XFX are a brand well known throughout the computer enthusiast realm for making pretty awesome graphics cards based on nVidia's GPU's. With such a high reputation comes ambition and XFX are now stepping into the field of motherboards.
The obvious choice for XFX is to go with nVidia's chipset technology, and this is what they have done. Today we have the XFX nForce 650i Ultra Motherboard. Bearing in mind that the 650i Ultra is a non-SLI version of the 680LI board, with less features for a cheaper price can XFX make their contribution stand out in a crowded market? Let's see...
Branded with the familiar green and white packaging the board will stand out on the shelves to enthusiasts who know and trust XFX.
Inside the packaging compartmentalises everything to keep the mainboard nice and safe and, there's a fair amount of padding in there too.
There shouldn't be any trouble with those pesky couriers then!
Inside the box XFX provide you with:
* Quick-start Guide * Driver CD * 1 x Black Rounded Floppy cable * 1 x Black Rounded Dual-IDE cable * 2 x Black SATA cables * Single Molex to Dual SATA power adapter cable * Motherboard I/O backplate
Not a bad looking bundle, although slightly basic. Nice to see XFX going to the little bit more care with rounded cables though. The one main gripe I have is that a full hard-copy of the manual is not included. I feel this is essential with any motherboard and is an omission likely to get XFX more returns without one.
The specs of the board are as follows:
* Chipset NVIDIA nForce 650i Ultra MCP
Integrated Gigabit LAN
* Socket Intel Socket 775
* PCI Slot 3
* SATA Speed 3.0GB/s
* USB USB 2.0 ports (8)
* Front Side Bus 1333 MHz with supporting CPU
* PCI-E (1) PCI-E x16, (2) PCI-E x1
* JEDEC DDR2 Memory 800 MHz
* Chipset NVIDIA nForce 650i Ultra MCP
* System Memory 240-pin DDR2 up to 8GB (4)
* Audio 8-Channel High Definition Audio
* Native Gigabit Ethernet Connections 1
* Supported CPUs 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
* SATA/PATA Drives 4/4
* Highlighted Features NVIDIA LinkBoost Technology , nTune Utility , Windows Vista Ready , NVIDIA MediaShield Storage Technology , TCP/IP Acceleration , NVIDIA FirstPacket Technology
* High Definition Audio (HDA) 8 Channel
* NVIDIA MediaShield™ Storage Yes
The 650i Ultra is a stripped down version of the 680LT but there's still quite a few highlights, like the onboard 8 channel High-Def audio, 1333 FSB support, Gigabit LAN and a few others.
The first thing you notice is the fact that the XFX 650i Ultra motherboard is on a green PCB. I was hoping for XFX to be using a black PCB as they do on some of their cards, but as this board is a lower end board I assume this must be cost-saving. The next thing you notice is that the cooling is very minimal with no South-Bridge cooling and no PWM IC cooling.
The colour scheme is pretty decent with white and black being used predominantly and the PCI and PCI-e slots being differentiated by these colours.
The NorthBridge heatsink is just a large chunk of aluminium painted black, not the best cooling solution we've ever seen in all honesty.
Not only did I notice this, but I also noticed that the capacitors around the PWM area are very close to the CPU socket. After fitting the Scythe Infinity cooler here it is obvious that these are far too close for comfort and although I fitted the heatsink sideways, it would not fit face-on as it usually does. I believe this would mean many of the larger coolers would have some issues fitting on the board, which is a bit of a shame.
Notice two things in this picture; firstly the PWM has no heatsink on it at all which is pretty strange, secondly notice that the 12v power connector is a 4-pin affair which is contrary to many of the high-end boards out nowadays. Indeed your PSU will need to either have a splitable 8 PIN 12v lead, or have a special adaptor (as mine had).
With a couple of PCI-e X1 slots, 1 PCI-e x16 slot and three PCI slots onboard I think XFX have done well for expansion slot choice with a nice range there for you. Nothing overly unusual in the layout here...
One feature I found pretty cool on the board was the battery that had been made vertical to save space. This means that it's easy access in case of change or if that CMOS really won't clear properly.
All of the connectors are at the edge of the board where they should be and also unusually the front IO panel is very much on the bottom edge of the board which is good. Again notice that the SouthBridge is devoid of cooling, which is slightly unusual.
There's enough room from the CPU area to the RAM slots to be able to add some oversize memory such as the OCZ Reaper modules. The ATX power connector is again at the edge of the board, just as it should be.
Overall the layout is "OK", with some quibbles which would put enthusiasts off altogether, unfortunately.
The I/O connectivity on the board is pretty basic, although has everything you need in the basic sense of it.
