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NVIDIA nForce 780a SLI Motherboard Round-Up
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Date: May 06, 2008
Section:Motherboards
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Features


It is hard to believe that it has been almost two full years since NVIDIA released a new flagship chipset for the AMD platform.  Since the nForce 590i SLI's official release in May of 2006, NVIDIA has introduced a handful of mid-range and more affordable chipsets for the AMD-platform, but the 590i SLI was it at the high-end, despite AMD's release of their quad-core Phenom processors and competing 7-series chipsets.

Early this year while out at CES, we told you about NVIDIA's plans to mix things up at the high-end of their AMD chipset line-up with the IGP-equipped nForce 780a SLI, but it has taken quite a bit of time to bring that to market.  Today, we present to you three nForce 780a SLI-based motherboards (two from Asus and one from MSI), that are sure to pique the interest of all of the AMD fans out there and maybe a few mainstream system builders as well.  For the first time since the Phenom launch, AMD fans will now be able to pair up NVIDIA's flagship graphics configurations with an AMD CPU and exploit all of the features inherent to both.

Today isn't just about the nForce 780a SLI, however, as NVIDIA is also disclosing more details regarding other members of the nForce 700a family as well.




nForce 780a SLI with Dual GeForce 9800 GX2s

As we've already mentioned, the flagship model in the nForce 700a series of chipsets is the 780a SLI. We've got a high-level overview of the chipset below and then we'll talk a bit about the nForce 750a SLI as well.


As you can see in this high-level block diagram, the nForce 780a SLI uses NVIDIA's NF200 chip for 32 lanes of PCI Express Gen 2 and 3-way SLI support.  The MCP also features an additional three lanes of PCI Express Gen 1 connectivity, a single GigeE network controller, 12 USB 2.0 ports, Azalia HD audio, up to five PCI slots, Media Shield storage technology and ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture) support.

The 780a SLI features two video outputs (one digital, one analog) and an mGPU with similar functionality to a GeForce 8400 series discreet graphics card.  This mGPU is Windows Vista Premium certified and DX10 capable.  It also features NVIDIA's PureVideo HD engine for full CPU offload of all HD video codecs, but it has only a single-link DVI output that supports a max resolution of only 1920x1200.  We should also point out that the 700a series of MCPs (its northbridge), will be manufactured at 65nm, and are mostly single-chip designs.


 

In terms of features, the nForce 780a SLI and nForce 750a SLI don't differ very much. Basically, the only differences between the two chipsets are in their total number of PCI Express lanes / links and support for ESA. This means the nForce 750a only two-way SLI, which is plenty for the vast majority of users, but other than that the two chipsets are quite similar.
 

As we've noted in previous articles, NVIDIA is utilizing their NF200 chip to bring PCI Express 2.0 support to a few of their high-end chipsets. In addition to offering 32 PCI Express lanes, however, the NF200 chip also features some proprietary NVIDIA technologies dubbed PW Short and Broadcast.
 

  
Broadcast



 
PW Short

Essentially, what NVIDIA has done with the NF200 is build-in a couple of "fast paths" inside the switch device, dedicated and tuned to optimizing mulit-GPU SLI transaction performance, both back to the root CPU complex and peer-to-peer between GPUs

Broadcast Mode and PW Short:
Specifically, there are two functional blocks as you'll note in the above diagrams, denoted as "Broadcast" and "PW Short". The Broadcast block provides a broadcast send mode for root complex transactions down to all GPUs in the system. This allows efficient transfer of data in one group transaction. PWShort, (which stands for Posted Write Short), is a dedicated "cut-through" mode for peer-to-peer communications between the GPUs, without the need to tap on upstream bandwidth to the CPU complex.  What this means is that given the right workload, Broadcast and PWShort allow for faster, more efficient data transfers too and from the GPUs, with much less contention across the switch.

