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NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI Arrives
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Date: Dec 18, 2007
Section:Motherboards
Author: Marco Chiappetta and Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Features



The nForce 680i SLI has been at the top of NVIDIA’s chipset product stack for well over a year now, which seems like an eternity in this day and age of accelerated product cycles.  Although still a top-notch performer, and arguably the best choice for gamers looking to put together a system with multiple GPUs, the nForce 680i SLI is getting a bit long in the tooth.  This is most evident when you consider that current 680i SLI motherboards don’t properly support Intel’s sought after 45nm Penryn-derived processors.  Technically, the chipset supports the CPUs, but a circuit level issue on today’s nForce 680i SLI-based motherboard implementations causes compatibility problems that cannot be addressed through BIOS or driver updates.

In that regard, "out with the old and in with the new" is the theme this time of year, so today NVIDIA is launching a new (sort of) family of chipsets, dubbed the nForce 700 series, that will properly support Intel’s latest processors and usher in some new features.  Initially, the nForce 700 series of chipsets will consist of the flagship nForce 780i SLI and the mainstream nForce 750i SLI.  As you can probably surmise, the nForce 780i SLI will be NVIDIA’s top of the line chipset heading into this holiday season and the 750i SLI will be a trimmed down version minus some of the more cutting edge features.

A complete breakdown of the nForce 780i SLI’s and nForce 750i SLI’s major specifications and features are outlined in the table below.
 


NVIDIA nForce 700 Series Chipsets

Specifications and Features



As you can see, the nForce 780i SLI and 750i SLI differ in a number of ways.  They both support all of Intel’s current processors with front side bus speeds up to 1333MHz (unofficial support for 1600MHz FSB processors is also possible), but the 750i SLI has fewer PCI Express lanes, supports a maximum DDR2 memory speed of only 800MHz without EPP, it doesn’t support ESA, it has a single GigE port, and fewer USB 2.0 ports.  When running in SLI mode, the 750i’s PEG slots operate in a dual x8 configuration, whereas the 780i SLI has 16 lanes of dedicated PCI Express connectivity to three PEG slots.  In fact, the nForce 680i SLI has a total of 62 Gen 1 and Gen 2 PCI Express lanes.



Below is a high-level block diagram of the nForce 780i SLI that illustrates its major features and which parts of the chipset are responsible for the functionality.  If this block diagram looks familiar to you, it’s because many of the features seen here are available in the nForce 680i SLI as well.



Major additions to the nForce 780i SLI chipset include support for NVIDIA’s ESA standard and PCI Express 2.0 support through the use of the new nForce 200 chip.  Other than those two additions, the nForce 780i SLI is almost identical to the nForce 680i SLI, which is not surprising considering the 780i SLI SPP and the 780i SLI MCP are essentially the same chips used on current nForce 680i SLI motherboards.

The nForce 200 chip augments the SPP and MCP and offers 32 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 connectivity.  It directly connects to the 780i SLI MCP over a proprietary NVIDIA interface with a maximum bandwidth of 14.4GB/s.  If you do the math, you’ll quickly realize the 14.4GB/s is less than half of the 32GB/s that all those PCI Express 2.0 lanes can use, but NVIDIA claims the 780i SLI will still be able to run PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards at full speed, more than likely because no current applications tax the bandwidth offered by PCI Express 1.0, let alone 2.0. We should also point out that, even with a pair of PCI Express 2.0 compliant graphics cards installed into the slots powered by the NF200, there will never be a time when that much data is passed through the nForce SPP and the nForce 200 chip because most data is transferred between the GPUs via the SLI Bridge that physically connects them. Data is rarely transferred past the nForce 200 chip to the nForce SPP. The link between these two chips provides enough bandwidth to enable full performance of PCI Express 2.0 graphics cards in SLI mode.