There's no Dual LAN, no digital sound, no eSATA and only 4 USB ports. Here's what you get:
* PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports * 4 x USB ports * Gigabit LAN port * 8 Channel Analogue Audio ports
All in all a pretty basic affair leaving you wanting a couple more options. However, this is a fairly basic board that has a price-tag to match.
XFX have gone for a Phoenix Award BIOS setup on the 650i Ultra. The overclocking features are a little hidden in the "Chipset Features" of the menu (another reason for a good manual), but there are quite a few present with a decent(ish) range of voltages to play with.
Under system voltages we have the following options:
A slightly weak 1.6v on the CPU, a very weak 1.4v on the NorthBridge and a pretty aweful 2.1v on the memory. The memory voltages really concern me as the top-end memory won't even run on this board as many are rated at 2.2v and above. Luckily the Mushkin I use runs very well at lower voltages.
The BIOS adjustments are actually pretty decent, especially after I flashed from the shipping BIOS which would not save the settings I entered into it. The option to link or unlink the memory easily on the nForce 600 series is a pretty decent feature and allows you to use whatever RAM you feel you want to (while considering the poor voltage adjustments)
Apart from that the XFX 650i Ultra motherboard is a pretty bog standard nVidia 600 series affair. I was pretty disappointed with the voltage adjustment range and feel that this will really let down the board when it comes to overclocking.
Installation was not much different to normal except for the fact that I could not fit the Scythe Infinity onto the board the right way round.
As you maye be able to see I had to install the Scythe Infinity sideways and fit the fan on the right. This isn't too much of an issue for me but as I have said previously it may affect those who want to install a bit cooler face-on.
The following test setup was as following:
Core2Duo E6700 ES XFX 650i Ultra motherboard Sapphire X1600 Pro 1gb Mushkin HP2 6400 (4-4-4-10) Hitachia Deskstar 7K160 SATA HDD Sony DVD-Rom/CD-RW Silverstone 560w ZEUS PSU Silverstone TJ09 case
To test the motherboard I first ran it at stock using as stress test comprising of Orthos (dual Prime95), Folding @ Home running on both cores (set to idle priority) and RTHDRIBL running 1/2 screen. I let this run for 12hours to see how the board would fare.
The benches and tests used on the motherboard were:
For the Stability test I ran Orthos which is a dual Prime95 stress test, alongside dual Folding @ Home instances of the console client. To spice this up and really test the board I ran RTHDRIBL alongside this. This is a real test of the boards stability at stock and will show how well it would run in a situation where the board was being stressed to the limit. Please be aware that the XFX 650i Ultra board BIOS had to be flashed before performing this test as the overclocking options were not saving after being set beforehand.
Unfortunately the XFX board failed to pass our rather rigorous testing and froze/rebooted after 3 and a half hours. Although this is a slight disappointment I will point out that apart from this the board ran perfect at stock including foliding@home for two weeks solid.
Super PI 1 million and 32 million
Super PI is 100% the only choice for a quick bench of your top-end rig. It gives a quick and easy estimate of the relative speed of your CPU. The C2D's are now infamous for the their very fast PI times. I've pitted the XFX against some of the best boards on the market, how will it do?
The XFX does pretty well here, keeping up with all of the other top-end boards which is pretty good.
Super PI 32million
A longer run of the Super PI benchmark shows stability and speed in a quick convenient test.
The XFX lags behind a little on the longer Super PI 32 million testing here, showing again the the 600 series platform does seem to be behind a little on this benchmark.
Memory Bandwidth and Latency
Core architecture has made the Intel platform perform much better than previous generations. SiSoft was always a benchmark that AMD dominated until Core2Duo came out. Our other 600 series board is the IN9, will the XFX 650i Ultra follow suit?
Bandwidth is something the 650i seems again to lag a little behind.
Another memory-based benchmark and again the XFX slips behind the other boards. It seems that the 650i platform doesn't quite cut it, although it is worth remembering that it is not a top-end board.
3DMark05 is a benchmark that relies heavily upon DX 8 and DX 9 shader paths. 3DMark05 is very useful benchmark to give us numbers to compare systems. It does give a decent indicator of gaming performance, and includes a couple of CPU benchmarks. I was a little dubious of the gaming performance of the board after the memory benchmarks so here goes...
Shown in Yellow, the XFX 650i Ultra really does well in 3DMark05, leaving behind the range of mid-high end boards in it's wake.
3dMark06 is the latest in the benchmarking tests from Futuremark. It has a lot of DirectX 9.0c features such as HDR and use of Shader model 3.0.
Again sitting at the top of the pile out of all of the boards, the XFX is really showin it's gaming pedegree.
