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Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe - nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition
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Date: Apr 28, 2005
Section:Motherboards
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specfications

 

Over the past several years, NVIDIA has not only made a name for themselves in the Desktop Motherboard Chipset business but they have also cultivated a profitable and highly successful business unit in this area as well, commanding approximately 48% market share in the AMD Athlon 64 based market segment. With design wins at virtually all of the major Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers for their nForce 3 and nForce 4 product offering, it was no great surprise when NVIDIA and Intel announced a broad, multi-year patent cross license agreement and front-side bus license agreement that enables the company to deliver nForce platform technology on Intel-based systems.

Recently we gave you a look at an nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition reference design motherboard from NVIDIA that of course also had the capability to support Dual X16 PCI Express Graphics cards with NVIDIA's proprietary SLI Graphics technology.  In this product launch article we got a taste of what the NVIDIA Engineering labs had in store for us in terms of the base platform solution.  Today, only a few weeks later, we have our first retail ready nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition board in from none other than Asus.  In typical Asus fashion the company has the enthusiast squarely in their sights, with their new P5ND2-SLI Deluxe product offering.  In the pages ahead, we'll step you through the features and performance profile of this new high end desktop motherboard.

Specification of the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe
Intel Edition nForce 4 SLI Asus Style
CPU
LGA775 socket for Intel Pentium 4/Celeron CPU
Compatible with Intel 6XX, 5XX and 3XX processors
Intel Hyper-Threading Technology ready
Supports Intel Enhanced Memory 64 Technology(EM64T)
Supports Enhanced Intel SteepStep Technology(EIST)
Intel new next generation CPUs enabling ( subject to Intel CPU availability and NVIDIA chipset supportability )

Chipset
nVIDIA nForce4 SLI - Intel Edition ( Crush 19 )
nVIDIA MCP-04

System Bus
1066 / 800MHz

Memory
Dual channel memory architecture
4 x 240-pin DIMM sockets support
8GB / 4GB DDR2 667/533/400 non-ECC memory

( 8GB DDR2 support for 64 bit OS platform only )
Native DDR2 720 support

Expansion Slots
2 x PCI Express x16 slot
- SLI mode : x8 , x8
- Normal (Single VGA) mode : x16, x1
2 x PCI Express x1
3 x PCI

Storage
South Bridge nForce4 Storage:
- 4 x SATAII
- 2 x UltraDMA 133/100/66/33
- NVRAID : RAID0, RAID1, RAID 0+1, Software RAID 5 and JBOD span cross SATA and PATA
Silicon Image 3132R RAID controllers :
- 2 x SATAII
- RAID 0, 1 and external SATA connectability

Audio
Realtek ALC850, 8-channel CODEC
Audio Sensing and Enumeration Technology
Coaxial/Optical S/PDIF out ports on back I/O

LAN

nForce4 built-in Gbit MAC with external Marvell PHY :
- NV ActiveArmor
- NV Firewall
- AI NET2
Intel PCI Gbit LAN controller

IEEE 1394
TI 1394 controller supports 2 x 1394 ports

USB 2.0
Max. 10 USB2.0 ports

AI BIOS
CrashFree BIOS 2
Q-Fan 2
Post Reporter


AI Proactive Features
AI NOS (Non-delay Overclocking System)
Precision Tweaker
PEG (PCI Express Graphics) Link Mode
Fanless Design
AI NET2 network diagnosis before entering OS

Form Factor
ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.6"(30.5cm x 24.5cm)


Special Features
SLI
Under SLI mode : support two identical SLI-ready graphics cards
Under Default(Single VGA) mode: supports all PCI Express graphics cards
ASUS EZ Plug
ASUS SLI Status LED
ASUS EZ Selector
ASUS two-slot thermal design
ASUS PEG Link for dual PCIe graphic cards
Other
Fanless Design
CrashFree BIOS 2
Q-Fan2
1 x PS/2 Mouse
Multi-language BIOS
MyLogo2

Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x Parallel
1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x PS/2 Mouse
2 x RJ45
4 x USB 2.0/1.1
1 x External SATA
1 x IEEE1394
8-Channel Audio I/O

Internal I/O Connectors
1 x SLI selector card connector
3 x USB 2.0 connector supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x IEEE1394 connector
1 x COM connector
1 x GAME/MIDI connector
CPU Fan / 2x Chassis Fan/ Power Fan/ Chipset Fan connectors
Front panel audio connector
Chassis Intrusion connector
CD audio-in connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
4-pin ATX 12V Power connector
4-pin EZ Plug power connector

Support CD
Drivers
InterVideo WinDVD Suite (OEM version)
ASUS PC Probe - PC Health Monitoring Software
ASUS LiveUpdate Utility
ASUS AI Booster
NVIDIA nTune Utility
Anti-virus software (OEM version)


    

As we've seen with virtually all recent Asus "Deluxe" model motherboards that have come into our labs, the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe is nicely appointed with a slew of cabling and I/O port brackets, from Serial ATA power and data cables, to external, Firewire and USB ports.  In addition, the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe also has an external SATA port on the back panel I/O plate. Of course, Asus also provides a PCI Express board to board connector card, for accommodating a pair of NVIDIA PCI Express graphics cards, providing an inter-card signaling link between them.  On the software side, Asus decided to go a little lighter on the bundle than we've seen with previous models, but we certainly wouldn't call it skimpy, with InterVideo WinDVD adding a solid Digital Video compliment to go along with Asus proprietary utilities like PC Probe Health Monitoring software, AI Booster Overclocking tools, as well as NVIDIA's own nTune utility.  Before we move on, have a quick scan at the nForce 4 Intel Edition chipset block diagram above in this page for reference, and then we'll dig further into the hardware feature set of the motherboard next.

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Up Close, Layout and Features

If you were to sum up the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe in one word, we would offer that it is quite simply "tight".  This board is so jam-packed with the latest technology, that there is hardly a square millimeter of open PCB area available for any other component placement.

The Board: Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe
Duality all over the place...

Let's start with the obvious and move on to the less obvious areas.  First the back panel I/O bracket sports dual Gigabit Ethernet ports courtesy of an Intel Gig-E MAC/Phy chip and Marvell Gig-E phy chip in combination with NVIDIA's built in Gigabit MAC with NV Firewall and NV ActiveArmor intrusion detection features (more details here).

Then there is the addition of SATA II hard drive support driven by the nForce 4's Southbridge chip.  SATA II drives are just starting to show up on the market now and while we were only able to test this new Asus board with a standard SATA I Western Digital Raptor drive, the upgrade path to SATA II's 3Gbps bandwidth, double that of SATA I, and hardware Native Command Queueing, make it a very attractive bonus feature that users can benefit from in the months ahead as SATA II drives become more prevalent.

Layout wise the board is well thought out, but there are a few snags along the way.  There are three standard PCI slots in addition to the two PCI Express X16 graphics slots.  However, in between those slots is where things get a little too busy.  Not only are there two X1 PCI Express slots in between the graphics slots, but then there is the SODIMM form-factor reminiscent Asus mezzanine card that plugs in horizontal to the PCB and configures the PCI Express lanes of the Northbridge for two X8 configurations in the case of dual graphics mode, or one X16 configs for single graphics card configurations. Perhaps Asus had to put those X1 PCIe slots somewhere but more optimal position could probably have been found.  Regardless, with virtually zero X1 PCI Express add-in cards on the market end users are much more like to fill those standard PCI slots with any other peripherals that could possibly be needed in the future.  Other than that, power and storage connectors are in all the right places and this board works really well with cable management considering all that it has going on under the hood.

Finally, as you can see in some of shots above the cooling on this motherboard is all passive, that is to say that there are no fans installed on either the North or South bridges.  The Northbridge sink, while at first glance is both stylish and somewhat impressive, is rather inadequate in our opinion, to handle the heat that's driven from the nForce 4 SPP (System Platform Processor) Norhtbridge chip , even the MCP Southbridge chip gets a tad too hot for our liking.  While we personally didn't experience any instability issues as a result of this, we'd advise robust airflow in any chassis installation and perhaps even positioning a side intake fan over the Northbridge and adjacent graphics slot areas.