     

Here we have some shot of the actual chips that comprise the nForce 780i SLI as they are configured on an Asus P5N-T Deluxe.  If you look close, you’ll see that the MCP is actually branded as a NF570 – the same chip used on motherboards dating back to the introduction of the nForce 500 series.  The SPP, while branded an NF780SLI is virtually the same as the current 680i SLI.  And then of course, we have the new arrival in the form of the NF200.

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More Features and ESA



Due to the fact that the nForce 780i SLI and nForce 680i are so similar, they share many of the same features, like DualNet, FirstPacket, MediaShield, and EPP.  When we first covered the nForce 680i SLI, we went into detail on all of these features, and then some.  Instead of re-hashing everything again here, we suggest taking a look at the “Features and Benefits” pages in this article (pages 3 – 5).

In addition to all of the features detailed in that article, the new nForce 780i SLI adds supports for ESA and 3-Way SLI technology.  We dedicated an entire article to 3-way SLI just a few days ago, so again we’ll refer you to another article for all of the juicy details.  We’ve also covered NVIDIA’s ESA in the past, but have the pertinent information available below.

 




As it stands today, many of the major components in a typical enthusiast class PC have built-in mechanisms for monitoring the health status of the device.  Processors and GPUs have internal thermal diodes for monitoring temperatures, and graphics cards and motherboards have sensors for monitoring a myriad of voltages and things like fan speeds.  Other components, however, like cases, power supplies, and cooling systems, for example, usually don’t have any such mechanism.  And even if they do, odds are it uses a proprietary interface that isn’t universally compatible.

To remedy this situation, the crew at NVIDIA has architected a new open standard the company hopes will be adopted across the industry.  ESA, or the Enthusiast System Architecture, as it is known, was designed for real-time monitoring and control of PC power supplies, chassis, and water cooling systems.

The ESA standard is built around the USB HID (Human Interface Device) specification and has been submitted to the USB-if HID subcommittee for discussion and approval.  ESA is essentially a hardware and software interface that takes data collected by analog sensors and converts it to digital information that can accessed via software.  Below are a handful of slides taken from an NVIDIA-produced presentation on ESA.

 

    

 
If you take a look at the slides above, they'll give you an idea as to what NVIDIA is trying to do with ESA.  As you'll see, ESA compliant hardware will feature an embedded microcontroller and will connect to a system via a standard USB cable.  Currently, NVIDIA has developed new software as an extension of their nTune system utility for use with ESA, but partners that may eventually build ESA compliant hardware can also incorporate the data into their own proprietary PC health monitoring / status applications, like Gigabyte's Easy Tune or Asus' PC Probe.

So, how would ESA compliant hardware affect you?  As an example, consider a case.  An ESA compliant case could have a number of thermal sensors throughout its interior and their positions throughout the enclosure are recorded in ROM.  The fans used in the case are also connected to an ESA compliant controller.  Should one of the thermal sensors in the case read a high temperature, the ESA microcontroller can instruct the necessary case fans to spin up, which will reduce the temperature.  Cooling devices can also gain new functionality like real-time monitoring of water temperatures and flow-rates and controlled fans and pumps.  And the data collected can be viewed through software or even by glancing down at LEDs that can be programmed to change colors in different scenarios.

NVIDIA has put together a flash animation that demonstrates the many uses of ESA.  Instead of reinventing the wheel and re-explaining everything here, we suggest you take a look at it. 
We've uploaded it here for your perusal.

 


    
The Microcontroller configuration and Software 


On the surface, ESA holds a lot of promise.  Its implementation, however, is up for some interpretation. NVIDIA has named a number of high-profile partners the company claims are backing the ESA standard, like Asus, Dell, CoolIT, Cooler Master, Gigabyte, MSI, Thermaltake, among others.  While these companies may be on-board, how they specifically implement ESA in their products can vary considerably.  ESA doesn’t define what aspects of a device need to be monitored or controlled, it defined the interface.  So an ESA-compliant power supply from Vendor A may report voltages across all of its rails, core temperature, fan speeds, and ambient temperature, while Vendor B’s may simply report a single fan's speed.  NVIDIA has defined the standard for the interface, but not what each piece of hardware must report to be ESA compliant.