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More Features and Overview



One of the major features inherent to the nForce 700a series of chipsets is support for Hybrid SLI.  NVIDIA's Hybrid SLI technology gives users the ability to pair an IGP, or mGPU (motherboard GPU) as NVIDIA calls it, with a discreet graphics card, or cards, for two new modes of operation.  NVIDIA calls these new modes Hybrid Power and GeForce Boost.

GeForce Boost does what its name suggests.  By coupling the motherboard's integrated GPU with a discreet graphics card, the 3D rendering workload is shared between the two GPUs for a boost in performance.  Currently, GeForce Boost is only supported by GeForce 8400 GS and 8500 GT discreet cards, as for the IGP, the GeForce 8x00 and nForce 7x0a series will be supported initially, although new IGPs for the Intel platform that support Hybrid SLI are slated to arrive as well.

 



Hybrid Power mode is also fairly self explanatory.  With a monitor connected to the mGPU, the discreet graphics card can be almost completely shut down to reduce power consumption when not in use.  A side effect of the reduced power consumption will also be reduced heat and potentially less noise output from the system.  The discreet card is shutdown (or enabled) using the SMBUS connection inherent to the PCI Express graphics slots.  We should also note, that Hybrid SLI is supported by both PCI Express Gen 1 and Gen2.

NVIDIA's Hybrid SLI technology is controlled by system status and the Window Vista Power Plan.  Hybrid Power, for example, is enabled when the system reaches an idle state to reduce power consumption.  We spoke with NVIDIA back during an early briefing and asked if an auto-switching system based on applications or workload for GeForce Boost and Hybrid Power was in the works, and company representatives explained that they would like to enable this type of functionality, but that it wouldn't be ready upon initial release.

As it stands today, a new control panel icon in the system tray will give user's the ability to configure Hybrid SLI for other modes of operation.  Because a Hybrid SLI system will have multiple GPUs installed, it's also possible to run multiple displays.

As has been the case for their last few high-end chipset releases, NVIDIA has designed a reference platform for the nForce 780a SLI. 


NVIDIA's Reference nForce 780a SLI Motherboard

NVIDIA's reference nForce 780a SLI platform exploits all of the features inherent to the chipset and has a slot configuration that allows for 3-way SLI configurations. We didn't test a reference board in this article, but have seen them running at a number of events. Instead, we tested a few retail-ready motherboards, that we'll show you on the pages ahead.

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Asus M3N-HT Deluxe


We got our hands on three new retail-ready nForce 780a SLI-based motherboards for the purpose of this round-up, the Asus M3N-HT Deluxe shown here, the Asus CrossHair II Formula, and the MSI K9N2 Diamond.

In the days leading up to this launch, NVIDIA advised the tech press that the M3N-HT Deluxe, with its latest BIOS, was the only 780a SLI-based board to have been tested and confirmed to support  Hybrid Power, so the majority of our tests centered around this board.


     

     

     


The M3N-HT Deluxe looks much like the older M2N32-SLI, and includes a similar accessory bundle.  Along with the motherboard itself, Asus included a host of SATA and other drive cables, a funk RAM cooler that can be bolted to the heatsink assembly, 3-way and 2-way SLI connectors, an HDMI to DVI converter, an optional cooling fan, and some other assorted stuff like manuals, Q-connectors, a driver DVD, I/O shield, and a case bracket with additional USB and Firewire ports.

In general, we found the M3N-HT Deluxe's layout to be good, and didn't encounter any clearance issues with a variety of graphics cards and an aftermarket Arctic Cooling CPU cooler.  The chipset and 8+2 Phase VRM are cooled but a low-profile, copper heatsink assembly with heat-pipes connecting the various heatsinks. Throughout testing, we found the heatsinks to get fairly hot to the touch, even with residual airflow from the CPU cooler, but didn't encounter any heat related instability.

Overall, our experience so far with the M3N-HT Deluxe has been good.  It seems the BIOS still needs some tweaking, however, as we encountered a few minor issues related to the board detecting which GPU had a display attached, but we suspect this will be ironed out in a future release.


