Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI-DQ6 Review

Author: William Henning
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, April 24th, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/ga-n680sli-dq6/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

April 27, 2007 - updated with results from the F4e BIOS Gigabyte sent us - the F4e BIOS significantly improved the memory performance of the N680SLI-DQ6

Today we look at the Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI-DQ6 motherboard - Gigabyte's new high end motherboard for SLI enthusiasts.

This is our second NVIDIA 680i based motherboard review, the first was Abit's IN9 32X-MAX - a nice board that had certain BIOS and performance issues.

Will Gigabyte's 680i board do better?

As you can see from the specifications below, Gigabyte is clearly aiming at the enthusiast market here - I mean why would the board be such an I/O powerhouse otherwise?

After doing many motherboard reviews, I've come to take a lot for granted - but even I was surprised to see four Gigabit ports on the back of the I/O panel. 10 SATA ports is not that unusual, but it is still nice to see - and the dual PCIe 16x slots are practically begging for an SLI setup, with an additional PCIe 8x slot for a third GPU for physics.

All in all, quite a powerhouse.



 Specification - Courtesy of Gigabyte
Form Factor
  1. ATX
  2. 30.5cm x 24.4cm
BIOS
  1. 2 4Mbit flash ROM
  2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  3. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b
Chipset
  1. NVIDIA NFORCE® 680i SLI MCP(Northbridge: C55XE, Southbridge: MCP55PXE)
  2. Marvell 88E8052/88E8056 chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  3. Marvell 88E1116 phy (10/100/1000 Mbit)
  4. Realtek ALC888 DD audio codec
  5. T.I. TSB43AB23 1394 chip
Processor
  1. LGA775
  2. Support Intel® Core™ 2 Quad/Core™ 2 Duo/Pentium® D/Pentium® 4 Processor
  3. Supports 1333/1066/800/533 MHz FSB
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 24-pin ATX power connector
  2. 1 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  3. 1 4-pin PCIe 12V power connector
  4. 1 floppy connector
  5. 1 IDE connector
  6. 10 SATA 3Gb/s connectors
  7. 1 CPU fan connector
  8. 1 system fan connector
  9. 1 power fan connector
  10. 1 front panel connector
  11. 1 front audio connector
  12. 1 CD In connector
  13. 1 S/PDIF In connector
  14. 3 USB 2.0/1.1 connectors for additional 6 ports by cables
  15. 2 IEEE 1394a connectors for additional 2 ports by cables
  16. 1 TPM connector
  17. 1 LPT connector
  18. 1 Power LED connector
  19. 1 Chassis Intrusion connector
Rear Panel I/O
  1. 1 PS/2 keyboard port
  2. 1 PS/2 mouse port
  3. 1 serial port
  4. 1 IEEE 1394a port
  5. 1 S/PDIF out port (optical)
  6. 4 RJ-45 port
  7. 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  8. 6 audio jacks (Line In / Line Out / MIC In / Surround Speaker Out (Rear Speaker Out) / Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out / Side Speaker Out)
Expansion Slots
  1. 2 PCI Express x16 slots
  2. 1 PCI Express x8 slot
  3. 1 PCI Express x1 slot
  4. 3 PCI slots
H/W Monitoring
  1. System voltage detection
  2. CPU / System temperature detection
  3. CPU / System / Power fan speed detection
  4. CPU warning temperature
  5. CPU / System / Power fan failure warning
  6. CPU / System smart fan control
Other Features
  1. Supports @BIOS
  2. Supports Download Center
  3. Supports Q-Flash
  4. Supports EasyTune (Note 3)
  5. Supports Xpress Install
  6. Supports Xpress Recovery2
  7. Supports Xpress BIOS Rescue
* (Note 3) EasyTune functions may vary depending on different motherboards.
Memory
  1. 4 DDR2 DIMM memory slots (supports up to 8 GB memory)
  2. Support Dual Channel DDR2 800/667/533 unbuffered DIMMs*
  3. Supports 1.8V DDR2 DIMM
  4. Supports DDR2 667/533/400 DIMM
  5. Supports ECC type DRAM

The Board

The Gigabyte 6-Quad    N680SLI-DQ6 comes in a large, fancy box where the whole outside of the box is printed on top of a holographic pattern - I'd hate to think how much that box adds to the price of the package!



You do get a quick start guide, a manual, SLI bridge, IO panel back plate, driver CD and an IO slot cover as well as two IO slot covers that provide two external SATA connectors  and a power connector each, four other SATA cables, an IDE cable and a floppy cable.



The motherboard  is an  understated blue  color,  and the copper heatsinks and heatpipes REALLY jump out at you!
 


Look at all those slots... three 32 bit PCI slots, one 1x PCIe, two 16x PCIe and one 8x PCIe... enough for an SLI configuration plus a third GPU for physics!



