by Ilya Gavrichenkov
02/06/2007 | 09:31 PM
ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard based on a relatively new Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset for Intel processors arrived into our lab last year already. However, it is only now that we decided to write about it, despite the huge interest to this product from hardware enthusiasts. And I have to say that we delayed our review for a reason. The thing is that this mainboard priced enormously high – at over $300 – could be regarded as a great disappointment until recently, because its pretty raw BIOS caused numerous frustrating problems. However, ASUS engineers didn’t waste their time and since the launch of ASUS Striker Extreme its BIOS has matured quite significantly. At least, our today’s review will not be dedicated to discussion of BIOS flaws and mainboard issues. Moreover, now we have every right to claim that ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard based on Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset offers at least the same stability and overclocking-friendly options as the reference mainboards supplied to the market by EVGA, BFG, ECS and other manufacturers.
Moreover, the users didn’t pin that many hopes on the new Nvidia chipset for Intel Core 2 processors designed for high-end systems. Namely, the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based products built using the reference design features a very unpleasant defect resulting into SATA controller operation issues, which in the end could lead to system crash and even data loss. Although Nvidia is currently offering a certain solution to the problem, sometimes things still cannot be improved completely. ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard based on the company’s own unique design didn’t suffer from this defect from the very beginning. However, the users have quickly discovered a number of other problems, some of which have been backed up by the results we obtained in our test lab later on. For instance, ASUS Striker Extreme produced very bad sound quality in SLI mode, which remained the case on a number of sound cards we checked out. We were also upset about its poor compatibility with different memory modules, and pretty low overclocking results.
Luckily, the things have changed today and you can forget about most of these issues. The new BIOS versions 701 and 803 for ASUS Striker Extreme solve many of the old problems. Therefore, if before we could only recommend ASUS Striker Extreme (like any other Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based solution) to brave enthusiasts eager to experiment, then today it definitely deserves the attention of all other “normal” users.
ASUS Striker Extreme is extremely interesting to us not only because it is one of the few products that allow building SLI systems on Core 2 Duo processors. This board is also unique because it belongs to the Republic of Gamers series – a special mainboard family from ASUS targeted for hardcore gamers, the kind of users who would go for the highest performance at any rate. However, besides the unbelievably high price, ASUS Striker Extreme can only boast special accessories bundle and sophisticated PCB design, which has more to do with the exterior rather than performance. However, even though we feel pretty skeptical about the solutions born by joint marketing and engineering effort like that, ASUS Striker Extreme definitely deserves our attention. So today we are going to take a real close look at it and discuss everything in detail.
We start every mainboard review with the formal first look. Namely, we discuss its formal technical specification declared by the manufacturer on the official website. And of course we have to check out the package and accessories, too.
ASUS Striker Extreme specification is pretty standard for an Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based solution. Nothing in the list of its technical features proves the board’s elite. Take a look yourselves:
ASUS Striker Extreme
NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI (C55 + MCP55PXE)
133-750MHz (with 1MHz increment)
Adjustable Vcore, Vmem, North and South Bridge voltages
4 DDR2 DIMM slots
PCI Express x16 slots
2 (supporting NVIDIA SLI)
PCI Express x8 slots
1 (mechanically compatible with PCI Express x16)
PCI Express x1 slots
PCI expansion slots
USB 2.0 ports
10 (4 – on the rear panel)
2 IEEE1394a ports
1 ATA-133 channel (in the chipset)
6 Serial ATA-300 channels (in the chipset, with RAID support)
ATA RAID support
RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 in the chipset
8-channel HD codec – ADI 1988B
2 Gigabit Ethernet controllers (in the chipset)
ASUS LCD Poster
Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG
ATX, 305mm x 245mm
If we compare the data from the table above with the specifications of the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI reference mainboard, the outcome will not be in favor of the expensive ASUS board. In fact, the only advantage of ASUS Striker Extreme is the two SATA On-the-Go ports. Other than that, it offers the same functional variety as the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI reference board. Moreover, all reference mainboard are equipped with a fully-fledged POST controller, which is absent on ASUS Striker Extreme.
