XFX 680i LT SLI Motherboard

ccokeman - 2007-05-24 21:00:11 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 31, 2007
XFX
XFX
Price: $184.99 USD

Introduction:

XFX makes motherboards? Why yes, yes they do! You have known them in the past for their Nvidia video card lineup. Now we can see if their successes on that front translate into success on the motherboard front. The XFX 680i LT SLI is one of the latest offerings from their motherboard lineup. This board is promoted towards high end pc users and gamers that want performance on a budget, not as a hardcore enthusiast board. That distinction falls to the 680i SLI model. The 680iLT chipset has been called the "lite" chipset because it is supposedly a stripped down lower cost version of the 680 chipset. Does that translate into lower performance? We shall see. This board features Quad core support,1333 fsb, 800mhz DDR2,2 x16x Pci-e slots for SLI configurations. In other words support for the latest Cpu's ,memory and graphics solutions. Having had the opportunity to use some of the latest 680 chipset offerings on the market I am curious to see how the LT version on a true Nvidia reference design holds up.

XFX is a division of PINE technologies. Formed in 1989 and based in Hong Kong, PINE is a leading designer and manufacturer of high quality video and audio products and peripherals. PINE has formed alliances with some of the biggest names in the computing industry. They currently operate 2 factories, 4 research and development centers and 16 offices spread across the world.


Closer Look:

The box features the XFX logo and board name prominently on the front of the box in the familiar Nvidia green,white and black. Specifications and features are described on the rear panel. The partnership with Nvidia is promoted on the side panel.


Encased in the outer shell was a plain black box with the XFX logo and "Play Hard" slogan. Once inside we see the motherboard is boxed separately from the other components. Great when you want to eliminate shipping damage. The packaging is 2 tiered with the accessories and documentation on the lower level. The documentation and driver cd come in a portfolio instead of laying loosely in the box.


At last here it is. Safely tucked away inside its protective cocoon is the motherboard.

Closer Look:

The accessories that come bundled with the motherboard are enough to get this board installed. Getting just what you need instead of an overwhelming amount drive cabling is refreshing. I have boxes of that stuff laying around that is not used. The things you do get include 2 SATA cables. 1 IDE cable, 1 Floppy drive cable. 4 USB ports and a Firewire port that can be mounted in the rear expansion slots are included. These can be used if the chassis you are using does not have front panel connections. The manual,driver cd and quick install guide are packaged into a folder with the XFX logo and "Play Hard" slogon.

 



The SATA cables have a 90 degree end on one side of the cable to help with routing you cables in a tight case. This comes in handy if you use one of the latest high end video cards that almost reach to the drive cage. The rest of the items are simple yet functional. Again its what you need without all the extras.

Closer Look:

Here we have what really looks like a no-frills work station board. That's not a bad thing though - no frills does not equate to low performance in all cases.

 



One thing I liked about this motherboard is the fact that the chipset and power circuit are both individually cooled. There is not a massive heatpipe interconnecting the heatsinks, thus making cooling improvements difficult.


There are three power connections that need to be made to power this board.There is the 24 pin ATX power supply, an 8 pin 12v and an additional 4 pin molex to provide power to the PCIe graphics card(s). The 8 pin is difficult to reach with a large cooling solution, so its best to hook this one up as you slide the motherboard into place. The 4 pin molex connector is sandwiched between the front panel connectors and the IDE connector. Strange place to put it, but it is easy to get to.


This board has all of the drive connections on the right-hand side of the board. This makes it easy to hook up your optical, floppy( for those who still use them) and your hard drive(s) without having to run drive cables all across the motherboard. Two PCIe 16x slots are available if you are looking to use dual video cards and get the most out of them. One PCI and one 1x PCIe slot are available for use when dual GPUs are used - even when they have a two-slot cooling solution.

Installation:

Installing a motherboard into the chassis of your choice is a pretty straightforward process. Many in the enthusiast sector can and probably have done it in their sleep. The foundation for a positive system install starts with the correct installation of the motherboard and all of the peripherals. I will be installing this board into my trusty workhorse of a case, my Cooler Master Stacker.

Since I prefer to use large cooling solutions for my processor that include backing plates, I always start with installing the heatsink while the motherboard is outside the chassis. I ran into a few issues here, but they were easy to overcome. If you use a smaller cooling solution this may not even be an issue on your build. With the space around the socket at a premium, the fit of the heatsink was impossible with the preferred method of mounting my heatsink, due to the location of the Northbridge cooler. The heatsink fit was very tight, but not impossible, when mounted in a north/south configuration.