     

     


Speaking of the BIOS, its menus are typical of a product in Asus' AI Lifestyle line-up.  There are a good assortment of performance related options, controls for the embedded "Express Gate" OS, and controls for all of the board's integrated peripherals, including the nForce 780a SLI mGPU / IGP.

On the overclocking front, there are an assortment of voltages and multiplier adjustments available that should appease many AMD overclockers. The options aren't as extensive as those available with the CrossHair II Formula we're going to show you next, but we had no trouble overclocking a Phenom X4 9850 to  over 2.8GHz (the max for this particular CPU) using a combination of multiplier and HT reference clock manipulation (14 x 205MHz).

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Asus CrossHair II Formula



The original nForce 590 SLI-based Asus CrossHair was one of our favorite socket AM2 motherboards.  At the time of its release, the CrossHair sported a number of unique features, like an easy to read, external LCD POST code error reporter, a separate audio daughterboard, and a very complete BIOS, that set it apart from most other socket AM2 motherboards.  And it's performance was top notch too.
 
The new nForce 780a SLI-based CrossHair II Formula has a few things in common with the original CrossHair in that they are both members of Asus' "Republic of Gamers", or R.O.G., series of motherboards and sport a similar color scheme. But the newer version of the board is superior in a number of ways.


     

      

     


Before we get to the specifics, let focus on the CrossHair II Formula's bundle for a moment.  The board includes Asus' Supreme FX II audio daughterboard (ADI HD codec), an external LCD Poster POST code error reporter, an HDMI to DVI adapter, an optional fan, and an assortment of manuals, cables, and SLI bridge connectors. We should also point out that Asus throws in a copy of Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, which is a fairly good game if you're into real-time strategy games.

The CrossHair II Formula's layout was also good.  Its slot configuration and connector placement can accommodate 3-way SLI configurations without a problem, and its cooling apparatus won't get in the way of large aftermarket CPU coolers. Like the M3N-HT Deluxe, the CrossHair II Formula has heatsinks on the chipset and VRM, and they are all linked via heat-pipes, but on the CrossHair they are made of copper and aluminum, not just copper.

The CrossHair II Formula has some handy on-board features like micro power and reset switches and an external clear CMOS switch, and its I/O backplane is loaded with six USB 2.0 ports, a single Firewire port, a PS/2 port, dual Gigabit LAN jacks, digital audio outputs, and VGA and HDMI video outputs.


      

     


Like the other members of the R.O.G. series of motherboards, the Asus CrossHair II Formula has an extensive set of BIOS options.  This motherboard has no less than ten different voltage options, multiplier adjustments for the CPU and various HT / NB links, and individual frequency adjustments for the HT reference clock and PCI Express links.  Like the older CrossHair, this new version has plenty of options for overclockers and performance enthusiasts.

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MSI K9N2 Diamond


The K9N2 Diamond is MSI's flagship socket AM2+ motherboard. Like the Asus M3N-HT Deluxe and CrossHair II Formula, the K9N2 Diamond supports 3-way SLI and exploits all of the features inherent to the nForce 780a SLI chipset, but MSI definitely took a different approach than Asus in the design of this board.


     

      

      

MSI includes a nice assortment of accessories with the K9N2 Diamond.  Along with the board, MSI also throws in a variety of SATA and other drive cables, including an eSATA case bracket with power and data cables.  The usual manuals, drivers, and custom I/O shield were included as well, along with a case bracket with additional USB and Firewire ports and a trio of soft SLI bridge connectors.  Perhaps the most interesting accessory, however, was the MSI branded SoundBlaster X-Fi Extreme audio card.  This MSI-branded X-Fi card uses the same native PCI Express CA0110 audio chip as Creative's X-Fi Extreme Audio retail cards.