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The BIOS and Overclocking

The beauty of both the recently announced nForce 4 and Intel i955X offerings of PCI Express based chipsets for the Intel platform are official support of DDR2-667, and in the case of the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset, complete autonomy between FSB speed and Memory speed.  You can dial in virtually any speed you want for memory or FSB separate of each other, so there should be a lot of flexibility available in BIOS tweaking options.  Let's have a look.

The BIOS: Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe
Phoenix Award is back

Although Asus gave us an AMI BIOS implementation on our last outing with their P5AD2-E Premium board, this time around it's back to good ol' Phoenix Award.  With respect to overclocking tools, users can select from a number of Front Side Bus and Memory speed setting options, including Asus' AI NOS and AI Overclock modes.  AI NOS (Artificial Intelligent Non Delay Overclocking System) allows users to set a percentage overclock threshold that is triggered at specific load points depending on system usage and available resources.  If the CPU is heavily loaded, NOS will kick in and overclock dynamically and according to percentage settings you plug into the BIOS.  AI Overclock basically is a menu of preset overclocking combinations of CPU and Memory speed. 

And then of course, there's "Expert" mode, our personal favorite, which allows users to dial FSB and Memory speeds completely independent of each other with this board, and then support those speeds if need be with a various voltage tweaks in CPU, Memory, FSB Termination, and even North and Southbridge chipsets.  Finally, there's also a setting called LDT Frequency, which is a clock ratio setting that AMD users are probably familiar with from those recent nForce incarnations.  The nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset actually uses a HyperTransport link to the Southbridge.  As a result users are also given the ability to adjust multipliers off the front side bus with the LDT Frequency option, should overclocked FSB speeds cause that HT link to go unstable.  All told this BIOS is an enthusiast and tweakers dream and as you'll see in the tests that follow, we overclocked our CPUs like crazy with all these tools at our disposal.

Overclocking With The Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe
OC'ing The 3.73GHz P4 Extreme Edition and a 3.2GHz Pentium 840 Extreme Edition

We decided to try our hand at overclocking both a Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.73GHz chip, as well as a Pentium 840 3.2GHz Dual Core CPU with the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe.  Below are a few shots of CPU-Z's report of these chips and our system setup which included some blazing fast new memory from Corsair.

      


Pentium 4 EE 3.73GHz
Stable @ 4.2GHz

Pentium 840 3.2GHz
Stable @ 3.52GHz

What we ended up with was an amazing 4.2GHz completely stable overclock on the 3.73GHz stock Pentium 4 EE chip.  This was achieved with the core voltage set to "auto", believe it or not, and the FSB dialed in at 1200MHz (300MHz Quad Data Rate)with 667MHz dialed in on for a DDR2 Memory speed.  In addition, we were also only working with a stock Intel CPU HSF but the test was performed on an open air bench.  However, as you can see above, the P5ND2-SLI and our P4 EE chip were perfectly stable for a long period of time, running both Folding and Prime 95 simultaneously at a relatively modest 62oC.

The Pentium 840 chip was a different animal altogether but things were definitely more CPU limited in this test.  When we dropped the multiplier on the chip to anything below 15X (ie. 14X1066 FSB for 3.73GHz) the chip would boot into WinXP but with only one active core and no HyperThreading capability. We were able to take the FSB up to 900MHz (or a 225MHz Quad Data Rate clock) but the chip would eventually overheat under load with a full system reset.  What we ended at ultimately was a mild 3.52GHz overclock when fully loaded on our bench at 70oC.  Without question the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe is a fantastic board for overclocking the new 6XX series of P4s and the 3.73GHz Extreme Edition with future compatibility to support Dual Core Pentium CPUs as well.  In addition, the ability to adjust Memory speeds completely asynchronous from FSB speeds with this board, most definitely leaves the end user lots of wiggle room for tweaking.