However, ASUS Striker Extreme owes the similar list of features not to ASUS engineers’ stinginess, but to the Nvidia nForce 68-I SLI chipset capabilities, which are rich enough to allow designing high-end mainboards without any additional onboard controllers. Therefore, another ASUS mainboard on the same chipset, P5N32-E SLI, featuring the same PCB layout differs from Striker Extreme only by the absence of eSATA ports. However, it costs about $100 less thanks to smaller accessories bundle and fewer attractive add-ons that ASUS Striker Extreme is simply stuffed with.
ASUS Striker Extreme is shipped in a massive box with black and gray color design. As usual the box contains the information about the main mainboard advantages and specs, which turned out so numerous that ASUS had to continue listing on the other side of the flip-open cover. The box also has a few cut out holes allowing you to take a closer look at the mainboard rear panel and some unique items from the accessories bundle such as the stand alone sound card and Andrea SuperBeam Array Microphone with the noise-reduction system.
Your eye also catches two stickers on the mainboard package. The first one is the promising one, saying that the product is Vista Premium Ready. And the second one is the concerned one, saying that ASUS doesn’t guarantee that the mainboard will work with memory modules outside the Qualified Vendor List.
Inside the box we found a transparent plastic casing with the mainboard and the above mentioned sound card with the Andrea SuperBeam Array Microphone, as well as an additional box with numerous accessories.
Besides the pretty common things such as user’s manual, the back panel I/O shield, FDD and Parallel ATA cables, six Serial ATA cables and corresponding power adapters, we have also discovered a few rare things there. For example, a bracket for the case rear panel with two additional USB ports, a bracket with a FireWire port and a flexible cable for graphics cards working in SLI mode. But this is also not all yet, ASUS Striker Extreme comes with a few truly unique accessories. They are the centrifugal chipset fan, a set of cable ties, a Q-Connector set, a leather key-chain with Republic of Gamers logo and three external thermal sensors that can be connected to the mainboard. ASUS has also paid special attention to the software bundle coming with the board. Besides the standard set of drivers and utilities it also includes InterVideo WinDVD player, Kasperski Anti-Virus, Futuremark 3DMark06 Advanced Edition benchmark and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon game.
As we have already mentioned before, ASUS Striker Extreme will hardly surprise anyone with its functionality. In fact, the chipset it is based on, Nvidia nForce 680i SLI, determines it all (you can read more about this core logic set in our Nvidia nForce 680i SLI Chipset Review). Therefore, we will not go into detailed regarding the features of ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard provided by the chipset.
Nevertheless, there are a few features of ASUS Striker Extreme that we should dwell on here. Just like the reference Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboards, our today’s hero supports all LGA775 processors. Just like the reference board, Striker Extreme also features two fully-fledged PCI Express x16 slots and one more PCI Express x16 slot connected to the PCI Express x8 bus. As a result this mainboard can support two graphics cards in SLI mode and an additional graphics card functioning as a physics accelerator.
The mainboard is equipped with four DDR2 DIMM slots for system memory. The memory on ASUS Striker Extreme may be clocked within a very broad frequency range and may work in single- or dual-channel mode. I would like to specifically stress extremely advanced options this board offers for setting the memory bus frequency. Thanks to the Nvidia nForce 680i features, this frequency may be set using the divider on the FSB frequency (the supported FSB:DRAM dividers are not very numerous and include 1:2, 5:8, 3:4 and 1:1) or in the pseudo-asynchronous way. With pseudo-asynchronous mode enabled the mainboard BIOS Setup asks you to type in the desired memory frequency from the range between 400MHz and 2600MHz, however, the actual frequency will be set as the closest available to what you choose. This value will be determined using a much broader variety of dividers, which are much more numerous for the asynchronous mode.
