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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  • Gholam - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I'm curious, where can I find benchmarks of SiI3114 with a 3 or 4 drive RAID5 setup? Read/write speed, access time, CPU utilization (especially important since it's essentially a software hack), general stability impressions, etc.

    I'm finally replacing my aging Duron 1200 soon, and looking at A8N-SLI Deluxe (no other NF4 board has a layout suitable for passive/quiet chipset cooling due to video card interference), and I plan to eventually build a ~700GB redundant storage array as home media server on it. However, I can't find benchmarks of SiI3114 RAID5 function anywhere.
    Reply
  • Slaimus - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    About the audio CPU utilization tests. Is that with the nForce Audio or Realtek driver? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #15,#18 and others - the 3DMark2003 SLI scores were an incorrect duplicate of 3DMark05. The 3DMark03 SLI scores have now been corrected and should make sense now. I apologize for the error.

    #4 - I saw none of the heat and instability issues with the DFI that were described at [H]. I discussed this with Editors from several other websites who also had no problems with this board. I would agree that the 5V jumper for very high memory voltages can get everything on the board real hot real fast, but this is a feature unique to the DFI and one that only the hardcore with more advanced cooling would attempt to use anyway.

    #5,#20 - Any x16 PCIe slot can be used for x1 or x4 or any other flavor of PCIe. MSI does NOT have an extra x1 slot, but they tell us video slot 2 can be used for an x1 device. You still can't use SLI and another PCIe device at the same time on the MSI, but you can use single video with an additional PCIe device in video slot 2.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #4 - Abit has just shipped the Fatal1ty Ultra board to AnandTech. We haven't even received it yet. It will be included in a later Ultra roundup, bu the Ultra boards will have the same performance in single video as the similar SLI board from the same manufacturer. We met with Abit this weekend and they told us it would still be several weeks until their SLI would be available for review - and the SLI is NOT a Fatal!ty board. Reply
  • L3p3rM355i4h - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    318fsb 1:1? Jeezus Christ! Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    "but on the Asus board you also have to connect another 4-pin Molex for additional video card power. Asus says that this is required for "stable SLI operation", but the other 3 SLI designs do fine and are quite stable without the 5th power connector."

    The gold-winner DFI also has the same connector, though it wasn't mentioned in the review. And even though it wasn't necessary in your testings (with an OCZ 520W PSU), other people (like tbreak.com) could only find a stable SLI setup with the ASUS board, probably because of it.
    I also don't think its location is important, the fact it's close to the PCI-E x16 slots is probably a smart engineering decision.

    For future reviews it would be nice if you could show results with "Maximum FSB" where it actually means "Maximum FSB", that is, you remove memory overclocking from the table. It's great to see DDR600 and beyond, but I'm the kind of guy who spends $130 for quality 1GB of RAM, but still want a board that can take a 3000+ to 9*300.
    It's not really a 1:1 ratio as you're always using a divider for memory speeds (from the CPU clock).

    Looking forward to reviews of the mainstream PCI-E boards (K8T890, nF4 Ultra, etc).
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    oops typo

    It's a shame that there are non nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.

    I meant

    It's a shame that there are none nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Jeez, Wesley, that must have been a hell of a job. Thanx.

    It's a shame that there are non nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.

    #12 Right, I am contemplating the Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9 (the Ultra, not the SLI) and wonder if the Yesico FL-420ATX will do. Have you searched http://www.msi.com.tw/program/products/mainboard/m... or http://www.giga-byte.com/MotherBoard/Products/Prod... ? Look for manuals (Gigabyte) and compatability tables (MSI).
    I wish though these manufacturers would clearly state if its ATX 1.3 or 2.0 etc + minimum V/A requirements. That would be much easier than scrolling through their website.

    Just one silly question, because this has not been clear since the introduction of SLI-boards. Can you use a one of the 16xPCI-e slots on a SLI-board for something else than a second graphics card (in the future)? Maybe a (hefty) soundcard in the future?
    Reply
  • neologan - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    btw, excellent review, one of the best i've read in a long time! Reply
  • blckgrffn - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Yeah, what is with the 3dmark03 scores? The SLI seems really low..more like a repeat of the 05 scores....

    Glad to see more indepth mobo reviews! I for one was getting tired of looking at the BIOS as a way to differentiate!
    Reply

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