While the world turned I was on a flight over to Taiwan to meet and discuss future products with just about every Taiwanese Motherboard and Video Card manufacturer I could get a meeting with. The discussions yielded a great deal of important information, such as roadmap updates, a better understanding of some of the current supply shortages and some insight into how the markets here in Taiwan and globally were holding up. While I'll talk about most of these topics in a separate article, I couldn't resist but post information on a very interesting product I managed to get some "alone-time" with while in Taiwan.

Just a few weeks ago our own Wesley Fink and I traveled to NYC to meet with NVIDIA and, more importantly, to get some first hand experience with nForce4 and nForce4 SLI platforms. As you'll know from our previous coverage on the topic, nForce4 SLI is the highest-end nForce4 offering outfitted with a configurable number of PCI Express lanes. The beauty of having a configurable number of PCI Express lanes is that you can have a single PCI Express x16 slot, or you can split that one slot into two x8 slots - which is perfect for installing two graphics cards in.

NVIDIA is less than a month away from sending final shipping nForce4 SLI boards out to reviewers, but we managed to get some quality benchmarking time with a pre-release nForce4 SLI board from MSI. The important thing to note here is that it was pre-release and we had a very limited amount of time with it - not to mention that I'm about halfway around the world from my testing equipment and benchmarks, so forgive me if the number of tests or benchmarks is not as complete as you're used to seeing on AnandTech.

There will be two versions of the MSI nForce4 SLI board shipping worldwide; in the US it will be called the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI but in the rest of the world it will be called the MSI K8N Diamond. There will be some slight changes in the specs between the two but nothing major.


Click to Enlarge

The MSI motherboard we tested is actually the very first working sample of the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI; in fact, as of right now there are only 4 working nForce4 SLI samples at MSI in Taiwan, two of which happen to be in my hotel room. Despite the early nature of the motherboard, it was 100% stable and didn't crash once during our hours of testing nor in the 12 hours of burn-in before that. There were some rendering issues during some of the testing but we'd chalk that up to drivers that need some work; one thing to keep in mind is that SLI is extremely driver intensive and we'll explain why in a moment. Please be sure to read our nForce4 review and SLI preview before continuing on with this review to understand what's behind nForce4 and SLI.

We did not have time to run a full gamut of benchmarks, so all of our tests are limited to 1024 x 768, 1280 x 1024 and 1600 x 1200 with 4X AA enabled. We tested using an Athlon 64 FX-55 with 1GB of Corsair DDR400 under Windows XP Professional with DX9c. Finding game benchmarks was a bit of a challenge in Taiwan, but despite the Chinese boxes our copies of Doom 3 and Far Cry were basically the english versions. We also included the Counterstrike: Source Visual Stress Test in our impromptu test suite. But before we get to the benchmarks, let's talk a little bit about how you actually get SLI working.

Setting up SLI
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  • darkrequiem - Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - link

    What I'd really like to see is how Doom3 performs with this SLI setup running in Ultra quality mode. They recommend a 512MB card for this mode, and here we have a total of 512MB between the two cards. It'd be interresting to see how many FPS can be achieved at this quality setting. Reply
  • MightyB - Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - link

    Hmm Im gonna wait out for the ATI solution and hope they will make it possible to use two diffferent types of cards. Would love to have the new x800 All in Wonder matched with another X-series card :-) This way I can get great performance along with the much better ATI picture quality and even TV.. :-)

    And before you flame me being a ATI fanboy.. I own a Nvidia card.. Im talking about 2D (windows desktop) and Movies when i refer to picture quality. I see now real difference in games!

    Best regards
    mightyB
    Reply
  • MiLaMber - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    Perhaps slightly annoying this article to those ppl who have a Geforce 6800GT, like myself, just like the fact that the NF 4 is a no go.
    Looks like a possible upgrade to PCI Express will be on teh cards in..18 months, but I see this as a good thing, better motherboards, a maturer PCI Express solution.

    Guess could always sell the 6800gt agp when the pcie version comes out though huh lol, and then start considerin SLI again and indeed NF4.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    Thats his point, because each card does 50% no matter how much work a section of the screen has, it won't necessarily utilize both cards fully. If your wandering through UT2k4 and there are no vehicles in the sky, but there is a massive ground battle going on, you will see hardly any benefit from the Alienware setup, but you'd see a huge benefit from the nVidia SLI solution since it will give the card rendering the top half of the screen more to do rather than sitting idle.

    Believe what you want, but I have a bad feeling that the Alienware tech will never actually appear on the market. It was announced months ago, and now if it arrived it would more or less be an Ati only solution, since if you had nVidia cards you can do SLI natively without Alienware's technology(and nVidia's solution should be faster most of the time). It was a good attempt by them, but at this point its not worth pursuing.
    Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    Swaid: Your ratios are a bit off, did you see the E3 demonstration? Maybe you should have another look at it. The ratio is always 50/50 even if the lower or upper half has a bit more work to be done, the thing is its only half the screen, resolution. Making the cards work a lot less than if they were single. Never the less, it's always seamless no matter how high your graphics settings.

    Ever heard of frame locking? Frame locking synchronizes display refresh and buffer swaps across multiple cards, preventing visual artifacts and ensuring image continuity in multi-monitor (or multiple video card) applications like simulations.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    Hell, I'm an anti-nVidia guy and I still recognize this as a nice deal for those of us who'd love a cheap way to upgrade in the future when a secondary card will be cheap.

    I still won't be buying it however, the 2D performance of nVidia solutions is still crap at high res, and I spend a lot more time in front of a web browser than I do in front of games. But since Civ3 is the most recent game I have purchased, I don't imagine its really much of an issue for me. A Parhelia would meet my gaming needs just fine. ;)
    Reply
  • Swaid - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    GhandiInstinct,
    His logic is correct, while your's on the other hand needs to be double checked. In your case (X2/Video Array), we can take the an example of a situation where the upper half of the screen has a more complex scene (or more activity) going on, thus making Card 1 (video card rendering the upper half) work at 100% while Card 2 (video card rendering the bottom half) only needs to work at 80% to keep up with Card 1. Thats not an efficient solution. This is where SLI's technology can really shine. If you take that same scene thats being played through and use SLI, Card 1 will now render the upper 40% while Card 2 will render the bottom 60% and this would keep the 2 GPU's at 100% load. Now that is an efficient solution. That senario can pretty much go for all FPS games. Dynamic load balancing appears to be a better 'logical' solution. But I am willing to bet that you are an ATI fan or maybe it has to do with some sort of loyalty towards Alienware, so SLI is feeling you left behind, thus your unwillingness for reason. There are many articles that try and explain the whole situation with SLI.
    Reply
  • Zebo - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    Oh and thanks Anand for this exclusive. I'm with the camp which says "single card" and "frequent upgrades" only because of noise, heat, power and very low resale when I'm finally done with the two cards. Reply
  • Zebo - Sunday, October 31, 2004 - link

    More options are always a good thing. How can anyone be down on this tech is beyond me. Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    SLI requires special circuitry to be incorporated into GPUs and, for extra speed gain, into core-logic. Alienware’s Video Array technology does not require any special logic to be incorporated into graphics or system chips.

    This makes it less of a driver prone problem than SLI.

    Over.
    Reply

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