NVIDIA's reference design for the nForce 780i SLI motherboard has provisons for ESA.  780i SLI motherboards based on NVIDA's reference design from partners like XFX, EVGA, BFG, and Foxconn will include support for the technology.

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Motherboards and BIOS Options



Along with the new nForce 780i SLI chipset, NVIDIA is unveiling a new reference motherboard design.  Motherboards based on the new reference design will be offered by NVIDIA’s partners, like XFX, EVGA, BFG, Foxconn, and ECS – basically all of the companies that offered nForce 680i SLI motherboards based on the reference design.  As you’ll see a little further down the page though, some manufactures like Asus will be designing their own nForce 780i SLI mobos.



      

NVIDIA’s nForce 780i SLI reference motherboard looks much like the 680i SLI.  There are some noteworthy changes, however.  First of all, reference 780i SLI boards support ESA.  They’ll also be configured with a different slot configuration consisting of three PCI Express x16 slots, two standard PCI slots, and a single PCI Express x1 slot.  With this slot configuration, single PCI Express and standard PCI slots are left available when two double-wide graphics cards are installed.  With a 3-Way SLI configuration, however, no other expansion slot can be used.

The odd location of the front panel connectors on the 680i SLI has been resolved as that header now resides along the bottom edge of the board.  The cooling solution on the nForce 780i SLI reference motherboard is significantly larger to accommodate the NF200 and provide ample surface are, but the design still leaves plenty of room for aftermarket coolers.





The I/O backplane on the reference nForce 780i SLI houses PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, a single Firewire port, six USB 2.0 ports, dual GigE jacks, and analog and digital audio inputs and outputs.




The Asus P5N-T Deluxe motherboard, which we used for testing on the proceeding pages, is different from NVIDIA’s reference design in quite a few ways.  The overall layout and positioning of the chipset are similar, but the location and orientation of some connectors and the slot configuration is different. 


      
 
      

The Asus P5N-T Deluxe is outfitted with a custom copper cooling solution that links the SPP, MCP, NF200, and a few components in the board’s VRM.  Generally speaking, all of the board’s major connectors and headers are situated around the edges of the PCB.  Like the nForce 780i SLI reference design, some of the P5N-T Deluxe’s connectors are mounted at a right angle so that all of them can be accessed, even when running a three double-wide graphics cards in a 3-Way SLI configuration.

The P5N-T Deluxe has a trio of PCI Express x16 graphics slots, a pair of PCI Express x1 slots, and a single standard PCI slot.  Most of the features inherent to the nForce 780i SLI chipset are exposed on the board, with the exception of DualNet and ESA, and Firewire support is added through the use of a VIA controller.  HD audio duties on the P5N-T Deluxe are handled by an ADI1988 codec and GigE LAN connectivity comes by way of a Marvell 88se61111 chip.





The Asus P5N-T Deluxe’s I/O port cluster consists of PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, digital and analog audio inputs and outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, a single Firewire port, a single eSATA port, and a single GigE jack.  NVIDIA’s reference nForce 780i SLI motherboard has two more USB 2.0 ports in its cluster and a second LAN jack, but lacks an eSATA port.
 



A quick trip into the P5N-T Deluxe’s BIOS didn’t yield anything unexpected.  That’s not to say the BIOS is in some way lacking though, it is actually loaded with performance tuning options and comprehensive PC Health monitoring features.

 

     

   
 

As you can see, the Asus P5N-T Deluxe, and likely most other nForce 780i SLI-based motherboards, has a feature laden BIOS.  From within the BIOS users have the ability to configure, enable or disable all of the board's integrated peripherals, and monitor voltages and clock speeds. The board also has a very complete set of memory timing options that offer good flexibility for fine tuning memory performance.