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Test Setup, Tools Of The Trade and Sandra

For your reference, below are our test system specs and setup.  We used identical components across all platforms wherever possible and our methodology was to configure each system for optimal performance at stock processor speeds, with the exception of the Pentium 840 which was overclocked in our SLI gaming tests toward the end of this article.

Test System Specifications
"Intel & AMD Inside!"
SYSTEM 1:
Pentium 4 EE 3.73GHz
(LGA 775)

nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition
(Reference Motherboard)

2x512MB Corsair DDR2-667

PC2-5400 @ 533MHz & 667MHz
CL 3-2-2-7

GeForce 6800 GT
(x2 for SLI)
On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
nForce 4 Drivers v7.02
NVIDIA Forceware v71.84
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 2:
Pentium 4 EE 3.73GHz

Pentium 840 3.2GHz
(LGA 775)

Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe
nForce 4 SLI Intel Ed. chipset

2x512MB Corsair DDR2-667

PC2-5400 @ 533MHz
CL 3-2-2-7

GeForce 6800 GT
(x2 for SLI)
On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel Chipset Drivers v6.3.0.1007
NVIDIA Forceware v71.84
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 3:
AMD Athlon 64 4000+

(Skt. 939 2.4GHz)

Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI
nForce 4 SLI chipset (AMD)

2x512MB Corsair XPert

PC3200
CL 2-2-2-10

GeForce 6800 GT (x2 for SLI)
Onboard Ethernet
Onboard Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
nForce 4 Drivers v6.53

Forceware v71.84
DirectX 9.0c
SYSTEM 4:
Pentium 4 EE 3.73GHz
(LGA 775)

Intel D955XBK
i955X Express chipset

2x512MB Corsair DDR2-667

PC2-5400 @ 533MHz
CL 3-2-2-7

GeForce 6800 GT
(x2 for SLI)
On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel Chipset Drivers v7.0.0.1019
NVIDIA Forceware v71.84
DirectX 9.0c
Test System Memory and Power Supply Showcase
The essentials of a solid system

We typically don't offer "shameless plugs" for products here at HotHardware.com but we felt compelled to tell you about a couple of critical components that were used throughout all of our testing.  We've recently begun working with new high performance, low latency DDR2 Corsair memory and a very top notch Power Supply from OCZ Technology for our current Intel platform testing.

         

 

                      

Left is a pair of Corsair XMS2-5400UL v1.2 modules that comprise their Twin2X1024A-5400UL kit. They are rated for 675MHz at CAS 3, 2, 2, 8 settings.  These sticks run at a recommended stout 2.10V and were absolutely the most stable RAM we could get our hands on with these aggressive timings and high bus speeds in combination.   In the Sandra scores ahead, you'll get a taste for what this RAM can do.  With 667MHz 3,2,2,8 timings and an FSB of 1066MHz we achieved Sandra Memory scores that were the highest available bandwidth we've seen reported yet in our own testing.

On the right is OCZ ModStream 520-12U Power Supply. With its detachable cable assemblies, it makes life really easy around the lab, hooking various motherboards and breaking the assemblies back down on a regular basis.  Inside a case, it allows you to only connect the cables you need and the rest can be left in the box not cluttering your chassis cable routing. All leads also have braided rounded coverings for neatness and EMI reduction.  Finally rated at 520 Watts this supply has proven it is more than up to the task for our demanding test regimens and handles it all extremely quietly we might add as well.

Preliminary Benchmarks with SiSoft SANDRA 2005
Synthetic Testing

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests on the P5ND2-SLI that Sandra has to offer, the CPU, Multimedia and Memory tests.  When then took some comparable readings from our i955X Intel motherboard for reference and lastly we also to a quick look at some overclocked scores in these areas as well.


