The last few weeks have been extremely frustrating as we put together the nForce4 SLI roundup and prepared to launch our new motherboard test suite. It was so bad, in fact, that about 10 days ago, we were ready to post an SLI roundup titled "nForce4 SLI Roundup: On a Wing and a Prayer". However, nVidia is selling a huge number of SLI chipsets and we decided that SLI was potentially important enough to persevere. With extraordinary efforts and support by nVidia, Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, and DFI, we are now comfortable in sharing our results with you. This journey has been quite a learning experience for us, and we hope in this review that we can share information which will make your own road to SLI, should you choose it, a lot smoother than what our journey has been.

Some web sites would have called SLI boards garbage and gone on their merry way, blasting all the manufacturers who are riding in this carriage. We know that you expect more from AnandTech, and we also realized along the way that SLI demands everything that your system can give. Little flaws become magnified when you are pumping two synchronized GPUs with more transistors each than the most complicated CPU on the market. So the question becomes, was the journey a success and is SLI worth it? We will answer that as we look indepth at the four motherboards that currently support SLI.

Even if you don't care at all about SLI, you should look carefully at these motherboard features and test results because the only real difference in nForce4 SLI and Ultra boards is in some of the most recent games and a few synthetic benchmarks. Running one video card, the SLI and Ultra boards from the same manufacturer should provide the same results - and we have posted single video card results in all benchmarks for comparison. So, consider this a review of both Ultra and SLI boards (where they exist) from Asus, DFI, Gigabyte, and MSI.

This is also the first time that we have run our new tests of Features performance, so many of you will also be interested in performance of USB 2.0, Firewire 400 and 800, and the additional SATA controllers on these four boards. We also benchmarked actual Ethernet performance on all the boards - and compared PCIe and PCI gigabit Ethernet performance - in both throughput and CPU overhead. Those interested in on-board audio performance will also find CPU overhead measurements for the various audio codecs in this roundup.

The New Motherboard Test Suite
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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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