Of course there are plenty of options available to appease overclockers as well.  Users also have the ability to alter clock frequencies and voltages for virtually every major on-board component. The CPU and PCI Express frequencies can be altered in 1MHz increments, and the CPU multiplier and memory ratios can also be manipulated manually, in linked or unlinked modes.  There are also extensive voltage options for the CPU, Memory, chipset, HT link, and DDR2 termination.  There are a host of automatic overclocking tools available (AI Tuning) for the uninitiated, and fans speeds can be monitors and tweaked from within the BIOS as well.

Using the options available in the Asus P5N-T Deluxe's BIOS, we spent some time overclocking a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processor to see what kind of FSB headroom the board had in store.  We dropped the CPU's multiplier and increased the voltages for the chipset slightly and hit a 1725MHz FSB (421MHz quad-pumped) with minimal effort.  We tried to push the board further without much success, however.  We suspect the board is going to need a few more BIOS revisions to reach its maximum potential.

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Our Test Systems and PCMark Vantage



 

How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for either DDR2-800 (NVIDIA) with 4,4,4,12 timings or DDR3-1333 with 7,7,7,20 timings (Intel). The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel and NVIDIA - Head To Head 

System 1:
Core 2 Extreme QX6850
(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus P5NT Deluxe
(nForce 780i SLI Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair DDR2-800
CL 4-4-4 - DDR2-800

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA nForce Drivers v9.46
NVIDIA Forceware v163.75
DirectX Redist (November 2007)

System 2:
Core 2 Extreme QX6850
(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)

EVGA nForce 680i SLI
(nForce 680i SLI Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair DDR2-800
CL 4-4-4 - DDR2-800

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA nForce Drivers v9.46
NVIDIA Forceware v163.75
DirectX Redist (November 2007)

System 3:
C
ore 2 Extreme QX6850
(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus P5E3 Deluxe
(X38 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair DDR3-1800
CL 7-7-7 - DDR3-1333

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
Intel INF 8.3.1.1009
NVIDIA Forceware v163.75
DirectX Redist (November 2007)

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks

For our first round of benchmarks, we ran all of the modules built into Futuremark's PCMark Vantage test suite.  Vantage is a new benchmarking tool that we've incorporated into our arsenal of tests here at HotHardware.  Here's how Futuremark positions their new benchmarking tool:

"The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD test sets with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Vista Consumer scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes CPU, Graphics, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a subset of Consumer Suite tests."

The overall PCMark Vantage score is a weighted average of all of the modules in the Vantage suite calculated in total "PCMarks".  Here are the results:
 



According to PCMark Vantage, the new nForce 780i SLI offers a slight performance advantage over the 680i SLI and X38 chipsets.
 



The PCMark Vantage "Memories" suite includes the following tests:

Memories 1 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU image manipulation and HDD picture import
Memories 2 - Two simultaneous threads, GPU image manipulation and HDD video editing
Memories 3 - Video Transcoding: DV to portable device
Memories 4 - Video Transcoding: media server archive to portable device



PCMark Vantage's Memories test module had the X38 chipset in the lead, likely due to its memory bandwidth advantage, followed by the nForce 780i SLI and then the 680i SLI.

  



Vantage TV and Movies suite includes the following tests:

TV and Movies 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback: HD DVD w/ additional lower bitrate HD content from HDD, as downloaded from the net
TV and Movies 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 19.39 Mbps terrestrial HDTV playback
TV and Movies 3 - HDD Media Center
TV and Movies 4 - Video transcoding: media server archive to portable device, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 48 Mbps Blu-ray playback


 

Vantage's TV and Movies test reported a slight lead for the nForce 680i SLI, with the X38 finishing in second and the 780i SLI bringing up the rear.

