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


View All Comments

  • GhandiInstinct - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    I don't understand why you think X2's split work screen will be worse... Even if the scenes get more complex its still only half! So if a single X800XT renders the complex scene at 70fps then two will chop up? Your logic is FLAWED!!! Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    61 - Sokaku, I wasn't any more rude that you were in your original post. You were incorrect in your claims, as #62 pointed out. I'll repeat: it was a claim without a whole lot of thought/research behind it. Certainly SLI isn't a huge step forward, but to call it a step backwards is ludicrous. SMP would also be a step backwards, and dual-core would be pointless as well. Obviously, the 22 year old webmaster knows quite a few things that you don't. Being wrong at the top of your lungs is why pure guesses aren't used when writing any professional level article.

    One thing I find odd is that there's mention of the new Scalable Link Interface SLI doing either screen division - i.e. one card renders the top 2/3 and the other renders the bottom 1/3 - or Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR). I thought ATI created and patented AFR back with their Rage MAXX card, just like 3dfx created and patented Scan Line Interleave. (One problem with Scan Line Interleave, for those that don't realize this, is that it basically makes AA impossible to do without a massive performance hit. That's why NVIDIA calls the new SLI Scalable Link Interface.) I can't see ATI allowing NV to use AFR technology without a lawsuit, unless there was some other agreement that we haven't heard about.
  • IamTHEsnake - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    Come on ATi, surprise me!!!!!!! Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    In addition, I hate overhyping brand new technology, it's so pointless. I can see analyzing this 6 months from now after people have been using it and more benchmarks are revealed. Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    No one is debating that SLI delivers phenomenal performance. The issue is with the limit on manufacturing creating an "SLI monopoly" lol.

    Everyone knows Nvidia cheats on visual quality and that ATI's cards perform better on an overwhelming amount of games. So if I have $400 to spend on my SLI setup I'd go for the latter of cards. Get it? It's nothing complex here folks.
  • mkruer - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    Here is my 2 cents on SLI.

    I think there is a misconception buying two 6600GT at the start, and thinking its is going to be cheaper then a single 6800GT is incorrect. The TOC (total cost of ownership) for people jumping on issue of just is not there. Currently it is just as expensive as picking up a single card solution.

    Here is where SLI makes sense.

    12-18 months down the line the next latest and greatest game will arrive demanding twice the processing power that you currently have. Now you could purchase the bleeding edge graphic card for another $400US or you could pick up another 6800GT for half that and get nearly double the performance (that would also translate into the same performance of the new card), if not better. TCO is now about 75% of picking up a new bleeding edge $400US card.

    So I guess my recommendation to all of you out there that are thinking of picking up two 6600GT, don’t. Spend the same amount of money and get the 6800GT, and in the next 12-18 months pick up a second 6800GT for half the price, and you will still be getting the same performance as nVidia’s next generation, but for half the cost.

    Possible future.

    ATI is undoubtedly working on a similar solution, and possible working on a few “flaws” in nVidias current design, namely the SLI bridge connection. I suspect that in the future the SLI bridge connection will disappear completely and instead, be migrated to the last 8x of the 16x pci-e connection, thereby creating a direct point to point connection between the two cards. The advantage of this is now both cards could share there collective memory similarly to how AMD does with it processors between memory banks. This will allow for two 256mb cards to truly act as one 512mb card.
  • Tides - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    dual core gpus in the future? Reply
  • Sokaku - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    #62 - PrinceGaz

    Thanks for clearing that up, I stand corrected. :-)
  • Ivo - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    The enthusiastic market, where the two graphic cards SLI solution is positioned, is something like the F1 by cars: it advertises and proves new technologies, but it doesn't sell directly in profitable quantities. Probably, the mainstream market will never adopt it, at least because it is too expensive and too noisy. Nevertheless, a modified SLI solution, with IGP and ONE graphic card, could still be interesting for this market. In that case, the card, a 3D accelerator, should be idle for not intensive 3D applications and the SLI should adopt effective combination of two unequal GPUs. Reply
  • Denial - Saturday, October 30, 2004 - link

    I'm glad I can buy anything I want at my job as the CFO doen't know what a 6800GT is. "Uhhh, it keeps the flux capicitor cool."

    How long till the SLI boards come out? Better yet, that dual SLI board from Tyan. I hope all this is out before the new year so I can slip it in with all the other end-of-year hardware purchases.

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