Last month we took our first look at the nForce 680i LT specs, what Nvidia is calling the affordable option to 680i SLI chipset. While we did not get the chance to test a board due to limited samples, we certainly liked the idea of the 680i LT. It has a number of features we wanted to see implemented in the 650 chipset, as there is quite a big step between the 650i SLI and 680i SLI.
680i LT is the bridge that everyone has been looking for. Its design implements the most important feature we wanted to see, full-speed SLI, with two PCI Express x16 slots running at full x16 speeds, one running off the SPP and one off the MCP. The 680i LT lacks the extra 8 lanes that a full fledged 680i SLI has for a physics engine setup, however, there are ways around this, as even the latest hardware dedicated card from Ageia only requires a PCI slot, so a single PCI Express x1 slot should give these cards all they need.
Also there are a few changes in the SPP such as reduced support for SLI-Ready memory. Rather than 1200MHz memory, only 800MHz is guaranteed to work on this chipset, and its not expected to overclock as high as the full powered 680i SLI.
Today we have got our hands on the first, we hope, of many 680i LT boards. This one comes from DFI, who has really put its all into the product. So let us take a look and see if it is worthy of your dollars. It comes under the famous LANParty name, so we are expecting quite a lot.
Specifications of the DFI NF680ILT
Supports Intel Core 2 Duo, Quad and Extreme Series CPU
Supports Intel Pentium D 800 - 900 Series CPU
Supports Intel Pentium 4 500 - 600 series CPU
Supports Intel Celeron D 300 - 400 Series CPU
Does not support Pentium Extreme 800 - 900 Series CPU
Nvidia nForce 680i LT SLI
Nvidia 680i LT SLI (C55SPP) northbridge
Nvidia MCP55P (C55MCP) southbridge
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240-pin DIMM Sockets
Supports up to 8GB total memory (4x 2GB)
3 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x4
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
8 Serial ATA ports
2 Gigabit Ethernet ports
1 PS2 keyboard port
1 PS2 mouse port
10 USB 2.0 ports (6 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)
6 Stereo audio ports
2 S/PDIF audio ports
Inside the Box
Package and Contents
First off as we always do here at TweakTown we take a look at what the board comes packed in as well as what extra goodies you get for your dollars. Let us start with the box that DFI ships the board in. The front is plain white with the model number written in green and the company logo, the back has a full colour photo of the board. We would normally show a picture of the back too, however it was covered in shipping labels.
When it comes to the documents and software we cannot complain on what DFI has to offer here. A single user manual explains all the ins and outs of the board as well as the BIOS setup features, so there is very little chance you will get stuck on a problem with this board. There are three floppy disks with drivers for the Nvidia and Silicon Image 3132 RAID controllers to help you install Windows XP, XP64 and Vista. The CD contains all the main Windows XP and Vista drivers you are going to need for setup.
For the accessories you get, DFI is second only to ASUS, who really puts a great accessory bundle in with its boards. Out of the total eight SATA ports there are four data cables and two power splitters with support for two drives per splitter.
In terms of the parallel cables a single IDE with 2-drive support is included and a FDD cable with single drive support. Both cables are rounded and covered in a UV reactive sleeve giving a nice orange glow under a UV black light.
DFI has elected to use what they call the KARAJAN audio module. This is a small break out module that you plug into the board in order to use the onboard audio system. If you prefer to use a discrete audio card you just simply keep the audio module off the board. An SLI bridge connector is provided to give you the ability to run two Nvidia SLI capable cards in SLI mode.
When DFI ships its board it does not come with a heatsink on the northbridge, you have to install it yourself. DFI gives you a large heatsink that passively cools the chipset.
Now it is on to the board itself, and DFI really has done a fantastic job. The board is designed around a full ATX layout of 30 x 24cm so it is quite large and 6 layers thick, as stated by Nvidia in its 680i LT SLI documentation.
DFI has placed its 24-pin power connector and FDD port behind the four memory slots. The 4/8-pin CPU power connector is located just behind the PS/2 ports on the left hand side of the board, well away from the CPU. Brilliant.
DFI has gone for a fully digital voltage regulation system over the traditional setups most companies tend to use, which is designed to increase stability under extreme conditions. There is a total of six phases of voltage regulation on the board to keep the CPU well supplied with power under load - DFI claims it is enough to provide a total of 200 Amps to the processor. The MOSFETs are located under the copper coloured heatsink.
