The last few weeks have been extremely frustrating as we put together the nForce4 SLI roundup and prepared to launch our new motherboard test suite. It was so bad, in fact, that about 10 days ago, we were ready to post an SLI roundup titled "nForce4 SLI Roundup: On a Wing and a Prayer". However, nVidia is selling a huge number of SLI chipsets and we decided that SLI was potentially important enough to persevere. With extraordinary efforts and support by nVidia, Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, and DFI, we are now comfortable in sharing our results with you. This journey has been quite a learning experience for us, and we hope in this review that we can share information which will make your own road to SLI, should you choose it, a lot smoother than what our journey has been.

Some web sites would have called SLI boards garbage and gone on their merry way, blasting all the manufacturers who are riding in this carriage. We know that you expect more from AnandTech, and we also realized along the way that SLI demands everything that your system can give. Little flaws become magnified when you are pumping two synchronized GPUs with more transistors each than the most complicated CPU on the market. So the question becomes, was the journey a success and is SLI worth it? We will answer that as we look indepth at the four motherboards that currently support SLI.

Even if you don't care at all about SLI, you should look carefully at these motherboard features and test results because the only real difference in nForce4 SLI and Ultra boards is in some of the most recent games and a few synthetic benchmarks. Running one video card, the SLI and Ultra boards from the same manufacturer should provide the same results - and we have posted single video card results in all benchmarks for comparison. So, consider this a review of both Ultra and SLI boards (where they exist) from Asus, DFI, Gigabyte, and MSI.

This is also the first time that we have run our new tests of Features performance, so many of you will also be interested in performance of USB 2.0, Firewire 400 and 800, and the additional SATA controllers on these four boards. We also benchmarked actual Ethernet performance on all the boards - and compared PCIe and PCI gigabit Ethernet performance - in both throughput and CPU overhead. Those interested in on-board audio performance will also find CPU overhead measurements for the various audio codecs in this roundup.

The New Motherboard Test Suite
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  • ajmiles - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    If i was a doubting type I would suggest that Nvidia spent as much time tuning their drivers for benchmarks as they do games.

    Nice to see support for some unreleased games such as Battlefield 2 on the list though.

    Wesley, you get my email btw? (sorry for bugging you)?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    nVidia has just advised the release of Beta 71.84 drivers now supporting 70 games in SLI. The drivers can be downloaded at http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_downloads_rel70b... Below is a list of suypported games and benchmarks.

    Age of Mythology
    AquaNox 2: Revelation
    Armed & Dangerous
    Battlefield 1942
    Battlefield 2
    Battlefield Vietnam
    Breed
    City of Heroes
    Colin McRae Rally 2005
    Colin McRae Rally 4
    Conan
    Dark Age of Camelot: Atlantis
    Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps
    Dirt Track Racing 2
    Doom 3
    EverQuest
    EverQuest II
    Far Cry
    Flat Out
    Ground Control II : Operation Exodus
    Half-Life 2
    Halo
    Hitman 2
    IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
    Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising
    Kohan II: Kings of War
    Leisure Suit Larry
    Lineage II
    Lock On
    Lord of the Rings, Battle for Middle-earth
    Madden NFL 2005
    Max Payne 2
    Medal of Honor
    NBA Live 2005
    Need for Speed: Underground 2
    Painkiller
    Perimeter
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
    Quake III
    Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
    Return to Castle Wolfenstien
    Rome: Total War
    Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    Sid Meier's Pirates!
    Silent Storm
    Sims 2
    SpellForce
    Splinter Cell
    Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
    Star Wars Battlefront
    Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
    Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
    Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic
    SWAT 4
    The Chronicles of Riddick
    Thief: Deadly Shadows
    Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005
    ToCA Race Driver 2
    Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
    Tony Hawk's Underground
    Tribes Vengeance
    Tron 2.0
    Unreal
    Unreal 2
    Unreal Tournament 2003
    Unreal Tournament 2004
    Vampire: Bloodlines
    Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
    World of Warcraft
    X2: the Threat
    Xpand Rally


