Final Words

The SLI roundup has been an interesting journey. We had stopped a lot of places along the way - from being convinced that nForce4 SLI was not ready for prime time to being mightily impressed with stability of SLI once we worked out all the kinks. So, where do we land at the end of the roundup? SLI works well and the nForce4 chipset that currently supports it is solid. But unless you know that the game you want to play (or the orb you want to top) is supported by nVidia SLI, you really won't see any gain. Gamers tend to get stuck in the latest hot game, and nVidia SLI generally does support the latest hot games. SLI will also likely support future hot games - at least until something more promising arrives on the video horizon.

SLI is likely to be here a while in some form or another, despite the fact that we think it's something of a regurgitated kludge. The reasons are the same as those for dual-core processors coming down the pike. One thing that is really astounding is that the same people who think dual processors are inevitable forget that GPUs are even more complicated and denser than current processors that will "inevitably move to dual core". GPUs already have more transistors than processors, and SLI or something like it seems likely to be needed to significantly extend performance beyond current limits.

The "something like it" may be dual GPU's like the Gigabyte 3D1 or some other scheme that we have not thought of - or maybe even SLI. There is absolutely no doubt that for supported applications, the performance boost from SLI is truly impressive.

So, where does this leave us in the SLI roundup? At stock speeds, there is no clear winner or loser with the four boards in the roundup. All four of them perform very well at stock speeds in both normal and SLI mode and you should choose your board based on features. However, if we move just a step to overclocking, two boards stand head and shoulders above the rest. Nothing comes close to the DFI nF4 SLI-DR and the MSI K8N Neo4/SLI.

Based on overclocking abilities, features, and the performance of features present on the boards, we are pleased to award our Editors Choice Gold Award jointly to the DFI nF4 SLI-DR and the MSI K8N Neo4/SLI. Both boards are standouts in a group of standout motherboards.

The DFI nF4 SLI-DR is the board of choice for overclockers who wish to squeeze every last bit of performance from an Athlon 64 SLI system. The range of overclocking options and the overclocked performance are the best that we have seen. While the feature set is more or less average for SLI-class boards, the design and performance of the Karajan audio module particularly stands out as an example of the creativity that went into this board's design. Based on the best performance that we have ever achieved with the Athlon 64, we are pleased to award the AnandTech Gold Editors Choice to the DFI SLI motherboard.

The Gold Editors Choice is jointly awarded to the MSI K8N Neo4/SLI Platinum for the combination of robust operation at stock speeds, top-notch overclocking abilities, and the best feature set and feature performance of the available SLI boards. An enthusiast may be happy with either the DFI SLI or the MSI SLI board, but buyers looking for the best feature set that truly enhances system performance will choose the MSI. The 2nd SATA2 controller, dual PCIe LAN, and hardware SoundBlaster Live! 24-bit are a standout combination in a crowded field of top-performing motherboards.

We extend our congratulations to both DFI and MSI who deserve recognition for the chances that they took and the hard choices that they made in bringing these two products to market.

So, is SLI worth the cost and the effort? For some, the answer will be a definite no. The SLI boards still cost a great deal, setting up the system is still a daunting task, and the cost of two top-of-the-line video cards will be just too much for many to consider SLI to be a real option. However, we are confident that SLI and nForce4 work as they should and we have managed to finally achieve a stable SLI system with each of these four motherboards. In the end, nothing else will provide the gaming performance that a tweaked and stable SLI system can deliver. If the best performance possible is important to you, then the answer to whether SLI is for you will likely be "yes".

Whether the answer is "Yes" or "No" for you, there is likely an nForce 4 Ultra, SLI, or Ultra that can be modded to SLI that will meet your needs and budget. Until something better comes along, and it may be just around the corner, the nForce4 motherboards are a very good choice for a new Athlon 64 system. If your preferred flavor is AGP 8X, then the nForce3 socket 939 boards will provide basically the same performance at an even lower price.

Tips on Installing an SLI System
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  • eva2000 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    whoops no mention of psu was used in system config listing but didn't read till page 20 of the review it mentions OCZ 520W PS psu heh Reply
  • Slaimus - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    They used a OCZ 520W. Reply
  • neologan - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I think the test results for 3dmark2003 single and SLI are the wrong way around?

    http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=2358&am...
    Reply
  • F4810 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Why did they show no benchmarks with the mobo's overclocked? It doesnt make sense to say these boards are better becuase you can clock the memory higher if the overall CPU clock is roughly the same. The reason they dont show you is that due to the onchip memory controller on the AMD chips, the high memory frequency doesnt make much of a difference at all in real world terms. As long as you can clock the CPU high that is all that really matters. Also they dont take into account cost as some boards cost 50% more that the others. Reply
  • dornick - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I was considering jumping on the SLI bandwagon until I had some sense knocked into me.

    I'd like to see a comparison of the Ultra chipset MBs, including the Chaintech, Epox, etc... since that's where I think the nForce 4 market will go.
    Reply
  • eva2000 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    missing one vital piece of info, what PSU you used hehe Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Thanks for doing the indepth analysis of this new chipset and how it is being implemented by some major motherboard manufacturers.

    There was one detail that I was hoping to see some reference to. I understand, from a friend, who has the MSI SLI motherboard, that the Creative Live sound chip only works if your power supply has a -5 volt connector on it. It looks to me like the OCZ power supply that you used has this, but many of the new power supplies, such as the Enermax v2.0 power supplies, no longer have a -5 volt connection. He was using a Enermax 535 watt Whisper II (SLI ready) when he ran into this issue. This kind of compatability problem slipping through QA seems like another indication that the everyone was in a big hurry to get these motherboards to market, maybe before they were thoroughly tested.

    Space
    Reply
  • Regs - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I liked the subtle hints Wes.

    In your final words you stated, "If you want the best performance possible then the answer would likely be yes". Then how would this apply for users getting two 6600GTs?
    Reply
  • xsilver - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    great article
    minor gripe -- the overclocking "graphs" are useless -- what would be better is the resulting fps of overclocking to show people if its worth it to get that extra xxx fps
    Reply
  • arfan - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    now i am waiting ultra mobo benchmark. What about the price of all this mobo ? i fell disappointed with msi doesn't have PCI 1x. (Sorry my english language is very bad) Reply

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