XFX nForce 680i Review

ajmatson - 2007-10-04 20:10:56 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: December 4, 2007
Price: $229.99

Introduction:

With any computer build the most important item is always going to be the motherboard. No matter how fast your video card, or how killer of a processor you ordered, if you have a motherboard that holds you back all of that wont matter. Different motherboard designs offer different features. Some have multiple PCI-e slots, some offer higher speeds. Today I am going to take a look at the newest nVidia chipset boards, the XFX nForce 680i SLi Socket 775 motherboard.

The XFX nForce 680i SLi has the features for any computer enthusiast or power gamer. With the XFX 680i you have the ability to run and expand the latest and greatest of components to put you at the head of the pack. Supporting Quad Core processors, the latest memory available, and multiple PCI-e slots for dual graphics card solutions, you will never be left behind in your all night frag sessions. Now that I have my paws on this baby lets take a look at what the XFX nForce 680i SLi has to offer.

 

Closer Look:

This XFX 680i came in a pretty large box with the traditional XFX motif you see on their video card boxes. The Front and the sides have a few specs on them that outline the system that this board is made for, which Intel Platform, including Intel Core 2 Extreme (dual and quad core), Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Celeron D, Pentium 4, Pentium 4, Pentium D 9XX, and Pentium D 8XX processors up to 1333MHz FSB (Front Side Bus). It also supports DDR2-800 RAM.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back of this box gives you a lot of information so you know what you are buying. Highlighted here are the main points that the XFX 680i  board has to offer. You can get an idea of the number of ports and PCI-e slots by glancing on the back.

 

Opening up the box you see how the box is separated off to secure the components during transportation.

 

Digging on in we get to the protection for the motherboard. XFX Secures the motherboard in the anti-static bag as well as a nice semi-thick box to protect the components of the motherboard from being bent, cracked, or broken during transport.

 

Closer Look:

The XFX 680i is designed for the Intel Platform supporting Socket 775 CPU's. XFX used the reference design of the 680i series while making minor changes to suit the needs it anticipates of customers who are purchasing motherboards. XFX went with a black PC board instead of the usual green which ads to the boards asthetic appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the back panel there are enough ports to please anyone who uses the XFX nForce 680i SLi. The one thing that was not included was an eSata port, which for a high end board I feel should be added, but as for the rest there are plenty of connections available. Starting from the top of the board there is a PS/2 mouse and keyboard port, a firewire port, six USB 2.0 ports, Optical S/PDIF, 8-channel high definition audio, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

 

For card expansion the XFX 680i does not leave you hanging. It offers two PCI slots, two PCI-e 1x slots for future cards coming out, like wi-fi and more, two x16 PCI-e slots, and one x8 PCI-e slot. Yes, you heard me right, two full 16x slots for SLi cards and more. No more cutting the second x16 slot's bandwidth in half when you run multiple graphics cards. With this set up you can have two graphics cards running in SLi mode in the black slots and also have a Physx card running in the blue slot for optimum game performance. You can also have three graphics cards in each of the slots for multiple monitor setups for games or business applications with, of course, the blue one only running in x8 speeds.

 

 

The panel internal connections are just as plentiful as the external ones. Starting from the right hand side of the board you have  the four ram slots for DDR2-800 modules, one PATA port for CD-ROMs, a 4-pin molex power port, behind that is the front panel headers, which are sandwiched and not in a very easy location to get to, then below are four of the SATA ports, a 90 degree floppy port, and two 90 degree SATA ports. On the bottom are the fan headers, firewire headers, USB headers, a debug led, and CMOS battery. One thing I found unique was the power and reset switches on the board itself, which make it easy to cycle the power while working inside the computer without having to hook up the case wires for testing.

 

 

 

The cooling features of the XFX 680i are mainly heatsinks by the CPU and the Southbridge. The Northbridge has a massive fin style heatsink with a cooling fan that can bee installed on it to whisk heat away. There is also a heatpipe that runs from the Southbridge to the Northbridge to aid in keeping the critical parts cool.

 

Closer Look:

For all those connections on the motherboard you need the hardware to make them work, right? Well, XFX comes through in that department also. They include everything you could possible need to get yourself up and running with minimal fuss. Included are one PATA rounded cable, one floppy rounded cable, six SATA cables, three 4-pin to SATA power cables with two connection on each, a firewire PCI bracket, a four port USB 2.0 PCI bracket, Northbridge fan, SLi connector, I/O Shield, documentation, driver CD and a bonus copy of Lost Planet PC game.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To get a better idea of the amount of cable connection that is included here are the cables spread out by the type of connection.

