nForce 790i MCP Configurations and EVGA Board Specifications

Both the 790i SLI SPP and MCP are built using relatively outdated 90nm process technology. Like Intel's latest chipsets, they are long overdue for a shrink to 65nm.

It's worth noting that, unlike past releases, NVIDIA's top-end nForce 790i SLI SPP will be available to motherboard vendors in two distinct flavors; a new "Ultra" version will be the new top-end part. While NVIDIA claims that both versions are sure to be highly overclockable, the 790i SLI Ultra targets extreme overclocking and will feature automatic configuration of memory for DDR3-2000 operation using EPP2 profiles built into SLI-ready memory modules. Suppliers looking to offer products featuring slightly less aggressive CPU and memory overclocking capabilities for those on a tighter budget will use the "standard" 790i SLI part. Be sure to pay close attention to this important distinction when shopping for your next board. The chips are almost certainly the same internally, but the Ultra parts are binned for higher performance, similar to what we see with CPUs and more recently with the X38 and X48.

No matter the SPP used, the 790i SLI MCP is the same in either implementation. In fact, our investigation has revealed the aptly-named 790i SLI MCP as nothing more than a re-worked 570i SLI MCP with a stepping change to A3. This left us wondering if NVIDIA's been experiencing design issues with their newest creation, causing delays with its release, or if they just had a hard time convincing themselves of the necessity for something better. In either case, there is little room to complain - we feel the included MCP is more than capable of satisfying our needs as is and anything more would have just driven up the cost in exchange for no real benefit.

EVGA NVIDIA nForce 790i Ultra SLI
Market Segment High-Performance Gaming / Extreme Benching - $349.99 (estimated)
CPU Interface Socket T (LGA775)
CPU Support LGA775 Core2 Duo/Extreme/Quad, Pentium EE, Pentium D, Pentium including next-generation 45nm CPU support
Chipset NVIDIA nForce 790i Ultra SLI SPP and MCP
CPU Clock Multiplier 6x ~ 11x, downward adjustable for Core2, upward to 60x for Core2 Extreme, including half-multiplier support for 45nm processors
FSB Speeds Auto, installed CPU Default to 700MHz in 1MHz increments
System Bus Speeds 1600 / 1333 / 1066 / 800 MHz
FSB Memory Clock Modes Auto, Linked, Unlinked
DDR3 Memory Ratios Auto, 5:4, 3:2 and Sync Mode (2:1)
PCIe Speeds Auto, 100MHz ~ 200MHz in 1MHz increments
SPP-to-MCP Link Speeds Auto, 200 ~ 500Mhz in 0.5MHz increments to 210MHz then 1MHz steps
HT Multipliers 1x ~ 5x for SPP->MCP and MCP->SPP
EPP 2 Profile Support Enabled (DDR3-2000 set), Disabled
DRAM Timing Controls Optimal, Expert (tCL, tRCD, tRP, tRAS and CPC user adjustable)
Advanced Memory Settings Auto or user adjustable - tRRD, tRC, tWR, tWTR, tFAW and tREF
DRAM Command Per Clock Auto, 1T, 2T
CPU Core Control Enabled, Disabled for each core (excluding Core 0)
CPU Core Voltage Auto, 0.51250 ~ 2.00000 in 0.00625V increments
CPU FSB Voltage (VTT) Auto, 1.10V ~ 1.45V in 0.05V increments
Memory Voltage Auto, 1.50V ~ 2.275V in 0.025V increments
nForce SPP Voltage Auto, 1.30V ~ 1.55V in 0.05V increments
nForce MCP Voltage Auto, 1.50V ~ 1.75V in 0.05V increments
GTLVREF Lane Voltages Auto, -155mV ~ +155mV for each GTL reference voltage
Memory Slots Four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM Slots
Dual-Channel Memory Architecture
Regular Unbuffered, non-ECC DDR3 Memory to DDR3-1333, 8GB Total
Supports SLI-Ready EPP 1/2 Memory to DDR3-2000
Expansion Slots 2 - PCIe 2.0 x16, Supports up to NVIDIA 3-way SLI Technology
1 - PCIe (1.x) x16
2 - PCIe (1.x) x1
2 - PCI Slot 2.2
Onboard SATA RAID 6x SATA 3.0Gbps Ports - nForce MCP (NVIDIA MediaShield RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD)
Onboard IDE/Additional SATA JMicron JMB363 PATA Controller (up to 2 UDMA 133/100/66 devices)
Up to 6 External eSATA ports configurable via BIOS
Onboard USB 2.0/IEEE-1394 10 USB 2.0 Ports - (6) I/O Panel, (4) via headers
2x 1394a Ports - (1) I/O Panel, (1) via header
Onboard LAN
(with Teaming)
Dual NVIDIA nForce LAN with DualNet and FirstPacket Technology
Onboard Audio 8-channel HD Audio (Azalia) CODEC
Power Connectors ATX 24-pin, 8-pin EATX 12V
I/O Panel 1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1x PS/2 Mouse
2 x SPDIF - (1) Optical Out, (1) Coaxial Out
1 x External eSATA
2 x IEEE-1394a port
2 x RJ-45 (LAN)
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
8 channel Audio IO
Fan Headers 6 - (1) CPU, (1) nForce SPP fan (optional), (4) Chassis
BIOS Revision P03_R2 (pre-release)