Here I would like to remind you of the sticker on the mainboard package saying that the mainboard is guaranteed to work only with the memory modules from the Qualified Vendor List available on ASUS website. And this sticker is not there for nothing. ASUS Striker Extreme really has some compatibility issues with certain memory modules, which you may have read about on the forums. However, I have to give credit to ASUS engineers: they are eliminating these issues little by little in the new BIOS versions.
Besides the three PCI Express x16 slots that I have already mentioned, ASUS Striker Extreme also has one PCI Express x1 slot and two PCI slots. To the right of the first PCI Express x16 slot there is a small unique slot for the ASUS Supreme-FX sound card that is bundled with ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard.
The physical design of this slot is similar to PCI Express x1 but turned by 180 degrees, however there is no electrical compatibility with the PCI Express x1. The thing is that Supreme-FX is actually not a fully-fledged sound card, but simply an analogue part of the sound tract connected to the AC97 interface. That is why you can only see a one microchip on the Supreme-FX card: the high-definition 8-channel Analog Devices AD1988B codec.
So, it wouldn’t be fair to compare ASUS Supreme-FX against any other stand alone sound cards, this solution is analogous to the Karajan audio unit used on DFI mainboards. Supreme-FX may outperform the integrated sound solutions offered by other mainboard manufacturers only thanks to the reduction of noises generated by analogue sound tract EMI.
Note that the AD1988B codec still has a few interesting peculiarities. Namely, it supports the Andrea SuperBeam Array Microphone that comes bundled with ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard. This codec provides great sound quality compliant with Windows Vista Premium Logo and Dolby Master Studio.
ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard boasts six Serial ATA ports with NCQ support, 3Gbit/s data transfer rate and allows building RAID arrays of level 1, 0, 0+1 and 5. Also there are two Gigabit network ports and ten USB 2.0 ports. These features are implemented through the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset South Bridge.
As for the two Firewire and two eSATA ports laid out on the PCB, they are implemented using two external chips: VIA VT6308P and Silicon Image SiI3132. SiI3132 Serial ATA controller not only supports two external eSATA ports (SATA On-the-Go, according to ASUS), but also supports RAID arrays 1 and 0.
As for the definite strengths of ASUS Striker Extreme, we should certainly mention pretty well-established hardware monitoring system. First, there are eight fan connectors on the PCB. And the mainboard can not only control the rotation speeds of all eight fans but also adjust their rotation speed depending on the temperature. The temperature monitoring system is also very impressive. ASUS Striker Extreme can read the temperatures from four other sensors, besides the CPU one. Three of them are external sensors: they can be connected to the mainboard and placed anywhere inside the case according to user’s needs.
These sensors are supplied with the board and feature s flexible cable, a little over 40cm long. That said it is not surprising at all that the mainboard can also monitor the voltages in all possible mainboard knots, including not only input voltages, but also the processor Vcore, Vmem, chipset North and South Bridge voltages. ASUS engineers decided not to equip their mainboard with a POST controller, like the one we saw on the reference mainboards. Instead, ASUS Striker Extreme features an LCD Poster indicator on the rear panel.
The function of this indicator is similar to that of the POST controller. During the system boot-up it displays the initialization info. And this info doesn’t come out in POST codes, but in text format, very easy to read for the inexperienced user. Once the system boot-up has been successfully completed, LCD Poster may display any other information such as system time, or the preset user phrase.
The first thought that comes to mind when we take ASUS Striker Extreme is that it is unusually heavy. Where the excessive weight comes from is pretty clear once you look at the PCB. It is the massive cooling system for the chipset and the CPU voltage regulator that is made of pure copper and is connected using two sophisticatedly shaped heatpipes.
Note that this cooling system is a very important component of this mainboard. Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset dissipates quite a lot of heat, which requires the mainboard based on it to feature pretty complex cooling solutions. Even though ASUS Striker Extreme uses three copper heatsinks to cool down the chipset, these heatsinks may heat up to 65-70o C during work (the actual chipset components get even hotter than that). Therefore, if you intend on performing some overclocking or would like to install a liquid cooling system on the CPU and hence there won’t adequate airflow around the processor socket, you’d better top these heatsinks with additional fans. Luckily, one fan like that is included with ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard.