The motherboard itself has a good layout with all of its major connectors and headers situated around the edges of the PCB and out of the way of the CPU socket.  All of the headers are color coded and clearly labeled, which makes setup nice and easy, and cooling won't be an issue thanks to MSI's funky looking Circu-Pipe cooling apparatus.  The Circu-Pipe links the chipset and VRM with an elaborate array of copper heatsinks and heatipes that end in a semi-circular array of fins just behind the I/O backplane. The board also features solid polymerized capacitors, which are more durable than mroe common electrolytic caps.

Due to the K9N2 Diamond's slot configuration, a standard hard 3-way SLI connector won't fit this motherboard should three 8800 / 9800 GTX cards be installed, but the included soft bridges can be used when connected in a particular crisscross pattern.


     

     

The MSI K9N2 Diamond's BIOS is fairly extensive and falls somewhere in between the M3N-HT Deluxe and CrossHair II Formula in terms of options. There are a myriad of overclocking related tools listed in the Cell Menu section of the BIOS, which include voltage, frequency and multiple adjustments, and options for tuning memory and integrated peripherals are available as well.

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Our Test Systems and SANDRA


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 DDR2-1066 (AMD) with 5,5,5,15 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 AMD - Head To Head 

System 1:
Core 2 Quad Q6600
(2.40GHz - Quad-Core)
Core 2 Duo E6600
(2.40GHz - Dual-Core) 

Asus P5E3 Premium
(X48 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair DDR3-1800
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

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

System 2:
AMD Phenom X4 9850
(2.5GHz)

Asus M3N-HT Deluxe
(nForce 780a SLI)

Asus CrossHair II Formula
(nForce 780a SLI

MSI K9N2 Diamond
(nForce 780a SLI) 

Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6
(AMD 790FX Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500
CL 5-5-5-15 - DDR2-1066

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v163.75/174.15 (Hybrid Testing)
DirectX Redist (November 2007)

 

 Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA XII
 Synthetic Benchmarks


We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA XII suite with an AMD Phenom X4 9850 processor installed in the Asus M3N-HT Deluxe motherboard (CPU Arithmetic, Memory Bandwidth, and Memory Latency).  All of the scores reported below were taken with the processors running a clock speed of 2.5GHz, with 2GB of DDR2-1066 RAM installed.  Please note however, that when the nForce 780a SLI IGP is used, 256MB of system memory is reserved for the IGP, which brings down the total amount of availabl memory and bandwidth.


 
Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz
CPU Arithmetic
nForce 780a SLI IGP

  
Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz

Memory Bandwidth
nForce 780a SLI IGP

 
Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz

Memory Latency
nForce 780a SLI IGP


  
 
Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz
CPU Arithmetic
 nForce 780a SLI Discreet Graphics


 
  
Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz
Memory Bandwidth
  nForce 780a SLI Discreet Graphics

 

  
Phenom X4 9850 @ 2.5GHz
Memory Latency
  nForce 780a SLI Discreet Graphics


The SiSoft SANDRA results above show how utilizing the nForce 780a SLI IGP affects CPU and memory performance. If you flip through the various results above, you'll see that the CPU Arithmetic and Multimedia benchmarks show very little variation in the two different configurations.  The Memory Bandwidth test, however, shows the system with discreet graphics having a 700MB/s advantage in terms of peak bandwidth.  This is direct result of the IGP sharing memory with the system.  We'll show how this affects overall system performance as well on the pages ahead.

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PCMark Vantage


We ran all three of the nForce 780a SLI based motherboards we showed you earlier, through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage, using both a discreet graphics card and the 780a SLI's IGP. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.  Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a quad-core CPU.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance




PCMark Vantage told a very interesting story. According to this benchmark suite, the nForce 780a SLI is a few percentage points faster or right on par with the AMD 790FX chipset in every test with the exception of 'Communications' where the nForce boards blew everything out of the water.  Usually this particular test scales with CPU performance, but it ran exceptional well on the nForce platform for some reason. Also note, system performance using the IGP isn't adversely affected in most tests.  Only the 'Gaming' (which is to be expected) and the 'Memories" tests show a sharp drop off with the IGP.

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LAME MT and Kribibench


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
Audio Encoding

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. 




