This is a review of a motherboard which was announced November 8, 2004. Normally, I wouldn't review a product released over a year ago, but the Iwill DN800-SLI is a rather unique motherboard, catering to a special group of computer enthusiasts who basically want the best of both worlds: Processing Power and Entertainment. Continue reading and you'll find out why. Iwill is a very popular manufacturer of motherboards which encompasses desktop, server, and workstation solutions. Founded in 1989, Iwill has become a respectful source for any motherboard solution an individual, small business, or large corporation may have.
DN800-SLI: What Is This Thing?
The Iwill DN800-SLI is a unique motherboard for users (specifically "2CPU" users, "Duallies", or "Dual-Processor" users) who want little or no compromise when it comes to combining processing power and graphics. It is SLi, meaning the board can accept two PCIe x16 video cards and have them run in unison. Dual-processor motherboards featuring SLi are rare, and yours truly was looking for such a motherboard but couldn't find much out there.
The DN800-SLI requires ECC Registered memory, so your options for overclocking are hindered ever so slightly, but don't let this prevent your purchase. Memory manufacturers such as Mushkin have a pretty good selection of ECC Registered memory above the PC3200 mark. Whether or not your Iwill DN800-SLI will be able to overclock is dependent on several factors, so you will just have to try it yourself. DigitalDingus hopes to use a few different memory brands and post the results in the near future. One thing is certain: Don't expect to overclock like you would a single processor board. And given the fact you have dual processors anyway, the overclocking need shouldn't be as necessary.
Also, please be aware you may be able to overclock your dual-processor Xeon board with standard Registered memory. I'm not going to guarantee any memory at this point, but memory by Corsair and Samsung are at the top of the list of reliable memory which could be overclocked a respectful amount. Gigaram might be a possibility as well.
Tyan was a viable solution but Tyan is currently putting exclusive PCI-X slots on their dual-processor boards--in other words Tyan isn't putting PCIe x16 slots on any of their server/dual-processor boards--even their "newer" boards. I'm still scratching my head on this one.
Gigabyte currently has 10 dual-processor Xeon motherboards, but none of them support PCIe x16--not even one PCIe x16 slot is available. If you are into the new Opteron 940-pin processors, then Gigabyte does offer one board (out of 4 AMD versions) which supports dual PCIe x16 slots (SLi enabled).
Supermicro currently has few nice dual-processor and Sli-ready motherboards for AMD users. The H8DCE (recommended for AMD dual-core fans) and H8DCi which both have the Nvidia CK804/ IO4 chipset. These are both AMD mobos and support PCIe x16 video graphics cards. If you're an Intel Xeon fan, there isn't much. Many of the newer boards released are dual PCIe x8. Still, Supermicro appears to be the company which is slowly integrating more PCIe components into their motherboard offerings. This is certainly a good thing.
Yes, It's Still An ATX Board
Iwill managed to keep the DN800-SLI an ATX size. This is really nice. Chances are, you can just swap out your current mobo for this one, put a new PSU in it, and you're ready to go. You really don't need to get another computer case if you don't want to.
PCI-X or PCIe?
Almost anyone is confused between these two formats. In fact, if you go online and type in "PCI-X" to find a video card, you will find almost all online sellers have interchanged the two terms, and seemingly think they mean the same. Well, this sure doesn't help those who are comparing products. Basically put, you can't buy a modern video card that is PCI-X. Regardless of what you see online, you will eventually discover the card is PCIe. For some reason, PCI-X is also being interchanged with "PCI-EXPRESS", which is wrong.
So, why is PCI-X being used on so many motherboards? Well, it has to do with function-specific processes. Most server/workstation boards (which contain dual processors or more) are PCI-X because there are PCI-X RAID Controller cards--PCIe components for servers are surfacing but since we're dealing with the server market, people don't like to upgrade their multi-million dollar RAID arrays and systems--they like to use it until it dies or is completely incompatible with the rest of the world. I can't blame them really. How would you like it if suddenly you were notified you had to fork out not only new controller cards for your skyscraper of computer systems, but you also had to pay that IT Guy for the labor.
Why don't manufacturers just make PCIe controller cards to give the mobo consumer a little less headache? Well, it would be just too easy now wouldn't it. What we do know, is currently PCI-X and PCIe are like neighbors living next door to each other. However, eventually, PCIe (PCI-Express, PCIe) will replace the server PCI-X motherboards. But as noted, since we're dealing with server motherboards, those who run the server boards are less likely to upgrade in a short period of time. Expect PCI-X and PCIe to co-exist for some time.
Iwill DN800-SLI Features
Let's take a look at some of the major features of the DN800-SLI:
1As noted and posted by users on 2CPU's Website
- Dual Intel Xeon Support
- Hyper-Threading / EMT64 support
- Accepts ANY 800MHz FSB Xeon (even the 3.8Ghz)1
- Accepts 2MB L2 Cache 800MHz Xeons (not just 1MB L2 versions)1
- Dual PCIe x16 slots (supports two video cards--i.e., it's "SLi Enabled")
- 4-DDR2-400 (PC-3200) Memory slots (up to 8GB) (ECC registered)
- 4 SATA Drives via Silicon Image 3114 Controller hhip with RAID 0, 1, 10
- 2 SATA Drives via Intel 6300ESB chip with RAID 0, 1
- 2 IDE Connectors (up to 4 IDE drives)
- 4 USB2.0 on the board / 2 USB2.0 via internal connectors
- 1 IEEE 1394 on the board / 2 IEEE 1394 via internal connectors
- ATX form factor
- 12” x 10”
- 8 layers design
- EPS 12V power connectors (24 pin+8 pin)
- MSRP / Street Price: $399.99
The DN800-SLI is one of a few mobos which has an 8-Layer PCB (Printed Circuit Board) design. Basically this means the board is rather thick and heavy but is much more durable than other boards which can be only 4 layers.
This could be in a separate article altogether, but ever since I purchased my first 2CPU motherboard (Abit VP6), I've been asked why spend the extra money for a dual-processor motherboard. My response is along the lines of: Why purchase a motherboard with a single processor when in a year or two, the board will become maxed out in processing power due to larger and more expanded software programs and PC games.
Yes, an extra processor will cost you more, but considering your system will last twice as long, maybe even longer, and you will only own ONE system over a period of (on average) 4 years, the benefits begin to surface. Personally, I've seen friends buy new single-processor every other year. Sometimes every year. Why? Because trying to attain a "fast system" is much more difficult with one processor. Now, with the introduction of dual-core processors, single board systems pack a little more performance punch than before. So, the debate over a 1CPU and 2CPU mobo, could seem like splitting hairs. But regardless of the debate, we have a small sector of motherboard users who prefer to run their lives on a dual-processor machine. If you're not too familiar with dual-processor boards, I encourage you to read along. You just might get the same 2CPU Fever I and many others have...