Counter Strike: Source - 1024 x 768
Counter Strike: Source is a hugely popular online FPS game based on the Source engine by Valve. This will show what a typical gamer will play on their PC and is a great indication of real-world gaming performance as the engine is so scalable. With XFX doing so well in the 3DMark benchmark set, will it continue to do so here?
Again the XFX performed admirably in the gaming tests, showing it is doing what it is designed for.
Counter Strike: Source - 1280 x 1024
I tested in a higher res for those who like more detail.
At high resolution and detail the XFX board sits at the top for min and max FPS and second only to the feature-rich IN9 32x Max in average FPS. Pretty damn nice I'd say.
After some more testing with a couple of other cards it seems the XFX really does very well in gaming and I was thoroughly impressed.
Cinebench is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using Cinebench carry significant weight when analysing a computer’s performance in everyday use.
Showing single and dual core CPU cores, the XFX board is coloured green above. The board came out top in the CPU testing which again is very impressive for such a well-priced board.
Cinebench Graphics Benchmark (OpenGL)
Cinebench's test of OpenGL rendering is taxing on even the fastest systems, how will the XFX do?
The graph above shows software and hardware GPU rendering scores for our Cinebench testing. The XFX board is again coloured green. The board scored well on software rendering although falls somewhat behind in hardware rendering, which is strange. After some repeated testing the results were checked and double-checked. Seems a little odd though, considering how well the XFX did in gaming and I can only assume the memory subsystem is holding the board back here.
HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. It simply tests the hard drives in a nice quick and easy test.
Scoring about average in the hard drive IO testing, the XFX works your CPU a little harder than the others, but only by a %.
Again with the nVidia 600 series, the XFX scores well in the graphical and game related benchmarks so this is worth bearing in mind.
Overclocking was performed through the BIOS, as all good 24/7 overclocking should be done.After seeing the limited options in the BIOS I did not have too high hopes for the XFX.
Low Voltage Overclocking
I usually start off by overclocking using low voltages. I chose 1.33v to get started with on the XFX and set away to see what I could achieve. Before I show you the results I want to make it clear that the board was particularly hard to get restarted when overclocking and it got rather frustrating continually pressing the on + restart switch if there was a failed overclock, or even if the OC was OK but the board chose not to respond.
A surprising result of 3350MHz at low volts, a pretty nice OC and fully stable.
Overclocking - Highest Possible Stable on Air
For this test I stopped when I got concerned that the temperature rose too high. This overclock was performed on air using a Scythe Infinity. I stopped when the CPU started getting around 65-70°C. For this overclock I had to use 1.60v (the highest on the XFX) which is not always to be recommended for those who are faint of heart! Let's see how we get on here.
Again a respectable 3700MHz at 1.6v, the XFX was beginning to look better and better value for money.
Here the XFX let me down a bit, which I think was mainly an issue with the NorthBridge voltage selection being too low.
425MHz isn't too bad, but it isn't exactly great either. As I said above the board is hard to get to recover from a bad overclock and especially so at this point, it took a good few reboots and CMOS resets at one point to get a boot out of the motherboard.
As always with overclocking the chip and the chipset will vary in overclocking potential, but this at least gives you some idea of how you may get on.
The XFX 650i Ultra motherboard is a lower-end nVidia-based board that does pretty well for the money you pay for it.
I was a little disappointed with the stability testing, but hopefully XFX will sort this out with another BIOS update, as they did with the slight hitch I met with the overclocking BIOS. Apart from our over-the-top stability test I wouldn't imagine a normal user finding a problem with stability as I have run the board 24/7 folding@home for the last two weeks, no problems.
The features are a little basic on the board but they do what you need of a motherboard with 4 SATA ports, a selection of PCI and PCI-e x 1 ports and space for one graphics card. Perhaps the worse thing to put off enthusiasts is the green PCB, although this is individual preference.
For £75ish you get a decent board with some good features from a trusted manufacturer, pretty good in my book.
Overclocking-wise the XFX 650i Ultra does pretty well. Although it did not attain a very high FSB, 3700MHz Max OC with the voltage adjustments as limited as they are is pretty nice.
Which brings me onto the biggest bug-bear of the board - voltage adjustments. I think XFX need to take a look at their BIOS options and add some more voltage, especially to the DDR2 options. 2.1v is fine for lower-spec RAM but any of the PC8500 would need something more juicy and this board does not provide it.
Having said all that, the price is right and the features are pretty nice, the XFX 650i Ultra gets a "Value for Money Award".
+ Great price + Decent overclocking + Good performance + Not a bad layout
- Ugly green PCB - Very basic cooling - Picky when overclocking at high FSB - Very low voltage adjustment (especially memory)