After being blitzed by the NVIDIA marketing machine at CES 2008 about upcoming chipsets, we were excited about the technological possibilities NVIDA was planning to deliver a few weeks later. As it turns out, it was a few months later but as of today NVIDIA is officially introducing the nForce 780a SLI chipset and its family companions, the 750a SLI and 730a chipsets.

At first look, it appears NVIDIA has mastered the marketing checklist with features ranging from HyperTransport 3.0 and PCI Express 2.0 to the environmentally friendly Hybrid Power and performance enhancing Hybrid SLI capabilities. Of course, AMD has featured HT 3.0 and PCI Express 2.0 on their 790FX chipset since November and the 780G had Hybrid CrossFire operating since March. However, AMD does not offer Hybrid power capabilities nor does the flagship 790FX offer integrated graphics capabilities. We will have to wait a few more months for the AMD 790GX to arrive for those two features.

In the meantime, NVIDIA sits alone as it starts to roll out integrated graphics on all of its chipsets over the next few months. NVIDIA is calling this technology a motherboard GPU or mGPU for short. We think the inclusion of integrated graphics on all chipsets is a definite step in the right direction and one that we applaud if done correctly. Our first results indicate that NVIDIA is on the right path, although one that was a little bumpy for us.


The most important design element of the nForce 780a SLI and other chipsets in this product family is the mGPU. Based upon the 8400GS core, it offers decent casual gaming and application performance as a standalone unit. This capability is nothing new as integrated graphic chipsets have been around for a long time. However, the IG performance is clearly a step above what NVIDIA has offered in the past, but a step below the current 780G from AMD. Besides offering extensive HD playback capabilities and additional monitor outputs, its primary purpose is seguing into NVIDIA’s Hybrid SLI technology.

Hybrid SLI offers two different and very distinct technologies that consist of GeForce Boost and Hybrid Power. GeForce Boost allows for the pairing of the mGPU with a discrete graphics card (dGPU) to provide SLI capability to improve 3D performance. Since the mGPU is an 8400GS in disguise, the natural pairing of this technology is with a discrete 8400GS card. NVIDIA provides support for the 8500GT also as its performance closely matches that of the mGPU, anything higher would result in a mismatch in performance and negate any benefits of adding an inexpensive dGPU.

The true technological gem is the HybridPower functionality as it allows the mGPU to function as the primary display for most application tasks and high definition playback duties while the discreet graphics card is in standby waiting to tackle demanding 3D tasks. We use the term standby, but the system actually turns off the dGPU to conserve power until required. In actual practice, we noticed a slight delay when switching from the mGPU to the dGPU, something that we believe driver and BIOS tuning can resolve. However, the biggest drawback at this time is that only two discreet graphics solutions are supported, the 9800GTX and 9800GX2 cards.

So let’s take a detailed look at the chipset specifications and delve into the performance results of the 780a SLI chipset against its immediate competition from AMD.

One Chipset Fits All
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  • wjl - Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - link

    I tried a Wolfdale 2,6GHz (E8200) with Intel's G35, and it's an improvement already - tho for "serious" HTPC usage, I would probably wait for the G45, which should be out this summer.

    Sure, Intel chip sets are not flawless, like their drivers also. But Intel and AMD are moving into the right direction, and I wish this would be honoured more when comparison tests like the one here are performed.

    The world isn't only Windows, and only gamers - wake up guys. Take the Phoronix test suite if you have to compare and show numbers. I think even this test suite is GPL'ed, so...

    Anyway: the ATI/AMD 690G (RS690) will work now with 3D, using only open source drivers - and it's news like these which are really important for the rest of us - not which newest chip set has a few frames per second more or less, which is really ONLY interesting for first person shooters.
    Reply
  • Natfly - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    quote:

    HyperTransport 3.0 capability (5.2GT/s+ interface) is included and is important in getting the most out of the 780a graphics core. With a Phenom onboard, the 780a will perform post-processing on high-definition content and it makes a difference in image quality and fluidity during 1080p playback.


    How important is HT3 for the IGP? Is 1080P content watchable without it?

    Also, is there an equivalent to AMD's sideport memory that may show up in some 780a/8200 boards?
    Reply
  • derek85 - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    HT3 is most important when you watch interlaced contents (1080i) because of the extra HDHQV features require alot more bandwidth than normal 1080p. Theoratically 1080p should be watchable without HT3, but this largely depends on the K8 model you get.

    I'm not sure about sideport equivalence from NVIDIA, I haven't heard anything related to it and I highly doubt they will be able to come up with one, because that requires modification of their existing blocks which they probably won't bother to spend the time on. If you really want that, just get an AMD board ;)
    Reply
  • Natfly - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Well I was planning on getting a 4850e and have been recently trying to decide between the 780G and 8200. I'd like to get the best IGP performance and also have RAID5 w/out using any extra cards, but that seems impossible at this point. Maybe a manufacturer will pair up 780G with SB750 when it gets released. Reply
  • derek85 - Thursday, May 08, 2008 - link

    If you want to max out 3D performance, HT3 is the way to go. HT1 can provide maximum 8GB of bandwidth, HT3 with 1800MHz can provide 14.4GB of bandwidth (2 channel DDR2-800 is 12.8GB). The actual improvement of this reflected in benchmarks such as 3DMarko6 is quite significant (>20%), but nonetheless it is still IGP, so whether you would like to invest more into it is totally up to you. Reply
  • Von Matrices - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Is my PC at fault or does anyone else notice the horrible compression of the charts on page 6? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Fixed... Gary changed the chart sizes but didn't update the HTML (where a smaller width and height was hard-coded). Shame on him. I have had him flogged with a Cat-o-nine-SATA-cords. Reply
  • Mgz - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    in page 4 you have a little typo "we can't really be sure until NVIDI confirms the details" Reply
  • homerdog - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    I appreciate the effort by Nvidia to reduce idle power consumption, but I would much rather see a discrete GPU that doesn't draw so much power when idling in first place. ATI has been making significant strides in this department lately with PowerPlay, and EVERY motherboard/configuration benefits. Having two GPUs with redundant framebuffers is going around your elbow to get to your ******* if you ask me. Reply
  • ChrisRay - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    HomerDog. Not sure I entirely understand your problem with Hybrid Power. Its basically a technology that lets you shut of your discreet GPUS completely. No amount of power saving tech is going to have that measure of impact. ((Or system noise impact)).

    Your right that every motherboard benefits from power saving tech on discreet GPUs. But the difference in power saving by using a feature like Hybrid power is huge compared to any idle technology existing on GPUS. Browsing from my desktop with Hybrid Power enabled and Quad SLI 9800GX2. My AVG room temp went down 4-5C after 2 hours of web activity from having hybrid power enabled. Thats significant.

    SLIZONE Forum Admin.
    Nvidia User Group
    Reply

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