Now that weíre inside the system, letís take a look at the motherboard Dell uses for the XPS 710.
At the heart of the system is NVIDIAís nForce 590 SLI chipset. The nForce 590 SLI never really made much of an appearance in the DIY market, with only ASUS picking the chipset up and even then only making a very limited number of motherboards, but Dell has been using the chipset for quite some time now on their XPS line, including the original XPS 700.
The motherboard Dell uses for the XPS 710 is largely the same as the mobo Dell used on the XPS 700, only its been designed to work with quad-core CPUs from the start (the XPS 700 can be made to work with quad-core although itís officially unsupported because the motherboard lacks the required number of reference lines from the CPU to front-side bus for voltages and therefore itís not backed up by the Dell warranty). The motherboard has been developed completely in-house by Dell and relies on the BTX form factor.
While the motherboard is based on NVIDIAís nForce 590 SLI chipset, it doesnít support all the features of the chipset. For instance, the motherboard lacks the dual Gigabit Ethernet networking ports that the chipset natively supports, in addition, the chipset also lacks support for NVIDIA nForce 590 networking technologies such as Teaming and FirstPacket, as well as SLI-Ready Memory. Dell also limits RAID options to RAID 0 or RAID 1.
Dell says that the networking technologies werenít provided in order to ensure standardization across their entire product line, instead Dell uses the same networking solution on all of their other Core 2 systems. On the memory front, Dell is looking into adding DDR2-800MHz support, but as of now the XPS 710 ships solely with 667MHz memory.
Even if you plug in 800MHz or 1066MHz memory modules, theyíll run at 667MHz, as the systemís BIOS doesnít support SLI-Ready memory nor does it provide BIOS settings for adjusting the speed of the system memory.
This limits the performance potential of the system, particularly at lower resolutions where CPU/memory performance is more important. Earlier this year
we ran performance numbers with memory speeds of 667MHz, 800MHz, and 1066MHz with Core 2 and found that the faster memory types could add up to 8% in some games at 800x600 but by 1600x1200 (the resolution youíre most likely to play at if you have a 20Ē LCD) weíre GPU-bound and performance was unchanged from 667MHz all the way up to 1066MHz.
Looking at the board itself, Dell uses a red PCB and the board supports enthusiast-level features such as rounded corners and a power LED. The North Bridge and South Bridge of the chipset are cooled passively Ė a heatsink/fan unit isnít used nor are heat pipes. The chipset is cooled entirely with a simple aluminum heatsink. This is pretty impressive considering the amount of heat the chipset produces.
The layout of the board is pretty good. Airflow is improved by moving cables away from hot-running components like the CPU and graphics cards. Cable management isnít that great however, thereís certainly a lot of clutter inside the system, while Dell does tie down the power and data cables for the SATA drives, none of the thicker BTX power cables are tied down, nor is the floppy data cable Dell includes with the system. Adding insult to injury, the cable isnít rounded either and itís bunched up next to the 120mm case fan which cools the graphics cards and other systems components at the bottom of the system.
Again, it isnít a very elegant system, but it didnít seem to interfere with the operation of any of the systemís components, and this isnít as big of an issue thanks to the sheer size of the system chassis.
For connectivity, Dell provides eight USB ports, six on the backplate of the motherboard and two more USB ports up front, as well as two FireWire connections. The motherboard ships with two x16 PCI Express graphics slots, one x1 PCIe slot, and one x8 PCIe slot, as well as three PCI slots.