The massive cooling system, which is a distinguishing feature of ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard hasn’t been curved around the processor socket in the best way. Although the heatsinks are quite far away from the LGA775, so that even the largest CPU coolers can fit there, the actual cooler installation and fastening may require certain sophisticated tricks from you.
However, we should give ASUS engineers proper credit for keeping the area around the CPU clear. There are almost no electronic components anywhere near the LGA775 socket.
The CPU voltage regulator circuitry layout is one of the reasons for that: it uses high-frequency MOSFET and small ceramic SMT capacitors. However, unlike the DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G mainboard we have reviewed earlier, ASUS Striker Extreme has not the digital feedback in the voltage regulator, but the anachronistic analogue feedback. The voltage regulator itself is designed using eight-phase circuitry.
Speaking of the microchips used on ASUS Striker Extreme PCB, we have to say that ASUS didn’t try to play cheap, which is not surprising at all for the premium-class product like Striker Extreme. All electrolytic capacitors are hard-bodies polymeric ones, with increased reliability.
The slots and connectors are very wisely spread out on the PCB, no comments here.
The assembly process shouldn’t cause you any trouble at all. Here I would like to point out that all SATA ports are located parallel to the PCB, which makes it easier to lay the cables compactly inside the case. Our special thanks also go to the Q-Connector terminal blocks.
These blocks allow you to connect all the cabling from the case front panel to them and then plug everything into the mainboard at once.
Moreover, the mainboard also features its own Power On and Reset buttons that are highlighted in the dark. Also there is a glowing two-position CMOS key right next to them, which seems to do more harm than good in the end.
You will use it very rarely, but by hitting it accidentally you guarantee yourself a few unpleasant minutes of frustration. Especially, since C.P.R. (CPU Parameter Recall) technology implemented on this mainboard will almost always make up for hardware settings clearing. If the mainboard cannot boot with the BIOS Setup settings you selected, this function will reboot the system with default parameters.
Glowing buttons is far not the end of ASUS developers’ ideas. The edges of ASUS Striker Extreme are covered with blue LEDs that should light up the marking of the major pin-connectors in the dark. However, I would actually regard them mostly as a decorative element.
Thank god these bright LEDs can be turned off in the BIOS Setup as well as with a special button on the mainboard rear panel.
Besides the notorious button, the mainboard rear panel also carries the above mentioned LCD Poster, four USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA ports, two RJ45 network connectors with diagnostic LEDs, and PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse. All six analogue audio jacks are laid out on the Supreme-FX daughter card shipped with the board. Here I would only like to add that the I/O Shield for the mainboard rear panel is not a simple aluminum plate, but features built-in lightning for the ports marking.
So, ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard is the first mainboard fully adapted for use in the dark.
When ASUS launched their Striker Extreme mainboard they specifically stressed that it was designed to satisfy any overclocking needs. Therefore, the BIOS Setup of this board features a great number of overclocking-friendly options. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Everything that has to do with tweaking and overclocking has been moved to a separate BIOS Setup section called Extreme Tweaker:
LinkBoost and SLI-Ready Memory technologies that can be enabled here are hardly of any interest to advanced users, however, Striker Extreme supports them entirely. Also you can activate AI Overclock (overclocking by a certain value in %) and AI N.O.S. (Non-delay Overclocking System – dynamic overclocking tool). However, these two technologies are also not the hardcore overclockers’ primary tools.
The most interesting part hides in the next subsections. If you get to the System Clocks page you will be able to set the frequencies for the PCI Express bus and the HyperTransport bus between the chipset bridges.
In the FSB & Memory Config section you can adjust the FSB and memory bus frequency.
