Sapphire, NVIDIA & Conclusion
Sapphire didn't have a presence on the show floor at this year's CES, but they did setup a nice display in a nearby venue. They were showcasing a number of products, including what you'd expect from Sapphire -- motherboards and ATI based graphics cards -- along with a couple of new items.
One of the new products the folks at Sapphire were showing off was a low-profile, 256MB Radeon X1600 with analog DB15 and HDMI outputs. This little card would be an excellent match for a quiet home theater or media center PC. And a pair of them can even be used in a CrossFire configuration if you require a bit more horsepower for gaming. An assortment of other Radeons were on display as well, including products in Sapphire's "Ultimate" line that feature silent coolers, and a few reference designs as well. Representatives from Sapphire also spoke of some next-generations graphics cards and motherboards, but we'll have to wait a little while until we're able to fill you in on any details regarding those products.
Sapphire was also showcasing a few other new products, namely a small Flash based portable MP3 player, and a shock and water resistant USB thumb drive. Details regarding Sapphire's "Ivory" MP3 player are available on their website right here. It's a tiny unit, with 512MB of flash memory, and an easy to use interface. We've actually had the opportunity to use an Ivory player for a few days now and really like it. It's no 60GB iPod Video, but those that want to carry around a small assortment of music while community will dig the Ivory.
NVIDIA started out the show with a booth filled with various products all powered either by GeForce / GoForce GPUs, or nForce chipsets. Gaming was a popular theme throughout the booth, as was High Definition video playback. Had you visited NVIDIA's booth on the first day of the show though, you may have left thinking the graphics giant had no plans to unveil a new product, but you would have been wrong. At about mid-day on January 5th, NVIDIA and Dell jointly unveiled the XPS 600 Renegade gaming PC, which features a sick custom paint job, autographed by Michael Dell himself, and the world's first official Quad-SLI configuration. Yes, that's Quad -- as in 4.
NVIDIA's Quad-SLI consists of four GeForce 7800 GTXs, each coupled to 512MB of graphics memory, for a grand total of 2GB of frame buffer memory. Although it looks like four separate graphics cards are used to build up a Quad-SLI system, it's actually two cards. Each card consists of a main 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX with a secondary daughter-card mounted to one side. The GPUs each get their own slim coolers. The main card and the daughter-card communicate to each other through a proprietary link. Then two of these "master / daughter" dual-GTX cards get installed into an nForce 4 SLIX16 based motherboard, and are then linked together via two SLI connectors. NVIDIA also developed a proprietary switch that allows each dual-GTX "master / slave" card to interface with a single PCI Express X16 slot for full bandwidth operation.
Obviously with four of today's most powerful GPUs, and 2GB of frame buffer memory, a Quad-SLI rig will have some serious power requirements. To alleviate putting all of the strain on the system's PSU, each card has its own external 150w power-brick. A pair of 6-pin PCI Express power leads connect to each card as well, and are complimented by each external 150w power-brick.
With Quad-SLI NVIDIA also introduces a new anti-aliasing mode, namely SLI32XAA. SLI32XAA can be used in conjunction with 16X anisotropic filtering, to offer increased image quality in games that are CPU bound by such a powerful graphics sub-system. Of course Quad-SLI will also gives lucky users the ability to play games at exceedingly high resolutions. In fact, NVIDIA and Dell were showing off some games running at 2560x1600, the native resolution on Dell's new 30" LCD. Pricing has not been finalized, and XPS 600 Renegade systems won't be available until sometime late in Q1 or early Q2. We should also note that Quad-SLI will be a Dell exclusive for some time, and NVIDIA did not reveal any plans to release Quad-SLI capable cards at retail. But if the demand is there, we'd bet they're made available in limited quantities by key NVIDIA partners.
NVIDIA made a number of other announcements at the show as well. They put on the first public demonstration of the new OpenMAX IL Open Standard for streaming media portability, and announced support for AMD LIVE!. The company also announced that they're inside Sony's first HDMI enabled home theater PC. For details regarding all of NVIDIA's announcements, be sure to check out their on-line press room. There's a plethora of information there.
We hope you enjoyed perusing this quick look at some of the highlights of this year's CES, as much as we liked putting it together for you. Although we covered quite a bit, there were a few other folks that we had the pleasure of meeting with as well. But unfortunately, we weren't able to snap off pictures of their upcoming products. Corsair has a number of new high-capacity DDR1 and DDR2 memory kits on the way, as does Kingston and OCZ. OCZ also showed of a powerful standalone phase-change cooler, much like Asetek's VapoChill LightSpeed [AC]. DFI, Logitech, D-Link, and virtually every other OEM also showed off some new products that you'll be seeing in the not too distant future.
Some may say that the progression of technology has slowed over the last decade. But don't listen to them. If all of the exciting products we saw at CES are indicators, 2006 is going to be a hot one folks -- take our word for it.