DFI has not changed its rear I/O port layout since our last DFI board review. There are no serial or parallel ports, which are not going to really be missed these days, especially for a product that is designed purely for gamers and overclockers; however, it would be nice to see some eSATA ports included in future board revisions.
There are three PCI Express x16 slots onboard, which is uncharacteristic of a 680i LT board. The top two slots are x16 speed slots designed to let SLI run at full speed. If you want to use the PCI Express x16 slot at the bottom as well as the top two, you cannot have any other PCI Express cards on the board and need to set a jumper - this gives you x8 speed on the final slot. For the rest of the slots there is a single PCI Express x4 slot and a three PCI slots for legacy devices such as old sound cards.
DFI are taking cooling quite serious with the LANParty UT NF680I LT SLI-T2R. Attesting to the fact that this motherboard is designed for enthusiasts, you have got to install the northbridge cooler yourself but that is just some DYI fun. It is a passive solution without active cooling and it is probably the biggest we have seen from any motherboard to date. The southbridge tends to get quite warm and since DFI are passionate about overclocking, it has included active fan cooling on this chip to keep things as cool as possible.
Additionally, there is a Silicon Image 3132 PCI Express controller chip to add two extra SATA ports and a VIA Firewire chip that runs off the PCI bus.
If you have not noticed already, DFI has put a lot of effort into this 680i LT motherboard. DFI does not have a full fledged 680i SLI motherboard in its portfolio and that is probably because it thinks the Nvidia chipset pricing for this product is too high, like most. DFI have cleared tried to make its 680i LT just as impressive as the more expensive 680i SLI solutions and from what we have seen so far, it has done a pretty good job at doing just that.
BIOS and Overclocking
DFI's 680iLT board is based around the NV BIOS specifications that Nvidia laid out for the LT series boards. Award version 6 modular BIOS is used with the overclocking options located under the Genie BIOS menu.
FSB (QDR): 400MHz to 2500MHz in 1MHz increments
Memory (DDR): 400MHz to 1400MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe Slot 1: 100MHz to 131MHz in 1MHz increments
PCIe Slot 2: 100MHz to 131MHz in 1MHz increments
SPP to MCP Reference Clock: 200MHz to 500MHz in various increments
CPU VID Control: 0.44350v to 1.60v in 0.025v increments
CPU Vcore Add: 100% to 121.25% in +.25% increments
DDR2 Voltage: 1.8v to 2.5v in 0.025v increments
NB Core: 1.31v to 1.76v in 0.03v increments
SB Core: 1.54v to 1.58v in 0.03v increments
SB Dual: 1.54v to 1.85v in various increments
LTD Voltage: 1.23v to 1.58v in various increments
CPU VTT Ref Voltage: 1.23v to 1.63v in various increments
With all these settings we managed to get a total FSB of 487MHz with DDR-2 voltage at 2.2v, NB Core at 1.56v, SB Core at 1.56v, LTD Voltage at 1.37v.
We are quite happy with this OC result as this board is not designed to go as high as the 680i SLI series but has managed to surprise us and it is shaping up to be quite a good product considering it is going to be cheaper than the high-end 680i SLI boards.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we do not have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Memory Performance
Test System Setup
Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair at 1:1 (Supplied by Corsair)
Hard Disk: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA (Supplied by Seagate Australia)
Graphics Card: MSI Radeon X1950 Pro (Supplied by MSI)
Cooling: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
Drivers: nForce Platform Driver 9.53, ATI Catalyst 7.1 and DX9c
Down to testing - we have given the DFI 680i LT board a good grilling by pitting it against the eVGA 680i SLI, which the latter is the more expensive chipset of the two.
We used our regular set of benchmarks. We wanted to see if there were any major performance differences between the two chipsets at both stock (which will reveal any major changes) as well as overclocked.
Our overclocked settings were with the DFI board at 487MHz with a multiplier of 7x for a grand total of 3409MHz. Our eVGA was at 503MHz with a multiplier of 7x for a grand total of 3521MHz. Memory settings at all times were kept at SPD with ratio at 1:1.
Can the DFI 680i LT keep impressing? Let us find out!
Everest Ultimate Edition
Version and / or Patch Used: 2006
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Buy It Here
Everest Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning Everest Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.
At stock clocks we see that there is only a minor difference between both chipsets, nothing to really write home about. Despite a slower clock speed when overclocked, the DFI motherboard manages to give some good scores here.
