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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  • homerdog - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Don't get me wrong, HybridPower is a cool feature that I will consider when I'm making my next motherboard/GPU purchase.

    However, the fact remains that the HD3K cards have a significantly larger delta between their idle and load power consumption figures than the current crop of Nvidia cards. If ATI continues to build on this trend they may not even need a complex mGPU/dGPU hybrid solution to get idle consumption down to near IGP levels, although they're probably working on one anyway.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Now we just need Hybrid Power in laptops - where it should have been first, IMO! At the very least, HybridPower should have shipped with support for 8800GT/GTS 512 and 9600 cards rather than just 9800 GTX/GX2.

    Also, my two cents on GeForce Boost: hooray for an extra 20% over 20FPS. That sounds fine, until you look at the bigger picture. A GeForce 8400 GS or 8500 GT is terribly slow relative to most discrete GPUs. Sure, they cost $40 to $70 depending on model and features. An extra 20% performance (or even 50%) would be fine. However, a $75 8600GT is already about twice as fast and a 9600GT (with rebates available for $110-$120) isn't even on the same continent.

    If you have an IGP motherboard and you think it's too slow for games, I seriously doubt you're going to want to spend $50 to roughly double the performance. As any mathematician can tell you, multiplying any real number by zero is still zero. It may not be that bad, but I'd say 9600GT with Hybrid Power support is what people should shoot for. I figure that will arrive some time in the near future. Then just wait for it to show up on Intel platforms.
    Reply
  • FITCamaro - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    While I agree with you, I think this is a great idea. An onboard GPU is always going to use less power than a discrete one. The main issue I'm concerned with is, does the system get back the memory used by the onboard GPU when the discrete GPU is in use? Granted it's only going to use 64-128MB of RAM likely, maybe 256. But still, those are resources that aren't able to be used by games.

    Of course it doesn't really matter for most since it only supports the 9800GTX and 9800GX2 and, in my opinion, you'd have to be stupid to go with the 9800GTX when the 8800GTS 512MB offers nearly identical performance. Heck even the 8800GT 512MB is only about 5 FPS different.

    They need to offer the hybrid power support across the entire 8x00 series.
    Reply
  • BansheeX - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    Who cares about the Phenom? Where is the Intel variant, aka 730i? Another three month delay for that one? Sigh. Reply
  • FITCamaro - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    People who want a Phenom. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - link

    Those mythical people exist? Reply
  • KnightProdigy - Thursday, May 08, 2008 - link

    There are a lot of AMD fans. AMD still has a lot of loyal followers, maybe you forget that AMD had the speed crown for many more years than Intel. I have been an NV fan since it was STB in the early 90s, I, for one, like the fact that they are offering similar solutions, even though they lag a little. Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - link

    We expect to see the Intel mGPU variants this summer, just in time to compete with the G45. Reply

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