ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe
ASUS Gets Tough
The A8N32-SLI Deluxe is not the first motherboard we've tested with the nForce4 SLI X16, nor is it the first to use heat pipe cooling for its chipset. However, one cannot deny that the board looks like it means business. Behind serious facade of its black PCB design, the A8N32-SLI Deluxe is a statement of ASUS engineering to provide the next generation in heat and noise management, two of the biggest 'side-effects' of current high-speed performance systems. While many a manufacturer have effective solutions for component cooling (think ABIT OTES or Gigabyte Turbojet), ASUS is the only one that is committed to a totally fanless operation. Ironically though, since the rear radiator block cools both heat pipes, it must rely on the CPU cooler to provide airflow for optimum cooling. ASUS knows this as well, which is why the board is actually bundled with a secondary fan to be used if users opt for other CPU cooling methods like waterblocks, where there is no fan to circulate air through the heat pipe radiator.
On the board itself, we have a total of four low profile and slim heatsink blocks, three of them bear a heat pipe design. Instead of sharing a single snaking heat pipe, both the nForce4 SLI X16 MCP and SPP chips have their own dedicated heat pipe cooled through the rear radiator block. Since NVIDIA's nForce4 family is known to run seriously hot, this design really helps in cooling efficiency. The A8N32-SLI Deluxe also features ASUS' Stack Cool 2 technology at the underside to further increase heat dissipation. Now we can't really measure the true effectiveness to the decimal in degrees, but when you have a fully loaded nForce4-based motherboard that is just slightly warm to the touch, that's impressive by any standards.
Another standout feature of the A8N32-SLI Deluxe is its incredible 8-phase power circuitry built on the board itself. Sure, Gigabyte has done this before with their U-Plus D.P.S. However, Gigabyte employs a separate VRM module plugged onto the board, which we've sometimes found impossible due to space restrictions. The definite benefit to such an elaborate design is cleaner power to the CPU and better load balance, which in turn equates to a more stable platform.
At a glance, the board comes with similar features to its predecessor, the A8N-SLI Deluxe, but it actually sports some nifty updates. You've got two additional SATA II connectors in the form of Silicon Image's SiI3132 controller with a dedicated eSATA port, dual high-bandwidth Gigabit LAN ports (Marvell PCIe 88E8053 + 88E1115 PHY) and to top of the feature list, a Texas Instruments (TSB43AB22A) 2-port IEEE 1394a controller. The only letdown though was the audio support, which still relied on an AC'97 CODEC (Realtek ALC850). With competitors Gigabyte and MSI both embracing Sound Blaster Live! and Audigy series of audio solutions, it is a shame to see this board has not been refreshed in this department.
Design-wise, the board is just shy of being flawless, but then we don't think there is such a thing. What ASUS has done right was its component placements. All major components are properly spaced out, CPU socket and DIMM slots are far enough away from the expansion slots and ASUS moved down both PCIe x16 graphics slots so as to have space on both sides of installed cards. There is however, a drawback to this since it means there is very little space for other expansion cards with a full SLI rig. At best, you'd have access to one PCI and one PCIe x1/x4 slot, an important concern for gamers since you'd want to leave a space for a dedicated sound card.
- FSB Settings: 200MHz to 500MHz
- SB-NB Frequency: 200-300MHz
- PCIe Frequency: 100MHz to 200MHz
- RAM Frequency: DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR360, DDR400
- CPU Voltage Settings: 1.000V to 1.625V (in 0.0125V steps), +200mV
- Memory Voltage Settings: 2.60V to 3.20V (in 0.05V steps)
- NB Voltage: +0.1V
- SB Voltage: +0.1V
- HyperTransport Voltage: +0.1V
- PEG Link Mode Settings: Normal, Fast, Faster
- Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)
For some reason ASUS has limited the A8N32-SLI Deluxe in the overclocking department. They've so far done everything to make sure the board stayed cool and have a stable power supply, but we were slightly disappointed with the voltage selection in the BIOS, especially after seeing the deluge of options on the MSI K8N Diamond Plus. Overvolting the chipset is basically a simple 0.1V toggle and that's about it. It did however allow users to play around with the SB to NB HTT link frequency, so you can try boosting it up for more bandwidth especially in SLI modes.
The A8N32-SLI Deluxe displayed a similar level of overclocking prowess during our tests. Like our MSI K8N Diamond Plus review, we managed to hit 295MHz FSB by default with a HTT multiplier at 4x. Of course, like all our overclocking tests, we first lower CPU and memory speeds to ensure they are not the limiting factor. However, without more comprehensive options, we were unable to push it any further.
It's All Good, but..
Although we've been raving on about the fan-less cooling on the board, it might also potentially become a hindrance to CPU cooler installation. We didn't run into any issues ourselves, but the SPP cooler and protruding heat pipes look to be really close to the left side of the CPU retention unit.