- Review Price: £151.00
This was meant to be a head to head between the Asus P5ND2-SLI and another SLI board; sadly the other one didn’t run any of the 3D tests properly. So here we are, with the Asus P5ND2-SLI on its own.
Having now tested three nForce 4 Pentium 4 Edition SLI motherboards and experiencing stability issues with each I must admit to having some concerns. It’s undeniably a very fast chipset, but the issues I have encountered have made me hesitant about it being a viable option at this early stage, for anyone who wants Intel inside and SLI. That said, I did at least manage to get a near full suite of benchmarks from the Asus, which is more than can be said for the other board.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the P5ND2-SLI to see what it has on offer. Once again Asus has managed to impress in terms of features as the P5ND2-SLI is riddled with components. The downside of having this many features is that the layout is quite cluttered and once you’ve got your CPU cooler and two graphics cards fitted, it’s actually quite hard to get to some parts of the board.
The nForce 4 SLI Pentium 4 Edition chipset offers a wide range of features and Asus has taken advantage of all of them. This means that you get four SATA connectors with support for RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5. Asus has on top of this added a further two SATA connectors via a Silicon Image controller, although these are located in quite odd locations. One is actually part of the rear I/O connection block, which means that it’s actually accessible from the exterior of the PC and thus suitable for hot plug external SATA devices, though these are thin on the ground at the moment. The second one is located between the top PCI Express x16 slot and the chipset heatsink. Both controllers are SATA II and support transfer speeds of up to 3GB/s.
nVidia has stuck with two IDE controllers, so there’s support for up to four IDE drives. One of the IDE connectors is unusually placed at the side of the board at an angle, which has the advantage of making it easy to access. The other one however, is squeezed in between the 24-pin power connector and the memory slots. This means that when the power dongle is connected it will be difficult to reach that IDE connector. Above the power connector is the floppy drive header, which I think should swap places with the second IDE connector.
Asus has also included dual Gigabit Ethernet; one controller courtesy of the chipset and the other, unusually, from Intel. The downside with the latter is that it’s PCI rather than PCI Express and will as such not perform anywhere near as well as the integrated controller and will hog the PCI bus bandwidth if used at Gigabit speed.
The features don’t end here though as you also get FireWire and 7.1-channel sound. Sadly, Asus hasn’t gone for High Definition audio but rather a bog standard AC’97 solution. The I/O panel consists of two PS/2 and a parallel port, optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs, the aforementioned SATA connector, four USB 2.0 ports, two Ethernet connectors, a six-pin FireWire port and six audio connectors.
Taking a deep breath, the feature list continues. There are three brackets coming off headers on the motherboard. One offers a serial port, one with a single FireWire port (could these two not have been fitted on the same one?) and finally one with two USB 2.0 ports and a game/midi port.
In the box Asus has supplied five SATA data cables and two SATA power cables with four connectors on each, along with two IDE cables and a floppy cable. Finally, you get an SLI bridge to connect your two SLI cards together as well as a very clever bracket that holds the bridge in place once installed.
Interestingly, Asus has gone for passive chipset coolers, which reduces the noise your PC makes. However, the heatsink on the northbridge is as large as I have ever seen. It got very hot during testing and there is no way to mount a fan on top of the heatsink due to its unusual shape. The power regulation circuitry also has a passive heatsink for improved cooling. The lack of active cooling means that you must ensure you have good airflow inside your case or some components might overheat.
The fan headers are also dotted around the board in rather unusual locations. The CPU connector is logically placed but the others aren’t where you might need to them. One is squeezed in between the floppy connector and the memory slots, while another is located just below the 24-pin power connector. Yet another is found right next to the south bridge and the last one is just above the top x16 PCI Express slot.
Asus has a SLI board for Athlon that dispenses with the selector card to choose between SLI and non-SLI modes, but on the P5ND2-SLI one is present. Above this is a four-pin Molex connector close to the top x16 slot, which is required to supply the board with enough juice when in SLI mode. This means more cable clutter, which doesn’t help with airflow. At least the 12V power connector is placed towards the top of the board, out of the way of everything else.
There are some design issues with the P5ND2-SLI that Asus should look into but at least the performance numbers look good. As I was using a 3.73GHz Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPU along with 1GB of Corsair XMS 5400UL memory and two 6800GT cards, anything but top notch performance would have been disappointing to say the least.
With an overall SYSmark 2004 score of 227 there are few boards that can touch the P5ND2-SLI for performance on this test. This is also the first nForce 4 SLI Pentium 4 Edition board that has produced a SYSMark 2004 score in our labs, as the Gigabyte board didn’t complete the test. However, the PCMark 2004 scores of the P5ND2-SLI are slightly slower than those of the Gigabyte GA-8N-SLi Royal but not by much.
The same applies to all of the 3D tests, with the Asus boards slightly behind the Gigabyte. A BIOS update should resolve this, although at the time of writing no new BIOSes were found on Asus website. On the software side a full version of InterVideo WinDVD Suite in included, which is a bonus.
At £150.78, the Asus P5ND2-SLI it’s on the expensive side, although Pentium 4 boards have always been pricier than their AMD counterparts. With that, and the stability issues I encountered during testing in mind, I’d be reluctant to recommend this board as it stands.
I can’t quite put my finger on what’s causing the instability issues I’ve seen with this and all the other P4 SLI boards I’ve looked at. But having tried everything I could think of, including upgrading the BIOS and changing drivers for both motherboard and graphics cards, I’ve run into something of a brick wall and as yet, the manufacturers have not been able to come up with an answer to my problems.
The P5ND2-SLI has a wide range of features, passive cooling and a very good SYSmark 2004 score but with quibbles over its design and question marks over its stability it’s difficult to recommend at this juncture.
Graphs to follow…
Score in detail