CPU 3.73 EE P5ND2-SLI

CPU 3.73 EE i955X

Memory DDR667 P5ND2-SLI

Memory DDR667
i955X

MultiMedia 3.73 EE P5ND2-SLI

MultiMedia 3.73 EE
i955X

CPU P5ND2-SLI OC'ed 4.29GHz

Mem. P5ND2-SLI
4.29GHz - 1225MHz FSB
DDR667

As you can see, both the P5ND2-SLI nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition and i955X boards scored nearly identical performance metrics in the CPU and Multimedia tests but in the Memory test, the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition based Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe chalked up a more significant edge, besting the i955X by about 200MB/s at DDR667 speeds.  Finally it comes as no surprise that a 4.29GHz Pentium 4 blows past our 3.73GHz settings by about 1000 Dhrystone MIPS in the CPU test, with a serious clock speed boost at its disposal.  Perhaps what's more impressive however, are our system memory bandwidth scores clocking in at over 7700 MB/sec, a new land-speed record here at HotHardware.com; without question courtesy of those Corsair XMS2-5400UL sticks in combination with NVIDIA's robust DDR2 Memory Controller in the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition Northbridge.

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Content Creation Winstone and WB5 Office XP

Content Creation Winstone is our first Professional/Office application benchmark that is generally a bit more taxing in areas of system memory bandwidth and disk access.

Content Creation Winstone 2004
Real-World Application Performance

The Veritest Content Creation Winstone 2004 test utilizes the following applications in its benchmark routine, for more information about this test, see this page:

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg WaveLab 4.0f

This test typically has heavily favored the Athlon 64 but the gap is closing somewhat as higher performance DDR2 DRAM is introduced to the Pentium 4 system architecture.  The P5ND2-SLI Deluxe nForce 4 board and the NVIDIA reference nForce 4 board post number in a photo-finish tie and manage to outpace both the i925XE and the i955X based Intel board in this test.  Most likely NVIDIA's DASP Memory Prefetching algorithms off the memory controller are affording the NF4 based P4 boards a small edge here.  The variances are pretty small, however, and we're sure end user experience would be pretty comparable across most all the applications that comprise the CC Winstone test.

PC World's World Bench 5.0: Office XP Module
More Real-World Application Performance

PC World Magazine's WorldBench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance.  Below we have the results from WB 5's Office XP module, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance.

 

The P5ND2-SLI takes the lead here by a comfortable margin over the either the i925XE or i955X boards. The Athlon 64 nForce 4 based test-bed clocks in a full 20+ seconds behind the Pentium 4 platform versions of the chipset.  What's interesting to see here is that the i955X system is still bringing up the rear as far as the Pentium 4 scores go.  Perhaps Intel's D955XBK desktop board is simply tuned for stability rather than all out performance like the nForce 4 and i925XE motherboards.  Regardless, all the motherboards involved here were completely stable in our hours of testing, including the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe.

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WB5 Photoshop 7 and WB5 Windows Media Encoder

WorldBench 5's Photoshop 7.0.1 module should be another area where system memory bandwidth plays a factor alongside CPU performance.  Let's have a look.

PC World's World Bench 5.0: Photoshop 7 & Windows Media Encoder
Image Editing and Digital Video Encoding

Here it's a virtual dead-heat between the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe and the reference NF4 SLI Intel Edition board.  The Athlon 64 system takes first slot however, with a measurable 14 second time advantage.  From there the numbers speak for themselves and the rest of the pack is tightly grouped together performance wise.

Windows Media Encoder 9 is both SSE optimized and multi-threaded, so we'd expect the Pentium 4 based systems to have an advantage in this test.

In this benchmark we see the antithesis of what we saw in the Photoshop 7 test.  The Athlon 64 4000+ falls in behind the slowest Pentium 4 EE 3.73GHz score by a large 54 second deficit.  From there the rest of the data seems to scale accordingly, with the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe neck and neck with our NVIDIA reference board.

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Cinebench 3D Rendering

The Cinebench 2003 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application.  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).  We ran two sets of numbers, one in single-thread mode, and another in the benchmark's multithread mode for our Hyper-Threading-enabled P4 test systems.  Athlon 64s are only capable of running the single thread test, hence their are no multi-cpu scores represented in the graph below.