Note that the front side bus frequency is set in a slightly unusual “quadruple”-format. If we recalculate that to common numbers, then FSB can be clocked between 133MHz and 750MHz. The memory frequency is set either in connection to the FSB frequency using the FSB:DRAM dividers (1:2, 5:8, 3:4 and 1:1), or pseudo-asynchronously. Keep in mind that Nvidia nForce 680i SLI doesn’t have a fully asynchronous clock generator for memory frequency. Once you select the desired frequency the BIOS Setup will find the best divider (the chipset has a lot of them) and record the actual memory frequency. In most cases the actual frequency is about 10-20MHz lower than the desired one.
Overclocking section offers management tools for clock frequency multiplier of the processor and the technologies it supports.
Moreover, you can access memory timing section from here.
Note that the board supports 1T Command Rate. This memory controller parameter is enabled easily, without any complications, at up to 1GHz DDR2 SDRAM speed.
Over Voltage section gives access to the following voltages:
0.83125 - 1.9 V
1.85 – 3.425 V
1.2 HT Voltage
1.2 – 1.95 V
NB Core Voltage
1.2 – 2.75 V
SB Core Voltage
1.5 – 1.85 V
CPU VTT Voltage
1.2 – 1.55 V
DDRII Controller Ref Voltage
DDR2_Vol/2-30mV - DDR2_Vol/2+30mV
DDRII Channel A Ref Voltage
DDR2_Vol/2-30mV - DDR2_Vol/2+30mV
DDRII Channel B Ref Voltage
DDR2_Vol/2-30mV - DDR2_Vol/2+30mV
The list of adjustable voltages is quite extensive. Almost any type of overclocking is possible on this mainboard without any additional voltmodding.
By the way, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that all voltages may be set to Auto. In this case the mainboard will adjust all voltages depending on the selected FSB frequency.
There were a lot of complaints about the first BIOS versions, because the mainboard would set the voltages not precisely enough. This problem has been partially solved in the later BIOS versions. Nevertheless, in the latest BIOS 803 the mainboard would raise above the set value the North and South Bridge voltages by 0.02V, the Vmem, CPU VTT Voltage and 1.2 HT Voltage by 0.07V.
Besides the options designed solely for overclocking purposes, the BIOS Setup of ASUS Striker Extreme also boasts a few other curios features. Firstly, it allows saving the settings profiles in the Flash-memory and even in files. Secondly, it features built-in EZ Flash 2 utility that helps to reflash the BIOS without even quitting the BIOS Setup.
This utility can grab the new BIOS versions from Floppy, CD and hard drives formatted for FAT, and even USB flash drives.
Now that we have finished our theoretical discussion of the ASUS Striker Extreme features, it is high time we moved on to the practical experiments. For our tests we assembled a system using our board and the Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor. The test platform also included 2GB of Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5D DDR2 SDRAM, PowerColor X1900 XTX 512MB graphics card and Western Digital Raptor WD1500AHFD HDD. Since Nvidia nForce 680i SLI chipset allows clocking the memory pseudo-synchronously, the DDR2 SDRAM in our test session worked at 800MHz or slightly lower frequency with 4-4-4-12-1T timings. The CPU was cooled down with Zalman CNPS-9500LED cooler, and the chipset North Bridge heatsink was topped with the centrifugal fan included with the mainboard. We tested the system operational stability during overclocking with the ORTHOS utility based on Prime95 code.
The mainboard BIOS Setup looks pretty promising from the overclocking standpoint and at the same time it is not too complicated. Broad range of adjustable voltage settings should theoretically allow achieving pretty high results. In reality, the mainboard allows easily raising the bus frequency up to 400MHz without any special increase of the 1.2 HT Voltage, NB Core Voltage, SB Core Voltage and CPU VTT Voltage settings. Further overclocking requires a more sophisticated approach. According to our observations, most influence on the stable mainboard functioning at higher FSB frequencies is imposed by NB Core Voltage and CPU VTT Voltage parameters. However, you should be careful not to raise them too high: the overclocking potential improves significantly even when these parameters get slightly modified. For example, our maximum result was achieved with the following settings:
This is a photo of the System Monitoring BIOS Setup page,
because the actual voltages set by the board are
significantly different from the user selected values.
