XFX 680i LT Motherboard Review

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In-depth review – Kyle Lunau

As some of you may know, ever since I built my new rig last year (the topic of my system build guide) I’ve been completely dissatisfied with the performance of the ASUS Nvidia 570i chipset motherboard I installed in it. Initially I had serious stability problems with the board, but after a slew of BIOS updates, it actually became a pretty solid platform.

Unfortunately the BIOS updates didn’t cure the motherboard’s horrible overclocking performance and after doing a little research, I realized there was no way to fix that. Fast forward to November of last year when I spied an XFX 680i LT motherboard on TigerDirect for $99. I had my order in within the week and the board arrived a few days later. Fast forward by another 3 months and I finally sat down to write this review.

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The packaging on the this board is nice and simple, with some abstract graphics to catch your eye. Notice the big “Designed by Nvidia” logo in the lower left, so if there are any design problems we can blame Nvidia!

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For Gamers by Gamers. Sounds good to me, although I’m not exactly sure what they mean by “Official Approval.” A quick Google sent me to the Razer products website (HERE.), I immediately noticed the For Gamers By Gamers on the top edge of my browser followed by “TM”. Hmmm…. either FGBG is some program set up by Razer or I hope XFX has the rights to use the phrase.

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Popping the box open we see the included folder which contains the install CD, quick install guide and manual.

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The manual is comprehensive with full explanations of all important information. The quick install guide is also nice, since it covers all the important bases without the need to find a page in the full manual.

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Undoing the bubble wrap we are presented with the motherboard itself, safe and sound in an anti static bag. At this stage I’ll get into the board specs:

  • SATA Speed:
    3.0GB/s

  • USB:
    (8) 2.0 ports (4 Rear + 2×2 Onboard)

  • JEDEC DDR2 Memory:
    800 MHz

  • SATA/PATA Drives:
    6/2

  • Socket:
    INTEL SOCKET 775

  • System Memory:
    (4) 240-pin DIMM Slots (8 GB Max)

  • RAID:
    0,1,0+1,5

  • SLI Technology:
    2 x16

  • Supported CPUs:
    Intel Core 2 Extreme (dual and quad core), Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Celeron D, Pentium 4, Pentium 4, Pentium D 9XX, Pentium D 8XX

  • PCI Slot:
    (2) PCI-E x16, (2) PCI-E x1, (2) PCI

  • Front Side Bus:
    Support up to 1333 MHz

  • Native Gigabit Ethernet Connections:
    1

  • Chipset:
    NVIDIA nForce 680i LT SLI MCP Chipset

  • IEEE 1394 (Firewire):
    2) 1394a @ 400 Mb/s

  • Audio:
    8-Channel High Definition Audio

  • LAN:
    Onboard LAN Supports 10/100/1000 Mb/s

  • Highlighted Features:
    Windows Vista Ready , NVIDIA MediaShield Storage Technology , nTune Utility , NVIDIA FirstPacket Technology , SLI-Ready Memory with EPP , TCP/IP Acceleration , NVIDIA FirstPacket Technology

As you can see this is a pretty well equipped board, especially at the $99 price point.
{mospagebreak}

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The first thing I noticed was the discrepancy between the northbridge cooler featured on the box and the one that was installed on the board. The pictured heatsink looks like this…

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…And the one installed on the board looks like this. It’s unfortunate that the northbridge cooler appears to have been downsized for production, as the additional cooling would have given the board more overclocking headroom.

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Time to give a little rundown on the layout.

Up towards the top left of the board we see the CPU socket and power regulation setup. This board has what appears to be a 6-phase CPU power setup, fed through all-solid caps. Also notice that the MOSFETs come with pre-installed heatsinks. The 8-pin power connector is located just above the taller set of MOSFET heatsinks.

Moving to the right we see the motherboard’s four DDR2 RAM slots. These accept up to 8 Gbs of JEDEC DDR2-800, with EPP support. Hopefully we’ll find out later on if we can push past 800 MHz (theoretically it should be no problem). To the right of the RAM slots we have most of the system connections. The 24-pin power, 4-pin MOLEX, IDE, front panel connectors and 4 of the 6 SATA connectors are located in this area.

Slide down a bit further and you can see the floppy connector and the two remaining SATA connectors – both are mounted at 90-degrees to prevent interference with long graphics cards and the like. Moving back up to the CPU area we can see the all-aluminum northbridge heatsink and its fan. You can bet that small fan will get VERY noisy as it approaches the end of its life. It is unfortunate that XFX went for active cooling on both northbridge and southbridge; this adds noise and presents two more points of failure, after which you will likely have to replace the entire heatsink since both fans are not of standard design.

Next up we have the slot configuration. With two PCI-e 16x, two PCI-e 1x and two PCI, this board has some pretty good expansion possibilities. Just remember if you use dual slot graphics in both slots you will have only one usable PCI and one usable PCI-e 1x slot – not too bad but not terribly good either.

Moving south of the southbridge heatsink we can see the two internal USB connectors and the BIOS battery. Look a bit lower and you can make out the BIOS reset jumper. Since you can never have enough fans, this motherboard includes no less than seven fan headers. You can see two along the bottom edge, another on the right side between the IDE and floppy connectors, one just below the tall MOSFET heatsink, and the special 4-pin connector for your CPU fan. Of course the northbridge and southbridge each use one as well.

