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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  • Rike - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    And then he double posts and can't spell "graphs." (not "graphes!") *bangs head on wall* Oh well. To err is human. Happy Monday! :) Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #33 - That is correct, but to implement PCIe Ethernet the mfg must use a PHY gigabit ethernet controller. In fact, as I state in the review, all 4 SLI boards implement PCIe on Gigabit #1, but all 4 boards have dual gigabit ethernet. Most implement PCI on Gigabit #2 with the results you can see in the ethernet performance charts.

    #30 - It IS a significant point and I thought we were clear that the 3132 is PCIe. I will add that to the chart to removee any confusion. However, there is another side to MSI using PCIe on all the on-board features. With both PCIe LAN's and PCIe SATA2 add-on there are no channels left from the 20 lanes available for PCIe slots.
    Reply
  • Rike - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

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

    Minor typo: HL2 resolutions on the graphes are listed as 16,000 x 1200 instead of 1600 x 1200. Either that or you're using a seriously wide screen! ;) Reply
  • mechBgon - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Wes, an academic point: unless something's changed with nVidia southbridges, the nForce3/4 gigabit Ethernet controller isn't a PCI-based device, it's native to the southbridge and rides the Hypertransport bus. If you're getting >900Mbit/sec in your test, it's pretty obvious it's not on a 32-bit PCI bus ;) Reply
  • AlanStephens - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #28 - I know for a fact that Creative doesn't support Dolby Digital Encoding. I wish they did though. Here is a quote from Creative's Knowledge Basse on this:

    "Computer games written with support for 3D audio do not require a Dolby Digital Interactive Content Encoder (DICE) to output multichannel sound, with no exceptions. Sound devices that support the real time encoder technology from Dolby will simply receive the multichannel wave file output and encode it in real time to a somewhat modified Dolby Digital bitstream. Creative does not support the Dolby Digital Interactive Content Encoder on any of its sound cards.

    The only difference between a Sound Blaster card and an audio card that has a real time encoder, is that you can make a one-wire, digital connection from your audio card to your home theater receiver and enjoy discrete multichannel sound from the game. However there will be a continuous, slight delay, known as "latency", as the encoder is creating and transmitting the bitstream, and of course the compression scheme being used is "lossy" (i.e. not bit-accurate).

    If you want to enjoy 3D audio in 3D enabled PC games in multichannel surround sound with a Sound Blaster card, it is recommended that you connect the analog outputs of the sound card directly to the analog inputs of the receiver."
    Reply
  • EODetroit - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I wanna know the answer to #28's question. I've been looking for the next Soundstorm... ie I want to output a dolby digital 5.1 (or better) signal through a spdif connection from a non-pre-encoded source, like only Soundstorm can.

    Can the MSI do this now too??
    Reply
  • RyanVM - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Why didn't you guys bother to note that the Si3132 SATA controller is PCIe? I think that's a fairly significant point in comparison to the PCI Si3114 controller and it likely explains why the Si3132 was faster. Reply
  • Lakku - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I wish you would have discussed 6600GTs in more detail. I am perturbed at a number of sites saying the 6600GT is not worth it for SLI. Specifically from X-Bit (though many have echoed it) "We guess it is the 6600GT SLI configuration that's not very appropriate". The only fact for this statement is the lack of a 256MB 6600GT card. This means its high resolution on some games and FSAA capabilites are limited. But so what? Noone has discussed REAL WORLD prices of 6800GT and Ultra cards. They range from 430 to 800 dollars, for ONE card. Yet sites claim it's better to just get a 6800GT rather then two 6600GTs. I picked up my 6600GT for 170 bucks, brand new retail. It overclocked to 550/1100 easily and I kept it at that, even though it went quite a bit higher with air cooling. I put that in because it gave me another 5%-10% or so increase over stock speed. I could get two for just over 350, almost $100 cheaper, and in a majority of tests, it equals or BEATS a 6800GT. It only suffers when you get to 1600x1200 with FSAA, as its smaller frame buffer and 128-bit interface is a hinderance. But for such a HUGE price difference, is it not worth it? If I had bought two outright (my plan was to get a start on a PCIe based system to bring me up to date for the future, and then buy the next generation cards for SLI), I could use that extra 100 for the GF7600GT (I am assuming this name, and the fact that if the next generations are 24 pipes, then the mainstream will be 12) that when SLId, will be up there in terms of todays speed on 700 to 1000 dollar video combinations, all for under 400. The point is that I wish someone would actually take an IT type approach to this situation instead of badmouthing SLI or the price for running an SLI setup. You get SLI now, be cost effective and get 6600GTs, and you have a great platform for the next generation (if it still exists, but nVidia seems to have put its eggs in this basket so I assume it will be around for awhile) of cards that you can SLI and get great performance. Is SLI worth it? I say the answer SHOULD be a resounding yes if the same performance holds true for the future. It means you can always get two mainstream cards to equal ONE high end card, for a much cheaper price. Reply
  • chup - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Is the SB Live! 24 really capable of encoding audio stream into Dolby Digital stream? Reply

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