Tips on Installing an SLI System

The combination of launching a new motherboard test suite with a roundup of the most demanding motherboards that we have ever tested made the early testing for the SLI boards extremely frustrating. We had numerous issues with on-board SATA, add-on SATA controllers, external USB and SATA devices, and both single and dual 6800 Ultra video cards on the four systems. We had reached the conclusion that there were some serious issues with the on-board peripheral support of the nForce4 chipset, except for the nagging doubt that the same problems were occurring with external chipsets that had nothing to do with nForce4.

We presented our lists of concerns to nVidia, who helped us work through all of them except a severe video issue with the Asus motherboard. It turned out that our SATA, external Firewire, and external USB problems were all related to driver filters that were being installed by our iPeak benchmarking program. These filters prevented identification and correct installation of SATA, USB and Firewire drives, but it did not interfere with IDE. By altering our installation sequence, we were able to correct all of these issues.

Since SLI is demanding more of your system than any motherboard that you can install, we strongly suggest a clean installation for your SLI system. This is always good advice, but it is particularly true in the case of SLI. If possible, install the latest nVidia platform driver before completing installation of drivers for other cards and external add-in chips on the board. This may not be possible if, for example, you boot from a RAID 5 on the Silicon Image 3114. In that case, you would need to install the driver for Sil3114 using a floppy or CD during Windows XP install using the F6 at the start of the install for "other drivers".

We also first thought that the Sil3114, used on 3 of the 4 boards in this roundup, would not support anything other than drives in a RAID. In fact, you can install a single drive using the "JBOD" option in the RAID setup during boot. We also confirmed that there was no data loss using this option on existing drives, which had been used as single drives on a SATA controller such as the one in the nForce4 chipset.

The Power Supply is extremely critical with an SLI system. Keep in mind that nVidia recommended a 470 watt PS when the 6800 Ultra was first introduced. Since then, recommendations have lowered a bit, but Asus recommends at least a 500 watt power supply with dual 6800 Ultra video cards, and we agree. We had no issues in our tests with the Power Supply, but we used an OCZ 520 watt PowerStream power supply for all our tests. Make sure that the 500W+ PS is of good quality with a 24-pin ATX connector and check the specifications for the rails. Since high power is a big selling point right now, we have seen 500W, 550W, and 600W power supplies selling for $25 to $30. Most of these have poorer specifications than a quality 350 watt power supply and they are not adequate for a top SLI system. Two 6800 Ultra video cards require 4 Molex connectors (plus another 4-pin to plug into the Asus board), so these cheaper power supplies usually don't even have enough 4-pin connectors for your video cards - let alone your other components. They are also often 20-pin ATX, when you should consider 24-pin a must for top SLI performance. Consider these cheap power supplies the same as cheap Asian car stereo specs that advertise hundreds of watts and deliver more like 5 watts RMS. Go with a respected brand name with good rail specifications. If you are looking at a brand that you haven't heard of, compare their specifications on-line to those of a unit like the OCZ 520W. This will tell you quickly if the unit can supply what is needed.

Last is video. All of the 4 motherboards worked fine with 6600GT and 6800GT video cards in either single or dual SLI mode. However, we had a number of problems with dual 6800 Ultra video cards - particularly on the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe. It is CRITICAL that 6800 Ultra video cards used with an SLI board be Series 400 or later to operate properly with any SLI board. This was published by nVidia in October/November, but it was likely overlooked by many in that time frame. All current 6800U video cards should be Series 400, and these cards are often identified with an A04 at the end of their silk-screened ID on the back of the 6800 Ultra video card.

Despite having the correct Series 400 6800 Ultra video cards, we could not get our nVidia Reference cards to work in either single or dual video mode on the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe. Asus rushed a pair of Asus 6800 Ultra video cards to us for testing, and the pair of Asus 6800U worked fine in both single and SLI. However, this did not answer our concerns that other video cards might not work properly in the Asus SLI board. After extensive work with the Asus R&D and BIOS development team, Asus was able to find the timing issue that caused the nVidia Reference cards to fail, and after many attempts, Asus was able to supply a test BIOS that worked correctly with the nVidia Reference 6800 Ultra cards. Asus will soon be releasing an updated BIOS with these fixes for certain video cards.

As we go to press, the latest official nVidia driver release for SLI is 66.93. However, all our testing was done with the latest beta 71.80. We would suggest trying the latest nVidia driver release or the one included with your board. If you experience video problems, go back to 66.93 or the latest SLI release to determine if the driver may be causing your problems. We had no video driver issues on any of the boards in our tests with the 71.80. In SLI mode, you are driving two GPUs with each having more transistors than any CPU on the market. With SLI and a top CPU, you are demanding a lot of the motherboard, so even small problems get magnified. With patience and careful installation procedures, you will end up with an incredible gaming system. If you take too many shortcuts, however, you can end up with a non-functioning, troubleshooting nightmare.

We are comfortable now that the nForce4 SLI chipset is working properly and a completely stable dual-video system can be achieved with an nForce4 SLI board. We are telling you this so you won't be tempted to throw your new SLI board out the window as we were.

Audio Performance Final Words
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  • ajmiles - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    If i was a doubting type I would suggest that Nvidia spent as much time tuning their drivers for benchmarks as they do games.

    Nice to see support for some unreleased games such as Battlefield 2 on the list though.

    Wesley, you get my email btw? (sorry for bugging you)?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    nVidia has just advised the release of Beta 71.84 drivers now supporting 70 games in SLI. The drivers can be downloaded at http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_downloads_rel70b... Below is a list of suypported games and benchmarks.

