Summary: With it's sub-$200 price tag, EVGA's nForce 750i SLI FTW motherboard has proven to be highly popular among enthusiasts looking for a budget alternative to pricier nForce 780i SLI motherboards. But how does it perform in comparison to nForce 780i? With its dual x8 lanes, does the board run slower than nForce 780i in SLI? All these questions and more are answered inside today's review!
But one component that really hasn’t gone down in price the last 12 months is the motherboard. In fact, if anything motherboard prices may be slightly higher than they were a year ago. A quick glance at Newegg reveals nForce 780i SLI motherboards currently sell between $240-$300, while nForce 790i Ultra SLI motherboards start around $330 and quickly go up from there!
With motherboard prices this high, what’s an enthusiast on a budget looking for an inexpensive SLI motherboard supposed to do?
This is where NVIDIA’s nForce 750i SLI chipset comes in. The nForce 750i SLI chipset is NVIDIA’s budget alternative to the nForce 780i SLI. The nForce 750i SLI chipset supports DDR2 memory, just like the nForce 780i SLI, as well as PCIe 2.0, and 1333MHz FSB operation. The key difference between the 750i SLI versus nForce 780i SLI is the lack of 3-Way SLI support, with just 26 PCIe lanes total the nForce 750i SLI chipset is limited to two x8 PCIe graphics slots when running a pair of GeForce cards in SLI mode. In addition, the nForce 750i SLI chipset is limited to max memory speed of 800MHz, 4 SATA ports with 8 USB 2.0, and one Gigabit Ethernet connection. In comparison the nForce 780i SLI supports DDR2 speeds of up to 1200MHz with NVIDIA’s EPP, 6 SATA ports and 10 USB 2.0 ports.
The following chart summarizes the feature set of NVIDIA’s nForce 7-series chipset lineup:
EVGA was one of the first manufacturers to release a motherboard based on the nForce 750i SLI chipset, their nForce 750i SLI FTW has been on the market for a little over a month now and has already proven highly popular among enthusiasts on a budget. EVGA claims the board is “engineered for the win”, today we’re going to take a closer look at the board. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out!
The most notable example of this is found in the motherboard’s cooling. EVGA borrows the exact same heatsink/fan unit that was originally intended for the nForce 780i SLI, for their 750i SLI FTW board. The cooler consists of two large heatsinks which are used to cool the chipset’s North Bridge and VRM circuitry. A single heatpipe is added for increased effectiveness.
The heatsink sitting atop the North Bridge is slanted at an angle away from the CPU socket to provide additional room for the oversized CPU coolers that are becoming increasingly popular nowadays. We had no problems fitting Scythe’s Ninja cooler to the motherboard for instance, as well as Orb-shaped coolers from Zalman.
Like the nForce 780/790 chipsets, an auxiliary fan can be mounted atop the North Bridge heatsink on the FTW board. Officially the fan is considered optional and isn’t required for operation at stock clock speeds, but without the fan in place, the North Bridge can run pretty hot (especially when running SLI!), so unless you have a system fan nearby we recommend that you mount the chipset fan to the motherboard. Unfortunately the chipset fan runs loud, so you will want to tweak the fan settings in BIOS so the fan will adjust RPMs based on temperatures.
A third heatsink is used to cool the board’s South Bridge. This heatsink sports a low profile so it won’t interfere with longer graphics cards like the GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra and 9800 GTX/GX2.
Another feature found on higher-end motherboards that EVGA has managed to integrate onto the nForce 750i SLI FTW is the onboard power/reset/and clear CMOS buttons mounted alongside the bottom of the motherboard. With these handy buttons in place, the end user doesn’t have to worry about hooking up the front panel connectors for the power and reset buttons to test the board out real quick. EVGA actually adds one feature here not found on their more expensive nForce 780i and 790i SLI motherboards: a small LED at the center of each button, making it even easier to find these buttons when the motherboard resides in your case. The reset LED glows yellow and even displays hard drive activity when the system is powered on!
EVGA then finishes the package off with a button to clear CMOS. The clear CMOS button provides quick and easy access to reset BIOS after an unsuccessful overclocking attempt. This button definitely beats the old-fashioned way to clear CMOS: shorting jumpers or removing the system battery with the power disconnected.
We also really appreciate the two-digit POST code display. This particular feature makes diagnosing problems during bootup a snap. If the system locks up or hangs during a particular stage of POST, simply look up the two-digit code in the EVGA manual. Say for instance the motherboard hangs during memory initialization. The mobo will display the appropriate two-digit code on the POST display, and as a result, you’ll know that either your memory is bad, or it isn’t installed properly.
EVGA’s been making high-end motherboards targeted towards enthusiasts for a few years now, so they’ve had time to really nail down board layout. The layout of the nForce 750i SLI FTW is very good; EVGA didn’t make any obvious mistakes such as placing the DIMM sockets too close to the PCI Express graphics slots, or blocking a SATA port when a large graphics card is installed.
As you can see, the nForce 750i SLI FTW board sports a black PCB, just like EVGA’s more expensive nForce 780i SLI and 790i Ultra SLI motherboards. Also like many high-end motherboards, the FTW board is composed entirely of all-solid capacitors. Typically on lower-end boards, motherboard manufacturers combine conductive polymer aluminum solid capacitors mixed with more traditional electrolytic capacitors. In these configurations, typically the solid capacitors are used to power the CPU, while the electrolytic capacitors are used for powering less intensive areas of the motherboard. On higher-end motherboards like the nForce 750i SLI FTW however, every capacitor is a solid capacitor. With all solid capacitors onboard, the idea is that the capacitors will last longer while also boosting system stability under extreme conditions.
