Features of the Albatron K8SLI
Albatron's value nForce 4 SLI is a rather small motherboard, in fact so small in width that just about any mid sized ATX case would find it easy to cram into the most restricted mid-size ATX case, and in my travels, we have seen quite a few of them.
Layout wise you will notice a few changes from the norm - for instance, the CPU socket is offset towards the right hand side and with the 24 pin ATX power connector, already we are seeing budget in terms of placements. The 4 pin CPU voltage power connector is placed between the other side of the CPU socket and the rear I.O panel.
The DIMM sockets are located at the top with green slots for Channel 1 and purple for Channel 2. Also located at the top of the motherboard is the FDD connector, keeping it well out of the way of most of the sockets. The IDE ports you will notice are down below the 24 pin power connector just above the 4 SATA ports.
Expansion slots are pretty standard for SLI based nForce4, you have two PCI Express x16 ports, two PCI Express x1 ports and two PCI legacy ports. In the next generation we will start to see PCI ports going the way of the dodo, and PCI-E can handle what PCI can do with extra to spare.
Albatron has gone a different way in terms of its PCI-E support. Rather than having a SLI selector card, the two PCI-E x16 slots are permanently hardwired to x8 slots, which means when using a single graphics card, you will only get a x8 reading in Windows. While this eliminates the need for SLI bridges, it will limit transfer speeds to x8 no matter what you do. Fair enough the motherboard is designed to be an SLI system however some people might not be in the position to buy the board and two graphics cards at the same time.
The nVidia nForce4 SLI chipset is the biggest launch and success for nVidia since the nForce2 chipset. nForce4 builds on the existing technologies that have made nVidia a household name for the AMD community. The nForce4 SLI for AMD is a single chip solution, which makes perfect sense since there is no memory controller to be integrated into the chipset. AMD K8 puts its memory controller on the CPU itself with its own Northbridge and HT link, all that is required for the K8 is a HyperTransport interface of 2GHz. The nForce4 chip runs quite warm, so Albatron has used an active cooling solution on the FC-BGA setup, allowing maximum cooling.
nVidia is the only company to integrate a Gigabit Ethernet MAC directly into their chipset. Other companies like Intel and VIA rely on PCI-E based Ethernet controllers or like ULi, SIS and VIA only have 10/100 Fast Ethernet on their Southbridges. With media now growing from Megabytes to Gigabytes, a faster interconnect between PC's is needed than 100mbps Ethernet. The nVidia Gigabit Ethernet is a proprietary MAC that connects directly to HyperTransport link rather than the PCI-E or PCI buses, thus eliminating any bottlenecks. The VITESSE VSC PHY is used to interface the RJ45 connector with the on chip controller.
Gigabyte may have pioneered Dual BIOS, but that doesn't mean it cannot be improved. In the box of goodies you get a small riser board with an EEPROM chip built onto it. There is a special connector on the motherboard that is covered with two jumpers that need to be removed if using the external BIOS. If you managed to get a bad flash or a virus in the BIOS, you remove the two jumpers on the marked port and install the riser board. You than switch a jumper on the riser to force the motherboard to boot from the external BIOS, you can swap the jumper around once the system has booted, which will force the BIOS on the motherboard to update from the riser boards BIOS, restoring a usable image, allowing you to re-flash with the more updated and working BIOS.