But before we announce the actual result I would like to confess that it was obtained not quite honestly. Therefore it would be unfair to make any promising claims about the superb overclocking potential of ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard. The thing is that we hit the maximum FSB frequency of 449MHz pretty soon on our ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard sample. This result looked pretty modest especially against the background of some users’ proud statements concerning their samples. However, having studied the threads in numerous forums and reviews on other websites we arrived at the conclusion that different ASUS Striker Extreme units may show dramatically different results during overclocking. Some Striker Extreme owners cannot push the FSB frequency even beyond 430MHz, while other lucky fellows manage to cross the 500MHz bar without any difficulty. Having collected convincing evidence that our failure has nothing to do with lack of experience or skill, we decided to turn to ASUS for explanations.
The response cam in promptly: we got a replacement sample. The second board unit appeared better than the first one and allowed raising the FSB frequency a little higher. However, this seems to be a sad rather than happy ending. It appears that we cannot make any definite conclusions about the overclocking potential of this mainboard. And overclockers should definitely pin no hopes on the possibility of a replacement, like us.
So, the situation with overclocking on ASUS Striker Extreme is somewhat similar to that with SATA controller on the reference Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboards. Some users experience no issues with these mainboards and they work just fine, and the others grieve for the loss of valuable data. So, the purchase of a mainboard on the new Nvidia chipset turns into some kind of a lottery, with system stability and overclockability at stake. I sincerely hope that this will no longer be the case in the nearest future.
As for the results obtained on the second mainboard we received, they were somewhat weird. At first Striker Extreme pleased us with its stable work at 498MHz FSB speed. However after a few days it started to fail the stability tests, so we had to drop the FSB frequency down a little bit. So, the final result of our overclocking experiment is 490MHz FSB, and the mainboard keeps working just fine at this speed.
However, there is not that much practical value behind this number. We can have an eternal argument whether this is high speed or not, but we shouldn’t disregard another issue with overclocking on ASUS Striker Extreme. In case the FSB frequency exceeds 420MHz, it raises significantly the internal latencies of the integrated memory controller, which leads to big performance drop.
To prove my point I would like to offer you some performance results obtained at different FSB frequencies with the CPU multiplier set to 8x.
The benchmark results show clearly that the performance of the memory subsystem drops when we shift from 420MHz FSB to 425MHz FSB. The memory bandwidth gets about 9% lower and the latency increases by about 19%. This trick allows reaching high overclocking results in terms of the clock speed, but reduces the performance of the overclocked systems. In particular if we look at the SuperPi and Quake 4 results, we will see that by surpassing the 420MHz FSB barrier we lose from 120MHz to 240MHz of the processor speed (for Core 2 Duo).
This is exactly why we wouldn’t recommend using high FSB frequencies on ASUS Striker Extreme. It makes sense to use them for overclocking of slower processor models from the Core 2 Duo E6000 family with low default frequency multiplier, which cannot be overclocked in any other way. Moreover, this overclocking will only make sense if the FSB frequency is raised beyond 440-450MHz.
To prove this point let me compare the performance of Core 2 Duo processors overclocked on ASUS Striker Extreme up to 3.6GHz with different clock multipliers:
The table shows that as the bus frequency increases, so does the processor performance, however once we hit 450MHz FSB speed, the situation falls out of the picture. 8 x 450MHz is not good for overclocking at all; the results are awful in this case.
We didn’t want to end the overclocking discussion on a sad note like that, so in conclusion we would like to draw your attention to the fact that pseudo-asynchronous memory clocking of the nForce 680i SLI chipset allows overclocking DDR2 SDRAM absolutely independently of the FSB overclocking.
