Like all other nForce 680i SLI boards it's another black motherboard with blue and white fixtures for differentiation. Just like the Inno3D board, the branding is merely a sticker in the middle of the board. The only other branding on the board is the Nvidia and Nvidia SLI logos, so if you lose the sticker nothing else will tell you this is an XFX board.
The board has a six phase power system and all of the mosfets are cooled with additional heatsinks. Around the CPU socket there are low profile solid aluminium capped capacitors but the rest of the board uses ordinary electrolytic capacitors instead.
PCI-Express and PCI
There are three PCI-Express x16 slots on the board, with the two black ones used in SLI at full x16 bandwidth, while the blue slot only supports up to an x8 bandwidth. Nvidia has suggested the use of a third graphics card for future GPGPU applications or as a physics processor, but you can throw in anything you like since PCI-Express is entirely backwards compatible to x4, x2 or x1 cards.
The bottom slot sits almost right at the base of the board, so a card with a dual slot cooler will suck up the dust right from the bottom of a case. It also means you lose one of the PCI slots which is placed under it. We'd like to have seen an additional PCI slot rather than the two PCI-Express x1 slots and
an x8 if possible, but there's still a single PCI available for use even with SLI being used.
The board includes six SATA 3Gbps ports, four of which are pretty high up on in the middle of the motherboard and the other two are orientated at 90 degrees to the board, pointing towards the usual hard drive placement. Since the included SATA cables don't include 90 degree connectors, having it on board instead to some degree makes for less cable mess.
It would be nice if all the SATA sockets were 90 degrees to the board, but there just isn’t the space around the edge in it's current orientation. The ports are 3Gbps capable and also include RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5 with Nvidia's Media Shield technology.
The memory slots are alternately coloured blue and black to denote memory channel, with dual channel memory being enabled when two DIMMs are populated in memory slots of the same colour. The slots are just high enough to get the modules out when a graphics card is installed and they're also a good distance from the CPU socket. EPP is also available, and installing memory that is also EPP capable means that it'll automatically set the speed, timings necessary voltage required to run at the rated speed of the modules.
The heatsinks around the CPU socket and southbridge are passive with a single heatpipe connecting the southbridge to the northbridge. The "optional" fan for the northbridge is actually more necessary
considering the heat the northbridge emits. Unfortunately the fan is far from quiet, although quite a few people I've spoken to about it claim they don't notice it over the noise of the rest of their system.
Power sockets, connectivity and pin outs
The floppy port is at 90 degrees to the motherboard but the IDE port isn’t. It would have been far more useful to swap these two around, since more people use the IDE port than they do a floppy port in this day and age. The power connectors are well placed towards the edge of the board and you don't have to pull a Molex to the other side of the board to plug it in the extra power connector, minimising cable mess. The 8-pin 12V connector is in the top corner behind the rear I/O for easy access.
As far as pin-outs go: the front I/O pins are half way up the board, rather than at the bottom of the case. This seems strange since most cases are designed with cables long enough to reach the bottom corner of the motherboard. It's easy to hide the cables behind the back of the board, but takes a little more work to route them around the IDE/SATA/Molex power connector in the same area.
The other pin outs are all colour labelled for easy identification: blue for USB 2.0, red for Firewire and yellow for serial. The Firewire pin out is a bit of a pain in the backside to get to, but the USB 2.0 pin outs are better placed both above the second SLI graphics card slot and high enough to make using a top PCI bracket slot make the cables still reach.
The on-board power and reset switches are a godsend for enthusiasts and overclockers who play with the board on a desktop, but again unfortunately we have another PC speaker soldered directly to the PCB with no way of removal.
The popular Realtek ALC885 codec supplies the High-Definition audio which includes support for protected content through the appropriate players, as well as includes high rated (analogue weighted) DACs and ADCs. Naturally it includes support for standard 7.1+2-channel surround sound up to 32-bit/192KHz, through analogue and digital S/PDIF. S/PDIF is actually featured on-board through an optical out port on the rear I/O as well as a pin out near the front panel audio connector at the bottom of the motherboard.
The three stereo input ports support microphones with Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC), Beam Forming (BF), and Noise Suppression (NS) technologies simultaneously.
Dual Gigabit Ethernet is the standard these days, although we would prefer 802.11g WiFi even if it is at the cost of a second LAN connector. If you're streaming high-definition content or serving several PCs with videos over LAN you'll want Gigabit Ethernet, so at least having it on the motherboard makes a partial investment already.
Nvidia’s integrated PHY Ethernet has a teaming ability between both LAN connectors, as well as TCP/IP offloading to free up the CPU; allowing you to serve other people data while playing games, offering a minimal impact on performance.