nForce4 SLI Roundup: Painful and Rewardingby Wesley Fink on February 28, 2005 7:00 AM EST
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Final WordsThe 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.
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Reflex - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#83: Not sure what to say to you about that but AMD has made it clear that ECC is a Opteron but not a A64 feature. The memory controller still has the capability I am certain, but the pinout on the CPU's is different and does not support it as far as I am aware.
There are no boards that support it either as far as I know.
Lakku - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#77 Point well taken. However, this last generation of video cards was a HUGE leap in performance compared to previous generations. Probably not since the move to T&L chips have we seen such a performance increase. I have doubts that the next generation of cards will be able to double performance of current cards. SLI, on average, increases performance from 20% to almost 100% (mostly in synthetic tests on the latter). On newer games that are not CPU/system bound (or games at resolutions above 1024x768), and rely more on the GPU, the increase is greater (i.e. Doom 3 and HL2). This generation doubled the pipelines and increased memory throughput by quite a bit. I don't forsee the next generation being able to do this without substantial hurdles that would need to be overcome or at substantial costs. The fact remains that I don't think a single next generation card (7xxx series lets assume) will handily beat an SLI system, let alone the fact that if supply problems continue, next generation will be 6 or 700 dollars while the 6xxx series will be down to a decent price. The next Unreal engine can run on current SLI setups, as Epic demo'd the engine on 6800 Ultra's SLId. All of this gives support to my idea of mainstream SLI making sense. Two 6600GT's out now give the power (more so in some tests, less when FSAA or super high reso's get involved) of a 6800GT for a lot less cost. Next generation you can upgrade to two 7600GT's that will probably match one future high end card and more then likely beat out any high end card on the market now (and possibly match current high end in SLI, but this is wishful thinking). The concluding points are that it is a good upgrade path. 1) You can get two mainstream cards now that perform great under SLI, 2) Next gen high end will be expensive and probably in short supply, meaning if you did splurge on one high end card now, you can get another then at a reduced cost (probably with your two cards totalling less then one new high end), and 3) The two SLI cards form this generation should match a single card from the future, meaning you can then wait until the NEXT next generation when features will have changed enough to warrant a new generation of cards to play the new generation of games.
bob661 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#82
Are you sure about that? How do you know that the 5.1 speaker test hasn't been encoded in DD?
endrebjorsvik - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - linkIn the 5th paragraph in the Gigabyte K8NXP-SLi-review you have written: "Four ports are 3Gb/s ports provided by the nForce*_3_* chip".
That can't be correct, huh?
1955mm - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#71, Do your homework. http://www.amd.com/us-en/assets/content_type/white... Both the socket 754 and 939 processors support ECC.
EODetroit - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - linkGiz02, I look forward to hearing the results of your audio testing on the MSI. That will probably determine whether I get the DFI or the MSI.
The easiest way to test, (Wesley or anyone with the MSI could do this too) is to just run the speaker test in the nvidia control panel with some 5.1 speakers connected to the toslink or digital coax out. If you can only hear front left and front right, its only outputting stereo, just like all other soundblasters. If you can hear all the positions, like I can on my NForce2 Soundstorm audio, then its doing what I hope it does :) .
giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - linkWesley #80
Didn't work for me. I tried that with two Ultra PC4000's in the green slots and no post :( The manual has it documented well enough, and I was just replying to what #48 had an issue with.
In my post (79) what do you know what would be better (performance wise) of the two (well three) options I listed?
Wesley Fink - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#79 -
I mentioned in the review of the earlier MSI Neo2 that 4 dimms on auto sets timings to DDR333 on almost every board. This is an AMD Athlon 64 spec for 4 DS dimms. However, on the MSI and all boards in this roundup I found you could force the memory speed to DDR400, lower the Command Rate to 2T - with all other settings the same as 2 DS dimms - and boot just fine. This has been stated clearly in every review and should not be new information.
I have not yet found any board that will run 4 DS dimms with both DDR400 and 1T. We are told the upcoming Rev.E Athlon 64 chips have an updated memory controller that will support 4 DS dimms at DDR400 and 1T. We are looking forward to reviewing Rev. E when it appears in Athlon 64, since it is appearing already in a few Opteron chips.
giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#68, I hope to prove otherwise tonight. (ran outta time yesterday!) I purchased the board and installed winxp. Will install the drivers tonight, and all indications thus far indicate that it is a modified chip (or drivers) that supports intel HD. There is also a quote from MSI that indicates it is the only licensed Dolby motherboard on the market (whatever that means). If I am wrong, and there is no Dolby Live Support (PCSTATS said outright that DICE was supported), then I'll be selling this board and hitting DFI!
Asus vs MSI. One thing I will say is that the documentation from MSI is pathetic. Broken english, an vague references! I'm not even sure what I was supposed to have in my box! It said the User Manual was optional! Funny thing is, they printed that IN THE USER MANUAL!
Asus has been solid for documentation for some time now, and while thier boards haven't traditionally been the best for performance/OC'ing/features, they are pretty reliable!
giz02 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link#48,
I just read your post, and I had the same problem with the MSI board.
I have an Ultra PC4000 Dual Channel Kit (512x2), and booted up , SPD set the memory to 167 (333) I was blown away, so I manually set it to 200 (400) BOOM. no post. It wasn't until later that I noticed in teh manual that with this board (MSI Neo4SLI) you CANNOT use Dual sided memory in DUAL CHANNEL mode ABOVE 167 (333). In order to go above 333, I'll have to run the chips in slots 1 and 2 (green and purple), thus negating any benifits of DC.
Anyone know what would be better:
1. Running Dual channel at 333
2. Running single channel at 400+ (400-500)
3. Offloading this cheap ass memory to someone else and buying a single sided DC kit :D