While nVidia just released their brand new nForce 600 series chipset, there is a rather quiet part on the nVidia roadmap. Conceived for the Intel Core 2 Duo platform, but not well thought about, we are talking about the nVidia nForce 500 series for the Intel platform.While it may have the 500 series name, the 590, 570 and 550 based Intel chips are derived from the old C19A chip, the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition Northbridge. That's right - old Northbridge but new Southbridge.In early tests from the OEM's, this chipset performed less than stellar in the overclocking department but it was too late for companies to pull out of, as their production lines were already making boards based on this chipset. While they have been made, we won't see them pushed like the nForce 600 series. For companies like ASUS who will create their own nForce 680i motherboard design which takes much more time than purely using the nVidia reference design, it is a good stop gap for them while the newer motherboard is being prepared. That is the exact reason why we are even looking at this motherboard here today.Today we have the first of these phantom boards in our labs from ASUS. This being dubbed the P5N32-SLI Premium/WiFi-AP and it is based on the top-end nForce 590 SLI Intel chipset.It's by no means a cheap motherboard being stacked with plenty of very good enthusiast features but it is cheaper than the new nForce 680i based motherboards. We need to take a close and careful look at the ASUS P5N32-SLI Premium motherboard (especially overclocking) and work out if you should really be spending your money on it or waiting for newer boards based on the new nVidia chipset.
SpecificationsSpecifications of the ASUS P5N32 SLI DeluxeCPU
Supports Intel Pentium Extreme 800 and 900 SeriesSupports Intel Pentium D 800 and 900 SeriesSupports Intel Pentium 4 600 and 500 SeriesSupports Intel Core 2 Duo and Extreme SeriesSupports Intel Celeron 300 Series Chipset
nVidia nForce 590 SLI Intel EditionnForce C19A NorthbridgenForce 590MCP SouthbridgeHyper Transport @ 2GHzSystem Memory
4 DDR2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM SocketsSupports DDR2-400/533/667/800Mhz64/128Bit Dual ChannelSupports up to 4GB Total Memory (4x 1GB)Bus Frequency
133/200/266MHz Internal533/800/1066MHz ExternalExpansion Slots
3 PCI Express x161 PCI Express x12 PCIConnectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives6 Serial ATA ports2 Gigabit Ethernet PortsExpansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port1 PS2 Mouse Port1 RCA SPDIF out Port1 Toslink SPDIF out Port10 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)2 e.SATA Ports3 Firewire Ports (1 rear accessible, 2 via expansion bracket)5 Stereo Audio Ports
Package and FeaturesInside the Box
First off it's the box and presentation. The box itself is the black high performance scheme that ASUS uses for its Premium boards in its portfolio. The front has very limited info on the board - just the model number.
The back of the box contains all the information on the board, its features and picture of the board layout.
Now to the documentation. ASUS provides a single user manual that covers all of the hardware, BIOS settings and software settings that they provide.
Software comes on two CD's. The first is the driver CD that contains all the setup drivers you need for the board as well as pre load drivers for XP, XP64 and 2000. The extra CD pack has Intervideo software on it that ASUS now bundles with its board - includes WinDVD and WinPVR for recording to PC.
Now it's onto the cables and the extra little features that make the package. First off the ribbon cables are a single IDE and FDD cable along with the SLI bridge cable.
ASUS provides two PCI backplane risers. One is a single port Firewire port bracket and the other is a 2 port USB 2.0 port bracket. You will also see there are three jumper blocks. ASUS now provides these so you can connect the cable up if you have to wire the USB, Firewire and front panel LED/switches externa to the board. This means you only have to plug this block into the board once you have managed to wire up the LED's and switches along with front panel USB and Firewire, an extremely helpful feature.
ASUS also takes the liberty of including a SoundMAX 2 stage microphone with the bundle. This means if you want to use software VOIP or playing games that have voice, you can without having to go out and buy a separate mic setup.
ASUS provides for the water cooling user in their premium bundles. There are two sets of fans that plug onto the top of the heat pipes surrounding the CPU. When you install water cooling, there is no air flow from the CPU fan, as this gets removed from the equation. In order to keep the air flow going to cool the Mosfets, these fans need to be installed to the top of the heat blocks.Also included for the Wireless network feature is an omni-directional antenna with a 6dBA gain rating that will let you pick up wireless throughout the most obstructed household setup or office environment.
Last in the features is the Audio riser board. Since ASUS ran out of room on the rear I/O port, a separate daughter board that plugs into a slot at the top of the board that resembles a PCI Express x1 slot is used to put all 6 Stereo audio, Front panel audio header and CD input headers. The codec chip is also moved to the board itself, so if you prefer a discrete audio card like an Audigy card, simply leave this board out of the system and the onboard audio will not function.
