To my knowledge this is also the first Intel CPU solution to use HyperTransport as the chipset interconnect. However, this is a slower 800MHz 8-bit solution rather than the 1GHz 16-bit version found on current AMD platforms. It should provide plenty of bandwidth for PCI Express devices, which is important when you start sharing the PCI Express bus between devices like Gigabit Ethernet adapters and HDTV-tuner cards, both of which require a lot of bandwidth.
It’s good to see that nVidia decided to go for two IDE controllers, rather than the single one that Intel offers on its current chipsets. This means that you can still use four IDE devices, as well as a further four SATA devices. A new feature for the nForce 4 SLi Intel Edition is RAID 5. This allows you to run a RAID using three hard drives, two are striped for performance and the third disk is the parity volume. The parity disk keeps track of the data on both of the other two disks and if one fails the parity disk is used to rebuild the array together with the remaining working disk.
One of the best features on this motherboard is also one of the most simple. Gigabyte has used a new type of SATA cable that locks to the motherboard connectors as well as newer SATA hard drives. This means that there’s less chance of the cables falling out during transit – there are also plastic surrounds for each port on the motherboard, making them slightly more sturdy.
The remaining features have been carried over from the nForce 4 SLi chipset for AMD, with commendable assets such as the Gigabit Ethernet controller with the ActiveArmor firewall making a welcome appearance.
Of course Gigabyte has added plenty of features to the already long list. A Promise RAID controller with support for a further two IDE and SATA drives has been fitted alongside a FireWire 1394b controller for high-speed 800Mbit/sec FireWire devices. A second Gigabit Ethernet controller is also part of the package as well as 7.1-channel AC97 sound. This is one of the low points of the board, as the new Intel HD compatible audio solutions offer much better audio quality.
Gigabyte has also included its signature DualBIOS and U-PLUS D.P.S power module. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t fit that well on the GA-8N-SLi Royal due to the design of the heatpipe cooler. It gets too close to the chipset and with a larger CPU cooler it won’t fit in its slot. The main chipset heatsink comes with an optional fan.
The final part of the package is a small USB Bluetooth dongle. Although our early sample didn’t ship with one of these dongles, another Gigabyte board that I had in the labs did come with one. It’s using the same software as the MSI Star Hub and offers similar Bluetooth functionality.
The I/O panel consists of two PS/2 ports, single parallel and serial ports, optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, two Ethernet ports and six audio connectors. Two brackets are supplied in the box, one with two USB 2.0 ports and the other with a further two USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire 1394a and 1394b connector. You also get six SATA cables and a retention mechanism for the SLi bridge connector.