We reviewed a few nForce4 SLI motherboards several months ago and found that while SLI was very promising, it was a technology that still needed to mature. We also found the motherboards to be immature and required a great deal of tweaking in order to extract the best possible performance and stability from the platform. In addition, the cost of the motherboards was at the premium end of the pricing scale along with limited availability from the board suppliers.

Since that time, NVIDIA's SLI technology has not only matured a great deal, but recently evolved with the release of the nForce4 SLI X16 platform. The availability of SLI motherboards is now widespread from most manufacturers and you will find more nForce4 SLI offerings than nForce4 Ultra products. Along with this is the widespread availability of SLI capable video cards that cover everything from the 6600LE to the Quadro FX4500 GPU chipsets making SLI a mainstream choice now.

In fact, with ATI also embracing the multiple GPU solution in their recently released ATI CrossFire platform and Intel with official support for ATI CrossFire in their 975X chipset, we see this type of technology being mainstream for the foreseeable future. Although ATI CrossFire offers an excellent alternative to NVIDIA SLI, until there is widespread availability of the ATI Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire motherboards, your best opportunity at this time for a multiple GPU solution lies with NVIDIA SLI. Not only is availability widespread, but the cost of entry has reduced significantly over the past few months. Decent nForce4 SLI boards now start in the US $70 range and run up to the US $250 range for the nForce4 SLI X16 boards. In fact, the current price structure almost ensures that your nForce4 purchase should be an SLI-capable motherboard.

Today, we are reviewing the Asus A8N-SLI Premium, Foxconn NF4SK8AA-8KRS, and Albatron K8SLI based on the NVIDIA nForce4 SLI chipset. Asus's offering is an update to the A8N-SLI Deluxe and fits into their product line between the value segment A8N-SLI and flagship A8N32-SLI. Albatron's offering is their only nForce4 SLI product and is designed for the value segment. Foxconn's contribution is their value segment nForce4 SLI product with their upscale NF4SK8AA-8EKRS, offering an additional Gigabit Ethernet port, SI-3132 SATA II Raid, and IEEE-1394a support.

Let's see what these boards are capable of and if a premium price ensures premium performance.

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  • Gary Key - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    Hi,

    I have been informed by Blue Gears that the significant differences we are seeing is due to the current beta driver set. They recently released a 64-bit driver set that improved performance up 18% in some applications. The general C-Media driver that was provided last fall was in worse shape than the June beta for the 32-bit operating systems so they went back to the drawing board. If you go back and read some of our recent Intel reviews you will see that Realtek has improved their HD codec performance by up to 40% in some instances over the last three driver releases. The A380 release we utilized for the ALC850/655 was around 9% better in Serious Sam II and BF2 (not shown yet) over the A379.

    I would not be concerned with their next card at this point. They are very customer focused and are doing everything possible to improve the performance of the C-Media driver sets.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Wednesday, January 04, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the replies, Gary. Looking forward to seeing better numbers. I totally understand what you mean about scenes breaking up. I experience that as I'm waiting for the new BlueGears card to come out later this month so I'm running the onboard ALC-8xx series audio on the A8N-SLI Premium I have. It's pretty crappy and sometimes heavy action scenes with lots of sound sources seem to chug the computer and now I see that's typical of the onboard solutions. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Obviously, if you are a serious gamer, then a dedicated sound card is still a requirement to ensure consistent frame rate averages across a wide variety of games.


    Considering the surprisingly poor results of the BlueGears and CLabs X-Fi cards in the actual gaming tests, why do you state that like it's an "obvious" conclusion when the numbers state exactly the inverse - that the onboard audio solutions, as cpu-grubbing as they are, actually provide the better framerates in most of the games tested?

    Unless your results are anomalic, I'll have to start my soundcard research all over again. I was sold on the upcoming X-Plosion but now that it doesn't really gain me much if anything in the way of cpu usage improvement during gaming (half the purpose of getting a peripheral soundcard to begin with), I only end up with better audio quality (the other half of the purpose) and for that, yes, the BlueGears card should be better than the X-Fi series, but I really want to get better cpu usage as well. Hmmmm...
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Considering the surprisingly poor results of the BlueGears and CLabs X-Fi cards in the actual gaming tests, why do you state that like it's an "obvious" conclusion when the numbers state exactly the inverse - that the onboard audio solutions, as cpu-grubbing as they are, actually provide the better framerates in most of the games tested?


    The audio quality of those two sound cards are significantly better than the Realtek ALC850/655 codecs across the spectrum. Their performance at times is worse in absolute numbers but the difference in consistent frame rates while playing on-line and within the game was significant from a subjective viewpoint. We are finishing our benchmark suite for showing (consistently) the low/average/high frame rates with sound enabled. I did not publish the BF2/F.E.A.R./HL2 numbers yet as we needed time to verify the benchmarks were repeatable with the latest patch updates. However, the two add-in cards scored better and have more consistent frame rates than the on-board sound solutions. In a couple of scenes in the BF2 benchmark the on-solutions would stutter and the scence would break up, this never happened with the add in cards.

    The lastest SSII patch and Creative drivers should improved the scores even further in that game. In Serious Sam II we were quite surprised by the results and they shadowed the same results from the last Intel article. Although I can make out the near/far audio effects being played with a set of high end headphones on the ALC850 codec, it in no way compares to the sounds being played back by the XFI and Mystique. The sound on the ALC850/655 is tinny and muffled while you can hear exacting details in the same scenes with the other two cards. It is even more obvious in F.E.A.R and BF2, almost to the point of wondering if you were listening to the same audio playback.

    Also, the on-board ALC850/655 solutions only support up to 26 buffers in the drivers.

    Thank you.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    quote:

    In a couple of scenes in the BF2 benchmark the on-board solutions would stutter and the scene would break up, this never happened with the add-in cards.


    Really need an edit function, hit the button before I finished proof reading.
    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    Shouldn't the game benchmarks, at least, have focused on performance running two video cards in SLI? There was some mention in the Final Words section of using two video cards on these boards; so, I got the impression that this might have at least been tried. Still, it comes across as an after-thought, which seems to miss the point of a thorough testing of what is the main feature of these boards.

    Just a bit puzzled.

    Space
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    Good Day,

    We will have SLI benchmarks up once we complete the SLI roundup that consists of several more boards between the $80~$140 range. I might modify the article to include our initial results between the three boards tested. The issue is previous boards were tested with the 78.x drivers while these boards were tested with the 81.85 driver set. There is a significant performance difference in several benchmarks between the two driver sets that would have been confusing. We have not gone back and tested all of the boards in SLI with the 81.85 up to 81.98 drivers yet.
    Reply
  • deathwalker - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    Odd that the Albatron and Foxxcon come out very satisfactory in the testing and the don't make the Motherboard roundup that came out only 2 days ago. Great review though and it nice to see that you can save a couple $ on off-brand mobos and still get a decent product. Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Odd that the Albatron and Foxxcon come out very satisfactory in the testing and the don't make the Motherboard roundup that came out only 2 days ago. Great review though and it nice to see that you can save a couple $ on off-brand mobos and still get a decent product.


    We still have several more value to mid-range SLI products to review and as such any final recommendations will be done at the completion of the testing cycle.
    Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - link

    On the second page, in the table, all the boards have slots for DDR2 memory. It should be DDR, I think Reply

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