Tips on Installing an SLI System

The combination of launching a new motherboard test suite with a roundup of the most demanding motherboards that we have ever tested made the early testing for the SLI boards extremely frustrating. We had numerous issues with on-board SATA, add-on SATA controllers, external USB and SATA devices, and both single and dual 6800 Ultra video cards on the four systems. We had reached the conclusion that there were some serious issues with the on-board peripheral support of the nForce4 chipset, except for the nagging doubt that the same problems were occurring with external chipsets that had nothing to do with nForce4.

We presented our lists of concerns to nVidia, who helped us work through all of them except a severe video issue with the Asus motherboard. It turned out that our SATA, external Firewire, and external USB problems were all related to driver filters that were being installed by our iPeak benchmarking program. These filters prevented identification and correct installation of SATA, USB and Firewire drives, but it did not interfere with IDE. By altering our installation sequence, we were able to correct all of these issues.

Since SLI is demanding more of your system than any motherboard that you can install, we strongly suggest a clean installation for your SLI system. This is always good advice, but it is particularly true in the case of SLI. If possible, install the latest nVidia platform driver before completing installation of drivers for other cards and external add-in chips on the board. This may not be possible if, for example, you boot from a RAID 5 on the Silicon Image 3114. In that case, you would need to install the driver for Sil3114 using a floppy or CD during Windows XP install using the F6 at the start of the install for "other drivers".

We also first thought that the Sil3114, used on 3 of the 4 boards in this roundup, would not support anything other than drives in a RAID. In fact, you can install a single drive using the "JBOD" option in the RAID setup during boot. We also confirmed that there was no data loss using this option on existing drives, which had been used as single drives on a SATA controller such as the one in the nForce4 chipset.

The Power Supply is extremely critical with an SLI system. Keep in mind that nVidia recommended a 470 watt PS when the 6800 Ultra was first introduced. Since then, recommendations have lowered a bit, but Asus recommends at least a 500 watt power supply with dual 6800 Ultra video cards, and we agree. We had no issues in our tests with the Power Supply, but we used an OCZ 520 watt PowerStream power supply for all our tests. Make sure that the 500W+ PS is of good quality with a 24-pin ATX connector and check the specifications for the rails. Since high power is a big selling point right now, we have seen 500W, 550W, and 600W power supplies selling for $25 to $30. Most of these have poorer specifications than a quality 350 watt power supply and they are not adequate for a top SLI system. Two 6800 Ultra video cards require 4 Molex connectors (plus another 4-pin to plug into the Asus board), so these cheaper power supplies usually don't even have enough 4-pin connectors for your video cards - let alone your other components. They are also often 20-pin ATX, when you should consider 24-pin a must for top SLI performance. Consider these cheap power supplies the same as cheap Asian car stereo specs that advertise hundreds of watts and deliver more like 5 watts RMS. Go with a respected brand name with good rail specifications. If you are looking at a brand that you haven't heard of, compare their specifications on-line to those of a unit like the OCZ 520W. This will tell you quickly if the unit can supply what is needed.

Last is video. All of the 4 motherboards worked fine with 6600GT and 6800GT video cards in either single or dual SLI mode. However, we had a number of problems with dual 6800 Ultra video cards - particularly on the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe. It is CRITICAL that 6800 Ultra video cards used with an SLI board be Series 400 or later to operate properly with any SLI board. This was published by nVidia in October/November, but it was likely overlooked by many in that time frame. All current 6800U video cards should be Series 400, and these cards are often identified with an A04 at the end of their silk-screened ID on the back of the 6800 Ultra video card.

Despite having the correct Series 400 6800 Ultra video cards, we could not get our nVidia Reference cards to work in either single or dual video mode on the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe. Asus rushed a pair of Asus 6800 Ultra video cards to us for testing, and the pair of Asus 6800U worked fine in both single and SLI. However, this did not answer our concerns that other video cards might not work properly in the Asus SLI board. After extensive work with the Asus R&D and BIOS development team, Asus was able to find the timing issue that caused the nVidia Reference cards to fail, and after many attempts, Asus was able to supply a test BIOS that worked correctly with the nVidia Reference 6800 Ultra cards. Asus will soon be releasing an updated BIOS with these fixes for certain video cards.

As we go to press, the latest official nVidia driver release for SLI is 66.93. However, all our testing was done with the latest beta 71.80. We would suggest trying the latest nVidia driver release or the one included with your board. If you experience video problems, go back to 66.93 or the latest SLI release to determine if the driver may be causing your problems. We had no video driver issues on any of the boards in our tests with the 71.80. In SLI mode, you are driving two GPUs with each having more transistors than any CPU on the market. With SLI and a top CPU, you are demanding a lot of the motherboard, so even small problems get magnified. With patience and careful installation procedures, you will end up with an incredible gaming system. If you take too many shortcuts, however, you can end up with a non-functioning, troubleshooting nightmare.

We are comfortable now that the nForce4 SLI chipset is working properly and a completely stable dual-video system can be achieved with an nForce4 SLI board. We are telling you this so you won't be tempted to throw your new SLI board out the window as we were.

Audio Performance Final Words
POST A COMMENT

108 Comments

View All Comments

  • TigerFlash - Monday, July 4, 2005 - link

    I thought this link would be rather important to see:

    http://forum.msi.com.tw/index.php?topic=82427.0
    Reply
  • TigerFlash - Monday, July 4, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • NightCrawler - Thursday, May 5, 2005 - link

    You make a big deal out of the fact that the DFI can hit 318 but they both do the same 2.8 ghz, users won't see much difference, if any.

