Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal, the other SLI alternative

Today we spend some time looking at the 8N-SLI Royal, the little brother of the Quad Royal we looked at recently.

Manufacturer: Gigabyte
12 minutes & 12 seconds read time


While the nVidia nForce 4 Intel Edition SLI isn't the newest chipset on the market, it's now a more affordable solution, thanks to the introduction of the nForce 4 SLI x16 chipset as the high performance model. This now gives motherboard makers the option of using the older chipset to make a cheaper Intel nForce 4 based motherboard.

Recently we took a look at the 8N-SLI Quad Royal from Gigabyte, the flagship of the nForce 4 Intel SLI line with four PCI Express x16 ports for Quad SLI. While this does look and sound interesting, it's not really practical as a full features SLI setup, as there are limited expansion options. When Quad SLI makes its market debut, this motherboard will shine, but for now we need a mainstream board to handle the more sane hardware enthusiasts out there and this is it.

Today we take a look at the Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal - maybe the next best thing to a Quad Royal? Let's have a look and see what's on offer.


Specifications of the Gigabyte 8N-SLI Royal

Supports Intel Pentium 4 500 - 600 Series LGA775
Supports Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition LGA 775
Supports Intel Pentium D 800 Series LGA775
Supports Intel Celeron D 300 Series LGA775

nVidia nForce 4 Intel Edition SLI
nForce 4 CK19 Northbridge
nForce 4 MCP04 Southbridge
Hypertransport @ 800Mhz.

System Memory
4 DDR-2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
Supports DDR2-400, 533, 667
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 8GB Total Memory (4x 2GB)

Bus Frequency
133/200/266MHz Internal
533/800/1066MHz External
Netburst Micro Architecture

Expansion Slots
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1

3 Parallel ATA port supporting 6 IDE Drives
6 Serial ATA ports
2 Gigabit Ethernet Ports

Expansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
1 PS2 Mouse Port
8 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)
1 Serial Ports
1 Parallel Port
1 RCA SPDIF Output Port
1 Toslink SPDIF Output
6 Stereo Audio Ports

The Motherboard

Gigabyte's 8N-SLI Royal uses a full 30x30cm ATX PCB with 6 layers. Boards are now starting to get bigger due to complex memory trace routes, additional onboard controllers and various other components that get added all needing trace routing, and with that comes the need for a clean signal. If we had too little PCB, we'd end up with crosstalk across the components, and end up with a very expansive paperweight.

In all the layout of the board is pretty clean apart from the location of the 12v CPU voltage power connector. This, once again is located between the Northbridge and the I/O ports on the back, leaving the power cable to be routed either around or over the CPU heatsink, restricting air flow, and with a Pentium 4 CPU, you need as much air flow as possible.

The rest of the board is quite neat with the memory slots colour coded for easy bank identification, just match colour for colour and you are home free. The 24-pin ATX power connector is located behind the DIMM sockets along with the two IDE controllers from the Southbridge. A third IDE port is located just below the Southbridge IDE ports and is angled at 90 degrees to the board - this is a separate IDE port and will get to this later on in the article.

The CPU uses a 4 phase onboard voltage regulation system to keep the CPU as stable as possible. You may notice the orange expansion slot. This is used to add a VRM (or Voltage Regulation Module) which adds an extra 4 phases to the equation, so when overclocking you can expect a cleaner voltage signal.

The rear I/O panel gives you all the connectors you will need to get started. On the back is two PS/2 ports for Keyboard and Mouse, two SPIDF ports, one RCA and one Toslink. One parallel and one serial port are provided as legacy, though there are little use for them now as USB is here. Two RJ-45 LAN ports are provided atop a stack of USB towers giving you four USB ports on the back and the remaining six needs to be setup with PCI riser brackets. Lastly you have the analogue stereo jacks for speakers up to 7.1 configurations.

Expansion slots on this board resemble a standard SLI setup. There are two PCI Express x16 slots, one blue and one black. When in single graphics mode, the blue slot has all 16 PCI Express lanes routed to it. When in SLI mode, the black slot is changed from an x1 slot to an x8 slot to allow SLI operation.

Two PCI Express x1 slots are provided for future PCI-E expansion as well as two PCI slots for any devices you wish to migrate. Between the two PCI Express x16 slots is a paddle card. This is used to set Single or SLI graphics operation, Gigabyte doesn't employ an auto switcher.

The Motherboard Continued

The nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset is a 2 chip interface for Intel based motherboards. With AMD there is no need for a separate Northbridge, as there is no memory controller external to the CPU, this means all that needs to be on a Northbridge for AMD would be PCI Express ports, and this is easy to incorporate into a single chip. With Intel, the memory controller is external, meaning there is more circuitry, resulting in a 2 chip setup.

