While we were collecting information for our SLI upgrade guide, we were often asked if it was possible to upgrade to SLI by buying one video card now, and then another in, say, three months time. The question came up often enough for us to feel that it was an angle that was worth pursuing with some of NVIDIA's board partners. After all, there isn't a lot of point in buying a single video card, with the intention of adding another three months down the line if the two video cards will not work together.
We went along and fired a number of questions over to ASUS, Club3D, Gainward, MSI, and XFX with the intention of getting some valuable feedback from them to give you some feedback from how the board partners plan to go about taking care of consumers who are considering the two-phase upgrade to SLI.
I am currently in the process of writing a broad selection of articles on NVIDIA's SLI , as part of an upgrade guide on bit-tech.net. I am looking for some thoughts on how you, the board partners, plan to accommodate the user who cannot afford to buy a pair of SLI-ready video cards at the same time, but are looking at buying a second video card in maybe three-to-six months time.
Do you plan to implement some kind of upgrade program that will allow users to maybe trade in their current video card for a matched pair of cards that are guaranteed to work in SLI? Or are they forced to go through an online etailer, or even a local computer store and risk it and just hope that the second card they buy works with the card that they purchased initially?
I'm intrigued, as this is something that has not really been discussed thus far. A lot of bit-tech's regular readers have expressed an interest in SLI, but only if they can buy one card now, and then upgrade to SLI in 3 months time when they get some more money.
I know that you guys all don the SLI Certification logo on your boxes, and also offer matched pairs in some shape or form. However, what happens if there is a BIOS update during period between when the consumer bought their initial video card and when they plan to buy the second?
In the eventuality that a consumer buys one card now and one card three months down the line, only to find that they don't work together in SLI because there has been a BIOS update, what would be your approach to the disgruntled buyer?
Most of our readers are looking at either investing in dual GeForce 6600 GT or dual GeForce 6800 GT setups, rather than GeForce 6800 Std or GeForce 6800 Ultra.
The feedback will be used as part of an article on bit-tech.net, and it would be very much appreciated if you could give me, and bit-tech's readers, your thoughts on how you plan to tackle the above scenario.
Faheem Karim from ASUS UK came back to us with the following:
An upgrade program would be a good idea and certainly be convenient for users. Unfortunately, Asus have no plans to implement this option and I have not heard of any other vendor who will be doing this either.
With regards to compatibility our SLI ready cards are based on NVIDIA's reference design along with most if not all other vendors. Asus stayed with the reference design on SLI ready cards specifically to simplify the upgrade path for users and not to restrict them in any way. The only difference is the heatsink/fan unit, which of course would not effect compatibility. Hence, there are no hardware issues that would stop any two cards from working together. Of course if users have any additional concerns regarding compatibility they can always choose another card from the same vendor.
The only other issue is regarding Bios differences. NVIDIA's newer SLI drivers should support 2 cards with different bios revisions. However, if there is still an issue with running in SLI mode the user can install NVIDIA's latest reference drivers on both cards without problems.
Club3D product manager, Raymond Koning, had the following to say about a two-phase upgrade:
As product development is a process of improvement, compatibility fixing, anticipation on memory market behaviour and availability there is no way we can guarantee a fixed design or a longer period. As NVIDIA are also bringing changes in stepping of the GPU.
That's why, in my opinion, NVIDIA are responsible for bringing a decent way of SLI and it is their job to manage this. They have invented the SLI technology, now they have to improve it and not let their partners and customers have to do the hard work in saving NVIDIA’s ass by doing the logistical work in the background.
Club3D are a company that supply video cards from all four major graphics chip manufacturers, so they get to see things from all sides. While Raymond's views may come across a little harsh on reality, they are in the unique position of seeing things from all sides, so they're able to make a more rounded view on NVIDIA's SLI technology. Right now, they feel that it still needs a little bit more work.
Gainward's Director of Sales and Marketing in the UK, Wayne Tritton, had the following to add:
I guess I would always recommend to an end user that they should buy both cards at the same time to avoid complications. We haven't tested different revisions of boards as we have twin packs with 2 matching cards in.
MSI’s thought path was slightly different to some of the other board partners, and John Inwood, Product Marketing Executive for MSI UK, had added:
MSI believe one of the major advantages of SLI is that an upgrade can be done at a future date. Providing the cards purchased are from MSI and the same model I do not see there being any problem buying a second at a future date. VGA BIOS are very different from motherboard versions. Graphics cards rarely require a BIOS update and most people will get by never flashing their card at all.
The same can be said for the cards in Mass Production. Unless there has been a change to the hardware or design, a BIOS change is not applied. Suffice to say; providing the same model is around when the user decides to buy a second card, there should not be any problem adding it to the system. The only thing that can affect this is a product going End of Life. Generally this will not happen until a board loses its appeal and hence sales. As the NX6600GT & NX6800GT are both very popular cards, they will not go end of life anytime soon.
We are still awaiting a reply from XFX. We'll update our editorial when their thoughts arrive in due course.