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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  • Heinrich - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link


    Wesley did you spend any time at all on this link, I consider this to be a serious issue

    http://www.rhcf.com/sisubb/ultimatebb.php/topic/21...
    Reply
  • Heinrich - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link


    When I set up my MSI board I cannot get surround sound out of the optical digital cable except for DVDs. I verified this on a few web sites. Not why there is conflicting information but mine is real world experience with current drivers (did not use packaged CDs)
    Reply
  • giz02 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #28, 31 and 32...
    The onboard Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit samples at 192 KHz instead of 96 KHz (like Realtek's ALC880/880D and 850) and features full support for Creative's EAX HD technology. Additionally, the soundcard has also passed Dolby certification for Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital EX and has an integrated Dolby interactive content encoder!
    Snip from PCStats review:
    http://www.pcstats.com/articleview.cfm?articleid=1...

    Dice Dice baby.. (couldn't resist)
    Reply
  • giz02 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #41 I've got a TT WS0049 PS, so I should be good with the -5v.

    #43 I've already cancled my DFI SLI DR board. MSI here I come ($238 cdn... so it's cheaper too) :D

    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #42 - The on-board nF4 LAN requires a PHY (Physical Layer) gigabit LAN to function properly, but is specified as PCIe. All 4 SLI boards implement PCI Express Gigabit LAN with the PHY chips (Vitesse or Marvel). If you check all 4 manuals you will see Gigabit PCIe LAN specified by all 4 for the on-chip LAN.

    #40 - From the MSI manual Audio specifications:
    "Dolby Digital Encoder. 24-bit/96-192kHz audio quality. Up to 100db SNR. 7.1 channel H/W audio."
    Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Wesley,
    "all 4 SLI boards implement PCIe on Gigabit #1"

    I don't think the onboard LAN on the nForce4 chipset uses the PCI-E bus, are you sure about this?

    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Here's the address for a MSI forum note concerning the problem with the Creative onboard sound and power supplies without a -5 volt connection.

    http://diamondclub.msi.com.tw/eng/forum/viewthread...

    And, if you take a look at the ATX12V Power Supply Design Guide, you can see that the lack of a -5 volt connection on many current power supplies should not have come as a surprise to MSI.

    http://www.formfactors.org/developer/specs/ATX12V%...

    Space
    Reply
  • giz02 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    WOW! This is looking good...
    Manual available here:
    http://www.msi.com.tw/program/support/manual/mnu/s...

    Page 5-1 of the MS 7100 manual (At MSI)
    CA0106
    Brand new Azalia Spec
    8 Channel & SPDIF audio effect

    Page 5-8
    After installing teh creative audio driver, you are able to use teh 2-,4-,6- or 8- channel and the SPDIF audio featre now..

    Page 5-11
    Decoder shows SPDIF Passthrough option!!!

    I am not familiar with the old Creative Live 24 hardware or menu settings, but is this new?
    Reply
  • giz02 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    BTW: If this is the case, I am canceling my DFI preorder (I've been waiting almost 1 month for this board to become available....)

    Good things may indeed come to those who wait! There is no better way to hook up to my Z5500's if the encode is supported!
    Reply
  • giz02 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #28, #31, I'd really like to know as well...

    #32, I guess this is brought up, because of this statement in the roundup (on the first MSI Page)
    "The Audio also fully supports Dolby Digital encoding, which will matter a great deal to some users."


    Anand, is this some sort of typo, or can the onboard solution in facte ENCODE dolby digital audio. The ENCODE assumes that it can take .wav audio and encode it to dolby digital and place it on any (analog/SPDIF Coax/Toslink) output (ala IntelHD and SoundStorm)

    Let us know :D
    Reply

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