SLI – The Requirements

There’s been a lot of confusion as to what is required to run a SLI configuration, so we put together a quick list of the things you’ll need:

  • Everything necessary to put together a working system, including SLI motherboard
  • Two graphics cards with identical GPUs from the same manufacturer.  Video BIOS revisions must also be identical. Note that if the cards run at different clock speeds, the driver will run both cards at the lower clock speed of the two.  NVIDIA has announced their SLI certification program, which means that two SLI certified cards should have no problems working in tandem. Currently only NVIDIA cards will work in SLI mode although ATI plans on introducing SLI technology in 2005.
  • A power supply capable of supplying adequate power to the system as well as both graphics cards.  Note: you may need one or two 2 x 4-pin to 1 x 6-pin PCI Express power adapters if you are using two 6800GT or 6800 Ultra graphics card with a power supply that either has no or only one 6-pin PCI Express power connector.
  • A SLI video bridge connector.  This connector should be provided with your nForce4 SLI motherboard. 
  • NVIDIA drivers with SLI support.  Currently the 66.93s are the only NVIDIA sanctioned drivers with SLI support, however NVIDIA is working on rolling in SLI support to all of their drivers, including the newly released 67.02 driver. 

It’s no big surprise that you can’t use different, GPUs; in our tests we tried combining a 6800 Ultra with a 6600GT, but NVIDIA’s driver wouldn’t even let us enable SLI on the combination.  When we tried to combine two different 6600GTs (non SLI certified) we could enable SLI through the driver, but there were tons of stability problems.  Accessing the NVIDIA Control Panel would cause the system to lock up, presumably because the control panel had issues reading from two different video BIOSes.  If we didn’t bother with the NVIDIA Control Panel and just tried to run a game we were met with video corruption issues and lockups.  Right now it seems like the only option for SLI is to have two identical cards; in theory they can be from different manufacturers as long as the video BIOSes and all of the hardware specifications are identical.  In order to make upgrading easier, NVIDIA introduced their SLI certification program which is designed to ensure compatibility between all identical-GPU cards going forward.  Only time will tell whether or not this actually pans out to make upgrading to a SLI configuration easy.

One thing to make sure you have are sufficient power connectors coming off of your power supply.  If you are using two 6600GTs then it’s not a big deal, since the cards themselves don’t require any external power.  However, with two 6800GTs, each card is outfitted with a 6-pin PCI Express power connector, which must be used for proper/stable SLI operation.  Since most power supplies only include one (or no) PCI Express power connectors, chances are that you’ll have to use a 4-pin molex to 6-pin PCI Express power adapter, which takes two regular 4-pin power connectors and combines them into a single 6-pin PCI Express connector.  You should, in theory, use two separate power cables with the adapter (in order to avoid pulling too much current off of a single cable and violating the ATX spec) but in practice we had no issues with using two connectors off of a single cable to power one of the graphics cards.  If you have no PCI Express power connectors on your power supply then you’d need four separate power connectors just to power your graphics cards, add another one for ASUS EZ-PLUG and then you can start thinking about powering up things like your hard drive and DVD drive.  While purchasing a SLI motherboard will pave a nice upgrade path for you in the future, you may need to enable that future by upgrading your power supply as well.

ASUS’ A8N-SLI Deluxe Enabling SLI
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  • bob661 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I find it absolutely amazing that they were CPU limited using a 4000+. Reply
  • Avalon - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Anand, you keep saying that a 6600GT in SLI outperforms a 6800U in Doom 3 and HL2, but your benchmarks look partially wrong to be concluding that. It seems it would be more correct if you said that a 6600GT in SLI outperforms a single 6800U in lower res, lower bandwidth situations (such as 12x10 with low AA/AF, or less), but in high res and bandwidth situations (such as 16x12 with a bit of AA/AF), the 6600GT doesn't appear to be able to keep up at all with a single 6800U. Buyers will need to take that into consideration, to make sure that the video setup they will be purchasing will meet their needs specifically. Reply
  • lifeguard1999 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    One simple question: Are there Linux drivers that support SLI?

    Historically, people have talked about a setup either being CPU bound or GPU bound. That is no longer the case. With SLI it appears that the limiting factor is data. Simply put, there is not enough data for the dual GPU's to render. This is a common problem in parallel programming, especially when you are talking about thousands of processors. By increasing the amount of data for the GPU to render, one can see that SLI performs better.

    For example, at 1600x1200, the increase is only 20% going from simgle 6800U to 6800U-SLI. Now by increasing the amount of work for the GPU to perform (1600x1200 with 4X AA and 8X AF), the performance increases 48% going from simgle 6800U to 6800U-SLI.

    What this means is that game developers can now have Low, Medium, High, Ultra, and Ultra-SLI rendering modes in their games. :) What a nice "problem" to have.

    In my line of work (Scientific Visualization) where we can have models up to hundreds of millions of polygons, SLI is going to cause a revolution in how we do business.
    Reply
  • Alphafox78 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    wow, if I my LCD went to 1600x1200 SLI might help me slightly... I wonder what % of people actually play with the res that high. at 1280x1024 with my 6800GT AGP overclocked to ultra speeds with 4x aa and 8x anistropic I noticed no slowdowns in the game, smooth as can be for 95% of the game. Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Yes, great performance increase, but its too expensive to afford for most people. Unless you're 3 generations behind and need a new system chances are you'll buy this but not for people that have stabe up to par systems. This just isn't a wise investment when ATI's multi-gpu technology is right around the corner which doesn't limit you to the inferior Nvidia. Reply
  • OriginalReaper - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I dont see why 8xAA wasn't used. It's clearly not GPU limited at 4xAA 8xAF. Reply
  • blckgrffn - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I am glad that NVIDIAs drivers seem fairly mature already, hopefully they will have a new release out by the time SLI becomes "mainstream". It would have been awful had this real release been tainted by a lot of driver issues. So, the real point here is that if you really want performance, you have to drop $800 at some point? Wow. Two 6600GTs already are not the optimum choice for 1600*1200, so a 6800GT is what should be purchased now if you are really all about fps. Hmmm. I suppose I do know people who would like the incremental upgrade path, but I am not one of them when it comes to graphics cards - I sell my "old" one just before the new product cycle really starts appearing in quanities on the shelves and go for the new technology, and I am guessing that many who have $800 to spend on graphics cards would do something similar. I am jealous of those who will be able to spring for a big-power SLI setup out of pocket... Reply
  • dak - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    I'm curious, is it possible to use two PCI-X video cards in these SLI boards, but not have them configured SLI? I have some applications that would benefit greatly from having two high end dual output cards in a single computer..... Reply
  • shabby - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Great article Anand, can you mention which psu you used to feed those hungry 6800 ultra's? Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - link

    Looks like SLI'd 6800GT's are a great option for now. I'm greatly awaiting ATI's Multi-Rendering products now. Can't wait for that benchmark setup! Reply

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