Just look at all those SATA ports!  Below you're looking no less than 10 total SATA2 ports for some crazy storage support.

Frankly, I don't like the right-angle ones, as it can be difficult to insert and remove cables into them once the board is built into a case, but I must admit, I really, really like having ten SATA ports. With 750GB drives being readily available, building a 7.5TB system is only a matter of spending money on the drives.



The heat pipes and heat sinks are quite massive, a bit too much so if you ask me - I could not use our regular Noctua-12 heatsink, and ended up using a ThermalRight Ultra 120  that performs similarly to the Noctua.



Below you can also see the additional heatsinks on the back of the board - unfortunately they also make mounting some heatsinks impossible - if the heatsinks come with those bottom of the board "X" supports.

The BIOS

Ah that place of mystery, where one can tweak how the motherboard behaves...

That is, one can tweak it if the BIOS provides the capability to tweak.

Gigabyte BIOS's seem pretty vanilla, unless you know about pressing CTRL-F1 on the main BIOS page - that magic incantation unlocks additional BIOS parameters for your tweaking pleasure. Even without CTRL-F1, the M.I.T. (Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker) allows some control over clock speeds etc., however once you invoke CTRL-F1... you get a decently configurable BIOS.



Gigabyte marketing must be really happy with the 6-Quad name, as the BIOS splash page shows you the above screen.



Above you can see the main BIOS menu.



And here is the fun part - the M.I.T. menu.

This brings me to one of my pet peeves. This BIOS shows an offset to the "default" voltage... and it does not show you what the default voltage is! Why can't BIOS writers show you what voltage is the default voltage, and let you vary it?



I would also put the Spread Spectrum menu somewhere else, it really has little to do with tweaking.



I like the flexibility offered by linked and unlinked FSB/memory clocks, however I wish there was a greater selection of dividers.

I do like the BIOS showing the effective memory speed.



The memory timing screen offers decent tweaking capabilities, but I've seen other boards offer more.



Above you will find the pretty vanilla standard CMOS features configuration.



The sub-menu for each individual channels is pretty sparse.



The advanced features screen is pretty standard.



The advanced chipset features lets you control the HyperTransport speed between the North and South bridges; turn the multiplier down to 4x and disable LinkBoost for better overclocking.



PC Health Status at least shows us that the default Vddr is 1.8V - however it shows a useless "OK' for other voltages.



The integrated peripherals screen lets you disable unused peripherals.



And the PnP/PCI menu gives you some control over interrupts.



The power management screen is bog standard.

Test Setup 

Hardware for testing of the Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI-DQ6:

The Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI-DQ6  will be duking it out with several other Core 2-compatible motherboards:

Benchmarks Used

For now, here is a listing of the tests performed:

Video drivers used were the NVIDIA ForceWare version 91.49 package.

Business Winstone

The Gigabyte N680SLI did very well in Business Winstone at stock speeds; it was only 0.4 points (just over 1%) behind the top placing Asus P5N32-E; it beat the stock Abit AB9Pro by 0.5 points but lost to it when the AB9Pro was significantly overclocked. Strangely, the new BIOS slightly lowered the N680SLI's score, however 0.2 points is within experimental error.



Multimedia Winstone

The N680SLI took first place among the stock results for Multimedia Winstone!  Sure, the significantly overclocked AB9Pro beat it handily, but none of the other boards at stock speeds managed to beat it. Even better, the new F4e BIOS boosted the N680SLI's score by 0.6 points, which is higher than experimental error could account for.

RightMark Memory

Read Bandwidth

The Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI did very well at the RightMark read bandwidth test; taking five of the six top spots, with a significant lead!.

At stock speeds, with the new BIOS, it slightly outpaced the second place place Asus P5N32-E.

Write Bandwidth

The Write test was not as kind to the N680SLI - this time it took third and fourth place for overclocked results, however, with the new BIOS, it managed to take first place for stock results.

Latency

There is something wrong with the top two latency figures. I simply do not believe those results, as I don't see how the latency could be THAT good with an off-board memory controller. No other board got figures that low, so I think there may be something off with the RightMark latency test.

At stock speeds, where the results made sense had the N680SLI-DQ6 turn in very good results, beating several overclocked results from competing boards.

Bandwidth

When I originally wrote this review, I had to write


"I don't know why, but the N680SLI-DQ6 did very poorly in the RightMark memory bandwidth test, scoring dead last at stock speeds, and not faring well at all at overclocked speeds."

Well, the new BIOS Gigabyte sent us made quite a difference, resulting in a 23% improvement in RightMark memory bandwidth test at stock speeds, and a roughly 5% difference when overclocked.

 

Sandra 2007

CPU

The Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI-DQ6 did EXTREMELY well at the Sandra 2007 processor test - taking the top two spots at stock speeds and taking the second spot at overclocked speeds.



