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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fozzymatic - Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - link"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."
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. So why not buy one now and then profit form your forward thinking later down the line when the price of a second card is cut in half and there are more SLI-supported games available. I concede that the mobos are 50$ more than a non-SLI board but, for 50$, I'll take the enhanced upgrade path. Out of the gate the SLI boards are the fastest single or double-card NF4 mobos available, so whats to lose?
justly - Monday, February 28, 2005 - linkWesley, well done, although I have to admit I skipped over some of the pages describing the individual boards as I am not personnaly intrested in buying a SLI system.
One thing about the bar graphs, it could have been a little easier to compare between a single card and SLI if you had used split bars like in this graph
using the top half of the bar for single card and the bottom for duel cards.
It would also be nice to see a comparasion of disk controller, firewire and USB performance (and anything else that is chipset specific) using all the different brand chipsets.
I don't think you are the person that does power supply reviews, but with all the concerns recenty about power supplies it would also be nice to see an article that not only describes some of the differences in power supplies but what components draw power from what rails and how much they draw (I have seen power supply guides that give an idea of how many total watts is needed but very little information on how those watts are divided up between rails).
One last thing, I have a little problem with this statement "the ability of a motherboard to run at much higher than stock speeds tells you something about the quality of components used in a motherboard". If every motherboad had a perfect BIOS and they all had the same overclocking options then your statement could be true, but that is not the case. Would you call all Intel branded motherboards poor quality just because Intel doesn't put overclocking options in their motherboards BIOS? What if an OEM decided to use one of these great overclocking boards in a prebuilt system and the only change they made to the board was to eliminate the overclocking options from the BIOS, is that board now poor quality?
Viper4185 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - linkWell well well, seems you are right. The MSI nForce 4 Ultra board in Australia even has 1x PCI Express slot...
Does anyone know which boards support Firewire 800 (1934b)?
Also to Wesley, thanks for the reply, do you have a rough idea when the nForce 4 Ultra comparison would be available?
falcc - Monday, February 28, 2005 - linkThere seems to be different version of MSI's SLI boards depending on where you live. In Australia the SLI board is a MSI K8N Diamond. The interesting thing about this board is that it has two PCI Express x1 slots. as well as the two x16 slots for SLI. It also has a wlan option.
falcc - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link
ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link#43, I'm aware it needs a PHY, but I always thought it worked the same way as it did since the nForce3-250Gb, with no PCI-E involved.
I checked out the manual for the MSI K8N Diamond and ASUS A8N-SLI, from them:
? Supports dual LAN jacks
- 1st LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by nForce4 SLI
- 2nd PCI Express LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Marvell 88E8053"
"nForce4 built-in Gbit MAC with external Marvell PHY :
- NV ActiveArmor
- NV Firewall
- AI NET2"
I couldn't find a reference that the chipset LAN is tied to PCI-E.
ajmiles - Monday, February 28, 2005 - linkExcellent, thanks Wesley. Every response I've had from now has been, quote:
"With regards to the overclockability, it has AI Overclock, PEG link, and other options, the extent of the overclockability was not promised and unfortunately some customers expect amazing overclocking abilities when the 1T overclock is still a good feature and is overclocking in action."
Perhaps what you would expect them to say when their board clocks more than 60mhz lower than some competitors.
If you could keep me apprised of their response either here or at amiles(at)gmail.com that'd be great. Thanks again.
JoKeRr - Monday, February 28, 2005 - linkI really wish MSI could pump a bit more voltage for the ram, 2.85 is a bit low, especially considering the Asus is giving 3V and DFI is giving 4V!! Guess if u want to run your good old BH5 sticks at 250mhz 2-2-2-7, DFI will be the way to go. But I really liked the MSI mobo. o well, guess u can't have everything.
JoKeRr - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link
Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link#6 & #56 - I saw the same behavior with the A8N-SLI Deluxe during our testing, and I shared my results with Asus. I forwarded your comments and my own to the Asus A8N-SLI BIOS and Engineering team.