The motherboard is an EVGA nForce 680i SLI 775. Based on the new-fangled SLI chipset for Intel Core 2 Duo processors this is packed with technology – there’s the two x16 PCI Express graphics slots along with one x8 slot, which is ready and waiting for something like an Aegia PhysX card, should you feel the need. There are also two x1 slots, though only the top one is accessible for use. There’s a generous eight USB 2.0 ports, two at the front and six at the rear. There are also two full size FireWire ports, one at the front and one at the rear. Other cool features include dual Gigabit Ethernet. The SATA ports are side mounted, so you don’t have to worry about straining SATA cables. On the base of the system is a PCB that contains the controllers for the case lights. This is controlled by software but it wasn’t installed on the system we were sent.
The chipset has built in 7.1 Azalia HD Audio but this is supplanted by the presence of a Creative X-Fi card, which always sounds fabulous to my ears. This was spoilt somewhat by severe stuttering and distortion in the audio when playing Oblivion and a driver update made no difference. However, the issue seemed limited to Oblivion, as the audio was fabulous in all the other games I tried, such as Battlefield 2 and Call of Duty 2.
The motherboard features a passive heatsink on both the Northbridge and the Southbridge, with a heatpipe running between the two and radial fins dissipating the heat. Alienware has also fitted a very large fan/heatsink arrangement over the Kentsfield CPU. Any fan noise this generates is more than drowned out by the noise generated by the system fans – or at least one fan in particular.
While the ones at the front and side are near silent, the one at the rear is simply the loudest fan I’ve ever heard. It seems to generate 90 per cent of the system noise – impressive considering what’s in this system, though not in a good way. The press release for the system also referred to thermal sensors enabling dynamically adjusting the fan speed to allow for a quieter system, but this simply didn’t work. I moved the fan cable to three different fan headers on the motherboard but to no avail. However, Alienware has assured me that it will be changing this rear fan to the quiet one used at the front in all shipping systems, so if it sticks to its word you won’t have to share the aural pain we had to undergo in the office.