Memory Bandwidth

Unlike in the RightMark memory bandwidth test, the N680SLI-DQ6 did reasonably in the Sandra memory bandwidth test, placing in the middle of the pack at stock speeds, and very well when overclocked - it took the top spot with the old BIOS, and was beaten by itself with the new BIOS, taking the top three spots.



Latency


This test was not kind to the N680SLI-DQ6 - it finished dead last with one overclocked result, but then taking the best five Sandra latency results when overclocked. The stock latency was not great.

HDTach

SATA

Recent Nforce or Windows drivers for Nvidia's SATA controllers have been performance challenged; and our testing of the N680SLI-DQ6 again exhibits the same symptoms. It looks like the drivers are only enabling SATA-1 levels of performance; and while in real life the burst rate test is not very significant, it is annoying to see such problems on high end motherboards.



IDE

The IDE performance of the N680SLI-DQ6 was quite good, only 0.2MB/sec out of top spot, with an excellent 1% CPU utilization.



USB

The less we say about the USB HDTach performance of the N680SLI-DQ6 the better - it took dead last place.




WinRAR


The N680SLI-DQ6 turned in a rather lackluster WinRAR score at stock, but managed third place overclocked speeds.

LAME MP3

The N680SLI-DQ6 took the last spot in the LAME benchmark with the original F3 BIOS,  but the F4e BIOS update did improve its score noticably. The excellent results at the top of the chart were achieved by overclocking the other boards.



TMPGEnc

The F4e BIOS significantly improved the N680SLI's results here, bringing it to third place.



Xvid

Ummm. not good.

Call of Duty

The Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6 did not do too well at stock here.



Commance 4

The N680SLI-DQ6 took last place, *BUT* it was only 3% out of first place at stock; it was a very close field.



Doom 3

The N680SLI-DQ6 placed 5th out of a field of 10 boards at stock speeds, and was 21 FPS slower than the AB9Pro that took first place. The new BIOS improved the stock results by 7.8fps.



Quake 4

Ouch. With the original BIOS, at stock speeds the N680SLI took dead last place. When overclocked, fourth place was the best it could do.

The new BIOS ***GREATLY*** improved the stock results - by almost 50% - adding an impressive 33.4fps to the stock score for the N680SLI, bringing it within 7fps of the top stock score.

Halo


Ouch. Dead last place for the N680SLI-DQ6. Even with the new BIOS.



Jedi Knight


The Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6 did reasonably well here, it was right in the middle of the field - and only 3.8fps out of first place.



Unreal Tournament 2004


Ouch. Dead last. Again. 5.41 FPS out of first place.


Overclocking

The overclocking potential of this board is excellent - with a 7X multiplier I was able to reach a stable 485MHz FSB, which while not as high as the 505MHz FSB I saw on an Asus P5B-E Deluxe is still an excellent result

Don't get me wrong though, I did manage to get to a stable 485MHz - but I had to jump through proverbial hoops to get there, including having two 12cm 63CFM fans blow on the passive chipset heat pipes - why? - because I was worried if I did not, I'd slag the motherboard!

I used the following settings to run at a 1700MHz FSB with the processor at 3.4GHz:

I was able to reach 3.6GHz with our E6400, running on a 1800MHz FSB - a very good result especially considering the processor was air cooled!


Conclusion


There is a LOT to like about the Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6

So if you are into having an SLI gaming rig, it is a good choice.

Heck, it would be a decent choice for a server or high-end router!

BUT

The original benchmarks that were run with the F3 BIOS revision show that the N680SLI did not have a mature BIOS - however after publishing our review, Gigabyte sent us an updated BIOS that significantly improved the memory performance. There are a number of driver and BIOS issues that need to be resolved, and Gigabyte told us that future BIOS and driver releases will address them - at which point we may update this review yet again..

The SATA ports appeared to run in SATA 1 mode, thus limiting burst transfer rates.

The audio drivers gave unreliable RightMark 3DSound results, and I was not willing to present values that were plainly impossible.

However, even with these shortcomings, there is significant potential for this board, once the supporting software improves.

I was able to attain a stable 3.6GHz overclock of our test E6400 merely with air cooling - which is truly an excellent result, and with the F4e BIOS the original sub-optimal memory latency and bandwidth issues were resolved.

I originally wrote that

"It is possible that a future BIOS revision may be able to improve the latency issues, however if you don't need SLI support, you would be better off with a 975X based Asus P5W DH Deluxe, or a good P965 based board such as the Asus P5B-E Deluxe or Gigabyte GA965P-DS3."

And the F4e BIOS did address the memory bandwidth issues, improving them so much that now I have to consider the Gigabyte 6-Quad N680SLI-DQ6 a good choice for enthusiasts.

Frankly, if the poor display of voltages and SATA issues had been resolved, I'd have probably given the board an award - it is close to earning one.

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