With the next generation of Intel CPUs and matching motherboards just around the corner, the ageing LGA775 socket design from Intel, which currently houses the popular Core 2 Duo/Core 2 Quad CPUs, is starting to wind up.
However, it's still the most popular platform and competition between motherboard manufacturers is as fierce as ever. Up against the current P45 and X48 chipsets from Intel, which both support ATI's dual-graphics "Crossfire" configuration, are the nFORCE-based 750i, 780i and 790i chipsets from NVIDIA which all support, obviously, NVIDIA's "SLI" graphics set-ups.
Enthusiasts who aren't too fussed about Crossfire or SLI have generally gone with the Intel-based boards due to them being better overclockers than the NVIDIA boards - couple that with the fact that Crossfire boards are riding a wave of success due to a strong lineup of performance graphics cards from ATI and what you've got is a tough sell for SLI motherboards.
Enter the 750i SLI board from XFX. With a big sign on the front of the motherboard's box claiming "FSB Support up to 1800MHz" it's clear from the very start that this board means business. This board retails at just over $300 NZD which is the middle-ground for mobo pricing at the moment - definitely not a budget board but well under what true "enthusiast" boards currently sell for. So, without further ado, let's pop the hood and see what XFX can give us for our 300 clams...
- Brand: XFX
- Model: MB-750I-72P9
- CPU Socket Type: Socket T (LGA 775)
- CPU Type: Intel Yorkfield, Wolfdale, Core 2 and Pentium
- FSB: 1800/1600/1333/1066MHz
- Supported CPU Technologies: Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad
- North Bridge: NVIDIA nForce 750i
- DDR Standard: DDR2
- Number of DDR2 Slots: 4
- Maximum Memory Supported: 8GB
- PCI-E x16: 2 x PCI-E Gen2 (16x + 8x in SLI)
- PCI-E x1: 1
- PCI Slots: 2
- PATA: 1 x ATA100 up to 2 Devices
- SATA: 4 SATA2, 1 x eSATA
- SATA RAID: NV RAID 0/1/0+1/5 JBODAudio Channels: 8 Channels
- Max LAN Speed: 10/100/1000Mbps
- PS/2: 1 (mouse + Keyboard Combo)
- USB:(8) High speed USB 2.0 ports (6 rear + 2 onboard)
- IEEE1394: 1 x IEEE 1394a
- S/PDIF Out: 1x Optical
- Onboard USB Connectors: 2 x USB 2.0 connectors support 4 ports
- Onboard 1394 Connectors: 1 x 1394 connector supports 1 port
- Form Factor: ATX
- Warranty: 3 Years
- All Solid Capacitors used on board made in Japan
- XFX own design heatpipe
- LED Indicator on board
- Clear CMOS button on rear panel
The well-packed board comes shipped with everything you need to get going including four black SATA cables, black PATA and floppy cables, back panel, quick install guide and driver/manual CD. The only thing missing in my opinion is a hard copy of the user guide. Sure, it's all there on the CD, but that's a fat load of good if you're trying to troubleshoot a machine that won't POST and you don't have a spare PC to load the CD up onto. It would also be good to have a list of error codes that the rear LED indicator spits out, but no, you'll have to go online to figure that out.
I love the XFX colour scheme - Jet Black all over with a smidgeon of Evil Green thrown in for trimming. The heatsink, designed by XFX, cools the CPU's voltage circuitry, Northbridge, Southbridge and also the SLI chip in between the PCI-E slots, all connected via heatpipes. Normally I'd question heatpipe cooling for Southbridge and SLI chips, but during heavy use the heatsinks did tend to get quite warm so I guess it is actually needed. The heatpipes also add a nice industrial-strength feel and look to the board, so overall I'm giving it full marks for aesthetic appeal.
No major hiccups here - the board did flex a bit after installing the stock Intel CPU cooler but this is quite normal. The 4 SATA connections are at right-angles to the board which I find helps with cable management, although having only 4 could be a problem for some people - if you use two SATA optical drives then you'd only have room for two SATA hard drives.
One slight concern is the height and placement of the Northbridge heatsink - my Thermalright Ultima90 CPU cooler managed to squeeze in adequately but I can imagine some other wider coolers might be a problem.
After installing the board and powering it up, I was pleased to find that it successfully POSTed on the first try - this is quite rare for me (I think I'm cursed). My E8500 and 2x2GB G.Skill kit were happily identified and started up at stock speeds upon booting up.
Happiness soon turned to confusion as I tried to run the board at its advertised speed. My E0 stepping E8500 is comfortable all the way up to 2200MHz FSB (550MHz real speed, quad-pumped to 2200MHz effective speed) so it's more than able to keep up when finding a motherboard's limits. The first wall I hit with stock North Bridge voltages was around 1550MHz FSB. Not a good first impression. With a bit more voltage I was able to hit 1600MHz FSB but I wouldn't want to run this voltage 24/7 and it was still nowhere near the rated 1800MHz FSB. To add to the confusion, CPUz was reporting that the motherboard was actually an MSI 650i board in Windows. Bizarre.
Anyway, I managed to make contact with an XFX representative who promptly provided an updated BIOS (as no new ones where available on their website at this stage), which solved the OC problems straight away. With a fairly low North Bridge voltage I was now able to hit 1900MHz (475MHz real) FSB, and CPUz correctly identified the board as an XFX 750i. Moral of the story: update the BIOS if you buy this board. In the end, a fairly unimpressive result on the overclocking front, but it should be more than enough for most mainstream users or those new to overclocking.
I think the price tag on this board needs to come down a little but. Currently sitting around the $310 mark, it's almost 50% more expensive than the rival 750i P5N-D board from Asus, with only a few extra features to boast. It's also a lot more expensive than a lot of P45 Crossfire-based boards, which again may be missing a couple of features compared to the XFX - like E-SATA, the CMOS clear button on back panel, and 8x + 8x Crossfire speed compared to 16X + 8x SLI speed (which I can't see making much difference) - however the P45 boards make up for this with their insane overclocking potential. At the end of the day it depends what you want from the motherboard.
Other than price, limited BIOS options, and its "satisfactory" overclocking prowess, I have to give this board full marks for build quality and sexiness. XFX produce some damn fine looking hardware and this is no exception. The heatpipe especially is attractive and efficient, and the rest of the board layout draws no complaints from me. Overall, a welcome addition to the motherboard market in my opinion, and definitely worth consideration if you're after an SLI board capable of a relatively decent overclock.