 



Courtesy, Futuremark:  "Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages. Today’s games demand high performance graphics cards and CPUs to avoid delays and sluggish performance while playing. Loading screens in games are yesterday’s news. Streaming data from an HDD in games – such as Alan Wake™ – allows for massive worlds and riveting non-stop action. CPUs with many cores give a performance advantage to gamers in real-time strategy and massively multiplayer games. Gaming Suite includes the following tests: "

Gaming 1 - GPU game test
Gaming 2 - HDD: game HDD
Gaming 3 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU game test, Data decompression: level loading
Gaming 4 - Three simultaneous threads, GPU game test, CPU game test, HDD: game HDD




PCMark Vantage's Gaming benchmark, which is dependant on CPU, HD, and Memory performance, had the X38 finishing well ahead of the nForce chipsets.  So far, Vantage's individual benchmark tests are all over the map.

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PCMark Vantage (Continued)


We continue our test coverage with a few more modules from the comprehensive PCMark Vantage suite of benchmarks.  

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks

Vantage Music suite includes the following tests:

Music 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Web page rendering – w/ music shop content, Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player
Music 2 - Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless
Music 3 - Audio transcoding: MP3 -> WMA
Music 4 - Two simultaneous threads, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player


The X38 and nForce 780i SLI were fairly evenly matched in PCMark Vantage's Music benchmark. The nForce 680i SLI trailed the leaders by roughly 200 points, however.




Vantage Communications suite includes the following tests:

Communications 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Data compression, Web page rendering: graphics content, 1024x768, windowed
Communications 2 - Three simultaneous threads. Web page rendering: open various news pages from IE 7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one, Data decryption: CNG AES CBC, HDD: Windows Defender
Communications 3 - Windows Mail: Search
Communications 4  - Two simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA - to simulate VOIP


PCMark Vantage's communications test suite reported very similar scores for the X38 and nForce 680i SLI.  But the new nForce 780i SLI was able to pull ahead by over 270 points, or roughly 5.7%




Vantage Productivity suite includes the following tests:

Productivity 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Text editing, HDD: application loading
Productivity 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, HDD: Windows Defender
Productivity 3 - HDD: Windows Vista start-up
Productivity 4 - Three simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, Windows Mail: Run Message Rules, Web page rendering: simultaneously open various pages from IE7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one.


The same held true in Vantage's productivity suite, where once again the nForce 780i SLI outperformed its competition by a few percentage points.

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LAME MT MP3 Encoding


In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.
 

 LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test

 Converting a Large WAV To MP3


In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.
 




Our custom LAME MT benchmark reported identical scores for both of the nForce based test machines.  The Intel X38, however, finished a couple of seconds behind NVIDIA's offerings here in both the multi-threaded and single-threaded tests.

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POV-Ray and Kribibench


 

POV-Ray, or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard included benchmarking model on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each.   We shoudl also note that we used the latest 64-bit beta build of the program.  Results are measured in pixels-per-second throughput.
  

POV Ray Performance
Details: www.povray.org


POV-Ray was a dead heat, with only 12 points separating the highest and lowest scores. Technically, the X38 came out on top, followed by the nForce 680i SLI, and finally the 780i SLI, but the delta is so small this one is definitely a tie.
 

Kribibench v1.1
Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer where a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported.

We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.

 

Kribibench clearly had issues running on the nForce chipsets.  Both the nForce 780i SLI and 680i SLI put up framerates significantly lower than the X38.  We suspect there was some sort of incompatibility between this application and NVIDIA's nForce drivers that caused the discrepancy.

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Cinebench and 3DMark06


Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.
 

 Cinebench R10 Performance Tests
 3D Modeling & Rendering Tests


This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below, listed in seconds.




Like POV-Ray, the performance results reported by the Cinebench R10 benchmark were a virtual tie. In both the single and multi-threaded tests, only a few points separate the three test systems.
 

 Futuremark 3DMark06 - CPU Test
 Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

 
3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.