The BIOS has matured quite well since 780i, although when compared to most feature-rich enthusiast-level Intel-based motherboards the interface can appear a little barren. For one, Intel chipsets still expose a far greater set of memory control timings, depending on whose motherboard you purchase. While we are all for best matched values and the deliberate use of autonomous optimization control routines when it comes to BIOS setup, we also acknowledge the importance of giving the user a little rope with which to hang themselves if they so chose. In our eyes, the solution is quite simple: provide as much interface as possible to the user but always leave the option to select "Auto" so that the BIOS can retain primary control of said parameter.

FSB choices are available all the way up to 700MHz (2.80GHz quad-pumped) although we were only able to push our board as high as about 575MHz FSB with a 45nm dual-core E8500. As with 780i, 790i provides the option to either run the memory in sync with the FSB, using one of three predefined memory-to-FSB ratios, or unlinked allowing for nearly any FSB and memory speeds to be selected independently of each other and without any restriction. However, running memory unlinked from the FSB can leave a lot of performance on the table. For this reason alone we suggest you stick with "Sync Mode" and use either the 5:4, 3:2 or 2:1 (best) divider with your DDR3 memory unless you absolutely cannot find a way to make your system perform as expected with one of those settings. We will be covering memory performance - in particular read, write, copy and latency access times - in more detail a little further along in the review.

Voltage selection ranges are good without offering too many obnoxiously high settings - CPU voltage tops out at 2V and DDR3 can be set as high as 2.275V. The remaining voltages - CPU FSB Voltage, nForce SPP Voltage, and nForce MCP Voltage - can be left on auto in most instances, even when overclocking. NVIDIA validation engineers have done an exceptional job of testing the capabilities of their chipset way beyond normal specifications and have passed on their findings via the BIOS. As you increase FSB, the board automatically selects the right voltage needed to POST and run stable. During the course of our testing, we found the board did most of the work for us, making overclocking our system an absolute breeze. All we really needed to do was analyze performance at each configuration and decide which one we thought was best.

Many of the same connections found on EVGA's 780i reference motherboard make a second appearance on their 790i board. Just about everything you might possibly need can be found here - one PS/2 port each for mouse and keyboard (great for those out there that still like to make use of old-style KVM dongles), one 1394a FireWire port, six USB 2.0 ports, dual RJ-45s for the integrated LAN, and audio output jacks for the onboard 8-channel HD Codec. New with the 790i board is the single eSATA header, which can be configured from the BIOS as any one of the six channels available via the MCP, and an SPDIF digital coax audio jack in addition to the optical out.

