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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  • fozzymatic - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    "So, is SLI worth the cost and the effort? For some, the answer will be a definite no. The SLI boards still cost a great deal, setting up the system is still a daunting task, and the cost of two top-of-the-line video cards will be just too much for many to consider SLI to be a real option."

    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. So why not buy one now and then profit form your forward thinking later down the line when the price of a second card is cut in half and there are more SLI-supported games available. I concede that the mobos are 50$ more than a non-SLI board but, for 50$, I'll take the enhanced upgrade path. Out of the gate the SLI boards are the fastest single or double-card NF4 mobos available, so whats to lose?
    Reply
  • justly - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Wesley, well done, although I have to admit I skipped over some of the pages describing the individual boards as I am not personnaly intrested in buying a SLI system.

    One thing about the bar graphs, it could have been a little easier to compare between a single card and SLI if you had used split bars like in this graph
    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/video/ATI/rade...
    using the top half of the bar for single card and the bottom for duel cards.

    It would also be nice to see a comparasion of disk controller, firewire and USB performance (and anything else that is chipset specific) using all the different brand chipsets.

    I don't think you are the person that does power supply reviews, but with all the concerns recenty about power supplies it would also be nice to see an article that not only describes some of the differences in power supplies but what components draw power from what rails and how much they draw (I have seen power supply guides that give an idea of how many total watts is needed but very little information on how those watts are divided up between rails).

    One last thing, I have a little problem with this statement "the ability of a motherboard to run at much higher than stock speeds tells you something about the quality of components used in a motherboard". If every motherboad had a perfect BIOS and they all had the same overclocking options then your statement could be true, but that is not the case. Would you call all Intel branded motherboards poor quality just because Intel doesn't put overclocking options in their motherboards BIOS? What if an OEM decided to use one of these great overclocking boards in a prebuilt system and the only change they made to the board was to eliminate the overclocking options from the BIOS, is that board now poor quality?


    Reply
  • Viper4185 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Well well well, seems you are right. The MSI nForce 4 Ultra board in Australia even has 1x PCI Express slot...

    http://www.msi.com.tw/program/products/mainboard/m...

    Does anyone know which boards support Firewire 800 (1934b)?

    Also to Wesley, thanks for the reply, do you have a rough idea when the nForce 4 Ultra comparison would be available?
    Reply
  • falcc - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    There seems to be different version of MSI's SLI boards depending on where you live. In Australia the SLI board is a MSI K8N Diamond. The interesting thing about this board is that it has two PCI Express x1 slots. as well as the two x16 slots for SLI. It also has a wlan option. Reply
  • falcc - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #43, I'm aware it needs a PHY, but I always thought it worked the same way as it did since the nForce3-250Gb, with no PCI-E involved.

    I checked out the manual for the MSI K8N Diamond and ASUS A8N-SLI, from them:

    MSI
    "Dual LAN
    ? Supports dual LAN jacks
    - 1st LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by nForce4 SLI
    - 2nd PCI Express LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Marvell 88E8053"

    ASUS
    "nForce4 built-in Gbit MAC with external Marvell PHY :
    - NV ActiveArmor
    - NV Firewall
    - AI NET2"

    I couldn't find a reference that the chipset LAN is tied to PCI-E.
    Reply
  • ajmiles - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Excellent, thanks Wesley. Every response I've had from now has been, quote:

    "With regards to the overclockability, it has AI Overclock, PEG link, and other options, the extent of the overclockability was not promised and unfortunately some customers expect amazing overclocking abilities when the 1T overclock is still a good feature and is overclocking in action."

    Perhaps what you would expect them to say when their board clocks more than 60mhz lower than some competitors.

    If you could keep me apprised of their response either here or at amiles(at)gmail.com that'd be great. Thanks again.
    Reply
  • JoKeRr - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I really wish MSI could pump a bit more voltage for the ram, 2.85 is a bit low, especially considering the Asus is giving 3V and DFI is giving 4V!! Guess if u want to run your good old BH5 sticks at 250mhz 2-2-2-7, DFI will be the way to go. But I really liked the MSI mobo. o well, guess u can't have everything. Reply
  • JoKeRr - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #6 & #56 - I saw the same behavior with the A8N-SLI Deluxe during our testing, and I shared my results with Asus. I forwarded your comments and my own to the Asus A8N-SLI BIOS and Engineering team. Reply

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