SLI - Introduction
SLI - What is SLI? AFR and SFRWhat is SLI?SLI, AFR, SFR - So many acronyms, all with different meanings. While just about everyone who shows a slight interest in computers knows about SLI, their knowledge on the subject doesn't go much further then the fact that they know you can run two graphics cards at the same time giving almost twice as much performance. While that is the bulk of it, there is more then just inserting two cards into your motherboard, hitting enable, and getting the most out of your games.For starters there are two drawing modes of SLI when it comes to rendering the picture that is being outputted to your monitor. AFR and SFR are the two particular modes we are talking about and we will look at these in more details now.- AFRAlternate Frame Rendering or AFR is the first mode that we will be looking at. What seems to be the most common mode used, the idea behind AFR is that the two GPUs take one frame each. We would see our slot 1 graphics card taking our uneven frames like 1 - 3 - 5 - 7 and etc while the graphics card in slot 2 takes 2 - 4 - 6 - 8. In turn this means that both graphics cards are sharing the work load to what most people would think the most efficient way possible.
SLI - What parts do I need?What parts do I need?The most obvious thing that you are going to need is two PCI Express graphics card which are of the same make and model - SLI is not supported on AGP graphics cards. The lowest end SLI capable card is the GeForce 6600GT which has quickly become known for its great bang for buck. From there you move into the 6800 series which consists of the GeForce 6800/6800GT and the biggest bad boys around the GeForce 6800 Ultra's which we have here today. Keep in mind later in the year ATI is expected to deliver an answer to nVidia's SLI with AMR (ATI Multi Rendering) but details on this technology are scarce at the moment.our price comparison website for a base SLI system at the time of publishing you'll be looking at around $400 US for the two GeForce 6600GT's, around $250 US for the ASUS A8N-SLI motherboard and extra for all the other parts not forgetting the beefy high quality power supply. This adds up to $650 US just for the baseline SLI parts and a lot more for the 6800 Ultra version of the setup.
SLI - Supported Games and Setting up an SLI systemWhat about game support?While some people may have read articles going around the Internet about SLI not supporting all games, all we can say to that is, "What do you expect?" In nVidia's defense, it's a new and exciting technology which needs time to mature from its current state (which is not too bad at the moment) but as with anything in life, progression is made over time.If we were to write an article every time new tech is released and current generation software is not able to make full use of it, we would see countless articles such as nVidia Shader Model 3.0 Short Changing Gamers? since SM3.0 is still something that a lot of games don't make use of or maybe Intel Hyper Threading Short Changing Gamers? as we have another technology that is great in a lot of programs but not all or AMD 64-bit Processors Short Changing Gamers? because we all know that there are so many games that are able to make use of the 64-bit architecture (that was sarcasm).Shader Model 3.0, Hyper Threading and 64-bit computing are all excellent technology advancements and like anything new we cannot expect the whole world taking advantage of these new features from the beginning. Intel, AMD, ATI and nVidia all release technology that won't make use of current generation software but we know that one day in the not too distant future we will see applications and games make use of these new technologies - things cannot happen over night but they will eventually. With new and fast advancements in technology, some flexibility is required.Here is the current games list that makes use of SLI from the nVidia nZone website: Aquamark3HaloBattlefield 1942 Desert Combat ModPainkillerBattlefield VietnamSims 2City of HeroesStar Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicCode Creatures ProTomb Raider: Angel of DarknessColin McRae Rally 4 DemoTron 2.0Command & Conquer GeneralsUnreal Engine 3Doom3Warhammer Dawn of WarFar Cry3DMark 2003 GoldGround Control 23DMark 2005 GoldHalf Life 2This list of officially supported SLI games from nVidia is only going to get bigger as nVidia continues to work with gaming companies and helps them either implement SLI support into their games or work with them to increase SLI performance in their titles.Editor's Note - While we've largely come to the defense of nVidia in this section, there is something which needs to be said to our readers. Midway through last year in an nVidia press meeting in Sydney, Australia we asked nVidia's Chief Scientist David Kirk if game companies would be required to release new patches for their game titles to take advantage of SLI and the answer was a clear and defined "No, all games will just work in SLI mode".Clearly though isn't entirely true as not all games currently contain profiles in the nVidia drivers to tell the game to run in SLI. We as hardware reviewers around the world expected SLI to just work for all games and in part we let our readers down in our initial preview of SLI technology expecting the aforementioned from nVidia and as some of our (and others) recent testing showed, not all games gain benefit from the extra graphics card.It was an ambitious comment at the time from David but let's just see what nVidia can do over the next few months with new driver releases as they are allowed more time to refine their SLI technology game support. Remember - progression over time!Setting up an SLI systemThere is more then just simply inserting the two graphics card into their own PCI E slot and having your SLI system up and running. For starters on the particular ASUS board we used there is a little module which looks like a SO-DIMM memory module that you have to insert the correct way so it makes use of both cards. Another thing is that the adapter (bridge) that goes across the top of the cards so that they can communicate together must be installed firmly.