There is no variation in performance between the AMD-powered systems, regardless of the chipset or whether or not the IGP was used in the LAME MT benchmark. Let's move on. Nothing to see here.

Kribibench v1.1
CPU-Bound 3D Rendering

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.

The two Kribibench tests we used told us two things - the three nForce 780a SLI-based motherboards we tested all perform similarly with, and without, the IGP, and using the IGP lowers performance by a fraction of a frame per second.

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Cinebench R10 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
3D Rendering

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.


 Cinebench R10 showed very little variation between the AMD-powered systems. And, once again, using the IGP had only a marginal - if any - impact on performance.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

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 tells essentially the same story as Cinebench and the Kribibench results on the previous page. The various nForce 780a SLI boards we tested all performed similarly, as did the AMD 790FX. And using the IGP had very little impact on performance - at least in this test.

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Gaming: Crysis and F.E.A.R.


For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and F.E.A.R. When testing motherboards or processors with Crysis or F.E.A.R., 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.

Low-Resolution Gaming: Crysis and F.E.A.R.
Taking the GPU out of the Equation





There are two things we can ascertain from the results above. While using a discreet graphics card, the nForce 780a SLI put up slightly better scores than the AMD 790FX.  We suspect coupling an NVIDIA graphics card with an NVIDIA chipset, which usually increases performance somewhat, is the root cause of the increases seen here. We also see that the nForce 780a SLI IGP is able to run, and put up respectably frame rates, in both games at these relatively low settings.  If you'd like to see how the IGP fared in more taxing situations, we're going to cover that in a couple of pages.

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Video Playback Performance


We also did some quick testing of the nForce 780a SLI's video processing engine as it is implemented on the Asus M3N-HT Deluxe, in terms of both image quality and CPU utilization with some HQV and H.264 playback tests.

Video Playback Performance: SD and HD
HQV and H.264


HQV is comprised of a sampling of SD video clips and test patterns that have been specifically designed to evaluate a variety of interlaced video signal processing tasks, including decoding, de-interlacing, motion correction, noise reduction, film cadence detection, and detail enhancement. As each clip is played, the viewer is required to "score" the image based on a predetermined set of criteria. The numbers listed below are the sum of the scores for each section. We played the HQV DVD using the latest version of Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra, with hardware acceleration for NVIDIA PureVideo HD extensions enabled.
 

 


The nForce 780a SLI doesn't fare quite as well as current NVIDIA discreet graphics cards do, an 8800 GT for example scores 128, but a score of 103 is very good for an IGP. Possible improvements with future driver revisions in the Jaggies and noise reduction tests would boost the score to discreet card levels.


 

Next we conducted a test using an H.264 encoded movie clip which is available for download from NASA's HD showcase website.  The CPU utilization data gathered during this testswas taken from Windows Vista's built-in Performance Monitor. The graphs show the CPU utilization for the nForce 780a SLI IGP while playing back the 1080i QuickTime clip.


 
nForce 780a SLI IGP


With an AMD Phenom X4 9850 powering our test machine, the nForce 780a SLI IGP required an average of only 10.67% of the CPU's resources to playback the HD clip. The PureVideo HD engine incorporated into the IGP seems to be doing its job nicely.

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Hybrid SLI Testing: GeForce Boost


As we mentioned earlier, one of the nForce 780a SLI's main features is support for Hybrid SLI, when paired up with a compatible graphics card. The new modes available with Hybrid SLI are "GeForce Boost" and "Hybrid Power".  With GeForce Boost, an entry level graphics card (currently the 8400 GS or 8500 GT) can be paired up with the nForce 780a SLI IGP for increased performance, or a high-end graphics card (currently the 9800 GTX or 9800 GX2) can be used for more demanding 3D applications while the IGP is used in less taxing scenarios.

We tested both modes of operation with a GeForce 8500 GT or GeForce 9800 GTX.