Cinebench 2003 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

In single-threaded mode the Athlon 64 nForce 4 based system took gold by a small margin of 1.7 seconds.  However, with HyperThreading enabled, the P4 systems have a sizable advantage.  It will be interesting to see how AMD's upcoming Dual Core CPUs fare against a Pentium 840 chip in this test.  More on that soon in the weeks ahead.  Beyond that, in this test it was too close to call as all of our Pentium 4 scores ended up within tenths of a second of each other, with no real significant performance variance between any of the motherboards we tested.

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Kribibench 3D Modeling

 

Kribibench is a rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  This test is based on an SSE aware software only renderer.  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: an "Exploded Sponge" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and a huge "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.

Kribibench v1.1
Details: www.adeptdevelopment.com

 

 

Here we see similar results as compared to our previous Cinebench scores but the i955X Intel board steps out much more prominently posting a 3 - 8% edge over the fastest nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition board, which was the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe.  Since this test is more heavily weighted toward raw CPU throughput, it's probably fair to speculate that the i955X board has slightly better efficiency in the CPU or chipset driver stack.

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3DMark 05 CPU Test and UT2004

3DMark05's built-in CPU test is a "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance among similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central host processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.

Futuremark 3DMark05 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

In 3DMark 05 we see a hint of 3D Gaming performance to come, with the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe and the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition reference boards posting sizable gains over their Intel chipset based brethren.  This again is most likely due to the lower latency operation of the nForce 4's Memory Controller with NVIDIA's memory prefetching algorithms affording better throughput and bandwidth.

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

Next we ran through some low-resolution benchmarking with Epic's Unreal Tournament 2004.  When testing with UT 2004, we use a specific set of game engine initialization parameters that ensure all of the systems are being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options.  Like most of the other in-game tests (except for our SLI testing) in this article you'll see later, we used a "Low-Quality" setting with UT2004 that isolated CPU and memory performance.

Driven by the new Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe motherboard, our Pentium 4 3.73GHz Extreme Edition processor nearly caught the Athlon 64 4000+ in our Unreal Tournament 2004 test, an area where the Athlons have always held a significant lead.  We also decided to throw our overclocked 4.2GHz P5ND2-SLI score just for reference and to impress the ladies (not).  We realized a 15% gain at 4.2GHz over a 3.73GHz clock with the Asus board and a 12% edge over the Athlon 64 4000+.

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Doom 3 - OpenGL Gaming

For our next game test, we benchmarked all of the test systems using a custom multi-player Doom 3 timedemo. We turned the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Doom 3 typically taxes today's high-end Graphics Processors, when it's configured at these minimal IQ settings, it's much more CPU and Memory-bound than anything else.

Benchmarks with Doom 3
OpenGL Gaming Performance

Our Doom 3 tests show that this game engine definitely appreciates the added memory bandwidth of 667MHz DDR2 memory on the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe and the i955X Intel board.  The Asus board takes the lead by a hair but both boards outpace even the Athlon 64 4000+.  The nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition reference board seemed to have some sort of anomaly in testing, however, because it's scores don't scale along with its DDR667 driven counterparts.

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Doom 3 - SLI Testing

In our SLI tests, we ran Doom 3 again but this time in High Quality mode and at high resolution for a look at where each of these platform stands in this gaming scenario.

Benchmarks & Comparisons with Doom 3 - SLI
Dual 6800GTs in Action!

Doom 3
Doom 3 is an OpenGL based game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows.  We ran this benchmark using a custom timedemo with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode, at a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering both enabled at the same time.  (Note: Doom 3 enables 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.)

On a side note, since the i955X board we have doesn't support SLI mode, it is not represented in the scores below.

A virtual tie is displayed here with the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe showing a slight edge over the reference NF4 SLI Intel Edition board, but stepping in ever so slightly behind the AMD based NF4 test-bed.  If you can discern the differences in game play with these relative score variances, we would suggest you step away from the system and get outside for some fresh air and sunshine...