Benchmarks - PCMark
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/
Buy It Here
PCMark05 is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark05 consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark05 also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
At stock rock speeds both boards are almost identical with eVGA only just marginally winning, when clock speeds go up, eVGA manages to pull ahead with a 16MHz FSB lead, it may not sound like much, but when your talking into account that both memory and CPU clocks go up, it all adds up.
Benchmarks - WorldBench
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.pcworld.com
Product Homepage: http://www.pcworld.com
Buy It Here
WorldBench 5.0 is the fifth generation of PC World's industry-standard benchmarking application. Designed to measure the performance of today's wide range of personal computers, WorldBench has been in continuous use at PC World for nine years.
WorldBench 5.0 uses the following applications to gauge system performance: ACD Systems ACDSee PowerPack 5.0, Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Ahead Software Nero Express 22.214.171.124, Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (DirectX), Discreet 3ds max 5.1 (OpenGL), Microsoft Office XP with SP-2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Mozilla 1.4, Musicmatch Jukebox 7.10, Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 8.1.
WorldBench really was quite happy to tie eVGA and DFI at stock. Overclcoked is another story and another win goes to eVGA - remember lower scores are better here!
Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements
Adobe Premiere Elements
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com
Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/
Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode, and record CPU usage.
At stock speeds again DFI is right on top of the eVGA board, but overclocked there are a few minutes taken off the eVGA's encoding times.
Benchmarks - HDD Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTachBuy It Here
HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as read, CPU utilization and burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.
680i LT and 680i SLI both use the same SATA controller, so results are identical. The Silicon Image Controller came in a bit under the onboard setup but not bad overall.
Benchmarks - 3DMark06
Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/
Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.
3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the Ageia PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and dual-core processors.
3DMark06 put both boards though their paces in the synthetic world and well the results speak for themselves, not much difference overall here.
Benchmarks - Prey
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2
Timedemo or Level Used: HardwareOC Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com
Product Homepage: http://www.prey.com
Buy It Here
Prey is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark line-up. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we have seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
Graphics tend to limit the results here as Prey uses more graphics processing power to run, but when the clock speeds went up the eVGA managed to just keep ahead of the DFI board.
Benchmarks - Far Cry
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3
Timedemo or Level Used: Benchemall Default Demo
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.com
Buy It Here
While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems as it is able to utilize all parts of the system. Utilizing PS2.0 technology with the latest versions supporting Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c and offering an exceptional visual experience, there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards get a bit of a workout.
Our last test using Far Cry shows that the scaling of the DFI board is where we expected it to be, it cannot match the raw power of the full speed 680i but manages a great score nonetheless.
It is evidently clear here that Nvidia has put more on the table than we could have expected for a chip that is supposed to go on boards for the sub US$200 price mark. We have seen cut downs in the past which have really left a sour taste in not only our mouths but the mouths of motherboard makers too. This is not the case with the 680i LT.
680i LT is simply what the market wants, it is the P965 chipset for Nvidia, while it does not have the same extra features as the high-end 680i SLI, it does have most of what you are going to want - such as two PCI Express x16 slots running at full speed and the ability to run a third graphics card for dual monitor or physics. It may not officially support it, but DFI has managed to get around this.
DFI's incarnation simply astounded us. It is packed with features, and comes with more than we could have hopped for in terms of the future expansion. Nvidia does not allow for a third PCI Express x16 slot on the LT series chips, but DFI has managed to give us a third nonetheless, allowing extra monitor support or a physics engine to run, the choice is yours. It has basically designed the board using the cheaper LT chipset but with about the same amount of features as the SLI version.
As for overclocking, well if you can get this high with the early revision chipsets, what can be had with the later ones built on better silicon and more time with the BIOS? We are hoping to see 680i LT match 680i SLI in terms of overclocking like P965 has done to the 975X, making the need for such a chip redundant in the grand scheme of things.
Nevertheless, we are happy with what DFI have done with the LANParty UT NF680I LT SLI-T2R motherboard and it will probably be one of the better 680i LT products on the market for some time to come. You are paying extra for this DFI LANParty solution but if you have some extra cash to spend, you are getting some extra features included.
Incredibly fast for a mid-range chip
Overclocking is better than any mid-range board we have seen
Third PCI Express x16 slot for physics, good on you DFI
PCI Express x4 slot for RAID cards
Dual Gigabit LAN
Impressive cooling setup
6 phase digital PWM
Two extra SATA ports
Expensive for 680i LT range
Availability low at this stage
Rating - 8.5 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Performance Award!
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