We have tested the new SLI-compatible platform from NVIDIA based on the nForce4 SLI X16 chipset. The chipset provides two full-width PCI Express x16 slots and was expected to increase the efficiency of the SLI technology which had been previously limited to PCI Express x8 + x8 configuration. However, we could not see any significant performance gain in any of the games we checked the new platform in.
The results suggest that today’s games do not transfer so much data across the PCI Express x16 interface that the increased number of PCI Express lanes gave any effect for a SLI graphics subsystem. The PCI Express x16 + x16 formula is excessive today and, moreover, the performance of the new chipset was lower than that of the ASUS A8N-SLI Premium mainboard which is based on the older chipset!
The explanation of the newer platform being slower comes from one architectural feature of the nForce4 SLI X16. To ensure high-speed communication between the chipset’s North and South bridges, NVIDIA had to reduce the width of the HyperTransport bus the chipset connects to the CPU with and to use two 8-bit channels instead of the ordinary nForce4’s two 16-bit channels there. The smaller bandwidth of the CPU-chipset link does not show up in games, but the performance of applications that actively use the system bus, like data archiving utilities for example, may suffer a lot. We are not even sure the nForce4 SLI X16 will offer any advantage in the next generation of PC games, despite its two full-width PCI Express x16 slots, because the narrow HyperTransport bus will probable be a bottleneck. Being the first chipset with the PCI Express x16 + x16 formula, the NVIDIA nForce4 SLI X16 is interesting and unique, but it is no better than the ordinary nForce4 SLI, at least in current applications.
As for the particular implementation of the platform, the ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe is a superb mainboard, free from any obvious drawbacks. Our only gripe is about the accessories which might be more generous for a “Deluxe” model. The heat pipes may also make it difficult to install certain CPU coolers, but the total noiselessness of the mainboard’s cooling system makes up for this inconvenience. Generally speaking, it is a real trouble to design a SLI-supporting mainboard, especially based on a two-piece chipset, and ASUS did it just right. We think the ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe is currently the best foundation for a top-end SLI-compatible computer with an AMD Athlon 64 processor. And if you are into Intel’s processors, there also exists the P5N32-SLI Deluxe version on the nForce4 SLI X16 Intel Edition chipset.
- Rich functionality
- Numerous BIOS settings
- Two full-width PCI Express x16 slots
- Beautiful appearance
- Good expansion opportunities
- High quality of manufacture
- Two network controllers
- Wireless controller (in the Wireless Edition version)
- Eight-channel CPU power circuit
- Noiseless cooling of the chipset and the CPU power circuit
- Ready for water-based CPU cooling systems
- Supports a number of ASUS’ exclusive technologies
- The heat pipes may hinder installation of some coolers
- The Clear CMOS jumper is hard to access
- There might have been more and better accessories