For the sake of experiment we decided to check how far we could push the frequency of our TWIN2X2048-8500C5D memory modules at 2.4V voltage setting. ASUS Striker Extreme showed a really great result here.
The memory was working stably at 587MHz. In other words, this mainboard proved a good platform not only for CPU overclocking, but also for DDR2 SDRAM overclocking. Even though the asynchronous memory clocking leads to relatively large increment for memory frequency adjustment.
I believe it is hard to surprise anyone with the performance of the Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboard. We have already discussed these results in detail in our recently posted DFI LANParty UT ICFX3200-T2R/G Mainboard on ATI RD600 Chipset Review. Our results showed that ASUS Striker Extreme looked very impressive and outperformed the competitors based on other chipsets in most benchmarks. So, to get a complete picture all we need to do is compare the performance of this mainboard against the counterparts on the same core logic set. I am talking about Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based reference mainboards. For our today’s test session we picked a solution from ECS.
This mainboard, ECS PN2-SLI2+ (V1.0), is a dead ringer of the analogous products shipped by EVGA< BFG and other Nvidia partners.
However, it is not surprising at all. ECS belongs to official Nvidia’s partners who receive the mainboards directly from the chipset manufacturer. These mainboards are not only designed following the same reference. They also feature identical BIOS versions. Therefore, it is no surprise that the “Elitegroup” company name on the textolite is not painted but put as a sticker:
The only way the mainboard makers can make their solution stand out is by offering a different accessories bundle. ECS PN2-SLI2+ (V1.0) has a slightly different bundle alright:
Together with the reference nForce 680i SLI based mainboard ECS is shipping two unique items: a network cable and a plastic panel for the three-inch bay of the system case that can be used for additional USB and IEEE1394 ports.
Our test platforms were built using the following hardware components:
The settings for both mainboards participating in our test session were set as identically as possible.
The obtained results are given in the table below:
As you see, ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard features better optimized BIOS than the reference board. As a result, it runs faster, which makes Striker Extreme a solid candidate for the title of the today’s fastest mainboard for Intel Core 2 processors.
Well, now that we have discussed everything none of you have any more doubts that ASUS managed to design the best Nvidia nForce 680i SLI based mainboard so far. This is a pretty logical outcome I should say, keeping in mind that the only alternative to ASUS Striker Extreme (and its better value modification aka P2N32-E SLI) is the reference mainboard. Striker Extreme provides higher reliability and better overclockability of the FSB bus, according to our tests. Moreover, this mainboard boasts the whole lot of interesting features: excellent bundle, original cooling solution, advanced monitoring options, etc.
ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard from the Republic of Gamers series can also win quite a few fans due to its outstanding exterior design feature such as LED lightning and glowing buttons. However everything has its price. And so do these small pleasing trifle. ASUS Striker Extreme costs an unprecedented sum of over $300.
That is exactly the reason why we cannot sing the praises of this product. A mainboard selling at a price like that should be absolutely impeccable. However, in reality things are not that flawless at all. Even now, that the product has been selling for about 2 months, ASUS Striker Extreme mainboard is still far from the well-done stage, featuring frustrating flaws in the BIOS. Although these problems get solved little by little, the product is too expensive to prevent a certain degree of frustration on the users’ part.
However, the greatest drawback of ASUS Striker Extreme is that different mainboard units may demonstrate absolutely different operational parameters. While some Striker Extreme mainboards can easily hit super-high FSB frequencies, the other identical mainboards will stall at 450MHz FSB. This diversity of results is most likely connected with the chipset in the first place, and not with the mainboard manufacturing issues. However, the end users will not benefit from this knowledge: it is still the lottery, no matter who is organizing it.
As a result, we can only recommend ASUS Striker Extreme to those users who have unlimited budget and need an SLI configuration on Core 2 Duo processor. As for mainstream enthusiasts and overclockers, this is hardly the best choice. In fact, it is too expensive and doesn’t offer much better overclocking potential, features or stability than the other solutions available in the market.