Summary

Our Score

8/10

Review Price free/subscription

ASRock N7AD-SLI - ASRock N7AD-SLI

Although space is limited the main components fit in neatly enough and ASRock has helped the situation with an unusual choice in the location of the USB headers. There are six USB 2.0 ports on the I/O panel and two headers that support four more ports however these headers are not arranged at the foot of the board in the traditional location. Instead they are placed above the main graphics card next to the chipset which, of course, includes the Southbridge and the USB controller.

You don't get any brackets included in the package so logic says that you will be using the headers with case mounted ports and this novel location is absolutely fine for that purpose. If you choose to use USB brackets the cables would have to trail across the top of the graphics cards, which is of course less ideal.

Other ports on the I/O panel include two PS/2 ports, audio jacks with optical and coaxial S/PDIF, one Firewire, Gigabit LAN and one eSATA port, which is a full set of connectors by any standards.
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We tested the ASRock with a Core 2 Duo E8500 along with 2GB of DDR2-800 and an MSI GeForce 8800GT and found that the N7AD-SLI overclocked like a dream. We were able to crank up the front side bus from 333MHz to 420MHz which raised the clock speed from 3.16GHz to 3.99GHz which nearly matches the superb Abit IP35 Pro that we used when we originally reviewed the Core 2 Duo E8500.

Although the clock speed was impressive the performance was held back by the 800MHz clock speed of the DDR2 memory but overall we were very happy. Things took a turn for the worse, though, when we installed a second GeForce 8800GT and enabled SLI as the system crashed in benchmark after benchmark. We reduced the CPU speed a number of times until we finally reached the stock speed of 3.16GHz when all was finally well. The problem is that the pair of 8800GT cards with a 3.16GHz CPU delivered the same performance as a single 8800GT with an overclocked 3.99GHz CPU.

It occurred to us that the problem may lie with the graphics driver which was the elderly version 178.24 so we switched to version 180.48 and tried another benchmark on standard clock speeds. It came as something of a surprise when the system locked solid and the only way we could get it back to life was by removing the two 8800GT cards and replacing them with a Radeon HD 3650 to persuade Windows Vista to install a standard VGA driver. We reverted to driver 178.24 with an 8800GT and all was well.

So the upshot is that SLI didn't work effectively on the ASRock with the GeForce 8800GTs, which in turn makes us wonder about the point of the N7AD-SLI.

Verdict

The provenance of the nForce 740i SLI chipset is vague to say the least and in the case of the ASRock N7AD-SLI it misses the mark as SLI support is decidedly shaky.

*Addendum*

ASRock contacted us after we published this review and informed us that the problem with overclocking with SLI was due to the CPU voltage being not high enough. We tested this and can confirm that a minimum 1.4V is required for the board to overclock with two graphics cards. This is quite a strange occurrence and is certainly something we wouldn't expect to see even on a cheap motherboard like this. Besides which, we couldn't even get the CPU to overclock as far with two graphics cards as we could with one. Nonetheless, baring in mind it is at least possible now, and especially now with nVidia having finally confirmed the existence of the 730i chipset, we feel this board is deserving of a slight reprieve. As such we've revised the scores to reflect our new opinion of it.

None of the original review text or performance results have changed.

Original scores:

Features & Layout: 7
Performance: 7
Value: 8
Overall: 7

Revised Scores:

Features & Layout: 7
Performance: 8
Value: 8
Overall: 8

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