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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  • 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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