Foxconn Goes Quad SLI
Nvidia Corp. has been pretty successful with its multi-GPU SLI technology: consumers are aware of it and even despite of the fact that technically it is better to have one powerful graphics card instead of two lower performance, consumers are looking at SLI not only in the high-end and mainstream, but also in the price-conscious segment. The users of the premium components, however, are now ready to pay for graphics even more than before.
In an attempt to address the market of enthusiasts who desire to have absolutely the best hardware, Nvidia has introduced its quad SLI technology that combines four graphics cards to get ultimate performance and image quality. The technology is much more complex compared to the original SLI for two graphics cards in terms of both software and hardware, which is why Nvidia and its partners not only need to develop a driver, but also to design graphics cards with two chips that can work efficiently and reliably.
Here are the main goals that Nvidia had to achieve while developing its quad SLI:
- Hardware stability and durability;
- Power consumption trimmed as low as possible;
- Limited thermals;
- Performance scaling;
- Software stability.
Nvidia’s drivers are renowned for the quality and stability, so, quad SLI should work fine from the software perspectives, except for some possible issues that are subject to all hardware in the beginning of their existence.
A major problem that is associated with quad SLI is development of actual hardware. It is not a secret that modern graphics processors and graphics memory consume a lot of power and dissipate tremendous amounts of heat. So, designing graphics cards with two chips that should work in tandem should be quite a challenge. The situation further worsens with the fact that Nvidia decided to improve its performance scaling with the help of the special PCI Express x48 bridge installed onto graphics cards with two chips to ensure higher performance. The following diagram should give you the idea of working principles of dual-GPU graphics cards with the x48: the chip is needed for maximally efficient communication between chips and the PCI Express bus.
Two GeForce 7900-series graphics chips, a high-speed bridge and memory have extreme thermals, which makes it pretty complex to cool-down and support such products eventually. While the issue has been resolved, Nvidia still decided to wait with the broad availability of dual-chip graphics cards. Initially only large makers of high-performance computers will offer systems with four graphics processors, which is quite right: you can get a Lamborghini only from a special dealer and you cannot match Lamborghini with a tuned Ford.
As a result of such positioning – for extreme enthusiasts at extreme cost – Nvidia even did not allow its partners to display quad SLI. All partners, except one, do not showcase quad SLI systems at the show! The only company who has the right to demo quad SLI is Foxconn, the company behind names like Leadtek and one of the world’s largest maker of mainboards. In fact, Foxconn will be the only manufacturer to produce boards for quad-SLI systems.
What we also do know is that what is displayed by Foxconn is a combination of two GeForce 7900 GTX and GeForce 7900 GT. It is not known how do graphics cards work with each other, however, it is yet another evidence of how complex the quad SLI is.