|Asus 680i Striker Extreme Motherboard Review|
Asus have suitably impressed us in recent months with their cutting edge products and excellent product bundles. The 680i chipset from NVIDIA represents the first proper SLI solution for their graphics cards and it's rich feature set and stellar performance make it our number one choice for socket 775 processors. The overclocking abilities of the 680i chipset are amazing and have catapulted NVIDIA to the number one choice of enthusiasts seeking to maximise overall system performance for the current batch of Intel processors.The Asus Striker Extreme motherboard is one of the first non-reference 680i motherboards. While many manufacturers were quick to launch their 680i motherboards, Asus took their time and built their own solution from the ground up. Is it any good? Let's find out.
A lot of changes have taken place in the hardware and software market over the last few months. Microsofts brand new Vista operating system has debued onto our desktops with the direct X10 API promising incredible emmersive gaming experiences - see Crysis. NVIDIA's 680i has firmly established itself as the best Core 2 Chipset offering mega features, proper SLI (direct x10 vista drivers are still in development but promised by the end of april) and fantastic overclocking abilities. For the hardware enthusiast it's a golden age of cheap Intel processors with huge overclocking potential. The 680i chipset was highly anticipated for it's rich feature set and promise of 'hardcore overclocker' status. Many manufacturers were keen to push reference motherboards out of the door with somewhat disappointing results - the EVGA 680i motherboard was plagued with problems at launch. Asus realising the importance of the 680i chipset decided to take their time and produce something very special.
The Striker Extreme motherboard represents extensive development and design to produce one of the most stunning non-reference 680i motherboards we have seen. Boasting the Republic of Gamers tag, Asus have lavished the best in hardware engineering, performance and innovative ideas to make the most exclusive and feature rich 680i motherboard on the planet. Don't believe us? Take a look at this motherboard eyecandy.
The board layout is suitably impressive. The huge cooling system keeps the hot parts of the board under control without the use of fans. It really is a sweet piece of work and looks great if you happen to have a window in your case. We hired Kobalt Computers to install some watercooling gear for our tests and the visual results are impressive - more of that in a special article soon. The Asus Striker is an excellent candidate for watercooling setups.
Of course the Striker isn't the only motherboard to employ a passive cooling solution - EVGA's 680i and ASUS's P5N32-E SLI use similar solutions - but we can safely say the Striker heatpipes perform better. The 680i chipset does run hot, very hot, so don't go thinking the massive amount of metal is just for show. If you overclock or use watercooling you'll want to strap on the additional fan Asus provide to keep everything sweet and running as cool as possible. At first glance it looks a bit tight round the CPU socket but there is actually plenty of room for fitting huge coolers such as the Scythe Ninja and such beasts. It's a beautifully clean design in this respect. The rest of the layout is logical and perfect for those who want to go down the 8800 SLI route. In fact we'll go out on a limb and say it's one of the best board layouts we have seen for years.
At the heart of the Striker is the NVIDIA chipset. The nForce 680i chipset provides a total of 46 PCIe lanes along with the promise of extreme overclocking and further feature refinements over the previous 590 SLI chipset. Official FSB speeds of 1333MHz are supported along with DDR2 speeds up to 1200MHz. In theory that's peak bandwith of up to 19.2GB/s! In practice our OCZ PC2-8500 managed 1220MHz in this board and a new best for this particular sample. Asus's claim to support 1200MHz memory is well founded. The nForce 680i SLI MCPs also support high-speed SLI ready memory.
Overclocking is one of the most impressive areas in the Striker motherboard and easily accomplished with the NVIDIA nTune utility that allows adjustment of key components from within the OS without rebooting. For the experts, Asus have strapped on their own Extreme Tweaker solution to allow you to fine tune the CPU/memory voltage in great detail from within the BIOS. Up the FSB, tweak the voltages, adjust the memory settings and save your best overclocking profiles straight to the BIOS. The range of options is mind boggling with VCore voltages upto 1.9v (never try this high unless you have liquid nitrogen on tap) and memory up to 3.425V. A whole host of other voltage adjustments are present including the North Bridge, CPU VTT voltage and South Bridge. One of the best features of 680i motherboards is ablity to run your memory independent of the front side bus, so you can push your memory speed as far as you like and it won't affect the FSB.
There are a total of five options to overclocking. Manual, auto, standard, AI Overclock and AI NOS. For those enthusiasts that like things a little simpler, the AI NOS overclocking system auto detects the CPU loading and dynamically overclocks the CPU speed when needed. While not as powerful as manual tweaking, it's certainly very easy and provides a good performance boost only stressing your components when needed. If you want a more permanent solution the AI Tuning is your next best bet as it allows preset configuration options ranging from 5% overclock to 20% overclock (FSB 1200/800). Achieving a 20% overclock is really very easy with Core 2 Duo processors and even easier with the Asus Striker. All these options are great on paper but do they actually make the Asus Striker a good overclocker? Well more on that later but to wet your appetite we managed a nice stable 3.8GHz at 1900MHz from our 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor.
Other standard features of the 680i chipset include true 2x 16 PCI Express SLI support with two full bandwith 16 lane PCIe links, a third PCIe slot for graphics expansion, NVIDIA MediaSheild storage with advanced RAID and SATA support and USB 2.0 support for up to 10 USB devices.
The Striker offers a dual raid solution with NVIDIA mediashield offering RAID 0, 1, 0 + 1,5 and JBOD configurations for up to six SATA 3.0GB/s drives. The silicon image 3132 controller supports two additional external SATA 3.0GB/s ports on the rear panel and allows RAID 0, RAID 1 and JBOD. External SATA ports are becoming a must have feature wth more external storage devices opting for this method of connection over the slower USB and Firewire solutions.
Of course the Striker offers dual Gigabit LAN and is S/PDIF digital sound ready. Well that's about it for features. Hang on a minute. We haven't even mentioned the 8 phase capless power design for ultimate overclocking capability and reliability. The fanless design using Asus's gorgeous heat pipe heatsink that allows multi-directional heat flow from major thermal sources in the motherboard to lower system temperature. The LCD poster that displays boot error messages instead of codes so you can easily hunt down troublesome devices. The onboard leds located near connector labels allowing you to connect cables and devices without a flashlight. What about the onboard switches for overclockers to provide an easy way of turning on, resetting and clearing the cmos while fine tuning performance. We could also mention the ASUS multi-language BIOS, Q-Fan plus technology, ASUS MyLogo3 to personalize your system with boot logos, ASUS music alarm to wake you up in the morning and the Supreme FX features to enhance speech applications like Skype and online gaming but we are just itching to show you some eyecandy!