Next up on the list is to mount the standoffs and supplied I/O plate specific to your chassis and motherboard.You will want to use the standoffs that come with your chassis of choice to prevent any damage to the motherboard.


Now we can mount the motherboard into place. The motherboard is secured to the the standoffs by screws (10 with this board). Carefully tighten the screws to secure the motherboard and we are almost done. Install your peripherals such as video cards, sound cards and system memory. Make the wiring connections to the board and we are back in business and ready to load the operating system.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is where we can make all of the system adjustments to maximize the performance of the hardware that is installed, as well as setting up your basic configuration. Being a reference design board, I did not expect to find as many options available to tweak as I found.

The first thing I did was to update the BIOS to the latest version on the XFX website. For this board, that is version P04. The BIOS file did not come with a 'readme' file to specify the changes made in this BIOS revision.


Now that the flash is out of the way, we can dive a little deeper into the BIOS. The main page of the BIOS is where you will start. I will be concentrating on the Advanced Chipset Features page, because this is where we make the magic happen. One thing I noticed on the main BIOS screen, was the fact that my memory is not detected as SLI ready, even though it features an EPP profile programmed into the SPD chip on the memory.

On the System Clocks page, you are able to change the CPU multiplier from a low of six, to a high of ten for the processor I have installed - An Intel E6700. On the FSB and Memory configuration page, you will be able to set up the configuration options for both the CPU and system memory. If you plan on running at stock speeds and memory timings 'Auto' is the pre-set option. Now, if you choose to manually set your options, you have choices to make. 'Unlinked' means that memory speeds and processor speeds can be set independently from one another. 'Linked' is of course what it means - the processor and memory are linked together and you have a few pre-set options to overclock your memory.


The processors FSB can be adjusted to 625FSB (625x4= 2500)and the memory can be set to 700FSB(700x2=1400). Both of these are lofty goals to reach for. You may not make it there, but at least the option is available to at least give it a shot.


In the memory timings section, you have two options available. 'Optimal' for the no-hassle set-up method and 'Expert' for those that want to put in the tweaking time to maximize the performance of the system memory.


There were few voltages options to tweak in this BIOS. The four available are CPU core, CPU FSB, memory and Nforce SPP. The voltages on this board won't get you into any real trouble when it is time to increase them. 1.6v is available for the CPU core, 1.4v for the CPU FSB, 2.5v on the memory and 1.4v on the Southbridge voltage. There is plenty of leeway on the CPU core and memory voltages, just nothing too extreme.

Specifications:



IEEE 1394 (Firewire)
2) 1394a @ 400 Mb/s
RAID
0,1,0+1,5
Native Gigabit Ethernet Connections
1
PCI Slot
(2) PCI-E x16, (2) PCI-E x1, (2) PCI
Chipset
NVIDIA nForce 680i LT SLI MCP Chipset
Socket
INTEL SOCKET 775
Audio
8-Channel High Definition Audio
USB
(8) 2.0 ports (4 Rear + 2x2 Onboard)
Front Side Bus
Support up to 1333Mhz
SATA Speed
3.0GB/s
SATA/PATA Drives
6/2
System Memory
(4) 240-pin DIMM Slots (8 GB Max)
Supported CPUs

Intel Core 2 Extreme (dual and quad core), Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Celeron D, Pentium 4, Pentium 4, Pentium D 9XX, Pentium D 8XX

JEDEC DDR2 Memory
800 MHz
SLI Techonology
2 x16
LAN
Onboard LAN Supports 10/100/1000 Mb/s
Highlighted Features

TCP/IP Acceleration , NVIDIA FirstPacket Technology , Windows Vista Ready , NVIDIA FirstPacket Technology , SLI-Ready Memory with EPP , NVIDIA MediaShield Storage Technology , nTune Utility


Features

Testing:

I will be running the XFX 680i LT SLI through a series of benchmarks to compare the performance of the board and 680i LT chipset, to the Abit IN932x-Max  one of the many other 680i variants on the market today. The XFX board is an Nvidia reference design, while the comparison board is not. I will be using both system and video benchmarks to make this comparison in performance. All clock speeds and memory timings will be the same on both of the boards to eliminate any variances. All video card settings were left at set-up defaults, again eliminating any variances.