SLI - Benchmarks - Test System Setup & 3DMark2001 SETest System SetupProcessor(s): AMD Athlon 64 3800+ Motherboard(s): ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (Supplied by ASUS) Memory: 2 X 512MB OCZ LL PC3200 2-2-2-5 (Supplied by OCZ) Hard Disk(s): Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000 RPM SATA (Supplied by Western Digital) Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers: DX9c, nVidia 71.40 and nVidia 6.11 beta chipset driversWe will be testing the 6800 Ultra in SLI mode and in single GPU mode today. What we will be looking at which is something that we haven't seen yet is a few synthetic tests on how and if SLI affects performance of memory or CPU. We will be running the tests through our normal gaming benchmarks which include the 3DMark series as well as Half Life 2 and Doom 3. We will also have a look at what happens when we start bumping up the AA and AF and also finally our normal synthetic line up including SiSoft Sandra and PCMark.Our Performance PC article #2 will be coming in the very near future so we will be leaving overclocking of these cards till then. For now lets have a look if you could warrant the forking out of those extra dollars for a second 6800 Ultra PCI-E.3DMark2001 SEVersion and / or Patch Used: Build 330Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark2001/Buy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - 3DMark033DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 340Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark03/Buy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - 3DMark053DMark05 Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/ Buy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - Doom 3Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo (Alpha Labs 5)Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.doom3.comBuy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - Half Life 2Half Life 2 Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.com Buy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AFHigh Quality AA and AFAll tests were run with 4 times FSAA and 16 times Antistrophic Filtering enabled with the screen resolution set to 1024 X 768.When running these aggressive detail settings in 1600 x 1200, games really do become unplayable and if people are after image quality they will have to drop the resolution back down to reach playable levels.1024x768 was chosen as it is still the preferred playable resolution with these settings enabled.
SLI - Benchmarks - SiSoft SandraSiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used: 2004Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - PCMark 2002PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 2002/April 22nd PatchDeveloper Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
SLI - Benchmarks - ConclusionConclusion Considering that SLI doesn't support all the programs we looked at it does give us at least a slight performance increase. Maybe the list of games you find back on page 4 would be better known as the games that are able to make full use of SLI, we can understand why nVidia didn't put a month of effort into making sure we saw a 90% increase in 3DMark2001 SE. They have worked on improving SLI efficiency in games that are probably the most popular at the moment and with the most popular games out the way they can start working on other popular titles and future titles.You can see for yourself that this is a very fast setup and anyone would be glad to have this running next to them right now. It's fast, surprisingly stable for a new technology and just totally kick ass to look at. With support for the major releases, people playing Half Life 2, Sims 2, Doom 3, Halo and more are going to see advantages and if you've made your way over to the Online Result Browser as of a late at Futuremark you can see that nothing is able to keep up with the power of two 6800 Ultra cards in SLI. nVidia aren't saying that this is for everyone nor are we but if you are serious about your gaming and you have some dollars to splash around, take the leap into the pond of SLI and we guarantee you won't be disappointed.You can see that SLI doesn't affect overall system performance in our line of synthetic tests so you aren't trading memory or CPU bandwidth for those extra frames. nVidia are on a good thing at the moment and you can tell that the Graphics Card King Crown title is back in their sight which they lost with the release of the 9700 Pro a few years back from ATI.You can complain all day long about the price of a top end SLI setup but there is no denying that two GeForce 6800 Ultra's in SLI is going to give you the best gaming experience around. This setup isn't for people with a 17" CRT or LCD that can only support 1280 X 1024. This setup is for people who own 21" CRTs that play at 1600 and above or Wide Screen LCD owners wanting to game at 1920 X 1200 without having to worry about having to drop to 16-bit or sacrifice a bit of image quality for a smooth frame rate. With an SLI setup you can play with it all turned on and still be smiling.While we would normally do a Pros and Cons section at the end of this final page we can simply say the Pros are everything about it - the look of two cards in a single system, the pure speed, the gaming experience, the satisfaction knowing that at this point in time your gaming experience isn't able to be any better and Cons, yeah it's expensive but so are Ferrari's and if you want the best you have to pay through the nose for it.The technology behind nVidia's SLI receives our TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Editor's Choice award. Enough said.
Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:26 pm CDT
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