nForce 4 SLI Motherboard Round-Up - HotHardware

nForce 4 SLI Motherboard Round-Up

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Every so often a new technology, or a new piece of hardware, comes along that polarizes the PC enthusiast community. One such product is the recently released NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI chipset. The nForce 4 SLI chipset is the preferred platform for NVIDIA's Scalable Link Interface technology, that gives users the ability to use a pair of GeForce 6x00 graphics cards in tandem for increased 3D rendering performance. NVIDIA's current SLI technology, not to be confused with the now extinct 3dfx's version of SLI (ScanLine Interleave), has shown much promise, but there is a large contingent in the enthusiast community that hasn't fully embraced NVIDIA's new SLI. Some claim it's not quite ready for prime time, because the drivers don't work with every game, or games that are supported don't function properly or have rendering problems, official driver releases have been few and far between, and in many cases a pair of high-end GeForce 6 cards are held back by even the fastest processors available. On the flip-side, some claim the performance increases offered by SLI are undeniably impressive, support for more games is inevitably on the way, and even without its SLI functionality, the nForce 4 SLI outshines most other chipsets in terms of features anyway.

All of these are valid points worthy of debate, but the simple truth is that NVIDIA is standing behind their technology and its here to stay.  Products based on the NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI chipset are on store shelves, and consumers need to know which one could potentially suit their needs.  Although NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLI chipset is soon also going migrate to the Intel platform, for now it's AMD that gets to share the spotlight with NVIDIA.  The nForce 4 SLI is the current flagship chipset for socket 939 Athlon 64 processors. Today we're going to take a look at three enthusiast-class nForce 4 SLI based motherboards, the DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR, the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI and the Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI. Each of these motherboards implements the nForce 4 SLI chipset in a slightly different way, and offers its own unique set of features.  Read on to see which ones we thought were the best of its class.

Specifications of the NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Chipset
Today's Solution For Multi-GPU Configurations

NETWORKING
Native Gigabit Ethernet technology

  • The fastest Gigabit Ethernet solution in the market
  • Supports 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet

Advanced networking features

  • TCP segmentation offloads
  • Jumbo frames
  • Checksum offloads
  • Interrupt moderation
  • Traffic prioritization
  • Remote wake-up
  • Network management for easy set up, configuration, and monitoring

STORAGE
NVIDIA RAID

  • RAID 0 disk striping support for highest system and application performance
  • RAID 1 disk mirroring support for fault tolerance
  • RAID 0 +1 disk striping and mirroring support for highest performance with fault tolerance
  • Disk alert system provides a visual indication so users know exactly which hard drive to replace during an array failure
  • Morphing allow users to change the current state of an array to another using one single step without reboot of the PC
  • Cross-controller RAID uniquely supports both SATA and PATA disk devices within a single array

Serial ATA

  • Support for SATA 3Gb/s, 1.5Gb/s disk controller standards
  • Dual controller architecture providing full 3Gb/s bandwidth to each disk
  • Features 4 integrated SATA 3Gb/s ports  

Fast Ultra ATA-133 Disk Drive Controller

  • 5V-tolerant primary and secondary channels, with support for up to four devices
  • Supports UltraDMA modes 6-0 (UltraDMA 33/66/100/133)
  • Industry-standard PCI bus master IDE register set
  • Separate independent IDE connections for 5V-tolerant primary and secondary interfaces
CONNECTIVITY
PCI Express interface
  • PCI Express high-performance, scalable interconnect. Rapidly being adopted by the PC industry; designed to replace the AGP and PCI interconnects currently in use.
  • x16 PCI Express link has 4 times the total bandwidth of today's AGP 8X interface
  • x16 PCI Express link for high-performance graphics cards featuring the latest graphics processors with Microsoft DirectX 9 Shader Model 3.0 support
  • Additional x1 PCI Express links for other add-in cards
  • VC1 support on all links provide guaranteed bandwidth to CPU for time-sensitive applications

 

SECURITY
NVIDIA ActiveArmor Secure Networking Engine

  • Dedicated hardware engine
  • Enhances network security
  • Reduces CPU overhead
  • Powers and accelerates NVIDIA Firewall

NVIDIA Firewall technology

  • Industry's first true hardware-based firewall
  • Unmatched performance and protection
    • Instant-on and tamper resistant
  • Advanced management features through user friendly interface
    • Remote access, configuration, monitoring
    • Command line interface (CLI)
    • Intelligent application management
    • Instant-on and tamper resistant
USB 2.0
  • USB 2.0 Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI)/dual and USB 1.1 Open Host Controller Interface (OHCI)
  • Support for up to 10 ports
  • Supports transfer rates at high speed (480 Mbps), full speed (12 Mbps), and low speed (1.2 Mbps)
  • Dynamically configures slower devices for best utilization of bandwidth
  • Allows USB concurrency

PCI Interface

  • Integrates a fast PCI-to-PCI bridge running at 33 MHz. Includes an arbiter that supports six external master PCI slots.
  • Features of the PCI interface include:
    • PCI 2.3-compliant, 5 V tolerant
    • Supports six external PCI slots at 33 MHz
    • Supports six bus master arbitration PCI master and slave interfaces
    • Supports both master-initiated and slave-initiated terminations
    • Bidirectional write posting support for concurrency
    • Flexible routing of all four PCI interrupts
    • Supports read ahead: memory read line (MRL) and memory read multiple (MRM)

PERFORMANCE
HyperTransport technology

  • 16 x 16 link running at 1GHz for extremely high throughput (8.0GB/sec)
  • Differential lines with low voltage swings

AUDIO
AC '97 2.3 compliant interface

  • Supports 2, 4, 6, or 8-channel audio
  • Dual AC-Link: supports up to two codecs
  • Dual S/PDIF: supports two simultaneous digital outputs; handles stereo PCM or AC-3 output
  • 16-bit or 20-bit stereo, 48kHz output and 16-bit input streams across AC-Link
  • 24-bit, 96kHz stereo output on the secondary S/PDIF output
  • Supports input, output, and general purpose input/output (GPIO) channels for host-based modems
  • Separate independent functions for audio and modem

MOBILITY

  • Power management
  • Full support for AMD PowerNow! technology
  • ACPI 2.0 compliant
  • Support for ACPI C3 state
  • Low-power 0.15 micron process
  • Maximizing real estate efficiency enabling small form factor designs
    • Single-chip solution
    • Lower latency for higher performance



 


There are a few core technologies that NVIDIA offers with the nForce 4 chipset, that help differentiate it from competing solutions. We've got the complete list of specifications posted above for your perusal, but we've also covered them in-depth in other recent articles here at HotHardware.com.  In our nForce 4 preview, posted in late October of last year, we highlighted the main features of the chipset and did a quick performance comparison versus the nForce 3. We have also recently reviewed the Asus A8N-SLI motherboard, which is based on the nForce 4 SLI chipset, and explained NVIDIA's multi-GPU strategy and implementation when the technology was initially announced.  If you'd like more background on the nForce 4 and NVIDIA's SLI technology, we suggest reading those articles.  They'll give you lots of insight as to what the nForce 4 SLI chipset, used on the motherboards you'll see on the following pages, brings to the table.  By the time you're done reading, you'll be an expert.

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