As expected, the 790i SLI MCP provides expansion capabilities for up to six SATA devices and two PATA devices with MediaShield Technology, 10 USB 2.0 devices, and up to five PCI slots. The MCP also allows for up to two 1Gbps (1000Mbps) Ethernet connections including DualNet Technology - used to team adapters to form a single, virtual 2Gbps link - and NVIDIA's FirstPacket Technology, which provides latency-sensitive network transfers, such as giving outgoing gaming traffic priority over bulk-transfer communications like file uploads. The 790i SLI MCP also includes support for onboard high-definition (HD) audio, previously code-named Azalia, and can output a 7.1 analog signal to individually attached speakers as well as an 8-channel SPDIF source via digital coax or optical connection.

Index EVGA NVIDIA nForce 790i Ultra SLI Board Layout and Features
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  • jiulemoigt - Thursday, March 20, 2008 - link

    I would have thought that with that much gpu power you would have tested AA, or better than medium settings? Seems like the article was slanted to favor the new quad sli which should be giving you all max settings yet looks like 6 fps is what you get...
  • FITCamaro - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    It's pretty sad how motherboard prices have ballooned in the past 2 years. You used to pay $200 tops for a motherboard. Now we're getting models routinely at $250, $350, and now even $350.

    Now days your motherboard can cost more than both your CPU and memory combined.
  • halcyon - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    nVidia is of course trying to milk the heat seekers and first adopters, who will pay anything for a few micro fps more.

    But prices like this will mean that the whole series will sell a few thousand boards worldwide. And manufacturers will be burned (those that got on board to start with, not too many btw).

    I think nVidia is in the rope when it comes to the mobo business and it's starting to show.

    Products are problematic, late, overpriced and offer very little benefit to the majority of users aren't going to sell very well.

    If nVidia wants to stay in the mobo business, they need to make a product that:

    - can compete with Intel's cheap/fast chipset (currently P35)
    - uses much less energy (P35 is much more energy efficient than anything from nVidia)
    - just works (more debugging/testing, not everybody wants to be a hardcore tweaker)
    - is priced lower than Intel (let's face it, when did nVidia make a chipset that was more compatible/more reliable than an Intel counterpart? If they are worse, they need to cost less, not more)

    I don't see this day happening anytime soon, hence I see the future of nvidia mobo chipset business as quite bleak.
  • Restroom - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    Okay, perhaps I'm just far enough out of the loop now to have missed out on the part where anyone bothers benching anything at medium quality when the products being compared don't differ on supported capabilities (a new pixel shader implementation, for example) which would be evident only when the game's cranked up all the way.

    Maybe for the sake of this particularly evil app it makes sense to even out test methodology by paring things out to Medium so bigger charts can be compiled in future without totally excluding less-capable hardware. Maybe.

    What I really don't understand is why we have independent resolution setups; testing for scaling (which in Crysis' case seems to be, obtusely, limited by the software much more than the hardware) rather than testing a more meaningful component-integration/observed-capability hypothesis. This is a motherboard we're testing (at least that's what EVGA would say if you asked) and it really hoses things up when you have to look at not only so many combinations of vastly different components and setups, but try also to divine meaning from this wild-hair test of resolution scaling thrown in the mix.

    I realize I'm not being real coherent, so I'll wrap it with a simpler question: We don't buy these sorts of components so we can willingly make a compromise between pretty and fast, so why bother telling us how much of a compromise we'd be making and totally neglect to tell us what it'll be like when we inevitably crank the quality all the way up and see if we can still play it?
  • quanta - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    Too bad it doesn't include performance results of the I/O component, particularly Networking. It seems people are avoiding it like plague even since the nForce4 ActiveArmor bug.
  • poohbear - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    $350-$400 just for a mobo!?!?!? are they on crack?!!?!? this is the most ridiculous thing i've ever heard since 1000wt psus. c'mon for the love of god, i bought my top of the line DFI expert for $180 a few months after release, what could possible justify $350-$400 for a mobo?