For powering the CPU, EVGA has integrated a 6-phase power design. While six power phases may not be as many as some other Core 2 motherboards with 8-phase power, the nForce 750i SLI FTW motherboard is fully capable of powering the latest Core 2 CPUs, including 1333MHz FSB Extreme Edition processors like the Yorkfield-based 3.0GHz quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX9650. Due to its 1600MHz FSB, the only CPU the motherboard doesn’t officially support is the Core 2 Extreme QX9770, although overclockers are certainly free to take a stab at it if they wish.
EVGA’s $350 nForce 790i Ultra SLI motherboard also features a 6-phase power solution (albeit with more powerful capacitors), so technically on paper the nForce 750i SLI FTW is just as capable as EVGA’s flagship offering in this regard.
Graphics duties are handled by two PCIe 2.0-compliant PCI Express Graphics (PEG) slots. Potential SLI users will be glad to know that EVGA leaves plenty of room between the PEG slots for dual-slot graphics cards like the GeForce 9800 GTX and 8800 GTS 512MB. Resting in between both PEG slots are two PCI slots, while a third PCI slot is placed beneath the secondary PEG slot. To round out the board’s expansion options, an x1 PCIe slot is located above the primary PEG slot.
The motherboards four SATA ports are mounted parallel to the edge of the motherboard, as does the floppy ATA connector. This allows them to sit low enough on the board that they won’t interfere with long components like graphics cards, and as a result, you can use all of them without issue. The parallel ATA connector is located higher on the motherboard, right behind the DIMM sockets. So it won’t get in the way of any critical system components either. Speaking of the PATA connector, one minor gripe some may have with the EVGA nForce 750i SLI FTW is EVGA’s use of just one PATA connector, even though the chipset itself technically supports two connectors. PATA drives have been going out of style for a few years now though so this won’t be an issue to most enthusiasts who already have at least one SATA drive. If anything, these type of users are probably more upset about the number of SATA ports (just four), although this is a limitation of the nForce 750i SLI chipset.
The other really neat feature that the nForce 750i SLI FTW BIOS supports is automatic recovery. Say for instance you are overclocking your CPU and you dial in speeds that are too high and your system won’t POST (no video signal). The nForce 750i SLI FTW board can detect when the motherboard doesn’t POST successfully and after a few seconds will automatically reboot the motherboard with safe mode settings.
As you can imagine, this feature really comes in handy when you’re overclocking your processor. Rather than having to manually clear CMOS after an unsuccessful overclocking attempt, the motherboard can often resolve the problem itself thanks to this recovery feature, and when recovery does fail and the motherboard just won’t boot, all the end user has to do is press the clear CMOS button on the PCB of the motherboard and the BIOS is reset. How’s that for convenience?
But it doesn’t stop there. With the nForce 7-series chipsets, NVIDIA has really fine-tuned system voltages in BIOS. The “Auto” voltage setting can be used reliably to adjust system voltages when overclocking. In fact, NVIDIA recommends that overclockers use the auto setting first when OC’ing, as the BIOS will automatically adjust voltages based on need rather than running at a predetermined, fixed level that may be higher than what’s actually needed.
This applies to all the system components, including the CPU and RAM voltages, as well as other components on the motherboard such as the nForce 200 chip, SPP, and FSB voltage.
If you do wish to tweak the voltages manually, the nForce 750i SLI FTW board is equipped with a wide range of options. CPU voltages up to 1.8V are available in 0.0125V increments, while FSB voltages range from 1.2-1.55V in 0.05V increments. DRAM voltage options range from 1.8-2.5V in 0.025V increments, while nForce SPP and nForce 200 voltages are available in 0.05V increments up to 1.55V.
All voltage settings are color-coded. Higher voltage options are colored red, while more moderate voltages are colored yellow.
Bus speed options are also pretty robust, with FSB speeds of 400-2500MHz available in 1MHz increments. Memory speeds of up to 1400MHz are also available in 1MHz increments within BIOS. You can also save and load up to 3 custom profiles for system voltage and timing settings, while dynamic fan control settings are also available.
We managed to hit a maximum FSB speed of 500MHz with our Core 2 Duo E6750 engineering sample CPU. We were actually able to boot even higher speeds in Vista, but the system wasn’t 100% stable.
While this may not sound like a lot at first, 500MHz is actually 5MHz higher than the max speed we achieved with this CPU when paired with ASUS’ P5K3 Deluxe Bearlake motherboard, so we were pretty pleased with our results. With a newer E6750 retail CPU we think even higher speeds could have been easily achieved (our E6750 CPU is over a year old, retail CPUs based on newer steppings have proven to OC very well).
Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
EVGA nForce 780i SLI
EVGA nForce 750i SLI FTW
4GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
150GB Western Digital Raptor
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Company of Heroes – Direct3D
Call of Duty 4 – Direct3D
Half-Life 2 Episode Two – Direct3D
Crysis – Direct3D
Performance: In our performance testing, the EVGA nForce 750i SLI FTW board performed just as fast as EVGA’s nForce 780i SLI motherboard using the same testbed configuration with a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. This even included our SLI testing – even though the nForce 750i SLI chipset is limited to dual x8 lanes, it performed just as fast as the dual x16 lane nForce 780i SLI motherboard in Crysis, Call of Duty 4, and DX10 Company of Heroes.
Price (in relation to other nForce 750i SLI motherboards): While the nForce 750i SLI FTW is priced lower than other SLI motherboards based on NVIDIA’s nForce 780i and 790i Ultra SLI chipsets, street prices at retailers such as Newegg have the board pegged at $190. This makes the nForce 750i SLI FTW about $30-$40 more expensive than competing nForce 750i SLI motherboards currently available on the market from ASUS and MSI.