Now we get to our favourite part of the review, the board itself. Using a full 30x24cm ATX layout you can see ASUS has used just about all of the real estate to fit the additional features. On their top-end boards, ASUS does a fantastic job of placement and location of connectors.The 24-pin power, IDE and FDD connectors are placed at the right hand top of the board behind the DIMM sockets. This keeps the messy ribbon cables in one spot along with the very bulky ATX power connector. The dual purpose 4/8 pin CPU power connector sits to the top left of the board right behind the PS/2 towers and nestled between the top most heatpipe block. You will also see that ASUS has done something that nobody else so far has done with its SATA ports. They have been placed on a 90 degree angle to the board - this means that the cables don't stick up in the air, which, when using GeForce 7950GX2 cards can be a problem getting them in and out.ASUS also does a good job of the cooling setup of the board and the routing of the heatpipes, the Southbridge is cooled by a pipe going to the top most Mosfets block, the Northbridge is cooled by a separate heatpipe setup that runs to the side mosfet block just behind the I/O ports.
The CPU layout is a little smaller than most, so it may be a bit harder to install after market large base heatsinks, however, this board is an ideal water cooling candidate. The board provides an 8 phase CPU voltage regulation system. While its just adequate for Pentium D and Pentium Extreme Dual core processors, it is more than enough for Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme - and even supplies more power than the Core 2 Quad will ever need, even when overclocked.The Mosfets are cooled by heatpipe towers that sit directly on top of the Mosfets. If you use a heatsink on the board, the air force from the CPU fan cools these towers. If you use water cooling, you need to install the fans provided by ASUS to the top of the towers to keep these parts cool under load. In all a very sensible setup we wish other companies would follow.
The rear I/O ports have changed slightly with the new ASUS setup. Firstly there are no more Serial ports or Parallel ports - these are now obsolete in the Digital world. ASUS also includes an extra e.SATA port - e.SATA is about to make a big entrance into the external storage market, the more slots you have on the board the better. The rest are pretty standard with Firewire, Wireless Antenna, PS/2 ports and USB/RJ45 towers.
Expansion slot wise, ASUS really goes for the lot. You will notice ASUS gives you a total of three PCI Express x16 slots - one blue, one black and one yellow. The blue and black ones are full speed x16 slots; the blue slot is routed off the Northbridge, the black off the Southbridge. The yellow slot is a physical x16 slot but only eclectically x8 and uses all but two of the PCI Express lanes built into the Southbridge. This slot is included if you want more then four monitors or to add a third PCI Express graphics card to handle physics, which nVidia will announce soon.Another possibility is the use of PCI Express x4 RAID controller cards in this slot, or even PCI Express x8 based SAS controllers available for the server market. There is also a single PCI Express x1 slot between the PCI Express x16 blue and yellow slots and two PCI slots at the bottom of the board. There is a single PCI Express x1 like slot at the top of the PCI Express x16 blue slot and this is used to connect the audio daughter board to the system.Additional controllers include a VIA VT6308 PCI based Firewire chip and a Silicon Image 3132 2 port SATA controller chip that runs the two e.SATA ports. Marvell PHY chips are included that interface with the nVidia Dual Gigabit LAN controller built into the Southbridge.
BIOS and OverclockingBIOS Features and Overclocking
Now we get down to the BIOS. ASUS has used this Award 6 version for nearly 3 years now, since the P3B-F series of boards. To get to the Overclocking features, you need to scroll to the advanced tab.
Once there you will find the two major overclocking features menu lies under the Jumperfree sub menu and the CPU Configuration menus.
Once under the Jumperfree menu you need to set the AI Overclocking feature to Manual to get any control over the configuration settings. Once this is done the Frequency and Voltage control sub menus become active.
First the frequency control sub menu. Under this menu you can adjust the FSB, memory clock and PCI Express frequencies. ASUS allows you to control the Northbridge PCI Express and Southbridge PCI Express clocks independently. Range for both goes from 100MHz to 150MHz in 1MHz increments. Best to leave these at 100MHz as overclocking of the PCI Express bus is not recommended on the nForce 590 SLI chipset.Next you need to set the System Clock Mode to manual. Once done you can select the FSB and DDR2 frequencies. Unlike the Intel chipsets, you can clock the memory and FSB independently. This in theory means you can clock the memory at any speed and leave the FSB at its default. FSB ranges from 133MHz to 600MHz in 1MHz increments however it is highly unlikely anyone would ever even come close to 600MHz using the aging C19 chipset. Memory frequency can be adjusted from 400MHz to 1600MHz in 1MHz increments.
