790i Ultra SLI “Mystery Motherboard”
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.