Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe review
MSI also impresses with its digital SLI switch. Unlike the mini-PCI card that needs to be switched round when installing a second graphics card on the Asus, the digital switch automatically detects your setup. It’s certainly a more elegant option, saving some potentially frustrating fiddling, as well as reducing the possibility of accidentally damaging the components or motherboard during graphics card installation. It isn’t entirely foolproof, as the nVidia driver doesn’t automatically enable SLI, even though Windows XP will pop up a notification bubble telling you that you have a SLI-compatible setup. You also sacrifice a PCI Express expansion slot to the two rows of chips.
There’s still plenty of expansion potential available, though, with one PCI Express 1x and two PCI slots on the MSI. The second 16x slot can always be used as a further 1x slot should gaming not be important to you. However, if you need a lot of expansion slots, the Asus is a better bet: the three PCI slots and two PCI Express should be enough for most. Asus also spreads the 16x slots further apart, which allows for better cooling, especially if you want to use a pair of double-height cards.
Both nForce4 boards are well-featured, as befits top-end boards costing well over £100. There are two parallel ATA and six SATA 2 connectors, dual Gigabit Ethernet and plenty of USB and FireWire headers on both. Both boards also come with every cable and connector you’ll need, as well as extra USB and FireWire back panels. Asus also bundles the WinDVD Suite and a retention bracket to keep the SLI bridge PCB in place. It’s particularly handy if you plan to move the system, since the bridge works itself loose easily.
We welcome extras such as the nVidia Firewall and the bountiful connectors, but then you should be getting every bonus going when you pay £130 for a motherboard. You can pick up a 925XE board for less than £85 these days, which will offer the same performance. However, if you want a dual-core SLI rig then we prefer the MSI. The digital SLI switch is elegant, the onboard audio is at least theoretically superior, and there’s a larger RAM threshold should you ever need it. But if you can forego the nVidia extras on your dual-core rig then consider an Intel 945 board such as Abit’s AL8.
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