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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  • bob661 - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    I think some these guys are mad because the motherboard that suits their needs won't be considered "the best". For some, it's an image thing. If it isn't, then why do you care that SLI is even available? Just but the HF4 Ultra. Then there some that come here just to piss people off. Reply
  • bob661 - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Two GPU's on one card is more expensive and there would proabably be some heat issues. Reply
  • Pete - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Whoops. NV43 has only four ROPs, while NV40 has sixteen. So SLIed 6600GTs still have only half the ROPs as a single 6800GT. Mah bad. Reply
  • Tides - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    SLI is meant for one thing, HIGH END. It's like spending 800 on an Athlon FX. Before now the option wasn't there, now it is. What's the problem? Reply
  • Pete - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the preview, Anand (and MSI). One note:

    "At 1280 x 1024 we see something quite unusual, the 6800GT gains much more from SLI than the 6600GT. The 6800GT received a 63.5% performance boost from SLI while the 6600GT gets "only" a 45.7% improvement; given the beta nature of the drivers we'll avoid hypothesizing about why."

    Not enough RAM? 12x10 4xAA is getting pretty RAM-intensive, no? That's one of the reasons I'm not that excited about SLI'ing two 6600GTs to the level of a 6800GT, but without the extra breathing room afforded by 256MB.

    Two questions for you, too, Anand:

    (1) The 6600GT is 500MHz core, 8 pipe, 4 ROP, 500MHz 128-bit memory. The 6800GT is 350MHz core, 16 pipe, eight ROP, 500MHz 256-bit memory. All else being equal, I'd have thought the SLI'ed 6600GTs would way outperform the 6800GT because they have the same specs and a 40% higher core clock. Is this just a matter of some efficiency lost due to SLI overhead?

    (2) Is there a way to tell if the cards are rendering in "SLI" or AFR mode, or even to force one or the other? I'd be curious to know which helps which app more.
    Reply
  • justauser - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    I don't get it. Why not just put two GPUs on one 16x card. This bridge thing is so hokey. Reply
  • Tides - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Better yet don't buy the SLI version of the mobo, there ARE 3 versions of NF4 boards afterall. Reply
  • Tides - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    Why are people complaining about an additional feature on motherboards, that you are no way forced to use? It's like having 2 agp slots on a motherboard, it's ROOM FOR UPGRADE. What's wrong with that? Reply
  • xsilver - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    I think the performance boost is viable, only you need to know when to buy

    6600gt SLI is close to a 6800gt in most benchies and in the ones that aren't may be due to driver issues rather than performance... however 2X 6600gt does not equal 6800gt in price, but in say 12months time will a 6600gt + the price of the old 6600gt = or be less than the price of a 6800gt originally?
    The new mainstream product in 12 months time should still perform less than a 6600gt in SLI
    Think of it as getting as good card on "layaway" (am I saying this right? im not in the US :)

    The other viability is of course having 2X 6800GT and saying I've got the best performance money can buy.... again you should not be superceded within 12-18 months


    Reply
  • haris - Friday, October 29, 2004 - link

    This is a horrible move by Nvidia. Several people have already stated so because of some of the main problems: Heat, noise, power requirements, and SLI may only work if the driver supports that specific game/engine. It might work out great for them since they will be able to get people to pay for two cards instead of just getting a more powerful single card solution which will work just as well if not better in every game. For most people, by the time they would be ready to upgrade a low-mid range card, it would probably still be more cost effective to just buy a new card.

    I love the performance boost as much as the next guy/girl, but I still think that this is just plain stupid.
    Reply

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