Now we get to what we want to see, the board itself. For a reference design, nVidia and eVGA have managed to get out a marvel of engineering. The full ATX 24x30cm layout is needed to fit all the goodies that nVidia wanted to slap into its chipset, otherwise we'd end up with a cramped layout.
Power connectors are sensibly placed as are the IDE and FDD connectors. The 24-pin power, blue IDE and black FDD connectors reside behind the four DDR-2 memory sockets which are colour coded blue for channel 1 and black for channel 2. The 8-pin power connector sits up the top left of the board between the VRM heatsinks and the PS/2 port towers. Four of the SATA ports are located between the DIMM sockets and the IDE connector and the last two are located beside the FDD which is angled 90 degree to the board. With graphics cards like the GeForce 8800 taking up so much room, the traditional spot for the SATA ports means the cables are in the way; this layout keeps it functional and easy to work with.
When it comes to the CPU and heat sinks, you'll be pleased to know that eVGA and nVidia has done a good job keeping the socket clear of large components but also manages to keep things running smooth with integrated cooling. There is enough space around the CPU to install large after market heat sinks that are, shall we say, insane in size. eVGA has added some passively cooled heatsinks to the top of the Mosfets and the VRM circuits. Unfortunately, if you go water cooling, these won't get cooled by any extra means unlike the ASUS offerings that include fans.
A 6 phase Digital VRM system is used to supply the CPU with power - 4 phases are enough to keep a Core 2 setup happy even with a Quad Core CPU, however it's very nice to see them go the extra yards to keep overclockers happy.
The rear I/O is pretty standard in layout but requires a new I/O shield in order to fit into the case. The COM port has been removed from the back panel and placed on a expansion slot cover, the LPT port is gone completely - no more parallel port support from nVidia. A single Toslink SPDIF out port makes up the Digital audio component part of the board.
Now it's onto the expansion ports. Being 680i based you have three PCI Express x16 slots to play with. The two black PCI-E X16 slots are full-speed, the top one is run from the Northbridge and the bottom is run from the Southbridge, or SPP and MCP as they are known to nVidia.
The blue x16 slot is physically x16 but only carries 8 lanes of traffic. This one is run off the MCP as well and is useful for a third graphics card to run a physics engine or you can install high-speed x4 or x8 SATA RAID controllers. For everyday expansion, there are two PCI Express x1 lanes, one above the first x16 slot and one below. For legacy support you get two PCI slots, one between the blue PCI-E x16 slot and last PCI-E x16 slot and one right at the bottom below the last PCI-E x16 slot.
In the way of additional controllers only a single PCI based Texas Instruments Firewire chip is used. There are no additional SATA controllers or Ethernet controllers as this board has enough to keep you happy for quite some time.
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