Testing Setup:

Comparison System:



The system tests we will be using are listed below:

Lets get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings.

The measurement used is time to render in minutes to complete.


Lower is Better


WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB,100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds





Testing:

Specview is a benchmark designed to test Open GL performance. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms.




Higher is Better


Higher is Better


Higher is Better


Higher is Better


Higher is Better


Higher is Better


Higher is Better

Testing:

PcMark05 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board, to see which manufacturer, if any, rises above the others.




Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Higher is Better

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be concentrating on four tests: processor arithmetic, multimedia scores, memory latency and bandwidth scores.



Processor Arithmetic


Multi-Core Efficiency


Memory Bandwidth


Memory Latency


Cache and Memory


File System


Physical Disks


Power Management Efficiency


It looks as though the reference design XFX 680iLT board is competing with and beating the true 680i chipset board.

Testing:

Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.






Higher is Better!


Cinebench is useful for testing your system CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

Higher is Better


Higher is Better


HD Tach measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers. For this test we used the 8MB test for our comparison.

Higher is Better


Higher is Better


Lower is Better


Lower is Better

In these tests, we can see that the performance difference between boards is minimal. The XFX board stacks up well against a better-known motherboard manufacturer.

Testing:

Now that the system benchmarks are complete, we will move on to the video benchmarking portion of the review. I will be using an EVGA 8800GTS 640MB as the video card of choice for today's test. We will be using an assortment of games to test performance across manufacturers boards to, look for any performance advantages.


The game tests that we use are as follows:


First up we have Far Cry. This game makes extensive use of pixel shaders and features Polybump normal mapping technology to increase character details.


We will be using the Hardware OC benchmarking utility version 1.8 with the following settings.





Testing:

F.E.A.R. is a newer game that includes its own benchmarking utility. We will be using this test to benchmark this game. This game introduces a new AI model that emulates real squad behavior. It has the ability to counteract the moves you make rather than having a predictable routine.


The settings we will use today are below:




Testing:

Microsoft Flight Simulator X is the newest edition of the popular flight simulator. For testing, I will fly the same route through each resolution while using Fraps set to capture 120 seconds of the run. Testing will start at a resolution of 1024X768 since this is the lowest resolution available.


The settings we will use are listed below:






Flight Simulator 10 is the newest installment of the series and proves to be a severe test for even high-end systems when the quality settings are cranked up.

Testing:

Call of Duty 2 is a WWII first-person shooter game that is older, but still maintains a tremendous online following. This test will consist of a 120 second run on the Stalingrad multi-player map, measured with Fraps. Average FPS (frames per second) will be the measure used.


The settings used are listed below:





Testing:

Quake 4 is next up for testing. We will be using the Hardware OC Quake 4 benchmark utility version 1.5  to complete the testing with this game. You will need to update to the most current version for the latest time demo and bug fixes. Average FPS (frames per second) will be the measure used.


The settings we will use are listed below:





Testing:

Need For Speed Most Wanted. For this test we will use Fraps to run a 120 second snapshot of each "race".


The settings we will use are listed below.






Looks like the XFX steals the show in this benchmark.

Conclusion:

One of the words that comes to mind after a review of this kind, is 'parity'. The fact that this board is Nvidia's reference design, does not detract from the fact that it stacked up well against one of the heavy hitters in the 680i playing field. Performance is pretty even across the board at stock clock speeds. While ratcheting up the clock speeds, I was able to push the memory speed to 576FSB without extreme volts. My CPU on the other hand, is one of the voltage hungry ones. It needs plenty of core voltage to really push the clock speeds and I was able to manage an 850MHz overclock to end up at 3500MHz on the CPU speed. This was the maximum I could achieve with the available vcore, minus the droop. These speeds fall close to what is easily achievable without extreme voltages and is usable on a day-to-day basis.

Without all the bells and whistles that some of the deluxe and full-featured boards out today have, this board is still a good performer. Who needs onboard switches and LEDs, when you can get the same performance without all of the extra items? Sure they are nice, but when it comes down to it, do you really need them? With the ability to get a good and stable overclock with no problems, this board is one you should take a look at when the time comes to make your next purchase. The slogan on the box says it all: Play Hard!



Pros:

Cons: