaps you'll see something else on the horizon by then, and never buy anything.
  • 0 Hide
    efranchi , July 31, 2008 4:09 PM
    mmhh...I would like if asus make a "ready-watercooled" motherboard. For someone who want a silent PC, watercooled, is there a motherboard better than evga 790 ultra black pearl?
  • 0 Hide
    surfbum , July 31, 2008 4:17 PM
    just so everyone knows, the "mystery motherboard" is a foxconn board. i was just on their website the other day and they had some information on this board which is no longer there. any they are the only company that has a LN2 cooling solution for the chipset
  • 0 Hide
    Niva , July 31, 2008 4:25 PM
    Looks like both nVidia and Intel are guilty of not providing information to each other. Intel for not giving the specs to run the 45nm chips and nVidia for restricting the driver on Intel chips... that second move by nVidia sounds borderline monopolistic. Surprised they haven't ended up in courts, no wonder tensions are so high between these companies.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , July 31, 2008 4:34 PM
    NivaLooks like both nVidia and Intel are guilty of not providing information to each other. Intel for not giving the specs to run the 45nm chips and nVidia for restricting the driver on Intel chips... that second move by nVidia sounds borderline monopolistic. Surprised they haven't ended up in courts, no wonder tensions are so high between these companies.


    Both moves are monopolistic, but you could say NVIDIA delivered the first shot in this war since SLI has been restricted for so long.

    I was surprised about the news that Intel had traded "permission to use the nForce 200 on Intel chipsets" for its new CPU interface: That would mean Intel gets nothing (still has to buy an nVidia chipset component) while NVIDIA keeps on rolling.
  • 0 Hide
    anartik , July 31, 2008 4:56 PM
    Yup... all it took was the mention of the liquid nitrogen tower to know it had to be a 790i version of the Foxconn Blackops. If it does come out I hope it's considerably better and more reliable than their disaster of an X48 board. Hmmm... maybe thats why this board is delayed or cancelled. Just having a notable overclocker jump ship from DFI to Foxconn does not turn a traditional junk maker into a shining star.
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