    Tell me they're gonna make a non sli version for the rest of us?
  • lopri - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    I do understand that folks who will purchase a board based on 790i has SLI as a priority, but AT as of late tends to get marveled at advancing technology at the cost of basic functionality of such. How come all the relevant features are not tested for normal usage?

    Disk controller test? RAID test? Do SATA device and PATA device get along? How about the new eSATA? Is it functional and performing as expected? (It's a new revision MCP55 according to the review)

    How about Blu-Ray playback, whether the ROM is SATA or PATA? Is there any issue?

    The review mentions that when 3-way SLI is employed the other PCIe slots render useless. That's fine but how about when one or two video cards are used? In that case all PCIe slots function normally?

    Memory overclocking is nice and all that, but is the board handling DIMMs of various flavors without a trouble? Do the board handle 4 sticks of DIMM as well as it does 2? How about 2GB sticks? Well, one could argue that this is a moot point since DDR3 is expensive but then the whole thing is. I think it is appropriate since the review went on in length to detail the technical aspects of DIMM slots as well as the new memory controller.

    And there is the issue of power regulation. Better power delivery for overclocking is nice, but only if the board has mastered the basics. Are the fan headers working as they should, be it from a normal boot or wake-up from sleep? All the power-related features (S1/S3/EIST, etc.) that have been problematic on NV chipsets, especially under SLI - are they fixed?

    Talking about the fan, there is no mention of thermal characteristics of the chipset and also lacking is how loud/efficient the default fan is. (as well as RPM control) NV chipsets are infamous and I don't think the reviewer isn't aware of this. So it only leaves readers an impression that the review chose not to mention it.

    Also missing is the chipset's power consumption figure, network performance, compatibility with various add-in cards.. The list goes on and on and on. The chipset having the same south bridge from 680i/780i can't be an excuse. That south bridge lived through even more chipsets as we understand.

    Then there are the charts. Different GPUs, different NUMBER of GPUs, different chipsets, and CPU frequencies all over (overclocked, of course, and I don't see the point of it) - mix them up and we are presented with un-readable mess. It's no wonder that there looks to be erroneous data. (On page 12, X48/8800GTX is consistently slower than 790i/8800GTX by 30~40% with the same CPUs. Does that make sense? If so, should't there be some kind of explanation?)

    From this review, users can hardly draw a conclusion on the performance of the chipset, let alone everything else. It'd make a interesting introduction on a new tech, but at the same time a misleading introduction on an upcoming product to actual users. (I thought this was a 'Review', not a 'Study'. If I'm mistaken please let me know.) This has been a trend in AT motherboard review as of late and I for one am somewhat disappointed because I cannot seem to obtain the information that's meaningful for actual usage. Working together with hardware manufacturer is important, but end-user perspective should be the priority No. 1, IMHO.
  • saivarnos - Tuesday, March 25, 2008 - link

    I to agree with the points made above. I am a technically savy person but finding articles of worth on AT has become increasingly difficult - for the layperson and the technically adept. What happened to the good old days of articles titled and delivered like "Price And Performance, 10 motherboards that are fighting for your money!" and then proceeded to deliver on that title. It used to be in the not so distant past that when I came to this site and just a couple others I would have a chipset and motherboard purchase decision made within about an hour of scanning articles, if I wanted the extra technical specifications and the like I could read them, if not I could leave them, now they appear integral to the articles posted here an actually detract from instead of adding value to the article. AT I love you guys, but GO BACK TO YOUR ROOTS!
  • skinflickBOB - Sunday, March 23, 2008 - link

    I guess you deserve your money back Lopri, anyone would think it costs you money to click the mouse button and come over to read somebodies review. NOT!

    It's essentially a free site for us readers.. Oh yeah, I know it pays the site for us to click, but you just sound like someone who is eternally ungrateful for anything other than what you do yourself.


  • seamusmc - Thursday, March 20, 2008 - link

    I'm another that agrees with Lopri.

    Please review more of the features the board provides. I'm particularly interested in disk and RAID performance, areas the NVidia chipsets have always been lackluster in.

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