NVIDIA's SLI Pt. 5: Tying loose ends

Written by Tim Smalley

May 21, 2005 | 11:36

Tags: #55 #6600-gt #6800gt #6800-gt #6800-ultra #club3d #fx #fx55 #geforce #nvidia-sli #sli

Companies: #amd #asus #gainward #msi #nvidia #xfx

NVIDIA's Feedback

After speaking to NVIDIA for some of their own thoughts on what the board partners have highlighted, they were somewhat disappointed by some of the varying opinions on how you, the consumer, can upgrade to SLI in two phases. NVIDIA confirmed that the comment regarding a new driver that works with video cards using a different BIOS, as made by Faheem Karim of ASUS UK, to be the case. However, at the time of writing, NVIDIA could not confirm whether this was in the current driver version, Forceware 71.89, or in the next generation driver that will be released in the near future.

After all, for the consumer who does not have the funds available for SLI right now, may well find that some of the comments from NVIDIA's board partners a little off putting. Such that you may decide that if you are sticking with a single card configuration for now, you may feel that getting an ATI part that could be faster, or cheaper than NVIDIA's equivalent part. The technological advances that are in NVIDIA's parts, while good in the long run, may not suit your needs right now, and by the time you next upgrade is due your current parts will not be horribly outdated in terms of technology.

In saying that, Adam Foat, of NVIDIA UK, stated that "NVIDIA is fully committed to current and future products featuring SLI", and we believe that they would not have spent the best part of three years developing a product for it to only last a single generation. He also added that "NVIDIA is working very closely with its partners to ensure that SLI continues to grow from strength to strength."

The many choices for upgrading to SLI...

There are many options for the upgrader, and it ultimately depends on how much money you have to spend. We’ll run through a few categories to give an idea of our recommendations based around looking at a wide range of products over this series of articles.

For those who have an unlimited budget, the choice is simple. You should go for broke and buy a pair of GeForce 6800 Ultra’s for SLI, along with a DFI LANPARTY nF4 SLI-DR motherboard and an Athlon 64 FX-55. In general, you won’t be disappointed.

Those with around £1300 to spend have a bit more to think about. Do you buy a fast processor and sacrifice on the video card front a little? First off, we believe that you should be considering dual GeForce 6800 GT’s coupled with DFI’s LANPARTY nF4 SLI-DR motherboard. The choice of processor is more interesting once you set aside around £150 for 1GB of high quality memory – if you already have some capable memory modules, great, it gives you more money to spend on a CPU.

With around £300 to spend on a processor and power supply, we recommend setting £100 aside for a decent PSU, leaving around £200 for a CPU. A Venice-based 3500+, coupled with a good quality third party cooling solution should serve you well. The third party cooling solution will allow you to overclock the CPU, providing you’ve got the capable memory that we’ve already mentioned.

If you already have 1GB of good quality memory, you can afford to spend more on the CPU. The choice is between the 3700+, 3800+ and 4000+, but we feel that the 3700+ is the most interesting option of the bunch. The 1MB L2 cache will help to improve the gaming performance, while the new San Diego core seems to overclock as well as the Venice core, meaning that the additional 200MHz on the 4000+ can be eradicated without a great deal of effort.

So far, we've not factored in the cheaper CPU's. There's a reason behind this. Ultimately, you can build an SLI system around a 3200+ and two GeForce 6800 GT's, but future games may well rely on a faster CPU despite being somewhat graphics limited too. Far Cry is a classic example of this. While we were able to achieve a nice smooth gaming experience on our pseudo 3100+ in Far Cry, we did experience a drop in frame rate. Future games may well take this route, so it would be advisable to think about the future too. An upgrade to SLI shouldn’t be undertaken half-hearted.

If you have around £900 to spend, we recommend that you consider a single GeForce 6800 GT, with the intention to add a second one in the near future. We still feel that the motherboard of choice is the DFI LANPARTY nF4 SLI-DR, but you could save a few pounds by opting for the SLI-D, which is some £25 cheaper than the top of the line board. You're going to be looking at a relatively slow stock speed for your CPU here, so saving a bit of cash here and there might be required. Our CPU choice for a £900 SLI-ready system is an Athlon 64 3200+, preferably a Venice core. You can get them for around £130-150 depending on where you choose to spend your money. This leaves you with around £250-300 for some high-quality memory and a good quality power supply unit.

With less than £900 to spend on an SLI-ready system, you've really got to be looking towards GeForce 6600 GT. Coupling an ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard with an Athlon 64 3000+ and 1GB of good quality memory will allow you to achieve some good overclocks, while a pair of GeForce 6600 GT’s can be purchased for around £270, as we mentioned yesterday. However, you may already have some good quality memory. If that is the case, swap the ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe for a DFI LANPARTY UT nF4 SLI-D and opt for a GeForce 6800 GT instead of two GeForce 6600 GT's. It is also possible that you can upgrade the CPU from a 3000+ to a 3200+ or 3500+.

Final, Final Thoughts…

At the end of the day, there are an endless number of scenarios to cover, and it also depends on what components make up your current system, too. Providing you think things through before you buy, you can be sure that you will make a calculated decision. We are sure that there are a number of questions that remain unanswered as a result of this upgrade guide. If you are in doubt, don't forget to ask – that's what our forums are for.

Right now, we are sure that there are a number of people sitting on the fence and we'd like to clarify things for one last time.

Unless the driver has support for a game, you will not receive a performance boost from adding a second video card. You can, of course, try and play a bit of DIY by adding your own profiles in to nvapps.xml, or you can use a program such as nHancer, which allows you to create your own SLI profiles in an easy to use GUI, directly adding the required contents to nvapps.xml.

Despite SLI being released some six months ago now, we believe that there is a lot of ongoing maintenance required in order to ensure that SLI is a viable upgrade path in the future. The new driver featuring support for cards with different BIOS' is great news for anyone who is concerned about not being able to afford two GeForce 6800 GT's right now, and considering opting for a single card solution from ATI. This shows that NVIDIA is fully committed to SLI in current and future products, and they are working hard on adding profiles for more games and also new features into their drivers, but we feel that the much-needed profiles are not arriving fast enough in some cases.

Load balancing is not an easy process, and we understand that, but we'd like to see a more flexible way of adding instant support for new titles. We'd love to see a monthly driver program that adds new game profiles every month, so that users are getting more value for money from there rather expensive plunge. The recent lack of official beta drivers on NZone is a bit of a shame, as that would be a great way to get out new profiles with a quick turn around. Another way would be for them to support a program, such as nHancer, and supply them with new SLI profiles that can be made available instantly.

All in all, SLI is great and we think it's cool, but there is some maintenance required behind the scenes to make sure that new game profiles are released in a timely manner. What happens if ATI's multi-GPU solution automatically works in every game ever written, without the need to update the drivers every time a new game is released? NVIDIA will have problems if that is the case, so we feel that they need to pre-empt anything that ATI might have up their sleeves.

The next couple of months are very interesting times.
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