It's taken more years than most people care to consider, but Nvidia has finally sat around a table with Intel to produce the first nForce chipset to support Intel processors. Not only that, but the new chipset - the nForce 4 (Intel Edition) - also supports SLi mode.
Gigabyte's GA-8N-SLI Royal, the latest model in Gigabyte's new i-DNA (Intelligent Dual Nano Architecture) series of boards, is the first retail board we have seen that uses the new chipset and as with most Gigabyte high-end boards, the GA-8N-SLI Royal is crammed full of features, resulting in an even busier looking board than normal.
The board supports Socket 775 Intel processors with 533, 800 and 1,066MHz FSB speeds and backs this with four DIMM slots supporting a maximum of 4GB of DDR2 533MHz or, more interestingly, 667MHz memory. To get the best out of the memory, the chipset uses a new Dual DDR2 memory controller which has an independent bus for each memory module; all of the other current dual channel chipsets use the same bus for each pair of memory modules, so the GA-8N-SLI Royal should offer better performance for memory hungry applications.Because of the differences between AMD and Intel processors, the nForce 4 (Intel Edition) chipset uses both North and South bridges, both of which are passively cooled although Gigabyte supplies a cooler for the Northbridge should you want to do some serious overclocking. The HyperTransport connection for the chipset is slower than the one used on current AMD boards (800MHz 8-bit as opposed to the current 1GHz 16-bit HT link)Full marks to Gigabyte for including two ATA controllers on the GA-8N-SLI Royal, instead of the normal single controller on current Intel chipset controlled boards. This means you can use four ATA devices without resorting to any of the four SATA2 ports, which is handy if you are building a new system using your old ATA drives. If this wasn't enough there are a further two SATA2 and single ATA ports controlled by a Promise RAID controller. Interestingly each SATA2 port has a plastic surround which offers a bit more protection than the normal SATA port.
The GA-8N-SLI Royal comes with a whole host of features; two x16 PCI-E graphic slots, two x1 PCI-E and two standard PCI slots, dual Gigabit LAN, dual BIOS chips, integrated 7.1-channel audio and support for IEEE 1394b (FireWire B).
Included in the box are two brackets; one provides two more USB 2.0 ports to go with the four on the I/O panel while the second provides a FireWire port and two more USB 2.0 ports. You also get six SATA cables and an SLI bridge connector.
Gigabyte - GA-8N-SLI Royal features - Verdict
Despite being the first of a new breed, the GA-8N-SLI Royal works remarkably well. As with most Intel based boards, however, it is a more expensive option than a comparable AMD based SLI board.