The following system was used in testing the P6N SLI Platinum motherboard:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 2.4GHz
MSI P6N SLI Platinum Motherboard
Mushkin XP2-8500 DDR2 2GB Memory Kit
Western Digital WD2500KS 250GB SATA Hard Drive
MSI GeForce 7950 GX2 w/NVIDIA ForceWare 93.71
Enermax EG701AX-VE(W)SFMA V2.0 600W Power Supply
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 and DirectX 9.0c
The Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard was used with the components listed above with exception of the Realtek 6-channel on-board sound being replaced with Creative's SoundBlaster X-FI sound card.
Overclocking is not for the faint-hearted. You have to accept the possibility of losing a valuable component or the motherboard itself to damage. This part of the review covers my experiences with overclocking the P6N SLI Platinum. First, I take the time-consuming approach and test at every successful boot up. I just don't pick a number and let 'er rip. I enjoy playing games at high resolutions with as much antialiasing (AA) and anisotropic filtering (AF) as I can get but system stability is the first priority.
My first foray with the nForce 650i chipset was the normal "find the high FSB." It fell short of the top-rated Intel P965 and P975 motherboards attaining around 487MHz with a "6x" multiplier. That changed my motivation for this portion of the review. I set a goal to attain a stable overclock of 3.6GHz with the E6600's default multiplier of "9x" while capable of running Orthos in blend mode for at least 8 hours and running and compiling a score in Super PI Mod 1.5, 32MB test, without errors. If successful, that would place this motherboard clearly in position as a viable alternative as high performance, lower cost, SLI-capable solution for the avid gamer, mainstream or not.
Optional Northbridge Heatsink Fan
Using the Asus P5N-E motherboard for a couple of months I was somewhat familiar with the nForce 650i chipset when MSI sent the P6N SLI Platinum for review. My anticipations were high having experienced good results with the nForce 650i in overclocking, excellent results in gaming, and daily use. At first, that was not totally the case with the P6N SLI Platinum as overclocking attempts were lack-luster in comparison. Stability was lacking at 3GHz and above. Being used to the P5N-E motherboard, I was trying to use the same basic voltage settings and things were just not working. Finally, I began upping the voltage and the board came alive. I am not talking about a significant amount, as dealing with 0.10V is significant in overclocking.
Where the P5N-E took 1.325V on the Vcore to reach 3.4GHz, the P6N SLI took as much as 1.4V as identified in the BIOS and MSI's Dual CoreCell utility. The voltage to the NB took about the same at 1.4V compared to 1.39V for the P5N-E. Even the memory required additional voltage in comparison. Although not unusual between boards from different manufacturers, even using the same chipset.
Also, I had noticed that the voltage supply rails in the BIOS were registering as much as 0.10V more on the P6N SLI's +5V and +12V rails which implies to me better a voltage supply from the PSU since I was using the same components, just different motherboards. Although better rails, this apparently did not affect the voltage requirements for my initial overclock attempts. Finally, having figured this out overclocking with the P6N SLI Platinum became a breeze.
CPU-Z - 1600MHz FSB
Again, where the P5N-E motherboard found 3.3GHz as the upper end of being rock stable the P6N SLI cruised on to 3.4GHz. In fact, the best overclock was 3.6GHz, but while being stable, the voltage required was a little high. It took +0.1375V Vcore (approximately 1.42V) according to Dual Core Center (however, as seen above CPU-Z reported 1.408V), 1.5V on the NB, and 2.35V on memory to make a successful pass through Super PI in the 32MB test.
A positive note was the temperature never increased more than 7C which is extremely good running an air cooled system with ambient room temperatures running 22C. Temperature checks of the NB and SB heatsink bases showed temps never exceeded 44C for the NB and 42C for the SB. Knowing the board will run at 3.6GHz (9x400MHz, 1:1), my next project after this review is to try to get the overclock running stable with the least amount of voltage to these components.
With all of that said, the P6N SLI Platinum is a gamer's delight. Exceedingly fast at default clocks and even more so overclocked and running super stable. With my concerns over the voltage reporting and approaching warm weather I will be lowering the clocks for gaming, at least until I can get a better handle on actual voltage being supplied. Of course, the 1333MHz FSB, 3.0GHz, settings that I initially found to be stable is a good cushion to fall back on.
CPU-Z - 400MHz Memory
Update: With the elation of success in overclocking also comes frustration brought on by the various pitfalls of overclocking. The pitfalls you want to avoid and take the necessary time to double and triple check everything. Then, even when you think you have control the hammer can fall. And fall it did! I lost both sticks of ram without any warning. I was just rebooting and the fans came on, the drive spun up, but no video. The indicating LEDs on the D-Bracket2 were lit with 1, 2, 4 being "Red" and 3 lit "Green."
Referring to the User's Manual this indicates "Memory Detection Test" with the following instruction, "Testing onboard memory size. The D-LED will hang if the memory module is damaged or not installed properly." (An expletive here!) I had not touched the memory since installation and the voltage as read by the BIOS was within spec at 2.2V at the time of its demise. Well, no sense in getting bent out of shape after all I was the one who said that you accept the consequences if you overclock. I will just have to chalk this up to another overclocking experience, and not one of the good ones.
Below are the settings available to the overclocker with the P6N SLI Platinum and my corresponding use:
FSB Settings: 400MHz to 2500MHz (QDR). My best was 1600MHz with a multiplier of 9.
DDR2 Settings: 400MHz to 1400MHz. I set the DDR2 memory at 400MHz, 800MHz effective.
PCI-E Settings: 100MHz to 200MHz. I did not up the default setting of 100MHz.
CPU Voltage Settings: +0.0125V to +0.3875V (in 0.0125V steps). The highest setting I used was +0.1375V running at 3.6GHz.
Memory Voltage Settings: 1.80V to 2.80V (in 0.05V steps). I used 2.35V running 3.6GHz.
NB Voltage Settings: 1.250V to 1.5V (in 0.025V steps). I maxed this out at 1.5V, again running at 3.6GHz. 1.4V at 3.4GHz.
SB Voltage Settings: 1.50V to 1.70V (in 0.05V steps). I left this voltage at default, 1.5V.
FSB VTT Voltage Settings: 0% to 20% (in 2% steps). Did not use this voltage setting.
Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only). Multiplier was maintained at the default "9" for the E6600.