Down to the nitty gritty of the board itself. Foxconn has used a layout that is quite similar to the reference design layout set by nVidia which is like most other nForce 680i motherboards minus companies like ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte who prefer to create their own unique and original designs.
nVidia did a very good job with the layout and there is no reason not to follow it. Connectors are sensibly placed on the board with the 24-pin power connector located behind the memory slots along with the IDE and FDD ports. The 4/8 pin combo power port is located behind the PS/2 towers just nestled near the heatsinks the board incorporates.
The SATA ports controlled by the Southbridge or MCP as nVidia call it are located below the memory ports on the right hand side of the board. Foxconn has changed the reference design somewhat in that the SATA ports are stacked in groups of two on a 90 degree angle to the boards face. With the GeForce 8800 graphic card size (and the upcoming R600 from AMD set to be even larger), this is the best and most useful way to install the SATA ports on the board making them accessible to the users inside the case when the large graphics card are already installed.
Foxconn has gone with a four phase power system to give the CPU its juice which is two phases less than the reference eVGA motherboard that we were sent some time ago. To keep the voltage systems cool, a large alloy heatsink covers the Mosfets and the north and south bridges are cooled actively with fans which is different to most other companies who use passive silent cooling.
Foxconn hasn't made the transition to all solid copper capacitors yet (metal is currently used), but this should change in their future boards. While 4 phase is more than enough to run Core 2 Duo systems, its is bordering for overclocking stability on Pentium 4 and even Core 2 Quad processors which can go up to 130watts TDP.
The rear I/O panel of the Foxconn board gives us a few extra features that we are happy to see with the first being the e.SATA port. While USB 2.0 and Firewire are good for external storage, they don't provide enough bandwidth for the drives to be fully effective as a high speed storage medium for media encoders - even notebook hard drives perform at faster speeds that Firewire or USB 2.0 can provide. To combat this, e.SATA was drafted by the SATA organisation that operates at the same speed at SATA 2.5 (3Gbps).
When drafting e.SATA up the requirements are for a higher shielded cable to allow for cabling over 1 metre, e.SATA can go up to 2 metres in length. As the name suggests, e.SATA is Serial ATA port only external in nature. This means you get the full 300MB/s transfer rate, so now the drive is the bottleneck at this point in time.
Graphics wise the nForce 680i chipset comes complete with two full speed x16 PCI Express slots but nVidia doesn't do things normal like you might expect. The C55XE Northbridge that houses the DDR-2 memory controller and the FSB link also has 16 PCI Express lanes for the first Graphics port. The MCP55XE houses the second PCI Express x16 graphics slot, due to an 8GB/s North to Southbridge link, there is enough bandwidth there so it won't adversely affect the graphics performance in SLI but there may be some extra latency.
A third PCI Express x16 slot coloured black is included. While having a physical x16 slot size, it is electrically only x8 in speed. This is available for a third graphics card to run either a physics engine or to add extra monitors to your setup. If you don't want to run physics or extra monitors, it can add in any PCI Express card - high-speed and expensive RAID cards that use an x4 or x8 interface will benefit from this slot. Rounding off the list are 2 PCI Express x1 slots and 2 PCI slots just like most other 680i motherboards.
Lastly we wanted to show something that Foxconn has done very well. nVidia's nForce 680i chipset outputs quite a lot of heat. When overclocking, Northbridge chipsets require active cooling, Foxconn has gone the extra step and actively cooled the North and Southbridges which may well pay dividends when it come to FSB overclocking a little later in this review. We saw in our testing that the abit IN9 32X-MAX Wi-Fi motherboard struggled with heat related issues but it looks like Foxconn have got you covered here.
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