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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  • fitten - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    quote:I still do not understand why this argument is so popular. Why is the general assumption that purchasers of SLI capable boards will immediately want to jump into a dual-card config? The idea is flexibility. Sure, 2 6800's are expensive now, but they will inevitably get cheaper.


    Well, if history serves as a measure... by the time that 2nd board becomes cheap enough to justify its cost, there will be a new board out (say, the nVidia 7800) that will be as fast, or faster than, the SLI combo.

    I used to buy motherboards with two sockets for this very reason (flexibility to upgrade to two CPUs later) until about twice doing this I learned that by the time I was ready for that 2nd CPU, there was one out that was faster than both put together.

    Computers change too fast. If you perpetually buy on the bleeding edge, you cannot plan any upgrades past ~6 months and definitely not past 12 months. By that time, you'll throw away what you have and get the NextBestThing(tm). Buying SLI is bleeding edge. Saying that you'll buy the upgrade card in a year is just a rationalization to buy the bleeding edge now.
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    Yeah, that's right. Some apps run slower with SLI because nVidia hasn't SLI optimized the driver for that app (so it can then only utilize one card) and the SLI setup uses some overhead, resulting in slower results. Any new game/benchmark will use SLI just fine. The results in Half-Life and Doom 3 as well as if you add the config for stuff like NFS:U2 and whatever are well above one card though. Reply
  • Sunbird - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    Is my brain screwed up or are the 3Dmark03 single scores higher than the SLI scores???

    Reply
  • chup - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    too bad, i thought the MSI was the one to get after nforce2. Reply
  • sphinx - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    From this review, I have come to the conclusion that ASUS is slipping. I have always been a supporter of ASUS but, I think this review shows how much ASUS is all about the money and not making quality products. Right now I am waiting for manufacturers to get the VIA chipset working properly. I haven't seen many news or reviews on VIA's new chipset. One other thing. Who in their right mind would spend close to $250 on nVidia's NF4 if there is really no significant performance jump from the NF3. Reply
  • bigbusa - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    You mentioned the asus manual says use a 500+W PS. if you read the Asus users guid the sli 6800 ultra system also has all pci slots used, all memory dims full, 2 optical drives, and anassortment of other stuff. and they recommend a 500+W, but a 350W PS for a dual 6600GT. See below.

    500+W ps for 55FX, 2x6800 ultra, 4ddr dims, 4 HD's, 2 optical, 1 pcie 1x card, 3 pci card, 1 1394, 6 usp devices. (shit thats alot of gear)

    350W for a 3400(64bit 939), dual 6600GT, 2 DDRdims, 2 hd's, 1 optical drive, no pcie 1x, 1 pci card, no 1394, and 3 usb devices.

    SO the article is misleading a bit.

    The review also did not cover any quad displays and problems one may encounter when setting this up.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    #70 - None of these boards support ECC. The reason for that is that such support would be implemented by the memory controller, not the motherboard manufacturer. In this particuliar case the memory controller is integrated into the CPU. AMD has a line of CPU's that have ECC support, they are called the Opteron and are designed for workstations and servers.

    In the home user market ECC does not significantly impact stability but it does harm performance by a small amount which is why the feature is not generally available on consumer solutions.
    Reply
  • 1955mm - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    All in all I think that this is the best review of Socket 939 SLI boards that I have seen. I particularly liked the attention paid to storage and I/O capabilities. My one criticism is that although comments were made regarding stability, and a link was made between overclocking and stability, there was no discussion of ECC support. If system reliability is discussed, ECC should not be ignored. As far as I can tell, the only board supporting ECC is the ASUS board. Over the years I have found it difficult to get accurate information on ECC support, having been given misleading information on occasion by both MSI and ASUS. Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    D'oh, *SoundSTORM Savior*

    That's it, I'm off to bed. It's quarter of 1:00AM and I have work tomorrow. Uh, today.
    Reply
  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link

    To everyone hoping the MSI upsamples analog 5.1 to Dolby Digital - I don't think so. Like any Creative card, it can either downmix DD-EX/DTS-ES 7.1 streams to 4/5.1 speakers (which is what page 5-11 of the manual is actually talking about doing), decode DD/DTS on-card to 5/6/7.1 speakers (via analog or 'Digital Out', Creative's proprietary digital link for their speaker sets), or can just pass the Dolby Digital/DTS 5/6/7.1 signal (now via the SPDIF coax/optical cable) to any outboard decoder.

    I say this because I have the same exact chip on a stand-alone card, and it does not upsample analog sound to Dolby Digital, like SoundStorm did. 'Digital Out' simply let's you use a proprietary Creative Digital DIN connector to connect one cable from the soundcard to the Creative speaker amp (like on a DTT3500 that I use).

    I also find it highly unlikely that Creative would license a DD Live capable chip to only one manufacturer when they have yet to produce one of their own cards with this feature.

    *Keeps waiting for a SoundStrom Saviour*
    Reply

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