It wasn't all that long ago when Intel and NVIDIA agreed to sign a broad cross licensing agreement. At the time, many wondered what that would mean in terms of products – what could NVIDIA add to Intel's line up? Of course, Intel are keen to get some credibility back with gamers and enthusiasts after a number of weak products turning many of them over to AMD. This meant one thing: SLI.
It’s targeted squarely at the enthusiast market, as the NForce 4 SLI chipset is currently NVIDIA's most expensive chipset available, and they're targeting it at Intel’s own 955X chipset. They aren’t directed at exactly the same market however: where Intel’s 955X is targeted at workstations and the power user, the NForce 4 SLI is aimed at the gaming enthusiast who prefers Intel’s LGA CPUs over an equivalent AMD Athlon 64 setup.
The NForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset is very much like its AMD sibling in all that it supports: four SATA2 connectors, two IDE ports, ten USB 2.0 ports, two PCI-Express x16 interconnects for SLI, physical layer Gigabit Ethernet and unfortunately AC’97 audio. Obviously, there have been some changes made to reflect the differences between AMD and Intel architectures – the NForce 4 SLI Intel Edition supports all current Intel LGA775 CPUs including dual core and 1066FSB extreme editions, dual channel DDR2 667+ and a northbridge/southbridge configuration instead of a single MCP.
Two of the most popular motherboard manufacturers, MSI and Gigabyte, have come out with NForce 4 SLI Intel edition boards in the noble forms of the MSI P4N Diamond and Gigabyte GA-8N SLI Royal.
4x 240-pin dual channel DDR2 memory slots supporting up to 16GB with EM64T processors;
2x PCI-Express x16 slots, 1x PCI-Express x1 slot, 2x PCI expansion slots - one doubles as a PCI communications slot;
2x ATA133 ports, 6x SATA 2 ports and 1 eSATA port (bracket supplied optionally);
4 (plus 6)x USB 2.0 ports;
1 (plus 2)x IEEE1394 Firewire 'A' ports;
8-Channel Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit audio chip with S/PDIF RCA and optical based output ports;
Dual Marvell Yukon Gigabit Ethernet Controllers.
Whilst MSI provide a competent array of extras they do miss out on supporting a few of the potential 10 USB 2.0 ports. The motherboard I/O panel supplies 4 and the motherboard itself supplies another 6, but two of those are taken up by the D-bracket LED’s so you end up with only 6 to use out the box because of the lack of supplied PCI brackets unless you have front USB on your case or in a 3rd party multifunction panel.
There are only cables provided for four SATA drives in the box despite the board featuring a total of six SATA connectors. Also, we weren’t provided with the external SATA PCI bracket which was slightly disappointing.
As with the K8N Diamond, there is the inclusion of MSI Diamond Club membership, which gives you access to dedicated technical support and access to exclusive performance BIOS's that are unavailable to other MSI customers. Check on the Diamond Club website for full details of what benefits there are to paying the extra for a Diamond-series product.
Despite this, the provided extra's are of high quality and you get everything you need to use most of the onboard equipment. As we've mentioned, it is slightly dissappointing that some of the features of the motherboard cannot be used because the required extra's are not included.