At the end of September, we uncovered Epox's latest addition to its motherboard lineup: the EP-8NPA SLI. An innovative product, the first socket 754 motherboard to use NVIDIA's nForce4 SLI MCP, bringing PCI-Express and SLI to owners of older Athlon 64 processors based on the somewhat redundant socket 754.
There were many early adopters when Socket 754 first came out, as it was a cheaper upgrade than the upgrade to Socket 940 for Athlon 64 FX. At that time, both platforms had their limitations - Socket 754 was limited by its inability to utilise dual channel memory, while Socket 940 was limited by the cost of processors and the requirement for registered memory, further increasing costs. However, AMD then released Socket 939 processors, which brought dual channel memory in at a reasonable price point.
At that time, there was no distinct reason to upgrade from Socket 754, as AMD were still releasing processors for the aging socket. Fast forward 18 months, and we have motherboard manufacturers looking to capture smaller craveats in the market that have somewhat limited upgrade options. One of those is socket 754, especially since Sempron low-end chips still use 754.
It makes little sense - in many consumers eyes - to upgrade from Socket 754 to Socket 939 without upgrading their video card at the same time. That increases costs dramatically, as it doesn't make a great deal of sense upgrading from a socket 754 AGP system, to a socket 939 AGP system. If they're biting the bullet and upgrading, they may as well bite the bullet a little harder and make the upgrade to PCI-Express at the same time, rather than forking out more money for another motherboard in the future when an upgrade to PCI-Express is the only option.
This is where the EP-8NPA SLI fits into the market. ECS has had a socket 754 PCI-Express motherboard based on NVIDIA's nForce4 4x chipset for a while now, but Epox are first to market with a board supporting SLI technology. This means more upgrade options for those of you who feel that you're in a bit of an upgrade dead-end. .
Support for all AMD Athlon 64 and Sempron socket 754 processors;
NVIDIA nForce4 SLI MCP;
Two DDR memory slots with support for 2GB of memory at PC3200 in single channel;
Two ATA133 channels and a single floppy drive channel;
Four SATA II ports with support for NVIDIA RAID. RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD supported;
Four (plus six)x USB 2.0 ports: four on the rear I/O panel and six via motherboard pins;
One Gigabit Ethernet port;
Two PCI-Express x16 slots for SLI, two PCI-Express x1 slots and two PCI expansion slots;
Realtek ALC655 6-channel AC97 audio.
One floppy ribbon cable;
One IDE ribbon cable;
Two SATA cables;
Two 4-pin molex to SATA power conversion cables;
One USB 2.0 expansion bracket with two USB ports;
Metal I/O shield;
SLI bridge connector;
Full Manual in English, Multi-lingual quick install guide, and a driver CD.
While the bundle doesn't deliver a complete array of cables for every possible connector on the motherboard, there are a reasonable amount of cables included considering the price and target market for the product. Having said that, it would have been nice to see a couple of additional SATA cables, and one or two additional USB 2.0 expansion brackets.
The bundle does give everything required to get the motherboard up and running, and there is also a very comprehensive manual that details everything about the motherboard. The one slight niggle we have with the manual is that it appears to be a manual written for the EP-8NPA SLI and its brother, the EP-8NPAJ, which uses the nForce4 4x chipset. There are several mentions of the nForce4 4x chipset, yet the EP-8NPA SLI uses the nForce4 SLI chipset - it might be a little confusing if you're not upto speed on your motherboard chipsets.