    Age of Mythology
    AquaNox 2: Revelation
    Armed & Dangerous
    Battlefield 1942
    Battlefield 2
    Battlefield Vietnam
    Breed
    City of Heroes
    Colin McRae Rally 2005
    Colin McRae Rally 4
    Conan
    Dark Age of Camelot: Atlantis
    Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps
    Dirt Track Racing 2
    Doom 3
    EverQuest
    EverQuest II
    Far Cry
    Flat Out
    Ground Control II : Operation Exodus
    Half-Life 2
    Halo
    Hitman 2
    IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
    Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising
    Kohan II: Kings of War
    Leisure Suit Larry
    Lineage II
    Lock On
    Lord of the Rings, Battle for Middle-earth
    Madden NFL 2005
    Max Payne 2
    Medal of Honor
    NBA Live 2005
    Need for Speed: Underground 2
    Painkiller
    Perimeter
    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
    Quake III
    Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
    Return to Castle Wolfenstien
    Rome: Total War
    Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    Sid Meier's Pirates!
    Silent Storm
    Sims 2
    SpellForce
    Splinter Cell
    Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
    Star Wars Battlefront
    Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
    Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
    Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic
    SWAT 4
    The Chronicles of Riddick
    Thief: Deadly Shadows
    Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005
    ToCA Race Driver 2
    Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness
    Tony Hawk's Underground
    Tribes Vengeance
    Tron 2.0
    Unreal
    Unreal 2
    Unreal Tournament 2003
    Unreal Tournament 2004
    Vampire: Bloodlines
    Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
    World of Warcraft
    X2: the Threat
    Xpand Rally


    In addition to these top games, NVIDIA SLI supports the following applications:

    3DMark01
    3DMark03
    3DMark05
    AquaMark 3
    Code Creatures
    D3DRightMark
    HDRLighting
    NVIDIA Clear Sailing Demo
    NVIDIA Dawn Demo
    NVIDIA Nalu Demo
    NVIDIA Timbury Demo
    PCMark04
    Shadermark 2.1
    Trees of Pangaea

    Reply
  • giz02 - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    I've done some further testing, and still no luck. The PCStats review also indicated 192Khz output, but I can't find that either. I'm still hoping for something, and will let you guys know if anything comes up.

    Other points:
    + The onboard Creative can attenuate the digital outputs just like a regular live could. Most onboard solutions that i have used could not

    - Cannot have Analog and Digital outs enabled at the same time (at least I haven't found that yet). All other onboard solutions that I have tried were able to do this. An example of what I'd like to do (ideally) is have my Zalman Real Surround headphones plugged in to the analog ports, and the z5500's plugged into the digital (coax/optical). When the GF complains, I could turn the z5500's off, and put on the headphones. With creative you do this BUT you also have to uncheck the digital out only box. If they can bot h be enabled at the same time, let me know (Y)

    - Either the Z5500's can't accept 96/24 on the optical in, or the creative isn't outputting 96/24 on the optical out.

    - Only Coax or Optical work at one time (with the Z5500's)

    - DD and DTS passthroughs work with Videolan and DVD's/.ts's.

    I'll try this board for a while longer, but if encode will not work, I'll be heading to DFI. It's a bit more expensive, but you get the Lan Tote (woohhoo!) and the extra PCIx slots. Anyone have any comments on DFI's onboard sound?


    Reply
  • EODetroit - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    Thanks giz02. One of these days some manufacturer is going to realize there's demand for this and meet it... I just hope that day comes sooner than later.
    Reply
  • SLK75 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    I bought the GA-K8NXP-9 because fo the rave reviews on its OC abilities which Anandtech also proved in their pre-production sample reviewed towards the end of last year...All of a sudden now Gigabyte's production version of the board does not seem to clock high as was expected and proved previously WHYYYY ???? and Anandtech make it really clear to Gigabyte that people went and bought their board not only first its great features but also for its OC capabilities...I hope Gigabyte can address this with a new BIOS Reply
  • giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    I feel DUPED by that PCSTATS review. I've asked the reviewer for why he indicated that the board can DICE (either how to do it, or who told him it was possible).

    The board is .... OK...

    I'da rather had the DFI (if DICE is not possible!)
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #89 - looks like we'll both still wait for the next SoundStorm. Maybe the next gen of PCI-E sound cards will have DDL? Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #89
    Thanks for the test.
    Reply
  • giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    So far, It's a negative on the DICE :(

    I have a single coax cable connected from the onboard card to my Z-5500's and they are not recieving Dolby on the speaker tests. Left and Right channels come through but that is is... 96-24 is working as well, but zilch on the 5.1 :(
    Reply
  • 1955mm - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #87: AMD has NOT made it clear that ECC is an Opteron only feature. Read the document from the link I posted. As for ASUS not supporting ECC, download the manual and look at pages 4-21 and 4-22. In the screenshot for DRAM configuration there is an item for ECC enablement. The ASUS K8N-E deluxe (socket 754) also supports ECC. If you still have doubts that the Athlon 64 supports ECC, go to crucial.com and see what memory is supported by the ASUS K8N-E deluxe and A8N-SLI deluxe. I think that you might be confusing registered memory with ECC. If you write code work with critical data ECC is worth having. I have had bad memory in the past that corrupted data without crashing the machine. Considering misinformation that is sometimes provided by motherboard manufacturers and your obvious confusion about the Athlon 64, I think that ECC deserves some mention by motherboard reviewers. I myself would like to understand why the A8N-SLI apparently supports 4 256MB ECC memory modules but not 2 512MB ECC memory modules (page 2-12 in manual), Wesley? Reply

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