    In addition to these top games, NVIDIA SLI supports the following applications:

    3DMark01
    3DMark03
    3DMark05
    AquaMark 3
    Code Creatures
    D3DRightMark
    HDRLighting
    NVIDIA Clear Sailing Demo
    NVIDIA Dawn Demo
    NVIDIA Nalu Demo
    NVIDIA Timbury Demo
    PCMark04
    Shadermark 2.1
    Trees of Pangaea

    Reply
  • giz02 - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    I've done some further testing, and still no luck. The PCStats review also indicated 192Khz output, but I can't find that either. I'm still hoping for something, and will let you guys know if anything comes up.

    Other points:
    + The onboard Creative can attenuate the digital outputs just like a regular live could. Most onboard solutions that i have used could not

    - Cannot have Analog and Digital outs enabled at the same time (at least I haven't found that yet). All other onboard solutions that I have tried were able to do this. An example of what I'd like to do (ideally) is have my Zalman Real Surround headphones plugged in to the analog ports, and the z5500's plugged into the digital (coax/optical). When the GF complains, I could turn the z5500's off, and put on the headphones. With creative you do this BUT you also have to uncheck the digital out only box. If they can bot h be enabled at the same time, let me know (Y)

    - Either the Z5500's can't accept 96/24 on the optical in, or the creative isn't outputting 96/24 on the optical out.

    - Only Coax or Optical work at one time (with the Z5500's)

    - DD and DTS passthroughs work with Videolan and DVD's/.ts's.

    I'll try this board for a while longer, but if encode will not work, I'll be heading to DFI. It's a bit more expensive, but you get the Lan Tote (woohhoo!) and the extra PCIx slots. Anyone have any comments on DFI's onboard sound?


    Reply
  • EODetroit - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    Thanks giz02. One of these days some manufacturer is going to realize there's demand for this and meet it... I just hope that day comes sooner than later.
    Reply
  • SLK75 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    I bought the GA-K8NXP-9 because fo the rave reviews on its OC abilities which Anandtech also proved in their pre-production sample reviewed towards the end of last year...All of a sudden now Gigabyte's production version of the board does not seem to clock high as was expected and proved previously WHYYYY ???? and Anandtech make it really clear to Gigabyte that people went and bought their board not only first its great features but also for its OC capabilities...I hope Gigabyte can address this with a new BIOS Reply
  • giz02 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    I feel DUPED by that PCSTATS review. I've asked the reviewer for why he indicated that the board can DICE (either how to do it, or who told him it was possible).

    The board is .... OK...

    I'da rather had the DFI (if DICE is not possible!)
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #89 - looks like we'll both still wait for the next SoundStorm. Maybe the next gen of PCI-E sound cards will have DDL? Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #89
    Thanks for the test.
    Reply
  • giz02 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    So far, It's a negative on the DICE :(

    I have a single coax cable connected from the onboard card to my Z-5500's and they are not recieving Dolby on the speaker tests. Left and Right channels come through but that is is... 96-24 is working as well, but zilch on the 5.1 :(
    Reply
  • 1955mm - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #87: AMD has NOT made it clear that ECC is an Opteron only feature. Read the document from the link I posted. As for ASUS not supporting ECC, download the manual and look at pages 4-21 and 4-22. In the screenshot for DRAM configuration there is an item for ECC enablement. The ASUS K8N-E deluxe (socket 754) also supports ECC. If you still have doubts that the Athlon 64 supports ECC, go to crucial.com and see what memory is supported by the ASUS K8N-E deluxe and A8N-SLI deluxe. I think that you might be confusing registered memory with ECC. If you write code work with critical data ECC is worth having. I have had bad memory in the past that corrupted data without crashing the machine. Considering misinformation that is sometimes provided by motherboard manufacturers and your obvious confusion about the Athlon 64, I think that ECC deserves some mention by motherboard reviewers. I myself would like to understand why the A8N-SLI apparently supports 4 256MB ECC memory modules but not 2 512MB ECC memory modules (page 2-12 in manual), Wesley? Reply

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