3DMark06's CPU performance module put the X38 chipset about 150+ points, or approximately, 3% ahead of the nForce 780i SLI and 680i SLI.

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Game Performance


For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with the Crysis SP demo and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, we drop the resolution to 800x600, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Benchmarks with Crysis SP Demo and ET: Quake Wars
DirectX 10 and OpenGL Gaming Performance


 



The Crysis CPU benchmark reported very similar scores for all three of the test systems, with the nForce 680i SLI finishing in the lead, followed very closely behind by the X38 and then the 780i SLI.  Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, however, had a much larger spread. In the ET:QW benchmark, the X38 finished about 6.5 PFS ahead of the 680i SLI and 19.6 FPS, or about 13.1%, ahead of the 780i SLI.

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3-Way SLI Comparisons


 

For our final set of benchmarks, we compared the 3-Way SLI performance of the new nForce 780i SLI to the nForce 680i SLI.  In these tests, a trio of GeForce 8800 Ultra cards were installed in the two nForce powered test rigs, and some high resolution benchmarks with 3DMark06 and the DX10 version of Company of Heroes were run.
 

Benchmarks with 3DMark06 and Company of Heroes
DirectX 9 and 10 Gaming Performance






In both 3DMark06 and Company of Heroes, regardless of the resolution or test configuration, the nForce 780i SLI put up slightly better scores than the 680i SLI.  As we mentioned earlier, although the NF200 chip doesn't have a full bandwidth link back to the northbridge, in most real-world scenarios performance likely won't be affected because the PCI Express 2.0 links for the graphics cards aren't being saturated.

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Power Consumption


Before we bring this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the motherboards alone.
  

Total System Power Consumption
It's All About the Watts



The nForce 680i SLI was not known as a particularly power firendly chipset.  And since the 780i SLI is essentially the same setup as a 680i SLI, plus a third chip that adds PCI Express 2.0 support, it comes as no surprise that the 780i SLI consumes more power while idling and under load than the 680i and X38.  The difference is only about 7 watts, however.

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Our Summary and Conclusion


Performance SummaryOverall, the new nForce 780i SLI chipset performs right on par with or slightly better than the nForce 680i SLI.  All three of the platforms we tested traded top benchmark scores however and by all rights, can be considered evenly matched.  In some benchmarks, the additional memory bandwidth afforded by the X38's higher-clocked DDR3 RAM gave it an edge over the competition, but in other tests the lower-latency DDR2 used on the nForce systems put them in the lead.  Ultimately, the performance between the platforms is very similar.
 

 

In the end, the nForce 780i SLI isn't much different than the nForce 680i SLI.  But changes to the nForce 780i SLI's motherboard design, which make it compatible with Intel's latest processors and the addition of the NF200 chip, make it a more attractive product overall.  Of course, we would have preferred to see a new SPP with native PCI Express 2.0 support instead of a third major chipset component, but power consumption was only up slightly over the 680i SLI and performance was similar; so there's only so much nitpicking we'll do.  A new SPP with DDR3 memory support will likely arrive in the not too distant future anyway, that will probably not require the NF200 for PCI Express 2.0 support.  That product will be the true next-gen nForce.  Until that time comes though, the nForce 780i SLI is NVIDIA's top of the line currently.

The nForce 780i SLI is what it is - an evolutionary update to an existing platform technology that adds new features like ESA, PCI Express 2.0, and increases compatibility.  The nForce 780i SLI's performance was good throughout testing and our test system was rock-solid and stable until we overclocked it well beyond factory specs.  If you're looking to build a high-end SLI-capable rig around one of Intel's latest 45nm processors, the nForce 780i SLI is the answer for now.


  • Solid Performance
  • 62 PCI Express Lanes
  • PCI Express 2.0
  • 3-Way SLI Support
  • Works with all Intel CPUs
  • Power Consumption
  • Lack-luster Overclocking


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