At CES DFI demonstrated a few pretty interesting solutions. LANParty nForce 4 Ultra and the SLI are the new boards that DFI have just launched.
A couple of things that they are implementing and that are new with the motherboards from DFI are the following. First of all the active chipset fan. DFI claims that in terms of chipset cooling tastes still differ: some people say that they really like passive, some like active. So, anyways, probably DFI found their way here: active chipset cooler (heatsink with a fan) powered by the magnetic technology, so it runs cooler, more efficient, and has a really long life span before mean time to failure.
Another thing with the new SLI implementation is a sort of a switch type of a design DFI introduced on its mainboards. They are also providing the users with one of such handy devices, so that they could turn it around and use for more convenient configuring.
Besides, there is a table on the motherboards to show people how to configure the SLI. Both boards will come with the SLI bridge chip as well. The first one has two x16 slots but one of them is actually powered of the 2x PCI Express lanes. Note that DFI will be using the nForce4 Ultra chipset for its Ultra-D mainboard, and this board supports a proprietary Dual Xpress Graphics configuration. So, in terms of real performance DFI claims that even though the second board is set up as SLI it will run at 8x and the regular one will run at 2x, but the performance difference will actually be relatively small, no more than 10%, while the price difference between these products could go anywhere between $50 and $60. So this provides a very competitive solution to the users.
As far as the drivers are concerned, this is one of the questions that a lot of people ask, according to DFI. The way the company packages the drivers together works just fine on this type of configuration. So, DFI are pretty confident and excited about it.
As far as the shipping schedule for these boards is concerned, they are ready to begin sampling at the end of next week and the boards are hitting the retail shelves on the last week of January. The production divisions have already got all the components in the factory, they are actually being made right now, but it takes time before the company will actually start shipping. So, we are saying at the end of January the boards should be available.
On the SLI end DFI will not be partnering with any graphics card makers to provide the complete kit to the customers including the mainboard and the VGA cards. They claim that they are actually one of the few manufacturers who do not make motherboards and video cards. People are saying that they might play with the idea of offering dual VGA kits, but there haven’t been that many concrete offers of the kind yet. According to DFI, one of the major concerns is always the price point. Depending on the level of sophistication of the GPU used in the video card, of course. DFI considers their strategy in this respect to be still providing a great upgrade path: you do not have to buy two graphics cards right away, you can buy one at a time, provided that they are identical. By not tying themselves up with anybody beforehand the company retains more flexibility, because they can actually do alliance with those companies, whose products are really compatible with DFI motherboards. Besides, some manufacturers who make VGA cards and motherboards at the same time may often face the following problem: the users might love their VGA cards, for instance, but may be not very happy with their motherboards. And vice versa. As for DFI, they intend to mix and match, with whoever shows the highest performance with their boards. Probably they have even better chance to win the market than others. The general feeling is that the video cards aren’t in shortage right now, compared to chipsets and motherboards. Especially what we hear from Asia, the SLI chipsets are much harder to find than video cards. Probably when we are talking about compatibility, it might make more sense for DFI to consider those companies, which will make VGA cards, and no motherboards.
Of course DFI will have a sort of compatibility list of certified graphics vendors, recommended by DFI for use with their motherboards. It will not be a printed fixed list, but they will definitely spread this kind of information through internet to the users.
As for the price point for these products, DFI are planning to hit the $199 MSRP with the SLI platform and the other one will probably be between $139-$149. Again, the price will reflect the slight performance difference between these two.
In fact, I got the impression that DFI is more excited about the latter product, because others usually think of nForce 4 Ultra as single 16x type of design, and DFI are actually trying to make it support dual, which they claim to be their unique advantage. Well, once we take a closer look at more products out there we will share our views as well.
On the AMD scene DFI is offering Socket 939 nForce3 Ultra with AGP support. Obviously this is just an engineering sample that’s why it doesn’t have the proper PCB color. But once it is finished it will be the same LANParty UT package and DFI estimates to deliver those ones by February timeframe. According to the company analysts, a lot of users really want to upgrade to Socket 939 platform but they still want to keep their AGP solution, so DFI regards this platform as a good in-between type of the upgrade products.
Another advantage of DFI nForce3 Ultra mainboard is a bit wider range of overclocking friendly options for memory tweaking (memory voltage). Another thing worth mentioning is the Vcore value, which is usually kept at 1.6V by most DFI's competitors, while by DFI nForce3 Ultra mainboard this value goes up to 2.1V. DFI claims that they managed to overclock the DDR400 up to DDR700 in their labs without any additional cooling involved. Well, if it is really so, then the enthusiasts are really going to like this solution.
On the Intel side DFI has the 925XE LANParty. This board is actually ready, they are just waiting for a good time to launch it (I wonder how long they are still going to wait :)).
And as far as the 855GME goes, at the DFi booth you could see a revision called the PRO version. It will have no P4 heatsink mounting bracket, so that people could choose the type of cooling solution they want to use for the CPU. And on top of that DFI will be offering a much wider range of overclocking options, especially for memory overclocking.
This product is something DFI are also very excited about. It has a very niche market the company has been trying to go after, and adding the performance boost will make it even more compelling.
Well, we would be more than happy to offer you more indepth discussion at the latest DFI products later in January.