ASUS has worked in conjunction with NVIDIA on its implementation of the nForce 680i chipset for the P5N32-E SLI Plus. The end result is a very fast board that has a good amount of connectivity and plenty of BIOS features to tinker with.
Setting up the board proved to be a painless task. We didn't have any problems installing our CPU, memory or graphics card, as all components have plenty of legroom. The second PCI-Express slot is located a good way away from the main slot, leaving plenty of room for two large graphics cards to breathe. We like the design of the SATA II ports, which are mounted on the edge of the board, leaving the SATA II cables facing towards the front of the case, rather than being upright. This makes the cables easier to manage when a second graphics card is installed in SLI mode.
We tested the board by installing an Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT graphics card and a 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive. In WorldBench 5, the board got a score of 138, which is an excellent result, and it proved to be reliable during the course of our 24 hour continuous testing period. Its score of 3470 in 3DMark 2006 also shows that it's no slouch when it comes to handling graphics. The 10000rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drive, installed in a single-drive configuration, recorded a fast 28MBps in our file transfer test. In the MP3 encoding test, the P5N32-E SLI Plus was able to encode 53min worth of wave files to 192Kbps MP3 files in only 1min 29secs--another terrific result.
You can try your hand at making the board go faster, too, thanks to BIOS features such as AI Overclocking. This can boost the CPU speed by a predefined percentage, up to 20 percent. We overclocked our test system by ten percent--taking it from 2.66GHz to 2.93GHz and were rewarded with an eight second gain in performance when encoding MP3s. There are plenty of settings to manually tweak as well, such as the front side bus speed and the memory timings, but the automatic overclocking features make it much easier if you're not in the mood to tinker too much.
For connectivity, the board has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, two FireWire and six USB 2.0 ports, ready to use. The rear port cluster is somewhat sparse. Plenty of space has been freed up in this area due to serial and parallel ports not being available, but PS/2 ports are still present. The rear port cluster has digital audio outputs (optical and coaxial S/PDIF ports) and analog audio output ports while line-in and microphone ports can be added using the supplied PCI Express x1 expansion board.
On the board itself there are six SATA II ports, one IDE port, and two PCI slots along side two PCI Express x1 slots, two PCI Express x16 slots and one PCI Express x8 slot. Four memory slots give the board a total memory capacity of 8GB and support for a front side bus speed of up to 1333MHz means that this board may be able to run new CPUs that Intel plans on releasing later this year.
The build quality of the board is high, as ASUS has used solid capacitors throughout, which are said to improve the reliability and longevity of the board. The layout of all the components is neat and logical. We love some of the little things that ASUS does to help improve the installation procedure: Q-Connector is a feature whereby you can plug in all the cables from your case onto a clearly-marked block, and then simply plug the block, with all the cables attached, to your motherboard. It makes it easy to attach your reset, power, hard drive light and power light cables, as you don't have to fiddle around with individual wires and strain your eyes to see motherboard markings. Similar connectors are supplied to accommodate the cables from case-mounted USB ports.
Heat pipes connected to heat sinks cool the chipsets as well as the transistors around the CPU and the Q-Fan setting in the BIOS does a good job of keeping the CPU and system fans running at reasonably low speeds when the system isn't under a heavy processing load.
The board does lack an eSATA port, but that's only a small oversight. All up, we like this board's features and performance and think it's a great choice if you want to build yourself a top-notch Intel-based system. It will support Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Extreme and Core 2 Quad CPUs, as well as older Intel LGA775 socket-based CPUs.