The 680i SLI motherboards were launched with a tremendous public relations effort by NVIDIA back in November. There was a lot of hype, speculation, and fanfare surrounding NVIDIA's latest chipset for the Intel market, and it promised an incredible array of features and impressive performance for the enthusiast. At the time of launch we were promised the mid to low range 650i SLI and Ultra chipsets would be shipping shortly to flesh out NVIDIA's Intel portfolio. NVIDIA had plans to truly compete against Intel, VIA, ATI, and SIS in the majority of Intel market sectors within a very short period of time after having some limited success earlier in 2006 with the C19A chipset.

However, all of this planning seemed to unravel as the weeks progressed after the 680i launch. It seemed as if NVIDIA's resources were concentrated on fixing issues with the 680i chipset instead of forging ahead with their new product plans. Over the course of the past few months we finally saw the 650i SLI launched in a very reserved manner, followed by the 680i LT launch that offered a cost reduced alternative to the 680i chipset. While these releases offered additional choices in the mid to upper range performance sectors, we still did not know how well or even if NVIDIA would compete in the budget sector.


When discussing current Intel platform chipsets, the phrase "budget sector" is somewhat of an oxymoron. While there are a lot of choices in the $50 to $60 range for Core 2 Duo compatible boards, these are mainly based on older chipsets that do not offer anything in the way of extended overclocking, RAID, or performance oriented designs. This is not to say they are in any way bad, as one of our favorite budget boards in the lab is the VIA based ASRock 4CoreDual-VSTA, but rather these boards are targeted for an audience that is very price sensitive.

As you go up the price ladder there are some very good 945P boards from the likes of EPoX and Gigabyte, followed by the budget P965 boards from ECS, MSI, Foxconn, and Biostar. These boards usually offer solid performance and a decent set of features for prices in the $75 to $105 range. Once again, nothing in this sector is designed to offer mid-range performance capabilities at a price under $100. Well, this all changes with the eerily silent release of the NVIDIA 650i Ultra today. The EVGA 650i Ultra board we are reviewing today will initially be offered at $99 but prices should drop as supply and competition become widespread. What is different about this chipset and does it really offer an attractive alternative to the Intel chipsets in the $100 market? Let's find out in today's review of the EVGA 650i Ultra motherboard.

NVIDIA nForce 650i Ultra Chipset Features
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  • Zak - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    Is there a SPDIF out bracket included? I'd find that a show stopper if it wasn't. Also, regarding the layout: with more and more video cards being quite large these days why they don't allow some extra space between the PCIx graphics slot and the next slot? This is a huge problem with mobos IMHO. Just because I want non-SLI, midrange motherboard doesn't mean I won't have a high end video card in it. Zak. Reply
  • saratoga - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    I noticed the onboard sound benchmarks, but theres nothing about the onboard sound quality. Rightmark has a benchmark for this that take 2 minutes to run and spits out very useful information. Why not include those results like some other sites do?

    While knowing how it performs is great, knowing if the results are worth listening to is also important. I don't care if its the fastest onboard sound in the world, if its got poor SNR figures, I'm probably going to buy a PCI card :)
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    quote:

    we firmly believe that a few additions such as memory voltages to 2.2V, *EPP suppport*, CPU VTT / GTL Ref voltage control, ... and maybe a six-layer board design *with all solid caps* would have placed this board in the exceptional category for those enthusiasts on a budget.


    Added two items to your list of desired additions. If a 650i Ultra board came out with the above features, it'd be worth an additional 25% in price to me. (i.e. $125)

    It's still practically amazing how well the C2D chips OC even on this board with its somewhat limited overclocking features. =)

    Thanks again for a great review Gary.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    Thanks for including the benchmarks with a real-world system. It's neat to see how incredibly different most of the test results are compared to your monster rig with XLC Flex RAM and an 8800GTX. ;) Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    quote:

    DRAM Voltage Adjustment: Auto, 1.80V to 2.10V in .10V increments


    So don't buy this board if your DDR2 sticks want to run at 2.2v or 2.3v.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    Ah yes, there you go:
    quote:

    However, with memory voltages limited to 2.10V we found it difficult to take advantage of the memory options with a vast majority of our modules. Only our high end modules from OCZ, Corsair, and Patriot were able to operate at 1T command rates with absolute stability. We found in memory testing that switching to manual settings and changing the tCAS, tRCD, tRP, tRAS, and command rate was required to ensure optimum performance.

    While we understand NVIDIA's reluctance to open up the BIOS options on a board designed for the budget market we do think they made a mistake in this area. Our performance results generated by the board would indicate that a couple of additional voltage options, improved electricals, and an increase to 2.20V for the memory would have transformed this board from very good to exceptional status in the sub-$100 market.



    So time to wait and see if any other folks (Asus, Abit, MSi, etc) come out with a 650i board that offers better adjustment options in the BIOS.

    Also would like to see a fully solid-capacitor design as well. Wouldn't mind paying $120-$125 for one of these 650i Ultras with those features added.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    I'm really glad you posted that nice feature chart on page 2 because I didn't know that only 680i boards got the EPP compatibility. Boy it sure would suck to spend extra money on nice high-performance DDR2 RAM that advertises really nice timings when EPP is enabled, only to find out your nice new 650i SLI or Ultra board doesn't support EPP. Reply
  • nullpointerus - Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - link

    I'll probably be getting one of these when I upgrade to C2Q late this year. From my browsing experiences, the current crop of Core-compatible boards are much too expensive or lack the new features I would like to gain by upgrading to the new platform. Kudos to EVGA for bringing a solid mid-range board to market!

    I'm glad to hear nTune (almost) works properly with this board. On my NF4 Ultra board, nTune crashes everytime I try to bring up the system status/overclocking stuff, and BTW the software is a pain to get working in Vista--something like six error messages come up when started without administrator permissions. Hopefully, the Vista issues will be resolved in a few months.
    Reply

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