Now as far as the board goes, on the whole you can see that XFX opted for the use of three primary colors – black, green, and white. Let this be known to all motherboard manufacturers – only use a maximum of three main colors (:cough: Gigabyte :cough:) to prevent your board from looking like a color wheel.

Other things to note on the whole is that the board uses solid caps for ONLY the CPU power delivery and uses standard caps everywhere else. This means that the caps may blow after a period of time, rendering the board useless (unless you have some soldering skills, see HERE.).

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Moving around the back we can have a look at the included connections:

4x USB 2.0
PS2 mouse/keyboard
1x Firewire
1x Optical Audio jack
6x 3.5mm audio jacks (full 7.1 plus line-in and mic)
1x Gigabit ethernet

Next we’ll take a closer look at a few parts of the board:

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Slots…

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Southbridge…

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Lower right corner…

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Bottom edge…

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And CPU power delivery.{mospagebreak}

Opening the antistatic bag shows

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the back of the board (no extra heatsinks or anything like that back here).

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Yay to the environment! (HERE.)

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The CPU Socket area.

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Lower left corner (front panel audio connectors).

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RAM slots.

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Variety of board connections.

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Floppy and second pair of SATA connectors.

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Lever-type PCI-e locks.

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Color coded front panel connections.

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CPU socket with included plastic protector.

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Moving to the included accessories, we get round IDE and floppy cables, two SATA cables, two SATA power adapters, plus a USB bracket and Firewire bracket

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The USB bracket packs four ports, while the firewire bracket has one.

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The SATA cables include small removable dust protectors, a rather odd feature on a SATA cable.

THE INSTALL

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Time to get down to the installation! First I removed the motherboard tray (and therefore pretty much the whole system) from my main rig.

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I then proceeded to remove the various components. The 2 GBs of SuperTalent DDR2-8000, the Creative Audigy 2 value, the USR Wireless-G card and last but not least the EVGA 8800GTS 320 MB SC.

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Time to remove the CPU.

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What? Where did it go?

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Next I removed the old board (good riddance) and installed the XFX 680i LT.

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Then I dropped in the CPU…

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…And installed the mounting bracket for the Silenx heatsink I’m going to be using (just because it’s the only heatsink I own capable of handling an overclocked Pentium D).

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Unfortunately the heatsink wouldn’t fit with two fans installed – back down to one.

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Then I noticed that the heatsink clip was interfering with the northbridge heatsink :groan:

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I finally had to rotate the whole assembly by 90-degrees to make it fit – even then it was tight.

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I then proceeded to install all the system components.

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Damn it all! Down to one fan once again!{mospagebreak}

OVERCLOCKING

With my Pentium D 820 I managed to hit 3.5 GHz stable with a 250 MHz FSB and 1.45 volts to the CPU (cooling limited). On the memory I managed to hit 1000 MHz at 4-4-4-8 timings with 2.3 volts. One thing to note is that the CPU Vdroop on this board is around 0.08 volts at high load, so the extra voltage to the CPU was mostly just to stabilize that.

BENCHMARKS

So as far as benchmarking is concerned I performed the same tests on this board as I did on my old P5NSLI. I didn’t bother testing the new board at 533 MHz memory simply because it auto set to 667 MHz and because I was able to run it so far above 533 MHz. Please note that there IS a difference in the video card overclock between the two tests. For some reason I was unable to hit the clockspeeds that I attained previously with the P5NSLI. All benchmarks were run at the default settings for the freeware version (1024 x 768 res, 0x AA, 8x AF in most cases)

Benchmarks

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BIOS SETTINGS:

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FINAL THOUGHTS

While the XFX 680i LT doesn’t really offer greatly superior performance when compared with it’s 570i sibling, it does offer a FAR greater wealth of overclocking options, plus unlike the P5NSLI, they actually do something!

Another great thing about this board is that it has two PCI-e 16x slots which run at full tilt, even when a pair of graphics cards are installed, unlike the P5NSLI which would require me to manually switch the SLI adapter and relinquish half of the first slot’s PCI-e lanes to the second slot. One of the only downsides of this board is its substantial Vdroop on the CPU under max load. Expect the Vcore to come up at about 0.08v under what you have set it to when using a high-power CPU.

Pros:

  • Wealth of overclocking options
  • Killer packaging
  • 99 smackers for us canucks from www.tigerdirect.ca ($149 from www.tigerdirect.com for you yanks)
  • Twin full speed PCI-e 16x slots
  • SLI support
  • Up to 2500 MHz FSB
  • Up to 1400 MHz DDR2
  • Almost perfect layout
  • Solid caps in CPU area
  • Slightly faster than 570i boards
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • 6 SATA II with RAID 5 support
  • Supports many Nvidia exclusive technologies (such as EPP)
  • Completely stable out of the box
  • Gamer friendly

Cons:

  • CPU Vdroop at load
  • Active northbridge/southbridge cooling makes for extra noise and additional points of possible failure

Conclusion

The XFX 680i LT is one killer motherboard and if you can pick one up for $99, it is one of the best motherboard deals out there right now. If you want to upgrade or build a new socket-775 system, the XFX 680i LT motherboard demands serious consideration.

Kyle Lunau

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