Voltage control menu gives you all the voltages you need to overclock the board. Here there is Memory voltage, 1.2v HT Voltage, CPU Voltage, SB and NB Voltages. Memory voltage ranges from 1.8v to 2.55v in 0.05v increments. 1.2V HT voltage from 1.2v to 1.35v in 0.05v increments. CPU VTT from 1.2v to 1.55v in 0.05v increments. NB Core voltage goes from 1.4v to 1.75v in 0.05v increments. SB Core voltage goes from 1.5v to 1.65v in 0.05v increments.With all these settings, we only managed a very mild overclock. 304MHz FSB was the maximum achievable with memory voltage at 2.1v, Southbridge and Northbridge at 1.65v, HT voltage running 1.4v.The overclocking result is not impressive and is a clear sign that the aging C19 is no good when it comes to OC. nVidia: sell your excess C19 chips and then forget about it forever.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 don't 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 SandraTest System SetupProcessor
: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel
: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair
: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA (Supplied by Seagate
: nVidia GeForce 7800GT Cooling
: Gigabyte 3D Galaxy II (Supplied by Gigabyte
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: Intel INF 184.108.40.2062, nVidia ForceWare 93.71 and nForce Platform driver 9.53Our test systems were using the ASUS P5N32-SLI Premium/WiFi-AP and the Gigabyte P965-DQ6 (Intel P965 chipset).We kept the DDR-2 at 1:1 ratios to keep the memory results as equal as possible to see who has the better memory controller. For our overclocking tests, we lowered the multipliers on the boards to keep the clock speeds as close to default as possible. On the ASUS board we used a 10x multiplier with a 304MHz FSB for a total of 3040MHz. For the Gigabyte P965-DQ6 we used a FSB of 440MHz FSB with a multiplier of 7x for a total of 3080MHz.It's clear the mighty Gigabyte motherboard has a clear FSB advantage but let's take a close look at the benchmark numbers to see what that really means.SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used:
2007Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
With a much higher memory clock and more optimized controller over the old C19 chipset, the DQ6 manages to stay well ahead of the P5N32 SLI Deluxe.
Benchmarks - PCMarkPCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.1.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
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 MadOnion.com benchmarks.
CPU wise the boards are just about even. Memory wise the DQ6 manages to beat the P5N32 in overclocked and stock speeds.
Benchmarks - 3DMark053DMark05Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/Buy It Here
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 above.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here
At default clocks the DQ6 just pulls ahead of the P5N32, at overclocked speeds the DQ6 makes a break for it.
Benchmarks - 3DMark063DMark06Version and / or Patch Used:
Build 102Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct 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.
Again, like 3DMark05, the P5N32 falls behind the DQ6 at both stock and overclocked speeds.
Benchmarks - PREYPREYVersion and / or Patch Used:
UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used:
Hardware OC Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com Product Homepage: http://www.prey.comBuy 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've seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
PREY puts more stress on the system than Doom 3 does these days. We see the ASUS board coming in second at stock and overclocked results once again.
Benchmarks - Quake 4Quake 4Version and / or Patch Used:
1.2Timedemo or Level Used:
Hardware OC Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.quake4game.comBuy It Here
Quake 4 is one of the latest new games to be added to our benchmark suite. It is based off the popular Doom 3 engine and as a result uses many of the features seen in Doom. However, Quake 4 graphics are more intensive than Doom 3 and should put more strain on different parts of the system.
Quake 4 also favours the DQ6 here.
Benchmarks - F.E.A.R.F.E.A.R.Version and / or Patch Used:
UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used:
Built-in TestDeveloper Homepage: http://www.vugames.com Product Homepage: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/Buy It Here
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and a deeply intense paranormal storyline presented entirely in first person. Be the hero in your own spine-tingling epic of action, tension, and terror...and discover the true meaning of F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R. puts more stress on the graphics system than the board's memory and CPU though the ASUS board does fall just below the DQ6.
Benchmarks - Far CryFar CryVersion and / or Patch Used:
1.3Timedemo or Level Used:
Bench-em-all DemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.comBuy It Here
While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems. 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.
In our final test the ASUS board also falls behind the DQ6.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
It is clear why motherboard manufacturers are very quick to dismiss the nForce 590 SLI chipset for the Intel platform. Its performance is under par, its overclocking simply is less than stellar compared to the P965 or 975X chipsets. The only thing it has going for it is SLI and with Crossfire support on the Intel P965 and 975X chipsets, there really is no great need for the 590SLI.As we said earlier, nVidia's brand new nForce 680i chipset has surfaced and if you are want something more overclocking friendly and with more potential, you should look at motherboard based on nVidia's newest chipset rather than this one.Even given the ASUS P5N32-SLI Premium/WiFi-AP short comings in overclocking and performance, its additional features as well as highly impressive bundle and SLI support make it good for the gamer who wants to upgrade to Core 2 Duo with SLI but if you want to overclock, you need to wait for an nForce 600 series motherboard, as long as you have the big bucks available to splash around.Overall the boards good features are only tainted by the poor performance of the nForce 590 SLI chipset which isn't ASUS's fault, it's a problem nVidia has to face and they've well and truly done it by introducing the nForce 680i chipset.- Pros
Core 2 Duo SupportSLI Ready and Quad SLITwo full speed x16 slotExtra PCI Express x16 slot for PhysicsVery impressive bundleDesigned with water cooling users in mindCheaper than nForce 680i boards but only just- Cons
Poor stock and overclocking performanceOverclocking is very poor - time to retire the old C19 chipset- Latest Pricing Rating - 7.5 out of 10