 

 

Installation:

Installation can be tricky if you are not familiar with all of the connections of your case and the procedures to install a motherboard. This is where I come in, to give you a guide to installing your motherboard. Best thing to do is to clear off your workspace so that you don't loose any parts or get them mixed up. With the XFX 680i laying flat, open the cover of the CPU socket and line up the CPU to the socket. Close the lid and lock the lever in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, take the thermal paste and place a pea size drop on the CPU. Using a plastic card (like an old squeegee card) evenly spread out the thermal past over the CPU. Then mount the heatsink and secure the legs to the motherboard making sure it is secure. Don't forget to plug the fan wire into the CPU Fan header on the motherboard.

 

 

 

With the CPU installed, take the memory modules, line them up with the memory slots on the motherboard, and insert them until they click into place.

 

 

 Install the I/O Shield plate and place the motherboard into the case. Using the proper screws mount the motherboard securing it to the chassis.

 

Lastly, install the add-on cards and connect all the wire connections to the board and you are all set to fire her up.

 

Closer Look:

Any true overclocker will spend a lot of time in the infamous BIOS. The BIOS is where the true potential of your system will come to life. I am going to take you thru the BIOS of the XFX 680i so you get an idea of what you can do on this system board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Features:

This section allows you to control the system date/time, and the configuration of your drives.

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

This section allows you to control boot priorities and devices, as well as let you select boot tests, like memory testing, etc.

 

Advanced Chipset Features:

This section is what will give you the most control over the system settings. We will be going over that more in the latter part of this section.

 

Integrated Peripherals:

This section allows yoy to control you USB and Firewire ports, your onboard audio and serial controls, and most importantly to set up your RAID arrays for your disk drives.

 

 

Power Management Setup:

This tab allows you to control the ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) of the system and the power on alarms and functions.

 

PnP / PCI Configurations:

The PnP/PCI configurations allow you to control the Plug and Play options and control the IRQs for the components.

 

System Monitor:

The system monitor tab allows you to view the system temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds to ensure a smooth running computer. Here you can even set your own speeds for the system fans.

Closer Look:

Now that we have a general idea of what you can accomplish in the BIOS, let's take a look at the Advanced Chipset Section again. This is where all the system tweaking will take place to overclock your computer. One thing I cannot stress enough, is take overclocking in baby steps. Never just rush in and pump the CPU and other components, or you may destroy your Windows partition, or worse, destroy your components. I encourage all to learn how to overclock, but take it slow to get it right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

System Clocks:

The system clocks tab is where you can change the CPU Multiplier from auto to 4x - 8x (on my CPU), adjust the PCI-e bus speeds, and the speeds for the Southbridge and the Northbridge.

 

FSB and Memory Config:

This is where the tweaking really gets into action. Here you can have the system auto overclock your computer if you have EPP memory by telling it how far you want it to go, from 0% to 5% overclocked, and then expert. Expert allows you to manually change the CPU and Memory speeds, link them together via memory dividers, or unlink them to run them at individual speeds.

 

 

 

Here in the memory config you also have the ability to set the memory timings manually. This is great for either tightening or loosening the timings for better overall performance.

 

CPU Configuration:

This section allows you to alter the CPU's thermal controls, Turn off Speedstep, and disable one or more of the cores of a multi-core CPU.

 

System Voltages:

Now this is the tricky part. You want to be very careful what you pump into the components. XFX makes it easy to change the voltages you need giving you control over the CPU voltage, CPU Front Side Bus voltage, Memory voltage, Southbridge voltage, Northbridge voltage, and the voltage linking the Northbridge to the Southbridge.

 

 

 

 

NVMEM Memory Test:

This setting allows you to run a memory test on POST to verify if your memory is functioning properly. There are four settings: Off, Fast, Medium and Slow. The slower the test the more accurate it is.

 

Load and Save Voltage/Timing Set:

This nifty little feature allows you to save three profiles of voltages and timings for you to recall if you have to clear your CMOS or if you have different sets of RAM you use. Just set up the way you want your voltages and timings and save it to one of the three profiles. Then, if you have to, you can re-load it at any time.