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Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory SLI Testing

We recently picked up a copy of Ubisoft's great new Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory game, strictly for professional test purposes around the lab of course.  ;-)  What a great looking game this is and the engine has a shader model 3.0 code path that allows the GeForce 6800 series boards we used for testing to really stretch their legs.  For these tests we turned off High Dynamic Range rendering and a few of the other PS 3.0 effects that are available in the game engine, so what you're left with is essentially the rendering quality of the game's default Pixel Shader 1.1 code path, but with the performance benefits the PS 3.0 path bring to the table.

SLI Benchmarks With Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory
A great new game, SLI supported by NVIDIA

Based on a new version of the Unreal Engine enhanced with a bunch of DX9 shading, lighting and mapping effects Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory is a dangerously gorgeous game with a very immersive but dark environment, just the thing to compliment your Super-Spy Mercenary ways.

    

 

Here we didn't have the time or luxury of testing our AMD nForce 4 SLI test-bed for reference but instead we decided to take time to see what a few more logical processing threads thrown in the mix, could do for performance in SLI mode.  Although SC Chaos Theory is not based a multi-threaded game engine, our "theory" was that perhaps dual CPU cores with HyperThreading for a total of four logical CPU cores and active threads, could somehow assist in handling OS overhead and CPU calls for the load balancing required between the GPU cores in SLI mode.  In fact what we saw was a hint of that theory proven out.  In SLI mode a 3.5GHz overclocked Pentium 840, with system memory clocked to the same DDR667 speeds on the same motherboard, is actually just slightly faster than a Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPU at 3.73GHz, in this specific test.  In single GPU mode, at these relative high image quality settings (this game beats on even the most powerful GPUs), we were much more graphics subsystem limited, so the scores at that setting came in right on top of each other. 

This was an interesting test for us as it showed the benefits of a multi-core CPU in a current gaming environment versus a similar single core CPU.  Although we were only witness to a 4% performance advantage, if you consider the fact that the two Pentium 840 cores were running over 200MHz slower than the 3.73GHz Pentium 4, the gain begins to look more sizable.  Again, while this isn't representative of what a fully multi-threaded game engine could do on these new Pentium dual core architectures, it does shed some light on the topic a bit and is good food for thought if nothing else.

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Performance Analysis and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Asus' new P5ND2-SLI Deluxe, based on the new nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset has proven itself to be serious powerhouse in our testing, bringing out some of the best all around performance we've seen from the Pentium 4 architecture to date.  The board routinely edged out the NVIDIA reference motherboard in most tests, as expected, and many times took Intel's new i955X chipset based board to task, especially in the gaming tests.  You simply can't argue with the consistently strong numbers this motherboard turned out when you look at it from all the angles we did in the HotHardware.com test labs.

When all was said and done, we would have to say that the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe was an absolute joy to work with.  The board performs like a champ, overclocks as good if not better than any motherboard we've ever tested for the Intel platform.  Additionally its feature set is very well rounded, with Dual Gig-E, two SATA RAID controllers (one with SATA II capabilities and Native Command Queing), External SATA, SLI Graphics support, and the list goes on.  The only issues we see are the board's placement of its X1 PCI Express slots and the fact that the North and Southbridge heat sinks are a bit meager for our tastes, although admittedly we had zero issues relative to related stability in these areas.

With an introductory price of around $239-$249, the board is priced a bit on the high side (for now), but if you're considering making the jump to the new Intel platform architecture, PCI Express, DDR2 and all the other benefits of these latest technologies, the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset and the Asus P5ND2-SLI Deluxe motherboard may be a very exciting and rewarding way to go.  The only question remaining in the equation for us is will the nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset also be compatible with the rumored forthcoming ATi Mutli-GPU technologies?  The jury is still out on this so we're told and that's a question for another day and story here at HotHardware.com.  For now, let's award the P5ND2-SLI Deluxe its just desserts - a big, solid 9 on our Heat Meter.

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