The reasonably priced 9U1697 GLI from Epox doesn't necessarily mean having to sacrifice "SLI like" performance, even though BIOS upgrades and finding the latest drivers can be painful. Nvidia has been quite forthcoming in its support for SLI, giving title publishers consent to release software specific game profiles. Each version release incorporates syntax that is specific to the software with newer versions leading to increased compatibility with a larger list of titles.
The Epox board is not SLI approved (Epox refers to its incarnation as GLI) and currently, using hacked drivers for the board, only takes you so far. The ULi Power Express Engine Driver 1006 allows activation of SLI according to the Forceware driver version 81.98 (released February 7, 2006). As of the date of our testing, newer revisions of the drivers did not work, which can create potential compatibility headache and loss of dual GPU support with newer games. It's important to note that our tests were carried out using the latest GLI hack. You will have to look for newer releases to find support for your applications.
To set up the Epox EP-9U1697 GLI for x16 PCI Express mode to take advantage of the GeForce 7800 GT cards used for the testbed, we had to change jumpers between eight blocks on the motherboard in order to switch between single x16 and dual x8 PCI Express modes. The chipset is Uli's M1697, which has some nifty features for Serial ATA II / RAID support (with Native Command Queuing), Azalia high definition audio support with channel surround, and it continues in the tradition of motherboard overclockability.
There were certain compatibility issues with Doom 3 and Quake 4 while running old BIOS versions. Any buyers who want to take a chance with this board should ensure they're flashing the most recent version for problem-free operation. Older versions typically hang at the "initialization menus" and require a restart with a different BIOS flash.
One cool feature on the EP1308 is GhostBIOS, which, according to Epox, will allow the system to boot without your main BIOS - should it become corrupted. The BIOS isn't "mounted" in a traditional manner, which restricts local access to its system area. This increases the difficulty for malicious software to find the BIOS, helping to secure the board against external hack attempts. Epox has also added a feature called "Magic Screen", which allows users to change the screen displayed at system boot. Although this can hardly be called proprietary, it gives the product a nice touch. A "frightening" Ghost BIOS flash presentation, which probably contains more information than you're interested in, can be found here.
The bundled Windows application MagicFlash allows for easy BIOS updating through an Internet connection and automatically checks for new updates much like anti-virus programs updates. Gone are the days of writing to a floppy and painstakingly flashing BIOS information through a cryptic boot sequence; upgrades can be done through the application's download process and a quick reboot. Epox states that any shutdown or power interruption during the flash will not corrupt your BIOS to the point it is unrecoverable by its software due to the backup or "Ghost" BIOS stored on the motherboard.
A great cause for concern when choosing this system model is what upgrade and performance factors will be affected by having to find/resort to BIOS hacks. The chipset is not recognized as an SLI standardization with future support. One should bear in mind that GLI/SLI drivers reference specific game profiles. Ensuring proper driver support is crucial to determining compatibility with newer and older software, especially if users opt for the GLI route, as demonstrated by the EP-9U1697.
slide show: Epox EP-9U1697 GLI