790i Ultra SLI Motherboards Compared

XFX nFORCE 790i ULTRA

At the beginning of this story, we said that we contacted all major motherboard brands and got a sample of every available motherboard. Both statements are true, but how can that be? Don’t other graphics card brands also carry Nvidia’s reference motherboards? The simple answer is yes, and we contacted them as well.

XFX was the only vendor to submit one of the reference models. Fortunately, all 790i Ultra SLI reference motherboards are identical, regardless of brand. Nvidia has all of them manufactured by the same company, on the same production line, and simply sells them to its graphics partners. Nvidia even supplies the BIOS and the graphics partner adds its BIOS logo and stickers. The only real differences then are the cable and accessory kit, service and support, and warranty policy.

Layout and Features

The XFX nForce 790i Ultra features that same basic layout as the Asus Striker II Extreme and the 790i mystery motherboard, but Nvidia’s specified green and black color scheme didn’t allow for the one “different” x16 slot to have its own color.

Just like all other 790i Ultra SLI motherboards, only two of the x16 slots feature PCI Express 2.0 transfer mode, while the southbridge-fed third slot uses the previous standard. All three have full x16 pathways, and everything else we said about the Striker II Extreme’s slot layout applies to both the reference design seen here and the mystery board we couldn’t show you.

An enormous sink assembly that completely surrounds the CPU socket appears to be cut specifically to fit round and perpendicular coolers like our Zalman CNPS9700. Nvidia’s design provides relief at three of the corners to ease access to cooler attachment hardware, but there’s certainly not enough space to insert a normal-sized finger and thumb. Still, we’re confident that most oversized cooler designs will fit, but remember that the word most only implies more than half. On a more positive note, Nvidia’s reference design motherboards are so popular that it should be easy to find someone who’s tried your favorite cooler on an identical product.

The XFX nForce 790i Ultra makes a few bold moves with regard to cable management. The Ultra ATA connector is found above the center line at the motherboard’s front edge for easy cable routing to the upper drive bays of large cases, and the floppy header beneath it is still adequately close to the typical location of a case’s 3.5” external bay. Four of the chipset’s six Serial ATA ports face outward, found between the Ultra ATA connector and DIMM slots, with just enough clearance to avoid conflict with long graphics cards. Two of the chipset’s SATA ports are found at the bottom of the board’s front edge, facing forward to avoid conflict with a long graphics card cooler — even though pointing them this way could cause a conflict with the case’s lower drive cage.

A lonely seventh SATA port is found above the top PCI Express x1 slot, standing out in bold red. It connects to the 2-port eSATA controller, which leaves the board with only one actual eSATA port. Though some users will miss the second eSATA port, others may see this design as a stroke of genius: the internal connection is perfect for adding a “docking external enclosure”, such as Vantec’s EZ-Swap EX or Eagle Tech’s iNEO I-NA303US.

The front corner features a replaceable BIOS ROM and a POST diagnostics display.

Like the 790i mystery motherboard, the XFX nForce 790i Ultra has moved its USB 2.0 and IEEE-1394 FireWire headers as far forward as possible along the bottom edge, leaving the front-panel audio connector in the dreaded bottom rear corner where cables sometimes won’t reach. Forward of this position, reset and power buttons are perfect for bench testing, though they won’t be accessible in most finished systems.

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  • trainreks
    FINNALY !!!! A Review on the 790i
  • doxicity
    Mystery Motherboard = GA-N780Ultra-DQ6?
  • Crashman
    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.
  • giovanni86
    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.
  • jaragon13
    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
  • 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.
  • Crashman
    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
  • Crashman
    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.
  • jaragon13
    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.
  • zer00000
    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."
  • ovaltineplease
    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.
  • sirrell
    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. :)
  • theLaminator
    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
  • Crashman
    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.
  • Crashman
    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.
  • efranchi
    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?
  • surfbum
    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
  • Niva
    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.
  • Crashman
    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.
  • anartik
    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.