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Over the past couple of months Intel's new Core i7 CPUs and X58 chipset have come to rule the high end of PC performance but the mainstream is still dominated by LGA775 motherboards that support Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors. So here we are with the ASRock N7AD-SLI which supports LGA775 with SLI graphics thanks to its Nvidia nForce 740i SLI chipset.
We're well used to the idea of budget motherboards that make the most of the features in the chipset but we have to confess that the nForce 740i SLI didn't immediately spring to mind. Clearly it is a basic chipset that supports a single PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot or dual x8, if you prefer to run SLI, but there is no digital switch and the ASRock employs a flip card to change from one mode to the other, which is a little bit inconvenient. There are six SATA II ports with RAID and six USB 2.0 ports with headers for four more USB ports which is all very reasonable when you consider the low selling price of this motherboard.
Although the N7AD-SLI supports Core 2 processors with a front side bus up to 1,600MHz in speed, the four slots of DDR2 memory are limited to a choice of 667MHz or 800MHz so we thought it wise to find out more about the chipset. We ran CPU-Z and found that the software identifies this nForce 740i SLI as nForce 730i which is intriguing as the 730i is a mono chip, rather than a two piece chipset like the one on the ASRock. Also, the 730i supports a single graphics slot while the ASRock supports SLI.
We checked nVidia's website and found that the 740i SLI doesn't appear on the list of products although nForce 730i, 750i SLI, 780i SLI and 790i SLI are present and correct. Next we picked up the phone and asked Nvidia's PR about 740i SLI and … drew a blank. It seems that ASRock has either found a secret chipset or has somehow persuaded nForce 730 to support SLI.
The N7AD-SLI covers the chipset with a small passive cooler that is boxed in by the CPU cooler, primary graphics card and memory modules and during our testing it got rather hot. We've previously suffered nVidia chipsets that get hot enough to cause injury or for the system to blue screen or lock up and this is mild by comparison but we felt it judicious to set a case fan blowing on the chipset.
The layout of the ASRock is dominated by the dual graphics slots which are widely separated to ensure you will have space between the graphics cards even using a pair of double slot cards. The single IDE connector is laid down to ensure that the cable doesn't get in the way and the six SATA II connectors are arranged in two rows just above the secondary graphics slot.