Like most other chipsets, the Northbridge contains the Netburst bus interconnect, DDR-2 memory controller and 20 PCI Express lanes. When SLI is enabled by the onboard paddle card, 16 PCI Express lanes are routed to the two slots with each getting a total of 8 lanes each. The remaining 4 are used for the two PCI Express x1 slots and any onboard devices that use PCI Express. Due to the amount of heat generated, Gigabyte recommends the use of the provided fan to best cool the Northbridge, especially when overclocking.

The Southbridge contains the Serial ATA controller, Parallel ATA controller, PCI Bus, Audio, USB and all the additional extras, including the Hardware Gigabit LAN, which nVidia is famous for. The Southbridge also puts out a bit of heat; this though only requires passive cooling.

Now we get to the first of the onboard devices, additional RAID. Gigabyte in the past has been a big fan of the ITE IDE controller chips; however, these don't include additional SATA ports. To this end, the Promise PCD20779 PCI SATA-II RAID controller is added. This controller has support for two SATA-II ports and a single Parallel ATA port. Like the nForce4 Southbridge, the Promise chip allows you to bridge RAID the IDE devices with the SATA devices connected to it. With two IDE and two SATA you can have a four drive RAID array using this setup.

Firewire is now a common place standard, used for DV Camera, External Storage enclosures and even Apple Ipod's, its good to see it added to this board. A two chip Texas Instruments PCI based Firewire controller is added, the larger chip is used to provide Firewire-400 support, while the smaller chip is used to give the controller Firewire-800 support.

Onboard there are two Marvell chips. The larger of the two chips is a PHY only chip designed to connect the nVidia Gigabit LAN to the RJ45 port. The smaller chip is a PCI Express based Yukon Gigabit LAN chip that gives the board its second Gigabit LAN port.


Now to the overclocking side of the equation.

The 8N-SLI Royal is setup as one of Gigabyte's mainstream boards with quite a few overclocking options inside. In terms of the features, it's almost a mirror layout of the 8N-SLI Quad Royal with a few voltage changes. Some of the descriptions in this section will be the same as the 8N-SLI Quad Royal review, as some of the settings are exactly the same.

First is CPU Ratio control. For Pentium Extreme Edition CPU owners this is where you will change the multiplier as this is one of the benefits of spending a lot of cash on a processor.

On all of Gigabyte's top model boards is the C.I.A.2 automatic overclocking feature. In the C.I.A.2 setup you have Cruise, Sports, Racing, Turbo and Full Thrust options, which overclock the CPU to a set percentage when the load on the CPU is 100% for 10 or more seconds. You can disable this to overclock the FSB manually.

FSB turbo mode is used to keep the FSB from fluctuating when under load; this option should be disabled for manual overclocking, as it tends to cause instability in the system.

System Clock mode is where you start to manipulate memory and FSB speeds. There are three options here. Optimal prevents any changes by the user. Linked mode keeps the memory clock and FSB linked, so any FSB increases overclocks the memory. In Expert mode, the FSB and memory clocks work asynchronously; this means you can input any FSB speed and the memory will stay at the specified speed the user inputs. And vice versa, if you want to overclock the RAM and not the FSB, you simply change the RAM speed and the FSB remains the same.

In order to get to the voltage settings you need access the Advanced Voltage Control sub-menu of the M.I.T menu. The first setting is the CPU voltage. You can adjust the voltage range from 1.0v up to 1.75v in 0.0125v increments. This allows you to use Presler, Prescott, Smithfield and Gallatin cores and give them all a pretty good voltage boost for your overclocking needs.

Next is DIMM voltage. This has been a pretty sore point in Gigabyte's past, as they simply haven't given enough voltage in order to overclock to extremes. The 8N-SLI Royal breaks this rule. You can adjust from default voltage up to a max of +0.55v in 0.05v increments. In real world voltage this means you can go from DDR-2's default of 1.8v up to 2.35v, not the highest we have seen, but for quite a few DDR-2 modules out there on the market, it's more than enough. OCZ memory is rated to 2.2v DDR-2 and still warranted, so this board gives just that bit extra for headroom.

Next is the Northbridge voltage. This is used in order to stabilise the Northbridge, PCI Express x1 ports and the first two PCI Express x16 ports when overclocking. You can set it from default up to +0.55v in 0.05v increments. This gives from 1.5v up to a max of 2.05v.

Following the Northbridge voltage is - you guessed it - Southbridge voltage. This is also used to stabilise the Southbridge. You can raise the voltage from default up to a max of +0.55v in 0.05v increments. This gives you the same as the Northbridge, 1.5v up to 20.5v.