High-Resolution Gaming: Crysis, 3DMark06, and F.E.A.R.
Taxing the IGP








GeForce Boost with the 8500 GT seemed to work quite well for increasing 3D performance.  As you can see in the results above, pairing the discreet card and IGP together resulted in significantly increased performance in F.E.A.R. and 3DMark06. Crysis showed a slight gain, but that was likely due to the benchmark's margin of error and not GeForce Boost mode in and of itself.






For increased power savings, NVIDIA recommends users connect their display to the nForce 780a SLI IGP's video output even when a more powerful graphics card is installed in the system. The frame buffer from the more powerful card is copied over to the IGP's shared memory, where it is then output to the screen. NVIDIA claims there is only a very minor performance penalty associated with the process, so we decided to do a quick test to see for ourselves. As the results above show, there is a small hit when using the motherboard's video output.  We should note, however, that there is also a significant power savings using the motherboard's output, as we'll show you next.

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Hybrid Power, 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 systems were 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
Tested at the Outlet


 
According to our results, the new nForce 780a SLI-based motherboards consume considerably less power than the 790FX-based GA-MA790FX-DQ6. Idle power consumption is similar, but under load our 790FX test bed uses much more power. The GA-MA790FX-DQ6 has been known to consume quite a bit of power, and our sample is from a very early batch, which exacerbates the issue. Perhaps other 790FX boards will far better in this comparison, but unfortunately we did not have another available to test in this respect.


 


We also monitored out test system's power consumption using the Hybrid Power mode available with the nForce 780a SLI when paired with either a GeForce 9800 GTX or GX2 - we used a single GTX. In Hybrid Power mode, the discreet graphics card can be almost totally shut down, which obviously saves power.
 
As you can see, Hybrid Power mode seemed to work well. The system consumed only seven more watts than it did with no discreet graphics card installed in it at all and 48 fewer watts than it did with the discreet card running in Boost mode.

We should also point out that we noticed the discreet graphics card completely disappeared from Device Manager when Hybrid Power mode was used. Essentially, by shutting down the card, it's like it is no longer installed in the system as far as Windows is concerned.

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Our Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary: All three of the motherboards we tested based on NVIDIA's new nForce 780a SLI chipset performed well throughout our entire battery of tests. The Asus M3N-HT Deluxe, CrossHair II Formula, and MSI K9N2 Diamond all put up scores on-par with or better than a Gigabyte motherbaord based on AMD's own 790FX chipset. The nForce 780a SLI IGP also performed well for an integrated solution and Hybrid Power and GeForce Boost worked as advertised. We saw solid scaling with GeForce Boost enabled and idle power consumption dropped considerably with Hybrid Power mode enabled.





NVIDIA may be a little late to the socket AM2+ game with the nForce 780a SLI chipset, but they have produced a solid high-end offering with some innovative features, nonetheless.  Although we've had a relatively short time to pull this article together and haven't had as much experience with the boards as we would have liked, we think the nForce 780a SLI is going to be solid chipset for the AMD platform.  We did experience some minor issues related to display detection when switching between the IGP and a discreet graphics card, but we suspect they'll be ironed out in short order with future BIOS and driver revisions.

In every measurable category, the nForce 780a SLI-based motherboards we've shown you here compete favorably with similar high-end offerings based on AMD's 7-series chipset, with the added benefit of an IGP and support for SLI / Hybrid SLI. Hopefully NVIDIA's partners can get these board out to market quickly, because we suspect many AMD fans have been waiting for a new AM2+, SLI-capable chipset to take a new Phenom for a spin alongside a couple of GeForce cards.

Street prices for the boards we tested aren't available just yet, but expect to pay $200 - $250+ for enthusiast class nForce 780a SLI-based products like the ones we've shown you here. nForce 750a SLI-based boards should settle in below the $200 mark when they arrive, with the nForce 730a and 720a filling the more affordable price points below.



 

  • Good IGP
  • SLI and Hybrid SLI Support
  • Strong Performance
  • Late to market
  • Display Detections Issues



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