- Review Price: £125.00
The ABIT NI8 SLI is the second passively cooled motherboard that I have looked at this month, but this time around the heatpipe really gets to show what it’s made of. On the AN8 Ultra, the heatpipe barely got warm to the touch, but on this board it got scorching hot. It seems that that the nForce4 Intel Edition chipset runs a lot hotter than its AMD counter part.
As the nForce4 Intel Edition is a two-part chipset it seems quite odd to add a heatpipe solution as it only cools the System Platform Processor (SPP). The MCP on the other hand is cooled by a small passive aluminium heatsink which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence compared to the one MSI used on the P4N Diamond, which featured a copper core. Additional cooling has also been fitted to the power regulation circuitry in the form of a large passive heatsink.
So until you fit your CPU and graphics cards into the NI8 SLI this is a very quiet motherboard. But luckily low noise isn’t the only thing the ABIT NI8 SLI has going for it.
The standard features of the nForce4 chipset are all present such as onboard Gigabit Ethernet, SATA RAID with support for RAID 5 and of course the hardware Firewall. To this ABIT has added a second Silicon Image SATA controller, which adds a further two SATA connectors offering a range of RAID configurations. The NI8 SLI is also using one of ABITs AudioMAX 7.1 riser cards for the audio, although this is a Realtek ALC850 AC97 codec and not a high definition one. Another downer is the lack of FireWire, something I would’ve expected to find on a high-end board.
Looking at the board itself the layout is adequate, although the floppy connector has been placed below the bottom PCI slot making it awkward to access. ABIT has also added a Molex connector here that needs to be attached to the PSU when the board is in SLI mode.
Oddly, the two SATA connectors belonging to the Silicon Image controller have been placed at the rear of the board between the chipset and the 12V AUX connector making cable routing very untidy. There are also a couple of other minor nuisances. The first is that the bottom right screw hole can’t be used as one of the IDE connectors is covering it. The other is that the connectors to which the case wires are attached are very close to one of the USB headers, which could possibly cause some interference problems depending on the case you use.
To enable SLI mode, ABIT has stuck with a switching card rather than using a BIOS option or a digital switch. I have to give ABIT a thumbs-up for putting the release catch at the top of the slot where it’s easy to get to, rather than at the bottom, where other manufacturers tend to place it.
The rear I/O connectors consist of two PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, four USB 2.0 ports and an Ethernet connector. A further six USB 2.0 ports can be added, although no rear bracket was provided so unless you have a spare one or a case with front USB ports these are wasted.
As with most high-end ABIT boards a POST debug LED is also present and this can be an invaluable help when things go wrong. The NI8 SLI also features a new version of the microGuru chip and as such works with the new microGuru clock, which is available as a cost option at around £19.
This offers a lot more functionality compared to its predecessors. There’s a USB audio controller for a headphone and a microphone and together with a plug-in for Skype it enables you to use it as an external information terminal. If someone calls you, the microGuru clock will ring and you can answer and end calls from a button on the top of it, although, on our review sample at least, the ringer volume was rather on the low side.
You can also set up quick dials for up to five users and another five groups. Apart from this there’s a USB port on the right hand side of the microGuru clock and three buttons on the front. The right button can power your PC on and off, the middle one enables you to browse through the various options and the left hand side one is a ‘select’ button.
Opening the box you’re greeted by one IDE and one floppy cable as well as six SATA cables, an SLI bridge as well as a support that holds it in place during transit.
So what about performance? Well, I have no complaints here as the NI8 SLI scored some very good numbers across the board beating the MSI P4N Diamond in just about every test. Considering that the NI8 SLI comes in at a very reasonable price point some of the minor issues of the board can be overlooked.
It may not be the best featured board on the market but taking everything into account, the ABIT NI8 SLI is good value for money. If you pair it up with a low noise CPU cooler and a couple of the quieter SLI cards you could have yourself a high-end gaming rig that doesn’t sound like an aeroplane.
Score in detail
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