Front Side Bus Overvoltage is next on the list. This one is used to give the Netburst bus an extra voltage jump when overclocking. You can adjust the FSB Overvoltage from its default up to a max of +0.175v in 0.025v increments. This means you get from 1.2v up to 1.35v.

Lastly in voltage there is the SATA-II Overvolt. This gives extra power to the SATA bus when overclocking it. You can adjust this from default to a max of +0.3v. We aren't sure of its default voltage, so we can't give a readout on what the final voltage is.

There is one final sub-menu in the Gigabyte M.I.T setup. This is called the Advanced Frequency Control Menu. Here there are two extra options. First is the PCIe Frequency control. You can set the PCIe Frequency from 100MHz to a maximum of 200MHz in 1MHz increments. PCIe buses are extremely sensitive to overclocking and cause the most instability in overclocked situations. PCIe is known to fail at even 7% overclocks. Best idea is to leave it at 100MHz to keep all PCIe devices at stock speeds.

The final option is the LDT Frequency. AMD users will know this setting; it is used to control Hyper Transport multipliers. Now a lot of people might ask why there is an AMD Hyper Transport used on the Intel system. Hyper Transport is used to interconnect the North and Southbridges. They are clocked using the exact same setup as the AMD Athlon 64 CPU to External Northbridge at 800MHz, 600MHz and so on. This gives the most robust and fastest interconnect speed of any chipset out there on the market. Under this menu you have the ability to change the multiplier from 1x up to 5x. This gives you a 1600MT/s connection between to the two chipsets.

With this setup we placed a Pentium D 840 into the system to test the overclocking ability. We managed 313MHz with 1.45v CPU, 2V DIMM, 1:1 RAM ratio, and all other voltages stock - a pretty good effort for sure.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Sandra

Test System Setup

Processor: Intel Pentium D 840 (800MHz FSB) (Supplied by Intel)
Memory: 2x 512MB Corsair DDR2-800
Hard Disk: 2x Seagate 7200.9 RAID 0 (Supplied by Seagate)
Graphics Card: ATI Radeon X800XT Platinum (Supplied by ASUS)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2

SiSoft Sandra

Version and / or Patch Used: 2005 SR3a
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SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.

Compared to the Gigabyte I955X, the 8N-SLI in memory is slightly more advanced due to its advanced architectural nature.

Benchmarks - PCMark


Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3.0
Developer Homepage:
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PCMark 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. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other benchmarks.

Again, the 8N-SLI beats out the 8I955X in memory, HDD and overall score.

Benchmarks - 3DMark Series


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 360
Developer Homepage:
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By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.

Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favour of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.

This is where things start to even out. The 8N-SLI starts to pull back a bit.


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120
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3DMark05 is now the second latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.

For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.

Again, the 8N-SLI performs almost on par with the I955X Gigabyte board, only a slight lead to the nForce 4 board.

Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
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Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.

For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.

Doom 3 gives a few FPS to the 8N-SLI, but not enough to be a deciding victory.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2

Half Life 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
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By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviours even the emotions of both friends and enemies.

We benchmark Half Life 2 with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.

Half Life 2 shows both performing almost dead even.

Benchmarks - Battlefield 2

Battlefield 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.12
Timedemo or Level Used: Guru3D Demo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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Battlefield 2 is the successor to the original multiplayer online game Battlefield 1942. Battlefield 2 takes advantage of the latest DirectX 9.0c optimizations and is best used with DX9 cards from nVidia, ATI and various upcoming makers like XGI.

Battlefield 2 also shows the same results.

Final Thoughts

It is clear that there is little difference in terms of performance between the Intel 955X and nVidia nForce 4 SLI chipsets for the Intel platform. While the nForce 4 has a slightly better memory controller, in the real world it isn't going to give you much.

The one thing that nForce 4 has over the Intel chipset is SLI. No third party chipset has any SLI support, and nVidia has no intentions of allowing this to happen. While Intel and ULI have put in chipsets for SLI qualification, it's clear that there is no urgency to have them passed by nVidia - especially for ULI, now they are under nVidia's power.

Gigabyte's interpretation of this chipset is very clean and fast with a great deal put into the features of the board, as well as putting the time and effort in for the overclockers as well.

Overall we found the board to be a good performer with great futures for the enthusiast market who simply want a more rounded setup than the 8N SLI Quad Royal.

- Pros
SLI support
Good overclocking options
Firewire-800 Ready
Additional RAID controller
Dual Ethernet

- Cons
Only two PCI Express x8 slots rather than two x16 slots
Need to use a SLI selector paddle

- Latest Pricing

Rating - 8.5 out of 10

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