    Asus: Maximum OC:
    (Standard Ratio) 234x12 (Auto HT, 2-3-3-7, 1T, 2.8V)
    2808MHz (+17%)
    Maximum FSB:
    (Lower Ratio) 255x11 (2805MHz) (4X HT, 2.5-3-3-7, 2.7V)
    (1:1 Memory, 1T, 2 DIMMs in DC mode)
    (+28% Bus Overclock)

    DFI: Maximum OC:
    (Standard Ratio) 238x12 (Auto HT, 2-3-2-7, 1T, 2.9V)
    2856MHz (+19%)
    Maximum FSB:
    (Lower Ratio) 318x9 (2862MHz) (Auto HT, 2.5-4-3-7, 2.9V)
    (1:1 Memory, 1T, 2 DIMMs in DC mode)
    (+59% Bus Overclock)
    Reply
  • DeanO - Monday, April 18, 2005 - link

    Don't know if anyone's noticed yet, but I just took a trip over to MSI's website, and guess what? Only the SLI mobo has the Creative chip. The Neo4 (i.e. nF4 Ultra chipset) mobo uses the Realtek ALC850. I for one was disappointed...
    That makes for an interesting decision: the SLI board is still cheaper than the Ultra board plus a Creative 24-bit sound card. Hmmm...
    Reply
  • phusg - Friday, March 4, 2005 - link

    New PCI card with C-Media DDL chip: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?s=&a... ge=20&pagenumber=1

    Currently only available via ebay apparantly:
    http://search.ebay.com/HDA-Digital-X-Mystique-7-1-...

    If it has the same performance as Soundstorm remains to be seen. Reading the thread the EAX support is just as dodgy as it was on Soundstorm.
    Reply
  • ElFenix - Thursday, March 3, 2005 - link

    What chipsets did your USB and firewire drives have?

    thanks for the great review!
    Reply
  • bjorn44 - Thursday, March 3, 2005 - link

    Anyone know how they did the memory benchmark with memtest86 3.2? I can't find any option for testing bandwidth.

    Thanks,

    Bjorn
    Reply
  • giz02 - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    Well if it's any consolation, PCSTATS have updated thier site review of the MSI Neo4 Plat SLI (and will probably make two more updates to it)
    - now states 96Khz
    - will modify DICE statement
    - they are indicating that the sil3132 can do raid5, but I'm not sure that it can...

    Wow Roomraider, that's quite the system you have there.

    Reply
  • Roomraider - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    #82 u r absolutely correct sir. I have the top SB card available(Audigy 4 Pro)& the only way i get DTS or Dolby Digital of any form is SPDIF out Via Coax or Fiber optic cable with settings for (Passthrough) to my Yamaha 7.1 Amp.



    MOBO Gigabyte Ga-K8NXP-SLI
    CPU AMD Athlon 64 FX-55
    Cooler Gigabyte 3D CoolBlue Ultra Gt
    PSU Thermaltake Purepower 650 Watt
    MEMORY 4xCorsair 512Mb 3200XMS PRO Tracer Ram/Dual channel 2-2-2-5
    Video 2xBFG 6800GT OC PCIE W/Serials in order
    HDD 2xWD-74 GB Raptor HDD/Raid(0)configged
    2xMaxtor 300 GB SATA HDD
    OPTICAL 2xPlextor PX716SA-SATA 16xDual Layer+-DVDRW-48xCDR
    CASE Lian-Li P60 W/clear side panel
    MODS 4 Blu 80mm/1 Blu 92mm(roof/exh)& 4 Blu Cold Cathode Lite Strips
    MONITOR Sony SDM-P234 23" 1920x1200 native
    SOUND Creative Audigy-4 Pro,YamahaDSP-A3090 7.1ch amp/Boston Micro90 spks/Bose AM-5 W/Sub

    ADD-ON MSI TV@nywhere Personal Cinema FX5200 TV/FM tuner
    Reply
  • Tatunkhamon - Wednesday, March 2, 2005 - link

    I admit this is slightly OT, but as I first got excited about the possible DD-encoding feature on the MSI-mobo and then let down by the obvious lack of it, I was happy to find these news:

    http://news.designtechnica.com/article6709.html
    http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000683034067/

    I know many of us don't like the DRM/HDCP-features of HDMI, but HDMI certainly is the way to transmit high-definition, multichannel audio *without the need* to compress ie. encode to DD. And live content, such as games, would not probably have the copyprotection flags on, anyway. Of course, getting enough coverage for HDMI in both h/w and s/w will take time, but I bet this is the way it's ment to be played in the near future.

    For example, think about combining this with s/w generated mc-audio and Intel HDA. No need for badly implemented codec/DAC in this model. Of this combined with discreete graphics card and the audio generated with the help of vector processing on the card.. I just hope Intel/Nvidia/ATI/whoever would start a strong enough, open standard to compete with EAX. Then Creative would either have to run, fast, or join their forces.

    Meanwhile, because there is not much HDMI-support (except for the earlier, non- multichannel-high-def-audio-supported HDMI-standard, for mainly graphics) some solution providing DD-encoding to be sent over standard S/PDIF would still be very, very desired for many of us.

    I end this thread-hijacking attempt here and apologize if being OT. Now back to our regular programming... :)

    Wbr, Tatu
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now