While the world turned I was on a flight over to Taiwan to meet and discuss future products with just about every Taiwanese Motherboard and Video Card manufacturer I could get a meeting with. The discussions yielded a great deal of important information, such as roadmap updates, a better understanding of some of the current supply shortages and some insight into how the markets here in Taiwan and globally were holding up. While I'll talk about most of these topics in a separate article, I couldn't resist but post information on a very interesting product I managed to get some "alone-time" with while in Taiwan.

Just a few weeks ago our own Wesley Fink and I traveled to NYC to meet with NVIDIA and, more importantly, to get some first hand experience with nForce4 and nForce4 SLI platforms. As you'll know from our previous coverage on the topic, nForce4 SLI is the highest-end nForce4 offering outfitted with a configurable number of PCI Express lanes. The beauty of having a configurable number of PCI Express lanes is that you can have a single PCI Express x16 slot, or you can split that one slot into two x8 slots - which is perfect for installing two graphics cards in.

NVIDIA is less than a month away from sending final shipping nForce4 SLI boards out to reviewers, but we managed to get some quality benchmarking time with a pre-release nForce4 SLI board from MSI. The important thing to note here is that it was pre-release and we had a very limited amount of time with it - not to mention that I'm about halfway around the world from my testing equipment and benchmarks, so forgive me if the number of tests or benchmarks is not as complete as you're used to seeing on AnandTech.

There will be two versions of the MSI nForce4 SLI board shipping worldwide; in the US it will be called the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI but in the rest of the world it will be called the MSI K8N Diamond. There will be some slight changes in the specs between the two but nothing major.


Click to Enlarge

The MSI motherboard we tested is actually the very first working sample of the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI; in fact, as of right now there are only 4 working nForce4 SLI samples at MSI in Taiwan, two of which happen to be in my hotel room. Despite the early nature of the motherboard, it was 100% stable and didn't crash once during our hours of testing nor in the 12 hours of burn-in before that. There were some rendering issues during some of the testing but we'd chalk that up to drivers that need some work; one thing to keep in mind is that SLI is extremely driver intensive and we'll explain why in a moment. Please be sure to read our nForce4 review and SLI preview before continuing on with this review to understand what's behind nForce4 and SLI.

We did not have time to run a full gamut of benchmarks, so all of our tests are limited to 1024 x 768, 1280 x 1024 and 1600 x 1200 with 4X AA enabled. We tested using an Athlon 64 FX-55 with 1GB of Corsair DDR400 under Windows XP Professional with DX9c. Finding game benchmarks was a bit of a challenge in Taiwan, but despite the Chinese boxes our copies of Doom 3 and Far Cry were basically the english versions. We also included the Counterstrike: Source Visual Stress Test in our impromptu test suite. But before we get to the benchmarks, let's talk a little bit about how you actually get SLI working.

Setting up SLI
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  • Dasterdly - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    Im willing to settle :p
    Also the 2 gpu on one card, or even on one chip would be good. Probably what ati should/will do now to keep up.
    I had the v2 12 mb and it was the fastest card to play my games for more than a year. After that I bought another one and was good for another year or so till the gf2 gts came.
    With the product cycles bumped up by Nv (and everyone else to compete) to 6 mo, I dont know if it would be worth it till they reach thier cap.
    Reply
  • Grishnakh - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    Well, Human beings seem to be preset to criticize what they just don't need.
    If you think SLI is nothing to you, that mean you just don't need these behemoths, so you will never buy nF4 SLI, KT890, etc, then SLI is nothing concerned with you.
    And Honestly, I wonder what kind of loss from nVidia can be? If you don't need it, fine, most of products meet your demand. If you need it, better! you would pay double, and so the company would earn double.
    SLI just a little like dual CPU, there always a certain population, though not much, need it
    Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Well X2 utilizes each GPU to perform half the screen making a more efficient cooperative effort than SLI. Plus you won't need to keep updating your drivers like SLI and the drivers will come straight from AlienWare.

    It's more appealing to use any combination of GPUs you want rather than SLI. So I want the best performance so I have to pay a premium to be stuck with Nvidia again? Not making that mistake again...
    Reply
  • caliber fx - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Wonder why alot of you are saying that the driver needs to be "specially written" for a game because even anand said that "In our conversation with NVIDIA, we noted that this technology should work with all software without any modification necessary". If you are talking about driver tweaking then even single gpu solutions are guilty of that one. The tweaks toward the nv30 or ati with their ai solution are just a few examples and I bet if the previewer had more time with the system in the right place he would have ran many other applications. I think most of you have gotten dual cores cpus mixed up with sli and I don't blame you because their are so many just introduced features that are currently not in use in alot of software like amd64, sse3, ps 3.0 and multithreading. Funny thing if their are games out there that can take advantage of all these features to the fullest I can't imagine what that would produce and the sad thing is all these features can be implemented on one machine. Also that alienware solution seems less efficient than sli. Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    I'm sure everyone agrees that the drawback with this technology is it only supports inferior Nvidia GPUs.

    I'm looking forward to Alienware's X2 technology that combines any gpu combination at a much more efficient architecture.
    Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    My only question is about the small HSF on the NF4 Ultra chipset. That appears to sit directly underneath the second PCIe slot. Kind of odd, that. How difficult was it to install the cards in that board, Anand? It will also be interesting to see how performance changes over time. With their higher clock speed, I think SLI 6600GT should do better than a 6800GT. Seems like a driver optimization problem to me, although the lack of RAM might also come into play.

    And #11, what was that crap about requiring more geometry processing power to do SLI!? Do you have some reference that actually states this? Seems to me like it's just a blatant guess with not a lot of thought behind it. A card might need to do more geometry work in SLI relative to non-SLI, but twice as much? Hardly. I have a strong suspicion that the vast majority of applications do not come near to maxing out the geometry processing of current cards. Look at 6600GT vs. X700XT: 3 vertex pipelines vs. 6 vertex pipelines. Why then does the 6600GT win out in the majority of tests?
    Reply
  • Reflex - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    #44: Why would DD encoding be a selling point? It is a compression algorithm among other things, and as a result it will degrade your sound quality. It makes sense for DVD's, but for quality PC audio it makes no sense at all. If you want multi-channel(sound on your back speakers) just use analog connections and specify in the control panel for whatever card your using that you'd like it, most give the option.

    Contrary to popular misconception, Dolby Digital, while nice for movies, is a bad thing for PC audio in general. It is one of the reasons that the SoundStorm is not considered a high end solution, despite how nVidia marketed it. Regardless, if you use a digital connection and you have a DD source(DVD movie for instance) your sound card no matter what brand will pass that signal through to your reciever and allow it to decode DD.
    Reply
  • DrumBum - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    is it possible to run three monitors off of an SLI setup and run extended desktop across all three?

    (play a game or watch a dvd across three monitors)
    Reply
  • Mrvile - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Wow nVidia totally blew ATI away in Farcry (which is weird cuz Farcry is Direct3D) according to http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2044... benchmarks. But these are kinda old benchies, from May... Reply
  • gplracer - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    I think this is a good solution for the time being. If I were going to build a new system I would want the GF4 with SLI capabilities. What if someone bought this board and one 6800 GT. Then at a later would it be impossible to buy another newer nvidia card and run it sli or would it have to be the exact same card? Also no one has noted that this sli capability is great for amd and not so good for intel. Some people will want this and intel has nothing to currently offer that I am aware of. Reply

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