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
POST A COMMENT

107 Comments

View All Comments

  • fitten - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    quote:I still do not understand why this argument is so popular. Why is the general assumption that purchasers of SLI capable boards will immediately want to jump into a dual-card config? The idea is flexibility. Sure, 2 6800's are expensive now, but they will inevitably get cheaper.


    Well, if history serves as a measure... by the time that 2nd board becomes cheap enough to justify its cost, there will be a new board out (say, the nVidia 7800) that will be as fast, or faster than, the SLI combo.

    I used to buy motherboards with two sockets for this very reason (flexibility to upgrade to two CPUs later) until about twice doing this I learned that by the time I was ready for that 2nd CPU, there was one out that was faster than both put together.

    Computers change too fast. If you perpetually buy on the bleeding edge, you cannot plan any upgrades past ~6 months and definitely not past 12 months. By that time, you'll throw away what you have and get the NextBestThing(tm). Buying SLI is bleeding edge. Saying that you'll buy the upgrade card in a year is just a rationalization to buy the bleeding edge now.
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Yeah, that's right. Some apps run slower with SLI because nVidia hasn't SLI optimized the driver for that app (so it can then only utilize one card) and the SLI setup uses some overhead, resulting in slower results. Any new game/benchmark will use SLI just fine. The results in Half-Life and Doom 3 as well as if you add the config for stuff like NFS:U2 and whatever are well above one card though. Reply
  • Sunbird - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Is my brain screwed up or are the 3Dmark03 single scores higher than the SLI scores???

    Reply
  • chup - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    too bad, i thought the MSI was the one to get after nforce2. Reply
  • sphinx - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    From this review, I have come to the conclusion that ASUS is slipping. I have always been a supporter of ASUS but, I think this review shows how much ASUS is all about the money and not making quality products. Right now I am waiting for manufacturers to get the VIA chipset working properly. I haven't seen many news or reviews on VIA's new chipset. One other thing. Who in their right mind would spend close to $250 on nVidia's NF4 if there is really no significant performance jump from the NF3. Reply
  • bigbusa - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    You mentioned the asus manual says use a 500+W PS. if you read the Asus users guid the sli 6800 ultra system also has all pci slots used, all memory dims full, 2 optical drives, and anassortment of other stuff. and they recommend a 500+W, but a 350W PS for a dual 6600GT. See below.

    500+W ps for 55FX, 2x6800 ultra, 4ddr dims, 4 HD's, 2 optical, 1 pcie 1x card, 3 pci card, 1 1394, 6 usp devices. (shit thats alot of gear)

    350W for a 3400(64bit 939), dual 6600GT, 2 DDRdims, 2 hd's, 1 optical drive, no pcie 1x, 1 pci card, no 1394, and 3 usb devices.

    SO the article is misleading a bit.

    The review also did not cover any quad displays and problems one may encounter when setting this up.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #70 - None of these boards support ECC. The reason for that is that such support would be implemented by the memory controller, not the motherboard manufacturer. In this particuliar case the memory controller is integrated into the CPU. AMD has a line of CPU's that have ECC support, they are called the Opteron and are designed for workstations and servers.

    In the home user market ECC does not significantly impact stability but it does harm performance by a small amount which is why the feature is not generally available on consumer solutions.
    Reply
  • 1955mm - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    All in all I think that this is the best review of Socket 939 SLI boards that I have seen. I particularly liked the attention paid to storage and I/O capabilities. My one criticism is that although comments were made regarding stability, and a link was made between overclocking and stability, there was no discussion of ECC support. If system reliability is discussed, ECC should not be ignored. As far as I can tell, the only board supporting ECC is the ASUS board. Over the years I have found it difficult to get accurate information on ECC support, having been given misleading information on occasion by both MSI and ASUS. Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    D'oh, *SoundSTORM Savior*

    That's it, I'm off to bed. It's quarter of 1:00AM and I have work tomorrow. Uh, today.
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    To everyone hoping the MSI upsamples analog 5.1 to Dolby Digital - I don't think so. Like any Creative card, it can either downmix DD-EX/DTS-ES 7.1 streams to 4/5.1 speakers (which is what page 5-11 of the manual is actually talking about doing), decode DD/DTS on-card to 5/6/7.1 speakers (via analog or 'Digital Out', Creative's proprietary digital link for their speaker sets), or can just pass the Dolby Digital/DTS 5/6/7.1 signal (now via the SPDIF coax/optical cable) to any outboard decoder.

    I say this because I have the same exact chip on a stand-alone card, and it does not upsample analog sound to Dolby Digital, like SoundStorm did. 'Digital Out' simply let's you use a proprietary Creative Digital DIN connector to connect one cable from the soundcard to the Creative speaker amp (like on a DTT3500 that I use).

    I also find it highly unlikely that Creative would license a DD Live capable chip to only one manufacturer when they have yet to produce one of their own cards with this feature.

    *Keeps waiting for a SoundStrom Saviour*
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now