Configuration:

Configuration is quite simple with the XFX nForce 680i SLI as there is not really any special software that is included on the CD. The disk only has the drivers and the nVidia nTune utility, which is a basic program that monitors and tests the hardware. I will show you the driver install and then briefly show you the nVidia nTune Utility.

 

Driver Installation:

First you have to pop the CD into the CD rom drive and the autorun feature will bring up the XFX logo with the installation buttons.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here you have several options. You can install the drivers for Windows XP or Windows Vista.  Since I am using XP I will not be installing the Vista Drivers.  You can also install the nVidia nTune Utility for real time monitoring of key components. Click the Install Drivers Button and away it goes. Again there is no special software being installed, just the drivers to run the system.

 

 

The setup program also has the ability to help you create a RAID drivers disk. Just click on the Create RAID Drivers Disk button and follow the instruction to create the floppy with the drivers on it.

 

 

When all is done, restart the system and you are all ready to get to the fun stuff. 

 

nVidia nTune Utility:

The nTune Utility is a little program that allows you to do some configuring of the video of the system and to run stress tests on the hardware to make sure they are working properly. This program is very limited in what it does, as you cannot overclock with it or alter much more than the video aspects of the computer. It does have a nice tool to monitor temps, fan speeds, and more, all in one compact screen, however.

 

 

 

BIOS Flash Utility:

One thing I noticed when I received this board to review is that there was a BIOS update. A good rule of thumb is if it isn't broken then don't fix it but for the purpose of this review I will update the bios using the WinFlash Utility from XFX to update to the latest BIOS. Just download the update from the XFX Website, load it into WinFlash and let it do it's business.

 

 

Specifications:

CPU 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
Chipset NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI MCP Chipset
Front Side Bus 1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz
Memory 4x DIMM, Dual Channel DDR2 533/667/800, Max. 8GB. SLi Ready up to 1200MHz
Expansion Slots PCI-E x16 (2), PCI-E x8 (1), PCI-E x1 (2), PCI (2)
Storage 1x PATA supporting up to two devices, 6x SATA supporting RAID 0,1,0+1,5
LAN 2x Gigabit Ethernet Ports
Audio 8 Channel High Definition Audio (HDA)
IEEE 1394 1394a @ 400 Mb/s
USB (10) 2.0 ports (6 Rear + 2x2 Onboard)
Back Panel Connections 1x PS/2 Mouse
1x Keyboard
6x USB 2.0

1x Firewire 400
1x SPDIF Audio
2x Gigabit Ethernet
8CH Audio Connectors
Internal Connection 2x USB Headers
1x Firewire Header
Front Panel Headders

Speaker Header
Accessories  UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
FDD cable
6x Serial ATA cables

4 Port USB Bracket
1 Port Firewire Bracket
3 4-Pin Molex to SATA Power Adapter
Manuals
SLi Bridge
Driver CD
Bonus: Lost Planet PC Game
Form Factor ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.4cm)

 

Features:

 

Specs and features taken from http://www.xfxforce.com/web/product/listConfigurationDetails.jspa?series=NVIDIA+nForce+680i&productConfigurationId=998938#openLarger

Testing:

I am going to be putting the XFX nForce 680i SLi motherboard through a series of tests that will push the components to the limit. There are going to be some tests that will push the system components to get a better idea on how they will perform while running everyday tasks and programs like graphic design and more. Then I will be running tests that will see how well it performs during games and gaming benchmarks. This is being done to give you a complete look at what this board has to offer. I am also going to be comparing it to other boards previously reviewed by OverClockersClub.com to compare how they hold up together.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Motherboards:

 

System Tests:

 

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 score is based on the minutes it takes to render the image complete. Lower is better.

 

Winrar is a tool that allows you to compress and archive files so that they are easily managed. I am going to measure the time it takes, in seconds, to compress the files from start to finish. Lower is better.

 

Testing:

Specview is a benchmark that tests the performance of OpenGL. I went with the default tests to have better comparison between different platforms. The higher is better. The tests used were:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

PCMark05 is a benchmark that measures overall system performance by running a series of tests that gauge the components. This will allow a comparison of the total system for each board. Higher scores are better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra XII - With Sandra we are able to dig down deeper into the memory performance by running tests for cache and memory subsystem, memory bandwidth, and memory latency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. Cinebench 10 has recently been added to our benchmark suite . Therefore, the only comparison will be stock vs. overclocked with the Asus P5k Premium and the XFX 680i SLi.

 

 

HDTune is a benchmark that measures the performance of hard drives and the drive controllers. In Burst Speed and Read Speed, higher scores are better, and in Utilization and Access Time, lower are better.

 

 

Testing:

Raw performance data is nice to have when it comes to bragging rights, but most people want to see how well the hardware performs against other products in the same class.

The game tests that we use are as follows:

 

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 the 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 are below:

 

 

 

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and weapon modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. BioShock is a new addition to our game benchmarking suite, so comparison data will be stock vs. overclocked on the P5K Premium.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Benchmark:  Call of Duty 2

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

 

The settings used are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Benchmark:  Quake 4

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:

Benchmark:  Need For Speed:  Most Wanted

Need For Speed: Most Wanted. For this test, we will time each race and record the average FPS (Frames Per Second) achieved.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Benchmark:  3DMark06

3DMark06 is the benchmark of choice for gamers because the results give you the right to brag about your system. 3DMark06 puts a stress on the components that will put even the top of the line hardware to the test. The settings used were:

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extras:

Overclocking:

One thing I wanted to test was the overclocking ability of this board with my 2.66GHz Processor. I played with the Front Side Bus, voltage and the multiplier to see what I could come up with. The highest I was able to boot into windows and pass Prime testing was 450x8, or 3.60GHz. That is almost a full gigahertz overclock, almost 35% more, all on air cooling. Anything over 450 and the system would not boot into Windows. I ran this for 24 hours while doing daily work and playing games with no problems whatsoever. The voltage on the CPU was 1.50 volts, which was not bad, as with some motherboards I have had to go higher with the same processor. Here are some shots running Prime 95, and CPU-Z showing the CPU speed and voltage, as well as the memory at 600MHz.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Bonus Software:

In the box for the motherboard was a full copy of the PC game, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. It is nice to see when manufacturers offer these little perks with hardware because it makes a purchase that much sweeter that you have something to use on it right away. Lost Planet is a game that supports DirectX 9 and 10, so if you have the latest video card and Windows Vista OS you can play your games that much better. Since XFX's slogan is "Play Hard" they make it true when offering a top end game like this. This game also has it's own built in benchmarking utility.

Conclusion:

First, I want to start off saying the XFX 680i was a pleasure to test. Everything from setting it up, to testing it was painless. As for the benchmarks, I think they speak for themselves. It was a little behind the ASUS P5K, which is based off of the Intel P35 Chipset, but was dead on or better than the DFI Lanparty, which is based on the Nvidia 680i Chipset, the same as the XFX 680i. As for gaming benchmarks, the XFX nForce 680i SLi was right where it should be giving the other motherboards a run for their money. One of the biggest features I really liked on the XFX 680i is the debug LED which is critical for someone who overclocks their systems, so that if something fails you can easily tell where your problem is. Here at OCC we like to push our hardware components to the limit, so that feature was a winner for me. Also having two x16 PCI-e slots and an x8 slot is a bonus for those of you who are gamers. This gives you the ability to run two graphics cards in SLi mode, and either add a third for additional monitors, or to add a PhysX card to your system for the most realistic playing you can get.

Next, I want to comment on the ease of being able to overclock the XFX 680i. The BIOS features profiles which you can save and load at will. With EPP profiles, the XFX 680i will automatically overclock your memory without much interaction from the user, but if you are like me and want to go ever further, the options you can adjust are limitless. Also, I noticed that if I pushed the limits too far and the system would not boot, I was able to reset to the defaults so that I could get back in, without having to manually clear the BIOS jumper. Since overclocking is what we here at OCC are all about, this little extra makes a world of difference. On the down side, I was annoyed on the placement of the front panel connectors, which were sandwiched between the RAM slots and the IDE port on the middle of the board. This made for routing the front panel header wires harder, and they kept getting tangled in all of the other cabling. It would have been nice just to leave them on the bottom of the motherboard for better access. Also the lack of an eSATA port was a negative, since it is becoming a more popular connector for external hard drives, and a lot of other high end boards include it. Other than that this board was one of the best I have had the privilege to use, and would recommend it to any gamer or enthusiast. XFX could have not picked a better slogan when they said "Play Hard".

 

Pros:

 

Cons: